BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Wilton and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2021-001 (25 May 2021)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Tim Wilton
Number
2021-001
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 use of the phrase ‘thank fucking Christ’ in an interview segment during the Aotearoa Music Awards breached the good taste and decency standard. In the context, particularly noting the timing of the broadcast, pre-broadcast warnings and public interest in the relevant segment, the Authority considered the programme unlikely to cause widespread undue offence, or distress, or to undermine widely shared community standards.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency


The broadcast

[1]  The Aotearoa Music Awards broadcast on 15 November 2020 at 8.30pm on Three featured interviews with various venue owners about their experiences during the COVID-19 lockdown period. This included the following:

Reb Fountain:             It was the eve of my album release and I was thinking about … going out on tour and how we had to postpone those shows later in the year... And then all of a sudden it came to me, what if those venues aren’t going to be open because of COVID. What if they can’t make it through this time, and sure enough, I made a few phone calls and they were on the brink of collapse and it freaked me out.

Jess Shanks:              It has been a very challenging time both financially but mainly for our hearts and souls.

Feather & Nick:           To have to completely change your business model almost overnight, multiple times in this year already has been very difficult.

Ziggy &Tim:                We looked at each other, we, nah, we can’t do this again. We can’t go into overdraft, go into debt to revive our business. Fuck, we had it.

Reb:                            Straight away I decided I wanted to do a Boosted campaign.

Ziggy & Tim:               And that’s when Save Our Venues rang up, and we were like, thank fucking Christ.

The complaint

[2]  Tim Wilton complained the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard for the following reasons:

  • The phrase ‘thank fucking Christ’ is ‘a highly offensive and gross expression not only to followers of Christ but even secular New Zealanders in general.’
  • ‘I do not accept that the late time frame made this acceptable even though it was after 8:30pm.’
  • The relevant excerpt was pre-recorded and could have been edited out.
  • Acknowledging the importance of context, Mr Wilton observed that a wide group of people would watch a Music Awards night (which differentiated this situation from a previous Authority decision regarding a similar phrase in an AO rated crime programme).

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  Discovery NZ apologised to Mr Wilton for the offence the broadcast caused him but did not uphold his complaint for the following reasons:

  • The phrase appeared at 9.19pm.
  • ‘The Aotearoa Music Awards were broadcast live and audience advisories for coarse language (L) and offensive content (C) were shown on screen at the start of the programme and after each commercial break.’
  • ‘It was our view the phrase was used as an expression of relief rather than to cause offence, or to upset Christian viewers.’
  • ‘We note that the Broadcasting Standards Authority has consistently found that blasphemies such as ‘God’ or variants of the word ‘Jesus’ used as an exclamation for the purpose of expressing irritation, dismay or surprise do not amount to coarse language and in our modern secular society have come to be widely used as part of everyday colloquial speech.’

[4]  Discovery NZ subsequently noted that the content advisories did not screen at the end of each commercial break as intended and apologised for the error in its original response. Discovery NZ added:

While it is regrettable the content advisories did not go to air after the commercial breaks as requested, the Committee maintains the language was in context and acceptable to screen at 9.19 pm, a time when programmes rated 16, defined as programmes that may contain offensive language, are allowed to screen.

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 watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[7]  As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. As we may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified, it is important we weigh the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast.3

[8]  Attitudes towards taste and decency differ widely and continue to evolve in a diverse society such as ours. The standard does not prohibit challenging material, but rather ensures that broadcasts fall within the broad limit of not seriously violating community norms of taste and decency.4 Context is crucial in the consideration of whether a broadcast is likely to cause widespread undue offence, or undermine widely shared community standards.5

[9]  We note the phrase complained about is ranked third in the most unacceptable words in broadcasting.6 73% of research participants consider the phrase unacceptable in the context of people being interviewed on TV.7

[10]  We have considered the following factors:8

  • The nature of the programme and the channel: The Aotearoa Music Awards is an annual music awards show.
  • The programme’s classification and scheduling:  The programme was unclassified with audience advisories L (language that may offend) and C (content that may offend). The classification and warning appeared at the start of the show. The programme was broadcast from 8.30pm.
  • Whether the programme was pre-recorded or live: This was a live show with some pre-recorded interviews. The segment in question was a pre-recorded piece which included interview comments from a range of people to tell the story of the challenges facing music venues and their relief at support made available through the Save our Venues campaign.
  • Audience expectations of the channel and the programme: Casual, and coarse language is within audience expectations for a music awards programme.
  • The target and likely audience: The programme is likely to have a mature audience.
  • The public interest in the broadcast: The relevant segment, depicting the challenges of particular businesses arising from COVID-19 lockdown, was of significant public interest.  

[11]  We note that, due to an error by the broadcaster, relevant warnings were not screened after each break as required by guideline 2c of the programme information standard. We encourage Discovery NZ to ensure compliance with this requirement in future. Adequate signposting is important in enabling audiences to regulate their own, and their children’s viewing.9

[12]  We acknowledge Mr Wilton’s concerns regarding the use of this phrase. For many people the phrase is offensive and our research shows this. However, having given careful consideration to the complaint, in this context, we find the phrase unlikely to cause widespread undue offence, or distress, or to undermine widely shared community standards. There was a language and content warning at the start of the programme. The programme screened after 8.30pm and the particular phrase did not appear until 9.19pm. It was said once, by an interviewee to express his relief. It was fleeting, and was not directed at anyone, or intended to cause offence.

[13]  The Authority has previously found the use of ‘Jesus fucking Christ’, as an exclamation in a programme broadcast after 8.30pm with a pre-broadcast coarse language warning, did not breach standards.10

[14]  We are also influenced by the level of likely public interest in the segment. The interviewee’s experience, of COVID-19’s impact on small businesses, would have resonated with many other New Zealand business owners.   While, as the complainant argues, the segment was a pre-recorded piece and could have been edited to remove the relevant phrase, editing out the interviewee’s expression of genuine relief (in his chosen language) would have significantly changed the impact of the segment.

[15]  In this context, any potential for harm due to the interviewee’s choice of language, was not at a level sufficient to justify limiting the broadcaster’s freedom of expression.

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

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

25 May 2021   

 

 
Appendix

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

1  Tim Wilton original complaint to MediaWorks – 16 November 2020

2  Discovery NZ’s response to Mr Wilton – 14 December 2020

3  Mr Wilton’s referral to the BSA – 1 January 2021

4  Discovery NZ’s final comments – 11 January 2021

5  Discovery NZ’s further comments about advisories – 10 May 2021


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 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
4 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
5 As above
6 Broadcasting Standards Authority (June 2018) “Language that may offend in Broadcasting” <www.bsa.govt.nz>, page 6
7 As above, page 21
8 Guideline 1a
9 Commentary: Programme Information, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 13
10 Stewart and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2017-093