Radio Sport – Martin Devlin – Japanese "vile gits" – East Timorese "gooks" – offensive language – racist – denigratory
Principle 1 – talkback context – strong language to be expected – no uphold
Principle 7 – reference to East Timorese militia as "gooks" racist and denigratory – uphold
Costs of $500 to Crown
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Japanese were referred to by the host as "vile gits" and "pricks" in the context of their whaling practices on a Radio Sport programme broadcast on 27 September 2000 at about 8.30am. The host suggested that helicopter gunships should be sent to blow up their whaling boats. Next, a guest contributor on the programme referred to East Timorese militia as "gooks".
Doug Richards complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, that the remarks were offensive and racist. In his view, the host’s tone of voice made it clear that he was not joking.
In its response, TRN contended that the programme was "robust, opinionated and entertaining". The host’s remarks, it said, were "no more than a strong comment" directed against an activity which he believed was wrong. The reference to the East Timorese was made by a comedian who had just returned from entertaining the troops there, and was directed at those militia who were causing death and destruction, it wrote. TRN declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TRN’s decision, Mr Richards 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 upholds the complaint that Principle 7 was breached. It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint. The Authority orders the broadcaster to pay costs of $500 to the Crown.
The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the items complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
During his programme on 27 September 2000, host Martin Devlin referred to Japanese in the context of whaling as "vile gits" and "pricks". He also suggested that New Zealand should declare war on Japan, and send helicopter gunships to blow up their whaling boats. Following these remarks, a guest contributor to the programme referred to East Timorese as "gooks".
Doug Richards complained to TRN that these remarks were racist and, based on the host’s tone of voice, he did not believe he was kidding. He said the remarks were very offensive, and that the host sounded like a member of the Ku Klux Klan, or something similar.
TRN advised that it had considered the complaint under Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. That principle states:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.
7a Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:
i. factual, or
ii. a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or
iii. by way of legitimate humour or satire.
First TRN observed that regular followers of the host’s programme would know that it was intended to be "robust, opinionated and entertaining". It maintained that the host’s reaction to the killing of sperm whales by the Japanese "was therefore no more than strong comment directed against an action which he believed to be wrong".
The reference to the East Timorese by Mike King (a comedian who had just returned from East Timor where he had entertained the troops) was, TRN said, directed at the militiamen "causing havoc and destruction". It declined to uphold the complaint.
Mr Richards then referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority for investigation and review.
TRN advised that it had no further comment.
First, the Authority deals with the remarks made by the host when he described Japanese whalers as "vile gits" and "pricks". The Authority notes that the context for the comments was a Radio Sport programme which began with the host expressing his concern that the Japanese were going to resume whaling "for research purposes". During his commentary, the host became increasingly impassioned about the prospect of the world’s sperm whale population being decimated, and about the effects of whaling on the environment. The Authority considers that his comments were sincere, even if somewhat intemperate, but in the context of the genre, unexceptional. It concludes that the remarks were not so offensive as to breach the principle relating to good taste and decency, and declines to uphold this aspect. As the comments carried no racial connotations that encouraged denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community, the Authority also declines to uphold the complaint under Principle 7.
The Authority reaches a different conclusion about the comment made by the guest contributor, Mike King, when, in relation to the efforts of New Zealand soldiers in East Timor, he said:
Those boys that are up there are doing a damn fine job…we don’t get the full reports back here about what’s going on. These guys have been chasing gooks for weeks…
Notwithstanding that the speaker had recently returned from East Timor where he had visited the army personnel stationed there, the Authority considers that the use of the word "gooks" in this context breached Guideline 7a of Principle 7. The word’s meaning, the Authority finds, is intentionally pejorative and, according to the dictionary definition, is only capable of being interpreted as a racial slur which encourages discrimination against a racial group. Accordingly, the Authority upholds this aspect of the complaint.
For the reasons given, the Authority upholds the complaint that a broadcast by The Radio Network Ltd on Radio Sport on 27 September 2000 at about 8.30am breached Guideline 7a of Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
The Authority declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under s.13 and s.16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Accordingly, it invited the parties to make submissions on penalty.
In its submission, the broadcaster emphasised that the guest contributor had appeared in a live segment and that it had not been possible for the host to dump the offending word. It offered to "counsel the contributor".
In Mr Richards’ view, the racist language had been encouraged by the announcer, and therefore justified the maximum penalty to send a clear message to the broadcaster that such language was totally unacceptable.
Having considered these submissions, the Authority concludes that a penalty is warranted. It reaches this conclusion on the basis that racist remarks are expressly prohibited in broadcasts. It reminds the broadcaster of its obligations under the Broadcasting Act and acknowledges TRN’s offer to counsel the contributor. The Authority makes the following order:
Pursuant to s.16(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders The Radio Network Ltd to pay, within one month of the date of this decision, costs to the Crown in the sum of $500.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
18 December 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: