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Rainey and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-145

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Tapu Misa
  • Leigh Pearson

Complainant

  • John Rainey of Auckland

Dated

23rd March 2010

Number

2009-145

Programme

Breakfast

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast – contained interview with a psychologist who discussed different personality types in the workplace – presenter used the term “schizos” before and during the interview – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, fairness and discrimination and denigration standards

Findings
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – comments lacked necessary invective to reach threshold – not upheld

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

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant did not identify any person or organisation he felt had been treated unfairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An episode of Breakfast, broadcast on TV One at 6.30am on Tuesday 22 September 2009, contained an interview with psychologist and employment relations expert Dr Giles Burch.

[2]   At 7.55am the presenter, Paul Henry, advised viewers of the upcoming interview saying, “News is next on Breakfast and then we will find out the key signs to spotting the psychopath at your workplace...”

[3]   At 8.31am, Mr Henry stated,

Coming up in the last half-hour of Breakfast we’re going to talk to an employment relations lecturer at the University of Auckland, Dr Giles Burch, who is going to tell us how to look out for the narcissists, psychopaths, hysterical personality types and schizos who you may well be working with.

[4]   Mr Henry introduced the interview at 8.46am saying:

How do you spot a madman in the workplace? For some of us it’s quite easy. Dr Giles Burch knows how. He’s a psychologist and lecturer in employment relations at the University of Auckland and joins us now.

[5]   At the beginning of the interview, Mr Henry asked Dr Burch if he could spot mad men and mad women in the workplace. Dr Burch responded by saying, “We need to be careful about using the word ‘mad’ to start with. I work with personalities, so, dysfunctional personalities”.

[6]   After asking Dr Burch about what he thought of TVNZ’s Chief Executive, Mr Henry said:

Let’s talk about the kind of freaks, well you don’t like the word ‘freak’ but I’ll use it anyway, the kind of freaks in the workplace. 

[7]   Dr Burch and Mr Henry discussed narcissistic, psychopathic and hysterical personality types. They talked about what traits people with these personality types had, the differing levels of each type, the fact that they sometimes overlapped, and the sort of jobs people with these personalities might have. Dr Burch said research had shown that people needed some of these traits to be successful, but it was when the traits were extreme that it became problematic.  

[8]   Towards the end of the interview, Mr Henry said:

All right, finally the schizos – is that a technical term?

[9]   Dr Burch said it was not a technical term and that “we need to be careful about it”. He went on to describe the traits of people with schizotypal personalities, saying that they were “creative”, “odd”, “idiosyncratic” people who “come up with the ideas” and that they needed their own space to operate in.

[10]   The interview ended with Dr Burch talking about how it was important for human resources to identify people with such personality types in order to get the best out of them.        

Complaint

[11]   John Rainey made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item had breached broadcasting standards.

[12]   The complainant argued that Mr Henry had breached standards of good taste and decency by referring to people suffering from schizophrenia as “schizos”. He contended that the use of the term by the presenter was an unfair and derogatory representation of people with schizophrenia, because it portrayed them in a negative light.

[13]   Mr Rainey considered that the presenter’s actions had breached standards relating to responsible programming and children’s interests.   

Standards

[14]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 6, 7, 8 and 9 and guidelines 1a and 7a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Guidelines

1a Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency bearing in mind the context in which any content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. programme classification, target audience, type of programme and use of warnings etc.

Standard 6 Fairness

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

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.

Standard 8 Responsible Programming

Broadcasters should ensure programmes:

  • are appropriately classified;
  • display programme classification information;
  • adhere to timebands in accordance with Appendix 1;
  • are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress; and
  • do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.
Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[15]   TVNZ noted that the Authority had previously stated that standards of good taste and decency were primarily aimed at broadcasts which contained sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. It considered Mr Henry’s use of the term “schizos” did not fall in to any of these categories and that he had used it as a light-hearted way to refer to people with schizotypal personalities.

[16]   The broadcaster contended that the psychologist had discussed schizotypal personalities, which was a description of the type of personality a person may display, and that schizophrenia had not been mentioned in the interview. It declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 1 had been breached.

[17]   Turning to fairness, TVNZ reiterated its contention that neither Mr Henry nor the psychologist had referred to people with schizophrenia or psychological disorders, but had discussed people with different personality types. It argued that the term “schizos” was not used in a derogatory manner and that it was nothing but “Paul Henry being a bit provocative”.

