BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Taylor and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2022-024 (26 April 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
Dated
Complainant
  • Simon Taylor
Number
2022-024
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Warning: This decision contains language that some readers may find offensive

Summary  

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that action taken by Discovery NZ Ltd was insufficient, after it upheld a complaint under the good taste and decency standard about language and behaviour in a live interview on Newshub Live at 6pm. The interviewee was the father of Olympian Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, and was interviewed after her gold medal win. The interviewee used variations of the word ‘fuck’ in his response to questions. The Authority found the decision of the broadcaster to uphold the complaint, apologise and create guidance for live interview guests was adequate action taken given the nature of the breach.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency (Action Taken)


The broadcast

[1]  During a broadcast of Newshub Live at 6pm broadcast on 6 February 2022 on Three, a reporter interviewed the father of Olympian Zoi Sadowski-Synnott after her Olympic win. He used the word ‘fuck’ (or variations of this) as part of his responses:

Reporter:          One person that probably was more wild than anyone else is Sean Synnott, Zoi's dad. Sean, tell us what that was like when the score came up, and you know that your daughter is the first winter gold medallist.

Sean Synnott:  Well, the only thing I looked for was [sister]’s reaction, right, her younger, her younger sister. She was fucking crazy. She just went off the roof.

Reporter:          How proud are you right now? Your daughter's just become the first Kiwi to win a winter gold. Ever.

Sean Synnott: I'm pretty fucking excited, to be honest, and I'm really happy to see that all the investment from all of these people has turned to…

[interview continues]

[2]  Following termination of the interview, the anchor apologised for the interviewee’s language.

The complaint

[3]  Simon Taylor complained the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard:

It was an appalling rant full of expletives. So unnecessary was it, with no attempt to edit, at 6 o’clock when children would be viewing the wonderful feat and aftermath. When I complained to the broadcaster they replied with an apology and an explanation that they had no chance to edit as [it] was live. I don’t accept this. Furthermore to portray the gold medal winner’s father as a foul-mouthed drunkard, as he came across on this show, was particularly unfair to the athlete.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  Discovery NZ Ltd (Discovery) upheld Taylor’s complaint:

  • ‘We agree that the language in the Broadcast was inappropriate for inclusion in the 6 pm news bulletin and have upheld your complaint.’
  • ‘There was a significant public interest in hearing the reaction of Zoi's family. As the Broadcast was live, unfortunately, we were unable to catch her father's language before it went to air. Acknowledging this, back in the studio the sports presenter apologised to viewers for the coarse language.’
  • ‘From further conversations the reporter had with Mr Synnott, it appears he did not fully understand that in a live broadcasting environment there is no facility for inappropriate language to be bleeped out before going to air. The Newshub editorial team is drafting guidance for reporters so that in future, reporters can provide a briefing to live guests to ensure they are fully aware of the technical constraints when broadcasting live interviews.’

The standard

[5]  The good taste and decency standard1 states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme. The standard is intended to protect audiences from content likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.2

Our analysis

[6]  We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[7]  We have also considered the important right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point. This includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of ideas, information and content and the public’s right to receive those. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that outweighs the right to freedom of expression, and has not been remedied by the action taken.

[8]  For the reasons below, we do not consider further regulatory intervention is justified in this case.

Action taken: Good taste and decency

[9]  Where the broadcaster has upheld a complaint in the first instance, our role is to consider the action taken assessed against the gravity of the breach.3 In assessing the sufficiency of actions taken to remedy a breach we consider the severity of the conduct, the extent of the actual or potential harm that may have arisen and whether the action taken appropriately remedied the alleged harm.4

[10]  In terms of assessing the severity of the conduct and extent of harm, we are conscious of the following:5

  • The broadcast was Newshub Live at 6pm.
  • The broadcast concerned New Zealand’s first Winter Olympics medal and the reaction of the public and the medallist’s family to this. Many people were likely to watch this broadcast.
  • The interviewee used coarse language twice, consisting of iterations of the word ‘fuck’.
  • In our 2021 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research, 61% of respondents found the word ‘fuck’ fairly or totally unacceptable in interviews occurring in news, documentaries or current events programmes.6

[11]  We consider the word would have been unexpected and somewhat shocking for a news audience at 6pm. We are conscious this language being used was offensive to many New Zealanders, particularly in relation to an important and widely followed story such as this one. However, we are also conscious that the language was used spontaneously in a live interview setting and the broadcast included an apology for the language immediately following the interview.

[12]  The broadcaster acknowledged and recognised the breach in the first instance, apologising to the complainant. Discovery is also taking steps to produce guidelines for live interviewees regarding the limitations of a live broadcast. In these circumstances, we are satisfied that no further action is required to address this breach.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Susie Staley
Chair
26 April 2022    

 

 

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1  Simon Taylor’s formal complaint – 8 February 2022

2  Discovery’s decision on the complaint – 1 March 2022

3  Taylor’s referral to the Authority – 1 March 2022

4  Discovery confirming no further comments – 3 March 2022


1 Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
3 See, for example, Horowhenua District Council and MediaWorks Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2018-105 at [19]; and Du Fall and the Radio Network Ltd, Decision No. 2014-055 at [8]
4 Lerner and MediaWorks Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2021-091
5 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
6 Broadcasting Standards Authority | Te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho (17 February 2022) “Language that may offend in broadcasting” <www.bsa.govt.nz>