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Middleton and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-032

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Grant Middleton of Waitakere

Dated

10th June 2009

Number

2009-032

Programme

Breakfast

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast – Europe correspondent discussed 13-year-old boy who had allegedly fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl – reported that other boys had claimed there was a possibility they were the father – commented that the girl was “a bit of a goer” – presenter referred to the girl as a “slapper” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   At approximately 7.45am during Breakfast, broadcast on TV One between 6.30am and 9am on 17 February 2009, one of the hosts interviewed TVNZ’s Europe correspondent, who provided a weekly round-up of topical European stories. The correspondent reported on a recent UK scandal in which two families had sold the story of their children becoming parents at ages 13 and 15 to a UK tabloid newspaper. Holding up the tabloid showing the front page picture of the 13-year-old father, the correspondent explained that two more teenage boys had come forward and claimed paternity of the baby. During the report, the correspondent offered the opinion that the young mother was “a bit of a goer”.

[2]   Following the report, the host cited examples of young parents in New Zealand, commenting “it just makes you sick, doesn’t it?” Her co-host replied, “It does,” then went on to say:

You’d have to praise them all on name selection – Alfie, Maisy and Chantelle – there’s a huge future for them as a little family, isn’t there? And as long as she stops being a slapper, which she clearly is at the moment.

Complaint

[3]   Grant Middleton made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the host’s conduct was “offensive and frankly unprofessional”. He objected to the comments about the mother being “a bit of a goer” and a “slapper”, which were only based on the claims of two teenage boys. Mr Middleton considered it was “not the job of [the host] to defame these young kids on TV when they are already being trashed globally”.

Standards

[4]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]   TVNZ stated that Breakfast was “a mixture of news, serious interviews, magazine segments, review and often frequent good-natured ribbing at the expense of almost anyone in the headlines or visiting the set”. It said that participants and viewers appreciated this, and in particular Paul Henry’s “‘shoot from the lip’ hyperbolic comments [were] an accepted style and integral part of the daily morning fare for the programme’s growing audience”. TVNZ noted the Authority’s Decision No. 2008-072. It considered that this was a similar occasion where the host made an off-the-cuff remark, and that he frequently made ad-lib comments that polarised the viewing public.

[6]   TVNZ contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown, including the time of broadcast, the programme’s target audience, its classification, and the use of warnings. It noted that Breakfast had an adult target audience.

[7]   The broadcaster also noted that the Authority had previously stated (e.g. Decision Nos. 2008-080 and 2008-087), that standards relating to good taste and decency are primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. TVNZ considered that the programme complained about did not fall into any of these categories. The word “slapper”, it said, was “a colloquial slang term which does not reach the threshold to be considered coarse language as intended by this standard”.

[8]   TVNZ concluded that the comment would not have offended a significant number of viewers and declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[9]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Middleton referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He considered that a programme did not have to contain nudity or bad language to be in bad taste or insulting, and that the host’s comments were far from balanced. Further, the audience would not have been exclusively adult at 7.45am, he said.

[10]   Mr Middleton pointed out that “the person being so ruthlessly insulted was a child”, and also that no insulting comments were made about the boys in the story. He said that “so much work goes into making young women feel equal and then this is destroyed by comments like [the host’s]”.

Authority's Determination

[11]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[12]   When the Authority considers an alleged breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the contextual factors which are relevant include:

  • the programme was broadcast between 6.30am and 9am
  • expectations of regular viewers
  • the programme had an adult target audience
  • Breakfast is an unclassified news and current affairs programme.

[13]   Mr Middleton complained that the comments that the girl was “a bit of a goer” and a “slapper”, made by the correspondent and the host, breached standards of good taste and decency.

[14]   The Authority acknowledges that some viewers may have considered the comments to be unnecessary. However, the segment was clearly a gossip or tabloid magazine piece highlighting the fact that the “story” had been sold to the media and was now subject to challenge. Regular viewers would have understood that the comments made by the host and the correspondent were light-hearted and colloquial descriptions of how the young girl was being portrayed in the media since other boys had come forward claiming paternity of her child.

[15]   In these circumstances, the Authority considers that the comments did not breach standards of good taste and decency. It therefore declines to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
10 June 2009

Appendix

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

1.          Grant Middleton’s formal complaint – 5 March 2009
2.         TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 20 March 2009
3.         Mr Middleton’s referral to the Authority – 31 March 2009
4.         TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 21 April 2009