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Greensill and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2007-045

Members

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

Complainant

  • David Greensill of Lower Hutt

Dated

14th August 2007

Number

2007-045

Programme

Morning Report

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand National

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Morning Report – news item reported investigation into allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour by police officers – said woman claimed that serving police officers would arrive while on duty, use handcuffs and batons on her and that she was often strangled to the point of blacking out – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and inappropriate for child listeners

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

Principle 7 (social responsibility) and guideline 7b (child listeners) – contextual factors – broadcaster was mindful of child listeners – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   A news item on Radio New Zealand National’s Morning Report programme, broadcast at approximately 7.05am on 26 March 2007, reported that the government had ordered an investigation into allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour by police officers in the Bay of Plenty as recently as five years ago. The reporter stated that a six-page spread in the Sunday News contained pictures of convicted rapist Brad Shipton with a naked woman, and stills from video footage of the women and three men having group sex. The reporter said that the woman claimed that she:

…regularly had sex with serving police officers during the 1990’s up until 2002. She claims they would arrive while on duty, use handcuffs and batons on her and that she was often strangled to the point of blacking out.

Complaint

[2]   David Greensill made a formal complaint about the item to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster. He alleged that it had breached standards of good taste and decency, and children’s interests. Mr Greensill’s concern related to the references to group sex, the use of handcuffs and a police baton. The incidents included violence and were degrading, he said.

[3]   The complainant stated that the broadcaster should have been mindful of the effect the programme could have on children as it was broadcast during their normally accepted listening times. He suggested that the broadcaster should “try explaining group sex with a police baton including violence to a seven year old over the breakfast table”.

Principles

Principles 1 and 7 and guideline 7b of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They provide:

Principle 1

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.

Guideline 7b         

Broadcasters shall be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted listening times.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]   RNZ noted that, when assessing complaints about good taste and decency, the Authority had previously placed some emphasis on the context in which a broadcast had occurred. In this case, it said, it had considered the overall context of Morning Report, a three-hour programme of news and current affairs which, on the morning in question, was reporting on very serious allegations made over the previous weekend against the police. RNZ wrote:

At the outset, Radio New Zealand acknowledges that you found the item offensive. There can be no doubt that the subject matter of the news item was offensive to a significant proportion of our audience. The reporting of such offensive matters is a responsibility which cannot be avoided in this programme. What remains then is to determine whether the manner in which it was reported was offensive in itself and if any offence could thus have been alleviated in some manner.

[6]   Referring to the actual words used in the item, RNZ contended that the manner in which the events were reported was not offensive. The detail of what had occurred was not reported, it said. For these reasons, the broadcaster found that no breach of broadcasting standards had occurred.

Referral to the Authority

[7]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Greensill referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He reiterated his view that the events were reported in sufficient detail to transgress the threshold of offensiveness. Mr Greensill was concerned that RNZ had not addressed his complaint that children were exposed to the item, which was broadcast at approximately 7.00am.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[8]   RNZ repeated its acknowledgement that the subject matter of the news item was offensive to a significant proportion of its audience. However, it said, reporting such incidents was a responsibility which RNZ could not avoid in the public interest.

[9]   Referring again to the actual words used in the item, the broadcaster maintained that the detail of the events had not been reported in an offensive manner.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[10]   Mr Greensill pointed out that RNZ had not addressed his concern about child listeners, noting that RNZ broadcast a children’s programme between 6am and 7am on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Authority's Determination

[11]   The members of the Authority have listened to 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.

Procedural Matter

[12]   The Authority notes that Mr Greensill referred to standards in the Television Code, not the Radio Code, when he lodged his formal complaint with RNZ. However, the Authority considers that his concerns about good taste and decency and child listeners were made explicit in his complaint. For this reason, the Authority is of the view that his complaint should be considered with reference to Principle 1 (good taste and decency) and Principle 7 (social responsibility), in particular guideline 7b. It proceeds to determine the complaint on that basis.

Principle 1 (good taste and decency)

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

  • the item was broadcast during Morning Report, a weekday news and current affairs programme
  • Radio New Zealand National and Morning Report have an adult target audience
  • the item reported a matter of legitimate public concern relating to the conduct of serving police officers.

[14]   In addition, the Authority considers that the references to group sex, the use of a baton and strangling were not gratuitous and the item did not include graphic descriptions of these acts. Taking into account these contextual factors, the Authority finds that Principle 1 was not breached.

Principle 7 (social responsibility) and guideline 7b

[15]   Guideline 7b to the social responsibility standard states that broadcasters must be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted listening times. Taking into account the same contextual factors listed above, the Authority considers that RNZ complied with its obligations under this standard. In particular, it notes that children would be unlikely to be listening to the news on RNZ without their parents. It declines to uphold the Principle 7 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
14 August 2007

Appendix

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

1             David Greensill’s formal complaint – 27 March 2007
2            RNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 24 April 2007
3            Mr Greensill’s referral to the Authority – 15 May 2007
4            RNZ’s response to the Authority – 28 June 2007
5            Mr Greensill’s final comment – 12 July 2007