Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Radio Live – host likened the appearance of a talent show contestant to that of a person suffering from an intellectual disability – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and social responsibility standards
Principle 7 (social responsibility) – host’s comments intended to be positive – item lacked necessary invective to amount to encouraging denigration – not upheld
Principle 1 (good taste and decency) – host had no intention to insult or offend – contextual factors – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An item broadcast on Radio Live on 27 August 2007 discussed a British talent show contestant named Paul Potts and his rapid rise to fame after his singing audition on the programme “Britain’s Got Talent”.
 During the discussion, the host likened Mr Potts’ appearance to that of a person suffering from an intellectual disability. He stated:
...last week I saw on Close Up, TV show, the introduction of a man who frankly looked like he had stepped out of IHC school and I thought, that’s a bit odd, and that’s the appeal of this man in some ways. A little short man being introduced, with a barrel for a chest, strange eyes, overweight, his arms hanging out by his side as if he was IHC. And then he opened his mouth.
 Thomas Harvey made a formal complaint to RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging the comments made by the host were socially irresponsible and in breach of good taste and decency standards.
 The complainant argued that the host’s comments were “deeply offensive and grossly repellent”. He stated that judgments about a person’s cognitive capabilities based upon their external physical characteristics were particularly cruel and insulting.
 Mr Harvey considered that the host’s comments were bigoted, implied that disabled individuals occupy a lower place in society and were inconsistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
 The complainant stated that while the host’s comments were aimed at praising Mr Potts, the context did not “vitiate their distasteful nature” and most members of the public would not find the comments appropriate.
 Mr Harvey argued that the host portrayed “both those with physical and intellectual disabilities in a manner that encouraged their denigration on that basis”. He also argued that the host’s comments did not fall within the category of legitimate humour and were unacceptable.
 Principles 1 and 7 and guideline 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:
Principle 1 Good Taste and Decency
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
Principle 7 Social Responsibility
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.
Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:
i) factual; or
ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or
iii) by way of legitimate humour or satire.
 Having received no response from the broadcaster, Mr Harvey referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 RadioWorks argued that the host’s “manner of delivery was thoughtful and overall positive”. It maintained that the host had no intention to insult or offend.
 The broadcaster stated that it was a matter of fact that many people who suffer from intellectual disabilities had certain distinctive physical characteristics. It considered that the host could not be criticised for making that point in a matter-of-fact and neutral way.
 RadioWorks believed that it was the host’s personal opinion that Mr Potts displayed some of the characteristics of a person suffering from an intellectual impairment and that whether people agreed with the host was not an issue of broadcasting standards. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Principle 1 (good taste and decency) and Principle 7 (social responsibility).
 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.
 Guideline 7a of Principle 7 states that broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of, among other things, a disability.
 The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as meaning blackening the reputation of a class of people (see for example decision 2006-030). 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).
 On this occasion, the Authority finds that the threshold for denigration was not met. It agrees with the broadcaster that the host’s manner of delivery was thoughtful and overall positive, and that he had no intention to insult or offend those with disabilities.
 The Authority considers that the host’s comments about Mr Potts’ physical appearance were his own genuinely-held opinions, and that in effect he was saying Mr Potts’ appearance belied his immense talent. It also notes that the host never stated nor implied that the disabled were a lower class of people than those without disabilities and as such, the host’s comments did not encourage the denigration of people with disabilities.
 Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the social responsibility complaint.
 When the Authority considers a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to consider the context of the item. On this occasion the relevant contextual factors included Radio Live’s adult target audience and the robust environment of talkback radio.
 The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the host had no intention to insult or offend listeners. Although his comments could appear to be potentially offensive when recorded on paper, the Authority has listened to the broadcast and taken account of the host’s thoughtful manner and the positive message he was attempting to convey – that appearances can be deceptive. Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the good taste and decency complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
19 February 2008
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Thomas Harvey’s formal complaint – 27 August 2007
2. Mr Harvey’s referral to the Authority – 23 October 2007
3. RadioWorks’ response to the Authority – 22 December 2007
4. Mr Harvey’s final comment – Due 28 January 2008