Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Top of the Class – boy commented that playing the recorder was “gay” – allegedly encouraged denigration of and discrimination against homosexual people
Standard 6 (fairness) and guideline 6g (denigration and discrimination) – boy used the word “gay” to mean “lame” or “stupid” – did not amount to the high level of invective required for a breach of the standard – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 Top of the Class was a reality entertainment programme, broadcast on TV One, in which New Zealand celebrities were paired with 10-year-old look-alikes and vied with each other in various competitions. In an episode broadcast at 7.30pm on Sunday 11 June 2006, the contestants were learning how to play the recorder. One of the young schoolboys said “recorders is (sic) gay, extremely gay”.
 Paul Davies complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the word “gay” had been used in a derogatory way. He asserted that this sort of comment supported anti-gay sentiments and would encourage children to think that “gay is bad” and “labelling something as gay is ok”.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 6 and guideline 6g of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:
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.
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.
 TVNZ contended that the schoolboy’s remark had been “decidedly ambiguous”. It said:
Given the cheery and jocular nature of the programme, and imagery of school buildings, classrooms and stoney-faced school mistresses which seemed to be a hangover from eras past, it could be that the boy – in his smart striped blazer – was using the word gay as Enid Blyton or Billy Bunter might have done to mean “light-hearted and carefree” (Oxford Dictionary).
 The broadcaster suggested that the boy might have been commenting that the recorder was just too frivolous, and not in keeping with the dignity of a serious schoolboy.
 The alternative, TVNZ said, was that the boy was referring to the recorder as an instrument that gay people might appreciate. Even if that was the case, TVNZ argued, the remark did not imply anything derogatory about gay people, nor did it support “anti-gay sentiments” or encourage children to think that “gay is bad”. The broadcaster was of the view that it made no judgment on homosexuality at all.
 Because of this ambiguity, and because it was of the view that nobody watching the programme would consider that denigration of, or discrimination against, gay people was being encouraged, TVNZ did not uphold the complaint.
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Davies referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He disagreed with TVNZ that there was any ambiguity in the remark, stating:
My complaint was that the word gay was used instead of more appropriate adjectives that might have been bad, dumb, silly. The inference from the use of the word gay is that gay is equivalent to these adjectives, and not that the recorder is an instrument gay people play.
 Mr Davies also disagreed with TVNZ’s comment that the old school context allowed an “Enid Blyton interpretation” to be taken. He argued that the meaning of the word gay in this case was very clear, and the context of the programme was “much more present day orientated than one set in yesteryear”.
 The complainant argued that it was not difficult to see that denigration of homosexual people had occurred. Further, he contended that the reference was aggravated by the fact that the broadcast occurred in prime time, and because a large number of children would have been watching. Mr Davies contended that children would have understood that it was acceptable to label an activity or behaviour as “gay”.
 Mr Davies noted that one of the adultson Top of the Class had used the word “gay” in a similar context in a subsequent episode.
 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.
 The complainant has argued that using the word gay as a synonym for “lame” or “stupid” denigrated homosexual people. The Authority notes that the word “gay” is now commonly used among children and teenagers as a derogatory comment towards an activity or object. On this occasion, the Authority agrees with the complainant that the boy clearly used the word to indicate his view that recorders were “lame” or “stupid”.
 The Authority considers that the boy did not intend to criticise homosexuality in his use of the word “gay”, and he obviously meant no offence to homosexual people. In these circumstances, the Authority concludes that the boy’s use of the word “gay” to mean “lame” or “stupid” did not amount to a breach of the standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
19 September 2006
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: