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Clancy and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-042

Dated

4th July 2008

Number

2008-042

Programme

Breakfast

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast – presenters had several light-hearted discussions about the Pope – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, balance, accuracy and fairness    

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

Standard 4 (balance) – presenters did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – presenters’ comments distinguishable from points of fact – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – programme did not denigrate the Pope or Catholics – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   In an episode of Breakfast, broadcast on TV One at 7am on Tuesday 26 February 2008, the presenters, Paul Henry and Pippa Wetzell, and the newsreader, Peter Williams, had a jovial discussion about the current Pope and what he had been doing recently.

[2]   During the programme, the presenters mentioned the Pope on three separate occasions and their discussions included the following exchanges:

Henry:      You don’t hear much about the Pope now do you?...Do you remember there was
                a period of time when it was Pope this and Pope that?...And now the new Pope,
                German Pope he is he’s gone very quiet hasn’t he?...I wonder if he has done
                something? But it is odd...because you remember...all of a sudden is the Pope
                dead, isn’t the Pope dead.

Wetzell:     Well, there was that...and before that there were a couple of controversial
                comments...but he did have that controversy recently, over...what did he say?

Henry:       The Nazis? Or not

Wetzell:     I can’t remember

Henry:       Good to have you with us...as we conduct Pope-watch. As you pointed out, there
                was the issue with the Muslims, that was a few months ago...He offended the
                Muslim world, but then he apologised. So that’s two things he did. And Peter has
                the latest on Pope-watch. What’s the Pope been up to recently?         

[3]   Peter Williams then reported that the Pope had recently dedicated part of St. Peter’s Basilica to a saint. Directly after the report, viewers were able to see Mr Williams from behind as he appeared to make the sign of the cross. The presenters then joked about the dedication.

[4]   After an advertising break, Mr Henry read out a fax that stated “Could Paul and Pippa stop making fun of the Pope?”. The presenters responded by saying:

Henry:      No, no…why shouldn’t we make fun of the Pope? Why? 

Wetzell:     ...we were making fun of the Pope, but we were talking about the Pope, and
                that’s not a bad thing. Because we did go for a series of months when the Pope
                seemed to feature in every news bulletin. But so, we were just trying to figure
                out what he was up to.  

Complaint

[5]   Kevin Clancy made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item had breached standards of good taste and decency, balance, accuracy and fairness.

[6]   The complainant alleged that Mr Williams was seen from behind making a religious gesture with his hands (the sign of the cross) and that this act was mocking and insulting to Catholics and had breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).

[7]   Referring to guideline 4a of the balance standard, Mr Clancy contended that “questions of a controversial nature must show balance and impartiality”. He considered that Ms Wetzell’s comments that the Pope had offended Muslims were unbalanced because they were her personal opinion on a very controversial issue “put in an extremely flippant…and uninformed manner”.

[8]   Mr Clancy argued that guideline 5d of the accuracy standard had been breached because the factual report about the Pope dedicating part of the Basilica was not distinguishable from the opinions and comments made by the presenters. He maintained that the presenters’ comments “used a factual report to make fun of the Pope and Catholic practices, i.e. blessings of buildings”.

[9]   The complainant noted that Ms Wetzell admitted they were making fun of the Pope and contended that her explanation of why they were having a discussion “wondering what the Pope was doing” was false. He stated that the presenters knew what the Pope had been doing recently before their discussion because they had been given a news release that morning which had told them.

[10]   Referring to guideline 6g of the fairness standard, the complainant argued that the discussion and the behaviour of the presenters was insulting and “could lead to the denigration of Catholics”.   

Standards

[11]   TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 4, 5 and 6 and guidelines 1a, 4a, 5d and 6g of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. 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.

Guideline 1a         

Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Guideline 4a         

Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality.

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Guideline 5d         

Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, should be clearly distinguishable.

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.

Guideline 6g         

Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i)    factual, or

ii)   the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other
     factual programmes, or

iii)  in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work,

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[12]   TVNZ argued that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. The broadcaster contended that the presenters’ comments were of a light-hearted nature and that they were obviously “making a joke”. With respect to Mr Williams allegedly making the sign of the cross, the broadcaster argued that “it was actually unclear that this is what he was doing” and that the camera cut away as he put his hand to his forehead.  It did not agree with the complainant that this “short piece of footage would offend a significant number of viewers”.

