Skip to main content

Singh and Radio Tarana - 2009-089

Members

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

Complainant

  • Ritesh Singh of Auckland

Dated

17th September 2009

Number

2009-089

Programme

Zindagi Forever

Channel/Station

Radio Tarana

Broadcaster

Radio Tarana


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Zindagi Forever – religious programme discussed Christianity – allegedly discriminated against and denigrated Hindu religion, and breached responsible programming standard

Findings
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – host was entitled to present his personal views and experiences with Christianity – programme did not encourage denigration of or discrimination against Hindus – not upheld

Standard 8 (responsible programming) – not applicable – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  Zindagi Forever, or “Life Forever”, was broadcast on Radio Tarana at 7am on 30 May 2009. The programme’s host discussed religion and in particular his belief in Jesus and the Bible. Early in the programme, he said:1

I wanted to have salvation. I wanted to have freedom. But I knew that the deep pit of deeds (karma) stood between God and myself, separating me. I knew that I had to keep coming back to earth, taking on a series of births, in different forms sometimes as an animal, sometimes as a bird, sometimes as a human being... I had heard that 8.4 million times: we would need to have rebirth. It seemed an impossible thing. But one day someone gave me a Bible... After that my life changed, I never walked in darkness again. I never walked in untruth again.

Complaint

[2]   Ritesh Singh made a formal complaint to Radio Tarana, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached standards relating to discrimination and denigration, and responsible programming. Mr Singh alleged that the radio host had ridiculed and denigrated Hindu concepts and the Hindu religion, while promoting Christianity.

Standards

[3]   Mr Singh nominated Standards 7 and 8 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. They provide:

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.

Standard 8 Responsible Programming

Broadcasters should ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4]   Radio Tarana stated that it had had the programme translated, and was satisfied that in no part of the programme did the host refer to the Hindu culture, and “neither did he ridicule the Hindu culture”.

Referral to the Authority

[5]   Dissatisfied with Radio Tarana’s response, Mr Singh referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He considered that Radio Tarana should broadcast an apology to Hindus.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[6]   Radio Tarana provided the Authority with an English translation of the programme.

Further Comments from the Complainant

[7]   Mr Singh disputed the translation of “it seemed an impossible thing”. He argued that the correct translation was “it seemed an almost impossible belief”.

Further Comments from the Broadcaster

[8]   Radio Tarana disagreed with the complainant. It maintained that, in the programme, there was “no direct use of the word ‘belief’ in the sentence but rather reference to the context as an assumption”.

Further Comments from the Complainant

[9]   In response to Radio Tarana’s argument that the programme did not refer to Hinduism, Mr Singh maintained that, as the belief in the cycle of 8.4 million deaths and rebirths was exclusive to Hinduism, the programme had referred to the Hindu religion. He considered there was no need for the programme to mention this Hindu belief unless it was being compared to Christianity. In doing so, he said, one set of beliefs was denigrated to highlight the other belief as being preferable. Further, the host’s comment that the belief was “almost impossible”, “ridiculed and challenged Hindu sentiments and denigrated Hinduism and its belief”.

Broadcaster’s Final Comment

[10]   Radio Tarana forwarded comments from the Navjaveen Ministries International Charitable Trust (NMI), the programme provider, and from the host of the programme.

[11]   NMI maintained that the concept of death and rebirth was not unique to one religion, but had been present in many cultures and religions for a long time. It noted that the host in the programme said “he had heard” that one had to go through 8.4 million rebirths, and there was no mention of that being sourced from Hindu scriptures. NMI argued it could not be inferred that the host had singled out Hindu beliefs, and that he intended to highlight the complexity of attaining salvation through this belief of reincarnation. It emphasised that the host shared his own personal views and understanding of ancient beliefs.

[12]   NMI noted that the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice did not prevent broadcasters commenting on other religions, and referred to guideline 7a to the discrimination and denigration standard.

[13]   The host of the programme emphasised that the comments he made were his personal opinions and experiences. He noted that he was from a Hindu background and he respected his culture, and he had not intended to disrespect anyone or any group.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[14]   Mr Singh said that although “other religions may have a concept of reincarnation they don’t believe in the concept of an exact ‘8.4 million’ births.”

Authority's Determination

[15]   The members of the Authority have read an English translation of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[16]   At the outset the Authority wishes to acknowledge the efforts of both parties in preparing detailed submissions, and particularly the translation provided by Radio Tarana.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[17]   Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community. The term "denigration" has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people (see for example Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks)2. It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration in contravention of the standard (see for example McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network)3.

[18]   On this occasion, the programme complained about consisted of one man’s personal opinions and experience of Christianity. Regardless of the correct translation of the comment that Mr Singh is concerned about – whether the belief in 8.4 million rebirths “seemed an impossible thing”, or “seemed an almost impossible belief” – the Authority considers that the host was entitled to present his personal perspective. It accepts that the comment was in no way intended to offend listeners or to disrespect Hindus – it is clear from the transcript that the host’s tone was calm, courteous and measured.

[19]   The Authority notes that the right to free speech guaranteed by section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act includes the right to be critical of, and even disrespectful towards, religions. Guideline 7(a)(ii) to Standard 7 states that the standard is not intended to prevent material that is a "genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion". Because democratic societies place a high value on these forms of expression, the Authority has set a high threshold for such material before it amounts to denigration; it would have to move towards the realm of hate speech or vitriol before the threshold would be crossed. On this occasion, the Authority does not consider that the comment complained about came anywhere near the threshold for denigration.

[20]   Accordingly, the Authority concludes that the broadcast did not encourage discrimination against or denigration of Hindus or the Hindu religion. It declines to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Standard 8 (responsible programming)

[21]   Standard 8 states that broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programme information and content is socially responsible. The standard relates to matters such as ensuring a clear distinction between programming and advertising material, the use of warnings where content may disturb, and collusion between broadcasters and contestants during competitions.

[22]   The Authority finds that the responsible programming standard is not applicable in the circumstances, and it declines to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 8.

 

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.            Ritesh Singh’s formal complaint – 19 June 2009

2.            Radio Tarana’s response to the complaint – 15 July 2009

3.            Mr Singh’s referral to the Authority – 23 July 2009

4.            Radio Tarana’s response to the Authority – 23 July 2009

5.            Further comments from Mr Singh – 17 August 2009

6.            Further comments from Radio Tarana – 17 August 2009

7.            Further comments from Mr Singh – 21 August 2009

8.            Comments from Navjeevan Ministries International Charitable Trust and programme host –
               25 August 2009

9.            Mr Singh’s final comment – 25 August 2009


1English translation provided by Radio Tarana

2Decision No. 2006-030

3Decision No. 2002-152