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Brown and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-085

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa

Complainant

  • Warren Brown of Hamilton

Dated

17th September 2009

Number

2009-085

Programme

Q+A

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Q+A – panel discussion about immigration policy in New Zealand – one panellist stated that meeting immigration criteria was not an easy process and included a test for syphilis – host responded “How did the test turn out? I’m sorry!” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, privacy and children’s interests

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – question was light-hearted and intended to be humorous – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 3 (privacy) – no private facts disclosed – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – unaccompanied children unlikely to watch news programmes – host’s question would have gone over the heads of child viewers – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   During an episode of the current affairs programme Q+A, broadcast on TV One at 9am on Sunday 14 June 2009, the host and a panel of three commentators discussed immigration policy and processes in New Zealand.

[2]   One of the panel members was an immigrant and stated:

Let me tell you from personal experience, it was far from easy. By the time I’d been tested for syphilis and had gone to a police station to be fingerprinted for a security check and stood in line, I think for three hours, I have to tell you, it was not an easy process.

[3]   The host responded by saying, “How did the test turn out? I’m sorry!” The panel member laughed and said, “Paul, really!”.

Complaint

[4]   Warren Brown made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the host’s comments breached standards of good taste and decency, privacy and children’s interests.

[5]   The complainant stated that the host’s question to the panellist was indecent and in bad taste. He considered that the host had compounded the problem by not apologising immediately.

[6]   With respect to privacy, Mr Brown argued that the panellist was “not a publicly elected figure and should not have to defend her private life on Sunday morning television”.

[7]   Turning to children’s interests, the complainant said that the programme was broadcast when children would have been watching and argued that the host’s question was “inappropriate viewing material” for younger viewers.

Standards

[8]   Standards 1, 3 and 9 and guidelines 9a and 9d of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice and privacy principle 1 of the Authority’s Privacy Principles are relevant to the determination of this complaint. 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 3 Privacy

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the privacy of the individual.

Privacy principle 1

It is inconsistent with an individual’s privacy to allow the public disclosure of private facts, where the disclosure is highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Guidelines

9a   Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.

9d   Broadcasters should have regard to the fact that children tend to watch television through to midday on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and during school and public holidays. Accordingly, special attention should be given to providing appropriate warnings during these periods.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   With respect to Standard 1, TVNZ said that the host’s question was a light-hearted attempt at humour and that it had been greeted by laughter from the panel. It considered that the remark was “attempting to lighten a serious discussion” and that the comment would have been understood by viewers to be humorous in that regard.

[10]   The broadcaster contended that the panel member had not seemed bothered by the host’s question and was “comfortable enough to further the joke” by shaking her head and saying “Paul, really!”. It noted that the discussion quickly moved on and that nobody dwelt on the incident. TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the programme had breached Standard 1.

[11]   Dealing with privacy, the broadcaster stated that it could not identify any breach of privacy in the broadcast. It contended that while the panellist was identifiable, “no private facts about her were disclosed (except by [the panellist] herself – in which case she was clearly happy for them to be in the public realm)”. It pointed out that the panellist had not answered the host’s question and contended that the host had not expected her to. TVNZ declined to uphold the privacy complaint.

[12]   Turning to Standard 9 (children’s interests), TVNZ noted that Q+A was broadcast during a line-up of adult programming and that it had followed on from Sunday, Praise Be and Tagata Pasifika. It argued that these programmes were aimed at older viewers and that it was unlikely that younger viewers would have been watching without the guidance of a parent or adult.

[13]   The broadcaster contended that the programme had not contained any material that would have been likely to disturb or alarm younger viewers, and it declined to uphold the children’s interests complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[14]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Brown referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[15]   Mr Brown stated that he was appalled by the host’s question and argued that the panellist looked “shocked” and “bewildered”.

[16]   The complainant maintained that the panellist’s privacy had been breached, saying that Standard 3 included “stopping attempts to invade someone’s privacy”.

[17]   Mr Brown noted that guideline 9d stated that broadcasters needed to have regard to the fact that children watched television through to midday on Saturday and Sunday. He reiterated his argument that the programme had breached Standard 9.

Authority's Determination

[18]   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.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[19]   When the Authority considers an alleged breach of good taste and decency, it takes into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the programme was broadcast at 9am on a Sunday morning

  • Q+A was an unclassified news and currents affairs programme

  • the programme had an adult target audience.

[20]   In the Authority’s view, while the panellist initially looked slightly taken aback by the host’s question, it agrees with the broadcaster that the question was clearly not intended to be answered. It notes that the panellist took the remark as an attempt at humour, briefly laughing and saying “Paul, really!” before moving on.

[21]   The Authority also notes that the host apologised immediately after asking the question and that the incident was not dwelt on or referred to again during the programme.

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

Standard 3 (privacy)

[23]   Privacy principle 1 states that broadcasters should not disclose private facts about an identifiable individual, where that disclosure would be highly offensive to an objective reasonable person. The Authority points out that the privacy principle 1 does not, as the complainant contended, apply to “attempts” to elicit such disclosures.

[24]   Because the panellist did not answer the host’s question about the results of her syphilis test, opting to laugh it off, the Authority notes that the programme did not disclose any private facts about her. It declines to uphold the privacy complaint.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[25]   The Authority has stated on a number of occasions that unaccompanied young children are unlikely to watch news and current affairs programmes (see, for example Angus and TVWorks Ltd1). In any event, it considers that the panellist’s remark about being tested for syphilis and the host’s question in response would have gone over the heads of child viewers who may have been watching. The programme did not contain any material that would have disturbed or alarmed children.

[26]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 9.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
17 September 2009

Appendix

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

1.            Warren Brown’s formal complaint – 14 June 2009

2.           TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 13 July 2009

3.           Mr Brown’s referral to the Authority – 20 July 2009

4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 31 July 2009


1Decision No. 2009-009