Simmons and Walker-Simmons and RadioWorks Ltd - 2012-004

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainant

  • David Simmons and Sally Walker-Simmons of Paraparaumu

Dated

27th March 2012

Number

2012-004

Channel/Station

The Edge

Broadcaster

RadioWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Edge Morning Show – host read out a listener’s text message: “Dom, your song was so gay I’m pretty sure I just got AIDS from listening to it” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, accuracy and discrimination and denigration standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – some listeners would have considered the connection made between homosexuals and AIDS to be offensive and in poor taste – however, in light of the relevant contextual factors such as the target audience and their expectations of content on The Edge, the potential harm to listeners did not outweigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – the content of the text message was directed at the host’s song and was not intended as a criticism of homosexuality or as an attack against homosexual people – on balance the content did not reach the threshold necessary to encourage discrimination or denigration against homosexuals as a section of the community – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – programme was not a news, current affairs or factual programme to which the standard applied – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  During The Edge Morning Show, broadcast on The Edge on 9 December 2011, one of the hosts, Dom, performed a parody of the song “All I Want for Christmas”. He later read out a listener’s text message which stated, “Dom, your song was so gay I’m pretty sure I just got AIDS from listening to it.” The other hosts responded with laughter.

[2]  David Simmons and Sally Walker-Simmons made a formal complaint to RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the use of the term “gay” in this context was derogatory and the implication that AIDS was a “gay disease” was “offensive”, “ignorant” and “blatantly homophobic”.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached Standards 1 (good taste and decency), 5 (accuracy) and 7 (discrimination and denigration) of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the broadcast breach standards of good taste and decency?

[5]  Standard 1 states that broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency. The primary objective of this standard is to protect against the broadcast of sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 The content subject to complaint did not fall within any of these categories.

[6]  However, the Authority will also consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.2 In this respect, the standard is intended to ensure that programmes reflect community norms of decorum and civility.

[7]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the text was read out at approximately 7.30am on The Edge radio station
  • the comment formed part of a listener’s text and a host made the decision to broadcast it
  • the station’s target audience of adults aged between 15 and 39 years
  • the expectations of regular listeners.

[8]  In considering whether it would be a reasonable and proportionate limit on RadioWorks’ freedom of expression to uphold a breach of Standard 1, we must balance the importance of the speech against the potential harm to the audience, taking into account the underlying objectives of the good taste and decency standard. We consider that the type of speech engaged in the broadcast was of low value in terms of its advancement of community morals and its overall importance to society. 

[9]  In our view, the listener’s comment and the connection it made between homosexuals and AIDS would have been considered by some to be offensive and in poor taste.

[10]  However, we acknowledge that there are a number of contextual factors which favour the host’s decision to read the text aloud and the broadcaster’s decision to air it. In particular, we recognise the radio station’s target audience and its expectations as to the type of content usually broadcast on The Edge. RadioWorks contended that the announcers were renowned for their wit and quirky senses of humour, and often engaged in light-hearted banter intended to entertain the programme’s target audience of adults aged between 15 and 39 years.

[11]  We accept the general tenor of the broadcaster’s argument that the comment was primarily designed to entertain and was not intended to be taken seriously. The feedback was intended as a criticism of the host’s song, as opposed to a criticism of homosexuality or an attack against homosexuals. In this sense, it was a play on words and in our view listeners would have understood this.

[12]  Taking into account the relevant contextual factors, in particular the station’s target audience and the expectations of regular listeners, we do not consider that the content on this occasion was so offensive as to outweigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

[13]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Did the broadcast encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, homosexual people as a section of the community?

[14]  Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[15]  The Authority has consistently defined “denigration” as blackening the reputation of a class of people (for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks3), and “discrimination” as encouraging the different treatment of members of a particular group, to their detriment (for example, Teoh and TVNZ4). It is well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard (for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network5).

[16]  The complainants argued that the broadcast “propagates an outdated and offensive stereotype that denigrates the gay community”. RadioWorks noted that a programme’s humorous or satirical intent is highly relevant in assessing a complaint about discrimination or denigration, and concluded that the comment did not reach the threshold necessary to breach Standard 7.

[17]  On this occasion, the broadcast comment played on stereotypes about AIDS and the gay community and we have acknowledged that this would have been offensive to some people. However, we reiterate that the content of the message was aimed at the host’s version of the song “All I Want for Christmas”, and was not intended as a criticism of homosexuality or as an attack on homosexual people. This is how the text message was interpreted by the host, who stated, “Can I just say, can you stop the abuse now because you’re really hurting my feelings now.” Further, the reference to the message was relatively brief, as opposed to sustained or repeated.

[18]  We have given careful consideration to whether the broadcast went too far, and have come to the conclusion that, taking into account the relevant contextual factors such as the forum in which the comment was made, the host’s tone of voice and the relatively innocuous intent, it did not reach the high threshold necessary to encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, homosexual people as a section of the community.

[19]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 7.

Was the programme inaccurate or misleading?

[20]  Standard 5 (accuracy) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.

[21]  The Edge Morning Show was not a news, current affairs or factual programme to which the standard applied. In any event, the complainants’ concerns under this standard have already been addressed in our consideration of good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration.

[22]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
27 March 2012

Appendix

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

1                 David Simmons’ and Sally Walker-Simmons’ formal complaint – 9 December 2011

2                 RadioWorks’ response to the complaint – 16 January 2012

3                 Mr Simmons’ and Mrs Walker-Simmons’ referral to the Authority – 19 January 2012

4                 RadioWorks’ response to the Authority – 1 February 2012

5                 Mr Simmons’ and Mrs Walker-Simmons’ final comment – 15 February 2012

6                 RadioWorks’ final comment – 17 February 2012


1Turner and TVNZ, Decision No. 2008-112

2Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November, 2006)

3Decision No. 2006-030

4Decision No. 2008-091

5Decision No. 2002-152