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Sturt and The Radio Network Ltd - 2006-038

Members

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

Complainant

  • Jack Sturt of Motueka

Dated

28th June 2006

Number

2006-038

Programme

Radio Sport

Channel/Station

Radio Sport

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Radio Sport – discussion about oil prices – guest referred to “thieving Arab bastards” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and denigrated Arabs

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

Principle 7 and Guideline 7a (denigration) – did not amount to blackening or hate speech – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] During a light-hearted exchange about what he regarded as the exorbitant cost of filling the petrol tank in his car, a guest on Radio Sport used the phrase “thieving Arab bastards”. The comment was broadcast at about 8.30am on 31 March 2006.

Complaint

[2] Jack Sturt complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, that the use of the phrase was inexcusable. He also expressed concern about the effect of such language on young people, who might have heard it before setting off to school.

Principles

[3] TRN assessed the complaint under Principle 1, and Principle 7 and guideline 7a, of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. 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 7a

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] In dealing with the complaint under Principle 1, TRN explained that the breakfast show on Radio Sport had a “blokey, sporty” feel to it and that it was broadcast to a largely male audience. That led to the odd expletive and, TRN said, the use of the word “bastard”, delivered good-humouredly, would not offend the target audience.

[5] Under Principle 7, TRN explained that the phrase “thieving Arab bastards” had arisen from the discussion about ever-increasing oil prices. TRN added that while the phrase expressed frustration, it had no nasty connotations. It was similar to such phrases as “whingeing pom”, and “cheating Aussies”, TRN said.

[6] TRN declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[7] Dissatisfied with TRN’s decision, Mr Sturt referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[8] On the basis that everyone in New Zealand was entitled to listen to Radio Sport, Mr Sturt did not accept that TRN’s references to a “blokey” programme and its target audience justified the use of the phrase.

[9] Pointing out he was complaining about the use of abusive and racist language, Mr Sturt did not consider TRN’s explanation about humorous banter was acceptable.

[10] Mr Sturt maintained that the phrase could be interpreted as racist and, in a volatile international climate, it was unwise to use a phrase which might provoke hostility.

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.

[12] Mr Sturt made clear when he referred his complaint to the Authority that he was concerned about the phrase “thieving Arab bastards”, which he contended was offensive and racist. He had not focused on the word “bastard”.

[13] When it determines a complaint under Principle 1 (good taste and decency), the Authority is required to take context into account. In the present case, the Authority notes that the comment was made in a joking manner and during a good-humoured exchange between the programme host and a guest. The Authority considers that the comment was a throwaway line and was not intended to offend or be taken seriously.

[14] Taking these factors into account, the Authority considers that the use of the phrase did not breach current norms of good taste and decency.

[15] In response to the denigration complaint, the broadcaster argued that the phase was similar to those such as “whingeing Pom” and “cheating Aussie”. Accordingly, TRN said, it was humorous and had “no nasty connotations whatsoever”. The Authority disagrees. Unlike these phrases which are mildly derogatory, the Authority considers that the phrase “thieving Arab bastards” is unpleasant stereotyping and has negative connotations.

[16] The Authority has ruled on a number of occasions that it will uphold a denigration complaint only when the broadcast blackens the reputation of the group referred to. In light of s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, which provides for the right to free expression, the Authority has adopted a high threshold for a breach of guideline 6g.

[17] The Authority finds that the use of the phrase on this occasion, while displaying poor judgment, did not blacken the reputation of an identifiable class of people. The Authority accordingly declines to uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
28 June 2006

Appendix

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

  1. Jack Sturt’s formal complaints – 31 March and 6 April 2006
  2. The Radio Network Ltd’s response – 19 April 2006
  3. Mr Sturt’s referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 29 April 2006
  4. TRN’s response to the Authority – 16 May 2006