Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Thomas the Tanked Engine – use of the word “faggot” – allegedly in breach of social responsibility
Principle 7 (social responsibility) and guideline 7a (denigration) – threshold for denigration not met – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 During a segment called Thomas the Tanked Engine, broadcast on Radio Hauraki’s Breakfast Show on 29 October 2007, the word “faggot” was used by the character Thomas. The following exchange took place between the characters Thomas and Percy:
Thomas: Look Percy, there are the two key members of “King”.
Percy: No Thomas, they’re (indistinct), oh never mind...
 Michael Botur made a formal complaint to The Radio Network (TRN), the broadcaster, alleging that the character’s use of the word “faggot” was in breach of social responsibility standards.
 Mr Botur stated that during the item “homophobic remarks” were made about Queen’s former singer Freddy Mercury and the band itself, which he found offensive.
 TRN assessed the complaint under Principle 7 and guideline 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:
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.
 TRN stated that Radio Hauraki’s breakfast show was “an irreverent, free-wheeling programme featuring two comedians” and explained that Thomas the Tanked Engine was a daily segment and a humorous piece on current issues.
 The broadcaster said that, in the segment complained of, a number of puns and alliterations were used and “at one point the word ‘faggot’ was dropped in”. It argued that the piece was satirical and was not intended to be taken seriously. TRN declined to uphold the complaint that the segment had breached the social responsibility standard.
 Dissatisfied with TRN’s response, Mr Botur referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 The complainant argued that the use of the word “faggot” encouraged the denigration of people based on their sexual orientation and that the segment “made it seem to the listener that it was acceptable to denigrate homosexuals”. Mr Botur maintained that the item had breached standards of 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 (social responsibility) 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, their sexual orientation.
 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)
 Further, the Authority noted in Decision No. 2005-112 that the standard:
...is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is in the legitimate context of a humorous or satirical work. The right to satirise, dramatise and laugh at society’s institutions is the very essence of free speech. Because democratic societies place a high value on these forms of expression, the Authority has set a high threshold before such material will be found to have amounted to denigration. A satirical or humorous work would have to move towards the realm of hate speech or vitriol before the threshold would be crossed.
 On this occasion, the Authority considers that the item lacked the necessary invective to cross the threshold for denigration. Thomas the Tanked Engine was a daily comedy skit and the segment was clearly intended to be light-hearted and humorous. It did not amount to encouraging denigration or discrimination for the purposes of Principle 7 and guideline 7a. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached standards of social responsibility.
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. Michael Botur’s formal complaint – 15 November 2007
2. TRN’s response to the formal complaint – 23 November 2007
3. Mr Botur’s referral to the Authority – 13 December 2007
4. TRN’s response to the Authority – 21 December 2007