BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Welch and Campbell and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-098, 2004-099

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Don Campbell
  • Gary Welch

Complaints under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Holmes – interview with father of escaped prisoner – used words “arsehole” and “bugger” – allegedly offensive

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – context – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] A father whose son had escaped from prison was interviewed in an item broadcast on Holmes at 7.00pm on 22 April 2004. The father, whose home had been burgled by his son on at least three occasions, appealed to his son to give himself up. During the interview, the father used the word “arsehole” and also used the word “bugger” at least three times.


[2] Gary Welch and Don Campbell each complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the use of the word “arsehole” was unacceptable and in breach of the standard requiring good taste and decency. Mr Welch also complained about the use of the word “bugger”.


[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 and Guideline 1a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. It reads:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.


1a  Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainants

[4] TVNZ advised each complainant that the swear words had been used by a clearly troubled father

… as part of his natural idiom to describe his son and his son’s friends to express his frustration about them, and to express sympathy for their victims.

[5] It argued that to edit the words out would have been distracting and presented a false image.

[6] Noting that the word “bugger” had not been used aggressively and was a “low level swear word” TVNZ pointed out that the Authority in previous decisions had declined to uphold complaints about the use of the word “bugger” in similar situations. Turning to the word “arsehole”, TVNZ accepted that it could breach the standards but had not done so in the current context when it was used as an expression of frustration by the father.

[7] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaints.

Referrals to the Authority

[8] While accepting reluctantly TVNZ’s decision that the use of the “expletive bugger” did not breach the standards, Mr Welch maintained that the use of the word “arsehole” was unacceptable and referred that aspect of his complaint to the Authority. Its use, he wrote, set a “downward precedent”, and it should have been “bleeped out” or preceded with a warning.

[9] Mr Campbell also referred his complaint, maintaining that the use of the word “arsehole” in a news programme during family viewing time was not consistent with current standards of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[10] TVNZ advised that it had nothing to add to either complaint.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[11] Mr Campbell contended that TVNZ’s concession that the word “arsehole” was vulgar slang, amounted to an admission that its use was a breach of community standards of good taste and decency. He also argued that the use of the word was not justified by the context. The father’s anger, he added, would have been apparent if the word had been bleeped out. Moreover, Mr Campbell did not accept that the word had lost its anatomical context. While the word “bugger” could even be used as a back-handed compliment, that did not apply to the word “arsehole”.

Authority's Determination

[12] The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

[13] When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Standard 1 of the Television Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the language complained about breaches currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but does not determine whether the programme breached the standard. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context in which the word “arsehole” was broadcast.

[14] The Authority accepts that the relevant contextual matters on this occasion included the following points:

  • the interviewee was expressing deep frustration, dismay and concern about his son
  • the word appeared to be part of the interviewee’s natural idiom
  • the word was directed at a family member rather than used aggressively about outsiders
  • the broadcast took place during the PGR time band
  • the word “arsehole” was rated the seventh most offensive of the 22 words in the Authority’s research about the unacceptability of bad language in broadcasting, whereas “bugger” was the 22nd and the least offensive1.

[15] When weighing these contextual matters, it is apparent, as TVNZ acknowledged, that the use of the word “arsehole” may well breach the requirements for good taste and decency in Standard 1, especially when broadcast during the G and PGR time bands, and particularly if it is used aggressively.

[16] However, frustration combined with sadness seemed to be the dominant motive for its use in the item on Holmes. Accordingly, as it was used by the interviewee in a conversational way to encapsulate his concerns about a family member, the Authority is of the view that it does not contravene the requirements in Standard 1 on this occasion.


For the above reasons, the Authority does not uphold the complaints.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
12 August 2004


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

  1.    Gary Welch’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 26 April 2004
  2.    TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 26 May 2004
  3.    Mr Welch’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 25 May 2004
  4.    TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 18 June 2004
  1.    Don Campbell’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 26 April 2004
  2.    TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 2004
  3.    Mr Campbell’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 30 May 2004
  4.    TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 18 June 2004
  5.    Mr Campbell’s Final Comment – 8 July 2004

1Dickinson et al. Monitoring Community Attitudes in Changing Mediascapes, 2000.