Thursday, January 07, 2010

What the f*ck did the government say?

Among the many things I like, two—swearing and government—recently converged. Today I read a decision from the Broadcast Standards Authority on a complaint about the use of the word “fuck.” That’s one of my favourite words, and a favourite of so many of the people I know, that naturally I was interested in what the government would do with it.

Peter Lord of Christchurch complained about a programme called Amazon with Bruce Parry broadcast on Prime TV, owned by Sky Television, at 7.30pm on Friday 26 June 2009. The series looked at the Amazon region, including people, their culture and things like environmental issues.

The BSA described the episode this way:

“During the episode subject to complaint, Bruce Parry visited one of the largest illegal gold mining sites in Brazil. While there, he visited a group of men who had dug a horizontal mine shaft 60 metres into the side of a hill. Mr Parry was invited to go into the mine shaft to take a look. When he reached the end of the shaft, Mr Parry was given a pick axe and he began to chip away at the face of the tunnel. As he did this, he accidentally struck one of the overhead support beams moving it out of place. Startled, Mr Parry said, “Fuck, [laughing] you don’t want to be knocking them down too often”, before continuing to chip away.”

Peter Lord complained that, being broadcast before 8:30pm, the programme breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Standard 9 (children’s interests) because Sky Television, which owns Prime, allegedly “did not adequately consider the interests of child viewers”.

The BSA upheld the complaint (Decision No: 2009-137), but ordered no action (like a fine or on-air apology). Personally, I think the BSA got it wrong and both it and Peter Lord in particular were way oversensitive: Context matters, and there was nothing offensive or gratuitous about the use of the word in context.

But the real reason I read the decision was to see how many times a government agency could use the word “fuck” in an official document. I have just enough of a 12-year-old’s mind left (in a jar on my desk, to borrow freely from Stephen King) that I snicker at such things. That’s why I find it so funny that the far-right in America decided to call themselves “teabaggers” and declared they’d “teabag the Congress”. I laugh because it’s funny to my remaining adolescent brain cells.

So, while the decision may be silly, my adolescent fascination with a government document using “fuck” repeatedly beats it in the silliness department.

And sometimes, we all need a little silliness.


Apteryx said...

I totally agree with you on this one. Fuck is one of my favourite words as well. Sometimes I just can't figure out the BSA (or the people who complain to them). On 20 Dec. 2009 we watched "Bad Santa." (I wasn't even going to bother since 90% of the dialogue contains the word fuck, but we were in a bach in the Catlins, it was raining and it was the only thing on worth watching.) All the fucks were bleeped in the first 1/2 hour and then magically the bleeping stopped. Go figure. I'd like to hear the reasoning for that decision.

Arthur Schenck said...

More often than not, people who complain to the BSA or the Advertising Standards Authority are people who really need to just chill out. There are some pushing a political agenda(both left and right), and some are pushing a religious agenda (usually right), but most of them are just WAY too easily offended. As you may gather, I read the decisions a lot—so others don't have to!

Seriously, I think what you're describing would be because of the amount of swearing. Adults-only time begins at 8:30pm, but broadcasters have to consider if children could be watching. Generally, free-to-air broadcasters air really adult programmes after 9:30 (in the past, the BSA has give broadcasters much more leeway for AO programmes starting after 9:30pm).

However, "repetitive and gratuitous use of high-level swear-words" is not permitted at any time. Since I haven't seen the film I don't know, but this could be why they bleeped out the swear words for the first half hour or so.

The most complained-about programme has been "Shortland Street," but the BSA has only ever upheld ONE complaint: The episode where two guys were about to have sex. I wrote about that, too, of course.

But even so, NZ television is, ironically, much more open and less restricted than American free-to-air television. I find that reassuring.

BTW, I finally added a link to you!

toujoursdan said...

But even so, NZ television is, ironically, much more open and less restricted than American free-to-air television. I find that reassuring.

Absolutely. ABC talked about remaking "Outrageous Fortune" for American audiences and dropped it. I couldn't figure out how they could make that show work without the swearing and sex.

toujoursdan said...

I stand corrected. An American version of "Outrageous Fortune" is coming to ABC.

Throng.com: Outrageous Fortune US Adaption to air mid 2010

Thank God I can torrent the NZ version.