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Petros and The Radio Network Ltd - 2009-040

Members

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

Complainant

  • Karam Petros of North Shore City

Dated

10th June 2009

Number

2009-040

Channel/Station

Newstalk ZB

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Talkback with Danny Watson – discussion about the Catholic Church’s excommunication of the mother and doctor of a nine-year-old girl in Brazil who had been raped, become pregnant, and had an abortion – the view of one of the people who rang in support of the Church’s actions was later criticised by other callers – a number of callers rang in criticising the Church’s actions – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, fairness and discrimination and denigration standards  

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant and Catholic Church treated fairly – not upheld 

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – subsumed into consideration of Standard 6

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – criticisms of the Catholic Church lacked necessary invective for a breach of the standard – robust nature of talkback – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   During a talkback programme, on Newstalk ZB between 12 noon and 4pm on 9 March 2009, the host discussed a nine-year-old girl in Brazil who had become pregnant after being raped and had undergone an abortion. The host explained that the Catholic Church in Brazil had excommunicated the child’s mother and doctor for allowing and performing the abortion.

[2]   The discussion moved between talking about the Catholic Church’s actions in respect of the Brazilian child having an abortion, to a discussion about the Catholic Church and religion in general. A number of callers took part in the discussion, with some supporting the Catholic Church and others being critical of it and its supporters. Their comments included the following:

...that’s why I’m not a Christian. I would never believe in anybody under any circumstances dying and coming to life again. ...for me it’s all one hundred percent mumbo jumbo. 

According to all these people that have been ringing up and going on about how this young nine-year-old girl should’ve carried this child to full term, rape is the ultimate violation and they obviously want that violation to occur continuously for the next nine months and then probably kill her. When you start dealing in absolutes like these people are doing you end up with absolutely stupid judgements. There are too many shades of grey in the world for that sort of carry-on.

...For the Catholic Church to turn around and do this act to loving, caring people who are trying obviously to do the best for this child, I find it personally abhorrent and I have no time for anybody who’s bothered to ring in and try and defend that position. I think it’s completely indefensible.  

Complaint

[3]   Karam Petros made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, alleging that the discussion had breached broadcasting standards relating to good taste and decency, fairness and discrimination and denigration. He explained that he had called in defending the Catholic Church’s stand on the issue of the Brazilian nine-year-old.

[4]   The complainant stated that, after he had taken part in the discussion, a number of other callers rang in and were heavily critical of him and his stance, with one caller referring to him as “an idiot”. He argued that the host had allowed subsequent callers to attack him personally, rather than his opinions, and that this was “totally unacceptable”.

[5]   Mr Petros said that the item turned into “a session of bashing the Catholic Church” and argued that Catholics and the Church had been denigrated and discriminated against.          

Standards

[6]   Standards 1, 6, 7 and guidelines 1a, 6a and 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 1

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Guideline 1a

Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. time of day, target audience.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guideline 6a

A consideration of what is fair will depend upon the genre of the programme (e.g. talk/talk back radio, or factual, dramatic, comedic and satirical programmes).

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

Guideline 7a

This standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is:
(i) factual
(ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion; or
(iii) legitimate humour, drama or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7]   TRN argued that the complainant had been given “a very good chance” to express his views.

[8]   The broadcaster contended that, “others gave their views, some strongly, but all well within the context of robust and opinionated talkback”. It argued the item did not contain any language or behaviour that was unacceptable and declined to uphold the complaint that the discussion breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).

[9]   With respect to fairness, TRN contended that when people enter into discussions in the robust forum that is talkback radio, they should be prepared to have their arguments and beliefs “shot down”. It argued that this is what had occurred in the complainant’s case, and that the tone and language of the disagreements were acceptable. The broadcaster declined to uphold the fairness complaint.       

Referral to the Authority

[10]   Dissatisfied with TRN’s response, Mr Petros referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He reiterated his arguments that the discussion had breached standards relating to good taste and decency and fairness.

[11]   The complainant noted that TRN had not addressed his Standard 7 complaint (discrimination and denigration) in its response to him. He reiterated his belief that the Catholic Church had been denigrated and discriminated against in the broadcast.

Authority's Determination

[12]   The members of the Authority have listened to 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.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[13]   Standard 6 requires that broadcasters deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

[14]   Having listened to the recording supplied by TRN, the Authority cannot find any reference to Mr Petros being called an “idiot” by another caller or by the host. Mr Petros stated that he worked in the health sector and that he did not dispense contraception due to his religious beliefs. Referring to this, one caller said:

Anyone who could possibly find one iota of reason why a nine-year-old should carry a child to term, to birth, is just insane...And that guy saying that he wouldn’t sell condoms...I just can’t believe it. I really thought we had come a bit further than that.

[15]   In the Authority’s view, the complainant placed himself in a position to be disagreed with by expressing what he must have known to be a controversial view on the issue. Radio talkback is a robust forum and callers must be prepared to have their views disagreed with and criticised. Provided that the criticism does not stray into the realm of personal abuse, it will generally not be unfair. In this case, the Authority considers that the caller’s statements were well within the bounds of acceptable conduct in the robust talkback environment, particularly given the emotional nature of the topic discussed.

[16]   Furthermore, the Authority considers that the host dealt with the callers, including the complainant, in a fair and even-handed manner. Mr Petros was given an adequate opportunity to state his point of view in support of the Catholic Church.

[17]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 1.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)        

[18]   Mr Petros said that the item turned into “a session of bashing the Catholic Church” and argued that Catholics and the Church had been denigrated and discriminated against. The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as meaning blackening the reputation of a class of people (see for example decision 2006-030). It is also 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 in contravention of the standards (see for example Decision No. 2002-152).

[19]   As stated in paragraph [16] above, the Authority considers that the host dealt with all the callers in a fair and even-handed manner. While some callers were critical of the Catholic Church, the criticism could not be described as vitriol or hate speech. The Authority is of the view that the callers’ comments criticising the Church did not contain the necessary invective to constitute denigration.

[20]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 7.     

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[21]   In the Authority’s view, the matters raised by the complainant under good taste and decency have been adequately addressed in its consideration of fairness. In these circumstances, the Authority subsumes its consideration of Standard 1 into its consideration of Standard 6.

 

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.          Karam Petros’ formal complaint – 25 March 2009
2.         TRN’s response to the formal complaint – 2 April 2009
3.         Mr Petros’ referral to the Authority – 14 April 2009
4.         TRN’s response to the Authority – 22 April 2009