[18]   The broadcaster considered that, while Mr Henry’s choice of words may have been politically incorrect, the psychologist had corrected him. It argued that Mr Henry had not treated people with schizotypal personalities unfairly and declined to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

[19]   Looking at Standard 7, TVNZ argued that Mr Henry’s use of the term would not have led to the widespread denigration of people with schizotypal personalities. The broadcaster maintained that Mr Henry was not referring to people with schizophrenia and it declined to uphold the discrimination and denigration complaint.

[20]   With respect to responsible programming, the broadcaster stated that the standard related to issues such as programme classifications and ensuring that programmes did not cause alarm or undue distress for viewers. It pointed out that Breakfast was an unclassified news and current affairs programme, and argued that nothing contained in the segment would have alarmed or distressed the audience. It declined to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.

[21]   Dealing with Standard 9, TVNZ asserted that Breakfast was aimed at adult viewers and that, while Mr Henry was being provocative, the term “schizo” was not used as a reference to people with schizophrenia. It declined to uphold the children’s interests complaint. 

Referral to the Authority

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

[23]   The complainant argued that TVNZ’s contention that Mr Henry used the term “schizos” to refer to people with schizotypal personalities was “pure rubbish”, and maintained that he had been referring to people who suffered from schizophrenia.

[24]   Mr Rainey stated that, “in a short space of time”, viewers heard Mr Henry talk of “schizos” in the context of also discussing psychopaths, madmen and freaks. He reiterated his argument that the use of the term by Mr Henry had breached Standards 1, 6 and 7.

[25]   The complainant said that he accepted TVNZ’s response in respect of the Standards 8 and 9.

Authority's Determination

[26]   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 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[27]   Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[28]   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 RadioWorks1).

[29]   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 Network2).

[30]   In the Authority’s view, Mr Henry was deliberately ambiguous when he used the term “schizos”. While it could be taken that he was referring to people suffering from schizophrenia, the Authority notes that the discussion with Dr Burch was about differing personality types in the workplace, including people with schizotypal personalities. Further, the term “schizophrenia” was not used in the item and Dr Burch pointed out that “schizo” was not a technical term and that people needed to be “careful” about its use.

[31]   The Authority considers that, while the use of the term “schizo” by Mr Henry was intentionally provocative and characteristically insensitive, he said it in a light-hearted manner and in an attempt at humour. It finds that on this occasion, particularly in the context of the entire discussion where it was unclear what Mr Henry was actually referring to, the host’s comments were not sufficiently vitriolic and lacked the necessary invective to reach the threshold for encouraging denigration.

[32]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 7. 

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)       

[33]   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:

  • Breakfast was an unclassified news and current affairs programme
  • the segment was broadcast at 8.46am
  • the programme had an adult target audience
  • the expectations of regular viewers.

[34]   The Authority has previously stated (e.g. Yeoman and TVNZ3) that standards relating to good taste and decency are primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. However, the Authority has also said that it “will consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress”.4

[35]   As stated in paragraph [31] above, the Authority considers that, while intentionally provocative and characteristically insensitive, Mr Henry’s use of the term “schizo” was light-hearted, lacked invective and was an attempt at humour. The Authority has also noted that Dr Burch told viewers that “schizo” was not a technical term and that he told the host “we need to be careful about it”.

[36]   Considering that the word “schizo” was used in a discussion about schizotypal personalities and taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority finds that Mr Henry’s comments did not stray beyond the bounds of good taste and decency. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

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

[38]   The Authority notes that, in his complaint, Mr Rainey did not identify any person or organisation that he felt had been treated unfairly. Rather, he argued that Mr Henry had treated people suffering from schizophrenia unfairly by referring to them as “schizos”. Because Standard 6 relates to individuals and organisations rather than groups, the standard does not apply on this occasion.

[39]   In these circumstances, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
23 March 2010

Appendix

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

1.           John Rainey’s formal complaint – 22 September 2009
2.          TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 16 October 2009
3.          Mr Rainey’s referral to the Authority – 3 November 2009
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 21 January 2010


1Decision No. 2006-030

2Decision No. 2002-152

3Decision No. 2008-087

4Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)