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Anderson and CanWest RadioWorks Ltd - 2006-118

Members

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

Complainant

  • John Anderson of Auckland

Dated

19th December 2006

Number

2006-118

Channel/Station

Radio Live

Broadcaster

CanWest RadioWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Radio Live – host described the late King of Tonga as “King, fat King, brown slug King, Tupou the fourth of Tonga” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and denigratory

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

Principle 7 (social responsibility) and guideline 7a (denigration) – comments were made about an individual, not a “section of the community” – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] During a Radio Live talkback programme between 9am–12pm on Tuesday 12 September 2006, host and Mayor of Wanganui Michael Laws commented that he had been amazed to receive a directive from the Prime Minister’s office that the city should fly the New Zealand flag at half mast to mark the passing of the King of Tonga, Tāufa ’āhau Tupou IV. The host described the late King of Tonga as “King, fat King, brown slug King, Tupou the fourth of Tonga”.

Complaint

[2] John Anderson made a formal complaint about the broadcast to CanWest RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster. Mr Anderson complained that the host had referred to the late King Tupou as “a bloated, brown slug who ate the efforts of his people and grew rich on their labour”, which had breached Principle 1 (good taste and decency), and amounted to slander.

[3] The complainant contended that the host’s comments “impacted [on] the Tongan people to an international level”, and he referred to guideline 7a (denigration) to Principle 7 (social responsibility).

Principles

[4] CanWest assessed the complaint under Principles 1 and 7 and guideline 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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 experssion of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or

iii) by way of legitimate humour or satire

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] In its response to the Principle 1 (good taste and decency) complaint, CanWest considered the context in which the comments were made. It noted that the programme was a mid-morning talkback session, and stated that “commentary on current issues and topics is consistently challenging and provocative in this environment”. Further, the broadcaster said that the target and likely audience was adults. Younger listeners, it said, were likely to be at school or listening to other stations aimed at them.

[6] While it acknowledged that the host’s comments were colourful and strongly opinionated, CanWest was of the view that they could not be classed as obscene or offensive. It concluded that Principle 1 was not breached.

[7] Looking at Principle 7 (social responsibility), CanWest did not consider that the remarks about the Tongan royal family were socially irresponsible in any general sense. It said that the host was well-known for his outspoken views and style of broadcasting.

[8] Specifically referring to guideline 7a (denigration), the broadcaster maintained that the host’s comments would not have encouraged denigration or discrimination against the Tongan people as a section of the community. It said that the comments were directed at the royal family, not at the Tongan people. It declined to uphold the Principle 7 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[9] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s decision, Mr Anderson referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Referring to various articles in the Wanganui Chronicle, he contended that a significant number of adult listeners had been offended by the host’s comments.

[10] With respect to Principle 7 (social responsibility), Mr Anderson maintained that the host’s comments about the late King of Tonga would have negatively affected the Tongan people. He noted that CanWest had not responded to his complaint that the host’s comments were slanderous.

Broadcaster's Response to the Authority

[11] The broadcaster added nothing further to its original reply to the complainant.

Complainant's Final Comment

[12] Mr Anderson advised that he wished the Authority to consider several newspaper articles from the Wanganui Chronicle, which he provided.

Authority's Determination

[13] The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the host’s comments regarding the late King of Tonga on 12 September 2006, and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Procedural Matter

[14] In his complaint, Mr Anderson quoted the host as calling the late King of Tonga “a bloated, brown slug who ate the efforts of his people and grew rich on their labour”. The Authority notes that these exact words were not used by the host in the audio provided by CanWest from 12 September 2006. However, the host did describe him as “fat King, brown slug King”, and commented that the King was “a man who loathed his country” and “drove Tonga down”.

[15] Although the host did not use the exact words quoted by the complainant, the Authority considers that the language and meaning of the host’s words are sufficiently similar to the quote given by the complainant to make it clear that the complainant was referring to this broadcast. Accordingly, the Authority proceeds to determine the complaint on this basis.

Principle 1 (good taste and decency)

[16] When the Authority considers a complaint alleging a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, relevant contextual factors include:

  • the robust nature of talkback, which the Authority has acknowledged on numerous occasions
  • the adult target audience of the programme
  • the comments were made between 9am and 12pm on a Tuesday morning, when children were unlikely to be listening.

[17] The Authority is of the view that the host’s comments were provocative and were clearly calculated to offend. However, taking into account the above contextual factors, the Authority considers that the host’s remarks did not breach the good taste and decency standard. It declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

Principle 7 (social responsibility) and guideline 7a (denigration)

[18] Guideline 7a applies only to those broadcasts which encourage denigration of a “section of the community”. In the Authority’s view, the host’s comments were clearly directed at the late King of Tonga as an individual. He did not make any statements about Tongan people in general which would invoke the application of guideline 7a. Accordingly, the Authority finds that the guideline does not apply, and it declines to uphold the Principle 7 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 December 2006

Appendix

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

1    John Anderson’s formal complaint – 21 September 2006

2    CanWest’s decision on the formal complaint – 25 October 2006

3    Mr Anderson’s referral to the Authority – 31 October 2006

4    CanWest’s response to the referral – 9 November 2006

5    Further information provided by the complainant – 9 November 2006