Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast – host read out viewer feedback and made comments about a female guest's appearance – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and fairness standards – broadcaster upheld fairness complaint, apologised to complainant and spoke to host and senior staff of Breakfast – action taken allegedly insufficient
Standard 6 (fairness) – action taken sufficient – breach of standards handled appropriately by the broadcaster – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 During Breakfast, broadcast on TV One between 6.30am and 9am on 25 March 2009, a Greenpeace representative was invited onto the programme to discuss the issue of compensation for the health effects of nuclear testing.
 Following the interview, in a viewer feedback segment at 7.43am, one of the programme's hosts held up some emails from viewers, asking "should I read these out? They're a bit iffy." Despite the protestations of his co-host, and stating that "everyone in my ear is saying don’t read it out", he continued, saying:
It's about a guest we had on TV... "Seriously", this one says, "I have no idea what [the Greenpeace spokesperson] was thinking going on telly with that enormous moustache. Wax is cheap, you know". "Are mo's for female Greenpeace members standard issue?" says this other one.
 The co-host interrupted saying, "I'm having nothing to do with this. Let's move on to Dancing with the Stars, shall we?" However, the host continued, saying:
...there's people noticing things, there's people watching and noticing, and I noticed as well and I thought, that is a moustache on a lady. It was a moustache on a lady, I just noticed it. ...It's a lady with a moustache, it’s nothing to - you know, go back to your breakfast. ...It’s nothing to worry about though, it’s just a lady with a moustache...
 Later in the programme, at 8.40am, the hosts again discussed viewer feedback received throughout the morning, "mainly hate mail" relating to the host's earlier comments. His co-host said "there's been a lot of very angry, angry comments about you talking about the moustache issue", and then read out an email from a female viewer explaining common medical causes of female facial hair, concluding by saying that the host's comments had reduced her to tears. The host responded "start a group" and then questioned "how hard can it be to wax?" He continued, saying "at the end of the day, we all, everyone at home was sitting there, we were sitting here, and there was a lady with a moustache on. All I did was read out people's comments. It’s like the elephant in the room". His co-host responded, "that's true... that's all he did was read out comments sent by you, the viewers". The host then said, "you know, God, there’s a lady with a moustache, don’t mention it".
 Tony Brown made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the host "demeaning women in unfortunate situations" breached standards of good taste and decency.
 The complainant nominated Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 6. These provide:
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.
Standard 6 Fairness
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
 TVNZ stated that Breakfast was "a mixture of news, serious interviews, magazine segments, reviews 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 the host'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".
 Looking at good taste and decency, the broadcaster noted that the Authority had previously stated that Standard 1 was primarily aimed at broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. It considered that, while the host's comments may have been considered by some to be in bad taste, they did not raise issues of good taste and decency as envisaged by the standard.
 However, TVNZ was of the view that the issues raised by the broadcast would be more appropriately dealt with under the fairness standard.
 The broadcaster noted that the woman had appeared on Breakfast to discuss the issue of compensation for the health effects of nuclear testing. It acknowledged that the discussions that followed in the viewer feedback segments were inappropriate and irrelevant to the reason she appeared on the programme. TVNZ considered that, in those circumstances, when she was a guest invited to discuss a serious issue, "such personal comments about her appearance were inappropriate and unfair to her". Accordingly, the broadcaster concluded that the woman had been treated unfairly and upheld the complaint under Standard 6 (fairness).
 TVNZ apologised to the complainant and his family for any offence caused by the host's remarks, and maintained that steps had been taken to ensure that broadcasting standards were adhered to. It stated that it was committed to maintaining broadcasting standards and viewed this sort of breach very seriously. It said that as a result of this incident, discussions had been held with the News and Current Affairs department to clarify TVNZ's expectations around such matters. The head of that department had called meetings with the executive producer and senior staff of Breakfast, as well as with the host involved, to insist on the need for more care and discretion around editorial decisions about material covered in the programme. In particular, TVNZ said, the host had "been told that on-air editorial decisions are not his to make and that he must adhere to the executive producer's decisions in this regard".
 Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ, Mr Brown referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He said that, while he agreed with the broadcaster's decision, he was "quite unhappy about the pathetic action they have taken as a result of the incident". Mr Brown considered that TVNZ had a duty to make a public apology to viewers.
 TVNZ noted that the incident had provoked significant negative publicity for TVNZ and considered that this served as sufficient penalty. It was also concerned that further on-air publicity at this stage might only serve to "re-victimise the woman in question". The broadcaster reiterated that it had upheld the complaint, apologised, and spoken to the host involved and the senior staff of Breakfast.
 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.
 In the Authority's view, the host's behaviour amounted to a blatant breach of broadcasting standards. It therefore agrees with TVNZ’s decision to uphold the complaint under the fairness standard. The Authority’s task on this occasion is to determine whether the broadcaster acted sufficiently and appropriately once it had upheld Mr Brown’s complaint.
 The Authority notes that TVNZ considered Mr Brown's complaint under the most relevant standard (Standard 6) even though it did not have to do so, given that Mr Brown only nominated Standard 1 in his formal complaint. Having upheld the complaint, the broadcaster apologised to Mr Brown and counselled senior staff of Breakfast and the host involved. The Authority considers that this was appropriate and sufficient. It agrees with TVNZ that it would be difficult to readdress the issue on air without further victimising the interviewee.
 In these circumstances, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the action taken by TVNZ after upholding Mr Brown's complaint was insufficient.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
19 August 2009
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Tony Brown's formal complaint – 25 March 2009
2. TVNZ's response to the complaint – 24 April 2009
3. Mr Brown's referral to the Authority – 14 May 2009
4. TVNZ's response to the Authority – 5 June 2009