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Newburgh and CanWest RadioWorks Ltd - 2005-007

Members

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

Complainant

  • Bruce Newburgh of Christchurch

Dated

11th May 2005

Number

2005-007

Channel/Station

Radio Pacific

Broadcaster

CanWest RadioWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Radio Pacific – comment from late-night talkback host about people from Christchurch “cuddling their sheep” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard as made reference to bestiality

Findings
Principle 1 (good taste and decency) – Comment clearly intended to be humorous – no offensive language used – no direct reference to bestiality – comment very mild – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] Shortly after midnight during the Radio Pacific late-night talkback show on 20 December 2004, the host, Miles Davis, stated that he did not intend to take any more calls from Christchurch residents, and that they should simply go to bed and “cuddle up to their sheep”.

Complaint

[2] Bruce Newburgh complained to Radio Pacific that the comment was in bad taste, as it implied that people from Christchurch practised bestiality.  He stated that in his view any reasonable person would find the comment to be  highly offensive and unacceptable.

Principles

[3] Principle 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to this complaint. Principle 1 provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Guidelines

1a Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification.  The examples are not exhaustive.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] Radio Pacific did not consider Mr Newburgh’s letter to be a formal complaint.  It accordingly responded informally, noting that while this host may not be the complainant’s “cup of tea”, the station received mail complimenting the host for his different style.

Referral to the Authority

[5] Mr Newburgh replied directly to Radio Pacific , but also referred the matter to the Authority.  In his referral, the complainant stated that Radio Pacific had ignored the substance of his complaint, and that the reply was flippant and dismissive. 

[6] Mr Newburgh recorded his view that the remark was “disgusting in the extreme” and that to suggest that anyone practises bestiality was “totally unacceptable”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[7] In response to the referral, CanWest RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, informed the Authority that as the original complaint had not been treated as a formal complaint under the Broadcasting Act, no audio of the broadcast had been preserved.

[8] CanWest advised that it considered that the station’s actions were “understandable” as it did not consider the complainant’s original letter to be a formal complaint; the station could not be criticised for responding informally without preserving audio of the broadcast.  CanWest did not dispute, however, that comments along the lines of those alleged by the complainant were made.

[9] CanWest concluded that in any event the broadcast did not breach principle 1, given the late night broadcast time, the adult target audience, the clear humorous intent and the lack of any explicit or obscene material.  It noted that no explicit allegation of bestiality was made.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[10] In his final comment, the complainant reiterated that his complaint was intended to be a formal complaint.  He also submitted that the remark would have been more acceptable to a young audience than to an adult audience – as children would have understood only innocent connotations of “cuddling” sheep – and thus that this factor did not operate in the broadcaster’s favour. 

[11] The complainant also rejected the broadcaster’s submission that the comment was made with humorous intent, noting that it was in fact made with “real conviction”. 

Authority's Determination

[12] The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.  The members of the Authority have been unable to listen to a tape of the broadcast as no audio was preserved by the broadcaster on receipt of the formal complaint.  There is, however, no dispute as to the words alleged to have been used, and thus the Authority accepts that the words “cuddle their sheep” were said.

[13] The Authority disagrees with CanWest’s submission that the complainant’s original letter was justifiably treated as informal correspondence.  The letter used the word “complaint”, referred to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, and made a clear reference to the good taste and decency standard. 

[14] The complainant’s letter was, in the view of the Authority, unambiguously a formal complaint under the Broadcasting Act.  The letter should have been responded to accordingly, and a tape of the broadcast preserved for consideration by both the broadcaster and this Authority.  The Authority records its concern that this course of action was not followed, and that it has been left without a copy of the broadcast to assist in its consideration of this matter.

[15] Nevertheless, as noted above, there is agreement between the parties as to the words that were said, and the Authority can proceed to consider the complaint on that basis.

[16] The Authority does not uphold the complaint.  When the Authority considers a complaint which alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. In the present case, the Authority agrees with the broadcaster’s view that a number of contextual factors operate in favour of the broadcast:

[17] The remark was clearly made with humorous intent; the Authority does not consider likely the complainant’s assertion that it was said with “real conviction”.

[18] The late-night time slot, and the consequent adult audience.  The Authority disagrees with the complainant’s submission that the adult audience worked against the broadcast; it is well accepted that a show aimed at a solely adult audience may appropriately broadcast more challenging material than would be acceptable if younger people were likely to be listening.

[19] The mild language used – it was not explicit or obscene, and the remark was at most an oblique and indirect reference to bestiality.

For the above reasons, the Authority concludes that the remark did not threaten the good taste and decency standard.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
11 May 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Bruce Newburgh’s letter of complaint to Radio Pacific – 4 January 2005
  2. Radio Pacific ’s response to complaint – undated
  3. Mr Newburgh’s response to Radio Pacific – 26 January 2005
  4. Mr Newburgh’s referral to the Authority – 11 February 2005
  5. CanWest radioWorks’ initial response to the Authority – 1 March 2005
  6. Authority’s emailed response to CanWest – 7 March 2005
  7. CanWest’s response to the referral – 15 March 2005
  8. Mr Newburgh’s final comment – 20 March 2005