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Hadfield and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2005-054

Members

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

Complainant

  • Elaine Hadfield of Blenheim

Dated

28th September 2005

Number

2005-054

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Nine to Noon (x2), Today in Parliament, Saturday Morning with Kim Hill, Morning Report – each used the term “front bums” – allegedly offensive – the word “bloody” used once – allegedly offensive

Findings
Principle 1 (good taste and decency) – “front bums” – novel phrase – mildly vulgar – “bloody” – mild expletive – context – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] The Hon John Tamihere MP, a cabinet minister at the time, used the phrase “front bums” to describe women in a magazine interview. The phrase was later used on National Radio on Nine to Noon broadcast on 12 and 14 April 2005, on Today in Parliament at 6.35pm on 12 April, and on Saturday Morning with Kim Hill at 9.05am on 16 April. Further, in an item on Morning Report broadcast between 6.00–9.00am on 11 April, it was reported that Mr Tamihere had urged “front bums” to “get on with the bloody job”.

Complaints

[2] Elaine Hadfield complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about the use of the phrase “front bums” and the word “bloody”. She described the former phrase as “extremely offensive” and, in relation to “bloody” asked why it was not possible “to blot out” offensive swear words. She wrote:

PLEASE, we need standards raised, not lowered. Just because a person is a politician does not give anyone freedom to quote their all too often bad language.

Principles

[3] RNZ assessed the initial complaints under Principle 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It reads:

Principle 1

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Guideline

1a Broadcasters will take into consideration current norms of decency and good taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast eg time of day, target audience.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] RNZ emphasised that context was an important issue when assessing complaints which alleged a breach of the good taste and decency requirement. The broadcasts complained about, it continued, were either a recording of a Member of Parliament or quoting the exact words that he had used.

[5] Appreciating the complainant’s sensitivity for language, RNZ said that it had a responsibility nevertheless to report accurately what was actually said by those in public office. It added:

To fulfil our role as a public broadcaster in a democratic society we are required from time to time to broadcast things which some may find offensive. The alternative is to have an uninformed society which is the antithesis of the democratic process.

[6] RNZ accepted that it did not have an unlimited licence and its day-to-day decisions were aimed to minimise the level of offensiveness. The broadcasts complained about on this occasion, it wrote, did not breach the principle requiring good taste and decency.

Referral to the Authority

[7] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Miss Hadfield referred her complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[8] She argued that RNZ had not addressed her contention that National Radio should maintain high standards at all times, and that offensive and swear words should never be broadcast.

[9] Miss Hadfield also raised Principle 5 and Guideline 5d, and Principle 7. These principles require social responsibility on the part of the broadcaster and that programmes do not cause unwarranted alarm or distress.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[10] RNZ explained that the items complained about covered a significant event of public interest. It insisted that it had the right to quote what was said by prominent New Zealanders. Any limits, it argued, would be an unreasonable restriction on the freedom of expression provisions in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[11] Rejecting RNZ’s arguments, Miss Hadfield maintained that “front bums” as an expletive and “bloody” as an offensive swear word should never be used. Furthermore, she continued, the term “front bums” involved the denigration of women.

[12] Miss Hadfield stated that RNZ had not addressed her complaint, and repeated her contention that National Radio should be maintaining high standards and should not permit the use of offensive swear words on air. She wrote:

I know we need to be informed about what high profile New Zealanders are saying and doing, but PLEASE, we do not want our media repeating their expletives. We must maintain high standards for the next generation.

Authority's Determination

[13] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of some of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

Process

[14] The Authority has on a number of occasions interpreted its governing legislation, the Broadcasting Act 1989, as barring complainants from raising new standards when referring a complaint to the Authority. They may do so, the Authority has ruled, only if the standard is implicitly raised in the initial complaint. On this occasion the Authority does not accept that Principles 5 or 7 were implicit in the initial complaint. Accordingly, it confines its deliberations to the good taste and decency requirement in Principle 1.

Principle 1 (Good taste and decency)

[15] The Authority notes that the use of the phrase “front bums” to refer to women is apparently novel. Indeed, its novelty appears to be the reason why it featured in a number of broadcasts.

[16] Although the Authority has not researched public attitudes to the phrase “front bums”, as it has with other more commonly encountered swear words, it regards the term as no more than mildly vulgar. Accordingly, it considers that the use of the term, in the context of nationwide discussion about Mr Tamihere’s remarks, did not breach Principle 1 (good taste and decency).

[17] The Authority also declines to uphold the complaint about the use of the word “bloody”. It considers that this word is also now regarded as no more than a mild expletive. Its use in the broadcast did not threaten Principle 1.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
28 September 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Elaine Hadfield’s formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 24 April 2005
  2. Radio New Zealand’s response to the formal complaint – 12 May 2005
  3. Miss Hadfield’s referral to the Authority – 9 June 2005
  4. RNZ’s response to the referral – 7 July 2005
  5. Miss Hadfield’s final comment – 15 July 2005