Research Ngā Rangahau

Litmus Testing 2016


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Litmus Testing Report 2016 PDF (689.87 KB)

Date published
: July 2016

Research Company: Nielsen


  • To determine how well BSA decisions align with public opinion / whether the public can understand (and accept) the rationale for the BSA's decisions in relation to the good taste and decency standard.
  • To understand whether public attitudes to the concept of ‘good taste and decency’ have changed.


  • Four focus group meetings were conducted in Ashburton, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland, with 6-8 participants in each group. (In previous years focus groups have been conducted only in Auckland.)
  • The groups were of equal gender breakdown, and covered a range of ages, ethnicities, household income brackets and employment statuses.
  • Five BSA decisions on good taste and decency were tested. Each of the five clips was played for the participants, they gave their own views on the level of offensiveness of the clip and whether they would uphold the complaint. They were then given a summary of the BSA’s decision and were asked to rate the decision including both the reasoning and the BSA’s communication of its decision.


  • The majority of participants either initially reached the same view as the BSA when they viewed/listened to the clip, or after having read a summary of the BSA’s decision were able to follow the Board’s rationale and agree with, or at least accept, the decision made, when they considered the decisions in the context of the legal and other guidelines the Board operates within.
  • Several broad themes emerged in relation to people’s perceptions of good taste and decency:
    • A higher tolerance of bad language and sexual content – society is seen to be more tolerant of bad language and nudity. This has been strongly influenced by greater exposure to broad and diverse content through the internet. For some people, this has led to a sense of “anything goes”.
    • A heightened sensitivity to material containing potentially sexist or racist content – although participants were less likely to find bad language or sexually explicit content offensive, they were less accepting of content that appeared to denigrate or demean someone based on their race or gender.
    • Context of the programme and the presenter – many participants took into consideration the reputation or style of the programme or the presenter when evaluating the clips. If a programme or presenter was well known for being inflammatory or provocative, the programme had more flexibility in regards to the good taste and decency standard. The exception to this was if it was possible for children to be unwittingly exposed to offensive content.
    • An expectation of self-censorship – most participants did not feel that they would be inclined to complain on the grounds of good taste and decency, as they felt that self-censorship should prevail. In a world where anything and everything can be accessed via the internet, there is an expectation that people will be capable of filtering content themselves.
  • The results of the testing also suggested that there may be regional differences in perceptions of good taste and decency. For example, participants in Wellington were more sensitive to issues concerning racism and sexism, Ashburton participants appeared less likely to take context into consideration when evaluating the clips, the group in Hamilton was very aware of tolerance of diversity issues, and the Auckland group was more conservative in its views in terms of what was acceptable and more likely to perceive that standards in broadcasting are being lowered.