3 News – comment by newsreader – offensive behaviour – mockery of middle-aged women
(1) Standard G2 – insufficiently offensive – no uphold
(2) Standard G13 – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
A newsreader read an item on 3 News about a group of middle-aged English women who had raised money for charity by posing nude for a calendar, during which he commented "I bet that’s all they raised". The item was broadcast on TV3 between 6.00pm and 7.00pm on 26 March 2000.
Jenny Rockel complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the newsreader had given the impression that the idea of women’s sexual viability in middle life was laughable. She considered that this was offensive and tasteless.
In its response, TV3 said that the remark was unscripted and intended by the newsreader to be amusing. It said that the newsreader did not intend to suggest that either the women or their achievements were laughable. While TV3 considered that the remark was uncalled-for and unfortunate, it declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TV3’s decision, Ms Rockel referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
An item on 3 News about a group of middle-aged women who had raised money for charity by posing nude for a calendar was broadcast on TV3 between 6.00pm and 7.00pm on 26 March 2000. Immediately after reading the item, the newsreader commented "I bet that’s all they raised".
Jenny Rockel complained to TV3 that the presentation of the item was offensive and tasteless. In her view, the newsreader chose to ridicule the women who had been involved in the venture. She wrote:
The presenter gave the impression that for him, the idea of women’s sexual viability continuing into their middle life [was] frankly laughable.
Ms Rockel continued:
It seems not to have occurred to him that many viewers might enjoy seeing the vitality of a group of women willing to sidestep restrictive stereotypes. Nor does it seem to matter to him that "middle-aged women" might be offended by his derision.
Ms Rockel said that she was "astonished that a national news presenter could be unaware of the human rights issues implicit in the treatment of the item". She said she expected that the newsreader would be required to "show equal respect for all viewers, regardless of age or gender".
TV3 assessed the complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Standard G2 requires broadcasters:
G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.
TV3 maintained that the remark was unscripted and spontaneous, and reflected the newsreader’s "often quirky and somewhat unpredictable sense of humour". It advised that the newsreader had intended the remark to be amusing, not to suggest that the women or their achievements were in any way laughable. TV3, on behalf of itself and the newsreader, apologised to Ms Rockel for any offence caused to her. It also advised that the newsreader recognised that he needed to employ more thought and care prior to making "off-the cuff" comments in future.
In conclusion, while TV3 accepted that the remark was "uncalled for and unfortunate", it did not consider that it breached standard G2.
In her referral to the Authority, Ms Rockel said she was dissatisfied with TV3’s response for three reasons. First, she said it was confusing and contradictory for TV3 to acknowledge that the remark was "unnecessary and uncalled for", but decline to uphold the complaint. Secondly, she said that TV3 had failed to address her argument "for equality in human rights for all viewers", noting that she had not specifically requested that her complaint be assessed under standard G2. Thirdly, she did not accept that the newsreader’s "quirky" and "unpredictable" sense of humour or lack of intention to cause offence exonerated the behaviour she had complained about.
Ms Rockel said that she had informally canvassed the opinions of other women, and that their views about the offensiveness of the remark did not differ significantly from hers. While accepting the limitations of such an informal survey, she suggested that it reflected "at least a significant body of opinion in support of the concerns identified."
Ms Rockel sought "an unequivocal acknowledgment" that the newsreader’s comment breached broadcasting standards, and evidence that both the newsreader and TV3 had understood the issues involved "well enough to ensure that such a breach [would] not be repeated."
In its response to the referral, TV3 noted that Ms Rockel’s objection to her complaint being assessed under standard G2 was raised for the first time in her referral. It said that it still believed that standard G2 was the appropriate measure for judging the complaint. TV3 did not accept that it was inconsistent to apologise, and at the same time refuse to uphold the complaint. It contended that:
While the remark was objectionable to Mrs Rockel and other members of her acquaintance an equally large group could easily be found who would simply see the remark as humorous.
TV3 then commented that standard G2 was "aimed at the wider community and applie[d] a standard ‘norm’". Finally, TV3 assured the Authority that both the newsreader and the network took their responsibilities under the Broadcasting Act very seriously.
In her final comment, Ms Rockel said she was dissatisfied with TV3’s response to her referral for two reasons. First, she maintained that the response did not recognise that the comment was derogatory and discriminatory of middle-aged women. Secondly, she was dissatisfied because she believed that TV3 had sought to justify the comment on the grounds that some might have found the remark to be humorous.
Finally, Ms Rockel suggested to the Authority that her complaint should be considered "with regard to consistency with s.62(2)(b) of the Human Rights Act".
This complaint was considered by the Authority in the context of standard G2 and G13 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, as it considers both were indicated as relevant by the initial complaint. Standard G2 is set out above. Standard G13 requires broadcasters:
G13 To avoid portraying people in a way which represents as inherently inferior, or is likely to encourage discrimination against, any section of the community on account of race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation or the holding of any religious, cultural or political belief. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:
i) factual, or
ii) the expression of genuinely-held opinion in a news or current affairs programme, or
iii) in the legitimate context of a humorous, satirical or dramatic work.
The Authority is of the view that the remark was potentially in breach of standards which require good taste and decency as it could have been construed as containing an inappropriate sexual innuendo. It also considers that the fact the remark was made by a newsreader contributes to its potential offensiveness, and agrees with TV3 that it was "uncalled for and unfortunate". However, given the ambiguity of the comment and its light-hearted and spontaneous delivery, the Authority was unable to conclude that the remark was sufficiently offensive to breach standard G2. Furthermore, it observes that the action taken by the broadcaster in apologising to Ms Rockel and cautioning the newsreader was appropriate in the circumstances.
Next, the Authority considers Ms Rockel’s complaint under standard G13. The Authority records that it does not have jurisdiction to find that provisions in the Human Rights Act were breached, but considers that standard G13 is relevant, as noted above, because human rights issues were clearly signalled in Ms Rockel’s original letter of complaint. Accordingly, the Authority observes that TV3 ought to have addressed the complaint under standard G13 as well as standard G2. However, in view of the Authority’s conclusion set out below on the viability of this aspect, it did not request that TV3 make any submission on standard G13.
In previous decisions, the Authority has signalled that a high threshold for denigration or discrimination is required to be met for a breach of standard G13 to occur. On this occasion, the Authority does not consider that the remark made was sufficiently denigratory or discriminatory of middle-aged women to meet this threshold. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
27 July 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Jenny Rockel’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 10 April 2000
2. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 26 April 2000
3. Ms Rockel’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 9 May 2000
4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 26 May 2000
5. Ms Rockel’s Final Comment – 8 June 2000