[13]   The broadcaster maintained that the comments were “off the cuff” and that Ms Wetzell “couldn’t remember what the comments made by the Pope were that had recently caused controversy”. TVNZ stated that she was probably recalling part of a speech given by the Pope in Germany that had caused controversy around the world and for which the Pope had been forced to apologise. The broadcaster stated that Mr Henry did not call the Pope a Nazi, but had said “Nazis” when Ms Wetzell couldn’t remember what the Pope had said to cause the controversy she was thinking of. 

[14]   The broadcaster contended that there was “considerable audience expectation of Breakfast” that banter took place between the presenters and that this banter was meant to be humorous. It declined to uphold the good taste and decency complaint. 

[15]   Responding to the balance complaint, TVNZ argued that the exchanges about the Pope did not constitute a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance. It stated that the conversations were meant to be amusing and would not have been taken seriously by the majority of Breakfast viewers. It declined to uphold the complaint that the programme was unbalanced.

[16]   With respect to accuracy, the broadcaster contended that the “What’s the Pope up to?” conversation was intended to be humorous and was clearly distinguishable from a serious factual news broadcast. It declined to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 5 (accuracy).

[17]   TVNZ argued that the presenters’ comments would not lead to the widespread denigration of Catholics. It stated that the “quick references to controversy and the Pope in regard to his comments about Muslims” did not breach the fairness standard as the incident did occur. The broadcaster said that the Breakfast team did not imply that Catholics or the Pope were inferior in any way.

[18]   The broadcaster assumed that Mr Henry’s “Nazis” comment was a quick reference to the controversy surrounding the Pope’s alleged membership in the Hitler Youth as a child. That controversy died down after it became apparent that membership was enforced, it said.

[19]   In conclusion, TVNZ stated that the presenters’ light-hearted comments did not treat the Pope or Catholics unfairly. It declined to uphold the complaint.    

Referral to the Authority

[20]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Clancy referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He contended that the presenters’ comments were not “light-hearted banter”, but were intended to make fun of the Pope.

[21]   Mr Clancy considered that the comments may have been excusable in a comedy programme, but not during a news and information programme such as Breakfast.

[22]   The complainant believed that the broadcaster had not conducted a proper enquiry into Mr Williams making the sign of the cross and that it should have asked him whether he had made the sign.

[23]   Mr Clancy argued that, under the fairness standard, denigration did not have to be “widespread” as stated by TVNZ in its response.    

Authority's Determination

[24]   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)

[25]   When the Authority considers a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the programme was broadcast between 6.30am and 9am
  • expectations of regular viewers that there will be a fair amount of banter
  • the programme was rated G (General Audience).

[26]   In the Authority’s view, Breakfast is a magazine-style programme thatcontains a mixture of news, current affairs and entertainment. Chatty opinion and light-hearted banter between the programme’s presenters are a regular part of its format

[27]   While the Authority accepts that Mr Henry’s style is irreverent and sometimes provocative, it considers that the exchange about the Pope was jovial and not intended to be taken as a serious discussion.

[28]   The Authority accepts that Mr Williams appeared to make the sign of the cross during the item. However, it considers that this was done in a good-natured rather than offensive manner, and did not breach standards of good taste and decency.

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

Standard 4 (balance)

[30]   Standard 4 requires broadcasters to provide balance when discussing controversial issues of public importance. The Authority considers that the presenters’ banter regarding the Pope’s recent activities did not constitute a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance. As a result, the balance standard is not applicable in the circumstances.

[31]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[32]   Standard 5 requires that news, current affairs and other factual programmes be truthful and accurate on points of fact. Mr Clancy argued that guideline 5d of the accuracy standard had been breached because the factual report on the Pope’s dedication was not distinguishable from the comments and opinions of the presenters. The Authority disagrees. It considers that the comments made by the presenters were clearly distinguishable as their own personal opinions, and that viewers would have realised that their comments did not form part of the factual news report concerning the Pope’s recent dedication.

[33]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme was inaccurate.    

Standard 6 (fairness)

[34]   The complainant argued that the presenters’ conversations could lead to the denigration of Catholics. The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as meaning blackening the reputation of a class of people (see for example Decision No. 2004-129). 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).

[35]   As mentioned above, the Authority finds that the presenters were engaged in light-hearted banter intended to entertain viewers. In these circumstances, the Authority is satisfied that the presenters’ comments were meant to be humorous and were not aimed at denigrating, nor did they denigrate, the Pope or Catholics. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 6.   

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 July 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Kevin Clancy’s formal complaint – 6 March 2008
2.           TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 11 April 2008
3.           Mr Clancy’s referral to the Authority – 24 April 2008
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 13 May 2008