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Conroy and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2004-170

Members

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

Complainant

  • Roger Conroy of Christchurch

Dated

21st December 2004

Number

2004-170

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

CanWest TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News
– report on a terrorist threat in America in run-up to Presidential election – presenter joked that the country was facing a nightmare other than the prospect of George W Bush being re-elected – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – comment clearly a joke – no breach of good taste and decency – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] A 3 News item broadcast on 13 July 2004 on TV3 at 6pm reported on a terrorist threat in America in the run-up to the Presidential election. The presenter (John Campbell) said:

The United States is suddenly confronting the prospect of a nightmare – no, not George W [Bush] being re-elected – but the election itself having to be cancelled.

Complaint

[2] Roger Conroy complained to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item had breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[3] The complainant argued that public figures, such as television news presenters, should not ‘denigrate overseas people” such as George Bush. He also commented that news programmes should concentrate on delivering the news, not jokes.

Standards

[4] CanWest TVWorks Ltd assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] CanWest TVWorks Ltd considered that the broadcast material “must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it is shown” in order to constitute a breach of Standard 1 (good taste and decency).

[6] The broadcaster stated that 3 News was a “scheduled unclassified news programme directed at an adult target audience”. It considered that only an insignificant number of viewers would have been offended by the joke, and submitted that given the language used, it had not “exceeded the bounds of good taste and decency”.

[7] The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint taking into account the right to freedom of expression.

Referral to the Authority

[8] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Conroy referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He disagreed with the broadcaster, and maintained that the item did not comply with standards of good taste and decency or accuracy.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9] CanWest TVWorks Ltd added nothing further to its original reply to the complainant.

Authority's Determination

[10] The members of the Authority have viewed 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.

[11] First, the Authority notes that in his original complaint to CanWest, Mr Conroy did not complain that the broadcast breached the accuracy standard. This issue was raised for the first time only on referral of his complaint to the Authority. As the Authority’s statutory role is to review the decision made by the broadcaster in relation to the original complaint, it has no jurisdiction to consider whether the accuracy standard was breached. The Authority therefore confines its determination to the part of the complaint alleging a breach of the good taste and decency standard.

[12] Mr Conroy appeared to argue that the comment complained of “denigrated” President Bush by criticising him as a poor president, and thus breached the good taste and decency standard. The Authority does not agree.

[13] The presenter’s comment was clearly a joke made the context of the wider news story, and used no obscene language or imagery. In the circumstances, there is no basis on which to find that the item threatened standards of good taste and decency. The fact that the presenter gently made fun of President Bush does not make an otherwise unremarkable comment indecent or in poor taste.

[14] The complainant also stated his view that news presenters should focus on delivering the news, not jokes. Of itself, however, the practice of editorial comment from presenters does not raise an issue of broadcasting standards.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
21 December 2004

Appendix

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

  1. Roger Conroy’s formal complaint – 26 July 2004
  2. CanWest TVWorks Ltd’s decision on formal complaint – 3 September 2004
  3. Mr Conroy’s referral to the Authority – 8 September 2004
  4. CanWest TVWorks Ltd’s response to the Authority – 12 November 2004