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Duggan and The Radio Network Ltd - 2004-086

Members

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

Complainant

  • Janet Duggan of Auckland

Dated

29th July 2004

Number

2004-086

Channel/Station

Newstalk ZB

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Paul Holmes Breakfast – Newstalk ZB – reference to streaking incident during rugby game – host commented that streaker used baby oil “no doubt to prepare himself for the police baton” – alleged breach of good taste and decency, balance, fairness and accuracy

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

Principle 4 (balance) – does not apply to editorial/opinion pieces – not upheld

Principle 7 – Guideline 7a (denigration) – police not denigrated – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] At about 8.00am on 23 March 2004 the host of Paul Holmes Breakfast on Newstalk ZB (Paul Holmes) commented about a streaker incident which occurred during a Super 12 Rugby game at Hamilton Park. Mr Holmes commented that the streaker had apparently been covered in baby oil “no doubt to prepare himself for the police baton”.

Complaint

[2] Janet Duggan complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, that Mr Holmes’ comments breached broadcasting standards relating to good taste and decency and discrimination:

I found Mr Holmes’ comments to be extremely distasteful, inappropriate and crude. He made a clear inference that associated the streaker being covered with baby oil and the subsequent use of a baton after his apprehension. The association was repugnant to me and caused offence. I have several good friends who are serving members of the New Zealand Police force. I felt the comments brought them into disrepute and may lead to members of the public, who were listening to this broadcast, also taking the same view.

[3] Ms Duggan also considered that the broadcast breached standards of balance, fairness and accuracy. She wrote:

…the baton allegation currently being investigated by the Police against several identified individuals has not been proved or substantiated at the present time. Yet Mr Holmes has made a clear reference to it in his broadcast of 23 March 2004, such reference giving rise to the allegation being a matter of fact… the insinuation made during the broadcast is that you had better look out if you are apprehended, as you may be subject to some type of physical or sexual assault.

Principles

[4] TRN assessed the complaint under Principles 1, 4 and 7 (Guideline 7a) of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which read:

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 4

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

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 did not uphold the complaint, noting:

Principle 1
While the complainant believed that the complaint referred to the alleged use of a baton by members of police on a female, there was nothing in the words that imply how the baton may have been used.

Principle 4
As the comment was “purely an editorial/opinion piece” there was no requirement to achieve balance by broadcasting other points of view. In addition, matters “pertaining to the investigations into the police” had been canvassed extensively from both sides on Paul Holmes Breakfast.

Principle 7, Guideline 7a
In relation to whether the police had been “brought into disrepute”, it said:

Based on the current investigations going on regarding police actions it would seem this may have already happened.

Furthermore, TRN said the comments were a “genuine expression of serious comment”.

Referral to the Authority

[6] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response to her complaint, Ms Duggan referred it to the Authority for investigation and review. She reiterated the matters raised in her original complaint, noting:

Principle 1
The host had clearly inferred that the police baton may have been used on the streaker by a member of the police in some type of sexual, non-consensual manner.

Principle 7, Guideline 7a
The host’s comments had shown:

a clear bias towards a predetermined viewpoint that, in my view, portrays the police in a manner that encourages denigration…

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[7] In its response to the Authority, TRN submitted:

We wish to add that there can be no doubt, particularly after hearing the expressions on talkback, that the image of the police force has been severely damaged in the past year.

Whether the Rotorua allegations are upheld, the issue and publicity in all media have affected the police image.

This has been compounded by various claims of cheating and dishonesty (Hastings) and the suspension of senior police officers.

Regardless of guilt or innocence, these events have undermined a strong public pride and support for the police. This was the thrust of the Paul Holmes comment piece.

In addition, while Ms Duggan is welcome to draw her own interpretation as to the use of the baton that is all it is – her interpretation.

This programme is broadcast to an adult audience but even if children were listening there was nothing in this broadcast that was overtly outside the grounds of good taste and decency.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[8] In her final comment, Ms Duggan again reiterated that the inference concerning the use of the baton was clear, as was the host’s bias.

Authority's Determination

[9] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Principle 4

[10] The Authority notes that the comments Ms Duggan complained about were made in an editorial comment piece. In Decision No. 2004-071, dated 1 July 2004, the Authority accepted that editorial or other opinion pieces usually are not “news, current affairs or factual programmes” as contemplated under Principle 4. That decision also concerned the broadcast of comments made by the host of Paul Holmes Breakfast. In that decision, the Authority concluded at paragraph [18]:

The Authority is firmly of the view that the requirement in the Radio Code for balance should not apply to the comments made on 23 March which can be described as satirical and somewhat glib editorial observations.

For the same reason, the Authority concludes that Principle 4 was not breached in the present case.

Principle 1

[11] When determining complaints which allege a breach of Standard 1 (good taste and decency), the Authority is required to take into account the context of the broadcast complained about. While context is not determinative, it is relevant to the Authority’s decision.

[12] While the Authority considers that some listeners may have found the comments somewhat tasteless, they were contained in an editorial comment piece delivered by the programme’s host. Mr Holmes’ style of delivery is well known to his audience and often involves provocative innuendo. On this occasion, the comment alluded to a prominent inquiry into rape allegations against police. Details about the allegations had received considerable media coverage. The Authority concludes that the comment was acceptable in context and does not breach the requirement for good taste and decency in Principle 1.

Principle 7

[13] The Authority has ruled on a number of occasions that a high level of discrimination or denigration is required before a broadcast contravenes Principle 7 and Guideline 7a. In the Authority's view, the threshold was not crossed on this occasion. It does not consider that the comments encouraged denigration of the police. The comment alluded to a specific inquiry and did not amount to general condemnation of the police force. Nevertheless, the Authority notes that if the comments had encouraged discrimination or denigration, it would not have agreed with the broadcaster’s submission that the views advanced were “serious comment”. The Authority considers that the comments were an attempt at humour, which was not capable of being described as “serious comment”.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
29 July 2004

Appendix

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

1     Janet Duggan’s Formal Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd – 26 March 2004
2    TRN’s Response to Ms Duggan– 8 April 2004
3    Ms Duggan’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 19 April 2004
4    TRN’s Response to the Authority – 12 May 2004
5    Ms Duggan’s Final Comment – 25 May 2004