IAN PITTENDREIGH AGAINST TVNZ

Case Number: 2573

Council Meeting: APRIL 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: TVNZ

Ruling Categories: Offensive Language

Overview

[1] In one of the Council’s first complaints dealing with written material on a broadcaster’s website, Ian Pittendreigh has complained about aTVNZ article headlined “Bastards, hope they lose. Steven Adams blunt about not wanting England to beat All Blacks’ winning streak”.

[2] The short online article, published on March 16, is about New Zealand basketballer Steven Adams’ response to news that the England rugby team had the chance to overtake the All Blacks’ record and win 19 straight games. While the story had been taken down by the time the complaint reached the Press Council, due to the fair use terms of the video expiring, it claimed Adams hates the England rugby team “just like us”, argues that to be top you have to beat the other top teams and ends with Adams’ own words – “Bastards, hope they lose”.

The Complaint

[3] Mr Pittendreigh complains that the use of the word “bastard” is“disgraceful” and “inappropriate language”.

[4] Initially, Mr Pittendreigh treated this as a complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority and so laid his complaint under the BSA’s programme standards and argued that it breached ‘Good Taste & Decency”. Informed that online complaints now fall under the jurisdiction of the Press Council he opted to make his complaint under Principle 6, Headlines and Captions.

[5] He argues that TVNZ has used asterisks to replace letters in a word no more offensive, although he does not specify the word or story. As a result, he argues, TVNZ’s use of bastard is “very hypocritical”.

The Response

[6] TVNZ’s Complaints Committee rejected Mr Pittendreigh’s concerns on the grounds that it considers bastard “low level coarse language” that is not uncommonly used in news stories. It points to a recentHerald story in which Sir Colin Meads uses “bastard” to describe his cancer and the word was used in the story’s headline.

[7] The committee further points out that it was a direct quote from Adams and argues that the use of the headline “accurately and fairly conveys the substance of the report”.

The Decision

[8] The complainant initiated this action thinking to raise his complaint with the BSA under its “Good Taste & Decency” standard, but because his complaint is about a written article and piece of video that appeared online – and not on-air – it now falls under the Press Council. Therefore, the Council is considering his complaint under its principles, in this case Principle 6.

[9] Unfortunately for the complainant, his concerns do not marry with Principle 6, or indeed with any Press Council principle.

[10] Principle 6 is mostly designed to ensure headlines and captions are accurate and fairly represent – rather than sensationalise or misrepresent – the article. In this case the headline does clearly depict the heart of this short story, which was Steven Adams’ response to news of the England rugby team’s success.

[11] Given this is new territory for complainants and the Council alike, a brief explanation seems worthwhile. Unlike the BSA, the Press Council does not have a Principle relating to taste and decency. However, as our preamble says, the Council is concerned with promoting “the highest professional standards” and “media freedom”. Such complaints are considered on this basis. The Council has repeatedly spelled out in previous rulings that it is not the “taste police” and the public does not have the right to not be offended. It is editors who are ultimately responsible for what appears in their publications, subject to Council adjudications, and their audiences judge them accordingly.

[12] The complainant may consider this use of “disgraceful” language is a breach of professional standards. The Council does not. That is consistent with past rulings and its belief that the use of a single word, especially one in such common usage, does not come close to that threshold. Therefore the complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Ruth Buddicom, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Hank Schouten, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.