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Soryl and The Radio Network Ltd - 2006-106

Members

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

Complainant

  • Yolanda Soryl of Christchurch

Dated

27th November 2006

Number

2006-106

Channel/Station

Newstalk ZB

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Newstalk ZB Christchurch – “Stick of the Week” awards – host nominated and named both the parents of and a pre-schooler who had been involved in altercation with Mayor – child allegedly exposed to ridicule and humiliation – privacy allegedly breached

Findings
Principle 3 (privacy) – facts disclosed already in public domain – not upheld

Principle 6 (fairness) – child object of sympathy, not ridicule – not upheld

Principle 7 (denigration) – item did not deal with specified section of community – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] “Stick of the Week”, a negative albeit light-hearted award, is a long-running segment of the Friday morning show on Newstalk ZB in Christchurch.  The host nominates a number of people whose actions have in some way been newsworthy and listeners call in to record their votes for the award.

[2] On Friday morning, 11 August 2006, the host said that the parents of a child who had kicked the Mayor were one of the nine nominees.  She added that listeners “might want to nominate [the child] – if you are a cold hard person”.  The child’s altercation with the Mayor of Christchurch had featured in the Christchurch Mail, a community newspaper, published earlier in the week.  According to the newspaper article, the child had kicked the Mayor on the shin during a demonstration about the closure of an open-air swimming pool.  The paper also reported that the Mayor had responded angrily and had criticised his mother’s parenting skills.  The Mayor was also nominated on Newstalk ZB as “Stick of the Week”.

Complaint

[3] Yolanda Soryl complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, that nominating and naming the child was unfair and exposed him to ridicule.  He had been “named, shamed and humiliated” and his privacy had been breached, she wrote.

Principles

[4] TRN assessed the complaint under Principles 3 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.  The nominated Principles and relevant guidelines provide:

Principle 3

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual.

Guideline 3a

Broadcasters shall apply the privacy principles developed by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Privacy principle 1

The protection of privacy includes protection against the public disclosure of private facts, where the facts disclosed are objectionable to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities. 

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

[5] TRN said that the altercation between the child and the Mayor had received wide publicity.  It said that it had been the front page story of the Christchurch Mail, which was delivered to all homes in Christchurch and had been accompanied by a photograph of the mother holding the child and talking to the Mayor at the demonstration.

[6] As for the “Stick of the Week” broadcast, TRN said the child had been one of nine nominees.  Only two of the 22 calls taken on air had voted for him and neither had commented about his behaviour.

[7] With regard to the privacy complaint, TRN referred to privacy principle (vii) as contained in the former principles.  That principle dealt with consent to the invasion of privacy and noted that children’s vulnerability must be a prime concern to broadcasters.  TRN argued, first, that no breach of privacy had occurred because of the publicity the incident had already received.  Secondly, it contended that the child, in view of his age as a pre-schooler, was not in a vulnerable position as he might have been had he been at school.

[8] As for encouraging denigration, TRN said that the segment “merely highlighted a person who attracted publicity”.  It added that the segment had been done in good taste and with a degree of humour and did not breach the Principle 7.

Referral to the Authority

[9] Dissatisfied with TRN’s response, Ms Soryl referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.  She reiterated the points made in her complaint and asked the Authority to investigate TRN’s decision.

Authority's Determination

[10] 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.

Process

[11] First, TRN assessed the privacy complaint under the privacy principles which were replaced earlier this year.  The revised principles apply to all broadcasts from 1 August 2006 and, consequently, the Authority has addressed the complaint under the revised principles.  The relevant revised principle is recorded in paragraph [4] above.

[12] Secondly, in view of the complainant’s argument that the child was “shamed and humiliated”, the Authority considers that implicit in Ms Soryl’s complaint was an allegation that the broadcast was unfair.  Accordingly, the Authority has also assessed the complaint under Principle 5, which reads:

Principle 5

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.

[13] As the broadcaster did not directly address this standard, the Authority considered seeking further comments from TRN before determining the application of the fairness standard.  However, in light of the Authority’s assessment that the standard was not breached (discussed further below) no further comment was sought.

Principle 3 (privacy)

[14] Privacy principle 1 protects against the offensive disclosure of private facts.  In view of the coverage in the print media which had been given to the exchange between the child and the Mayor, the Authority finds that the broadcast did not disclose a private fact.  As the information on which the broadcast was based was already in the public domain, the Authority declines to uphold the privacy complaint.

Principle 7 and guideline 7a (denigration)

[15] The protection against denigration applies only to “sections of the community”.  As the broadcast referred to an individual, the denigration guideline does not apply and the Authority declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

Principle 5 (fairness)

[16] The name of the child was used in the broadcast, and two of the 22 callers nominated him as “Stick of the Week”.  Nonetheless, the Authority does not agree that these references to him were unfair.  While his parents were the object of light-hearted mockery, the approach to the child was one of sympathy.  This was exemplified in the host’s comments when nominating him.  In these circumstances, the Authority declines to uphold the Principle 5 (fairness) complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
27 November 2006

Appendix

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

1    Yolanda Soryl’s formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd – 30 August 2006

2    The Radio Network Ltd’s response to the formal complaint – 5 September 2006

3    Ms Soryl’s referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 29 September 2006

4    TRN’s response to the Authority – 13 October 2006