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Maney and Triangle Television Ltd - 2003-020

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa
  • J H McGregor

Complainant

  • Bernard Maney of Auckland

Dated

20th March 2003

Number

2003-020

Programme

Jagad Guru Speaks

Channel/Station

Triangle Television

Broadcaster

Triangle Television Ltd


Complaint
Jagad Guru Speaks – spiritual programme – discussion regarding transubstantiation – reference to priest getting drunk on wine – offensive – unfair

Findings
Standard 1 – majority – contextual matters – no uphold – minority – offensive

Standard 6 – high threshold not reached – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Jagad Guru Speaks, a spiritual programme, was broadcast by Triangle Television between approximately 8.30–9.00am on 21 November 2002. The concept of transubstantiation was discussed, and when referring to the role of the priest the presenter made the comment that the priest got "drunk on the wine in the back room".

[2] Bernard Maney complained to Triangle Television Ltd, the broadcaster, that the comment was offensive and insulting to priests and Christians.

[3] In response, Triangle stated that it did not "engage in theological arguments about religious doctrines", and referred the matter to the programme provider in Australia.

[4] When the broadcaster failed to provide a full response to his formal complaint, Mr Maney referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Jagad Guru Speaks, a spiritual programme, was broadcast by Triangle Television between approximately 8.30–9.00am on 21 November 2002. The concept of transubstantiation was discussed. The presenter, when referring to the role of the priest in the ritual, said:

Even though the fact is half the time he [the priest] is drunk on the wine in the back room.

The Complaint

[7] Bernard Maney complained to Triangle Television Limited, the broadcaster, that the presenter’s comment was offensive. In his view, the comment was "slanderous" and disrespectful of the role of priests. Further, he argued that it was offensive to Christians who believe in transubstantiation.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[8] The broadcaster advised that it had not retained a copy of its response to Mr Maney’s formal complaint, but that it had "basically" advised him that it did not "engage in theological arguments about religious doctrines" and that it had sent Mr Maney’s concerns to the programme provider.

The Complainant’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[9] Mr Maney reiterated his concerns regarding the statement made on the programme, and said that he had not received a full response from the broadcaster addressing his complaint. He stated that the broadcaster advised him that it had referred his complaint on to their "Theological department", but he had not received any further correspondence from Triangle.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[10] Triangle advised that the programme came from Australia and that it had referred Mr Maney’s complaint to the programme provider to deal with the content issues he had raised.

[11] In the broadcaster’s view, the "offending" comment was "in context with the general argument of the host throughout the programme". Triangle maintained that presenting an "interpretation of Catholic doctrine" was a valid exercise of the freedom of expression. It contended that other television programmes "lampoon Christian religion week after week with impunity" and, in its view, a "throwaway line in a half hour reasoned theological argument" had not breached broadcasting standards.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[12] Mr Maney maintained that the reference to priests being drunk was offensive and "slanderous". He expressed his surprise that Triangle had confused the core of his complaint with "theological arguments". Mr Maney disagreed with the broadcaster’s contention that the comment was acceptable in context, and with its comparison to "comedy" programmes dealing with religious themes. Mr Maney noted that if the programme complained about was intended as a comedy, then it should have been classified as such.

The Authority’s Determination

[13] The Authority observes that neither the complainant nor the broadcaster nominated any specific television broadcasting standards against which to assess this complaint. The Authority considers that, when the complainant does not refer to a standard, it is the broadcaster’s responsibility to nominate one. On this occasion the Authority considers that Standards 1 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are the standards relevant to this complaint. Those Standards and relevant Guidelines read:

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.

Guideline

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 (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guideline

6g  Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work.

[14] The Authority expresses its concerns regarding Triangle’s handling of this complaint by referring Mr Maney’s concerns to the programme provider in Australia. Section 5(a) of the Broadcasting Act requires broadcasters to establish a proper procedure to deal with formal complaints, and it is the broadcaster’s responsibility under the legislation to ensure that an appropriate process is established.

[15] When the Authority determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Standard 1 of the Television Code, it is required to determine whether the material complained about breaches currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but does not determine whether the programme breached the standard. Accordingly the Authority has considered the context in which the material complained about was broadcast.

[16] The Authority considers that the relevant contextual factors on this occasion are the type of programme, the style of programme and the target audience. The Authority also considers that the nature of the comment and the manner in which it was made are also relevant contextual matters.

[17] In determining this aspect, the Authority is divided in its view. A majority of the Authority (Mr Peter Cartwright and Ms Tapu Misa) consider that the comment was a throwaway line in the context of a spiritual programme targeted at those interested in theological issues, in which the host was cynical about the appointment of church officials and the role of the priest in the transubstantiation ritual. In the majority’s view, the comment was the host’s attempt at light-hearted humour in an otherwise serious and intense narration about transubstantiation. The majority finds that the comment did not breach current norms of good taste and decency. While it is accepted that some viewers would have found the remark thoughtless and inappropriate, in the majority’s opinion the comment was irreverent rather than insulting. Taking these contextual matters into account, a majority of the Authority concludes that Standard 1 was not transgressed.

[18] The minority (Dr Judy McGregor and Mr Rodney Bryant) disagrees. The minority acknowledges the context in which the comment was made, but disputes the broadcaster’s contention, that the comment was made in the course of "theological argument". In the minority’s view, the comment did not concern the freedom to express an "interpretation of Catholic doctrine". The minority considers that the host made an inappropriate and gratuitous comment, which was unjustified and insulting to priests. Accordingly, the minority concludes that the comment breached current norms of good taste and decency, and upholds the Standard 1 aspect of the complaint.

[19] The Authority has noted previously that a high degree of denigration is required before a broadcast contravenes Guideline 6g – the portrayal has to be such that it encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, priests. In the Authority’s view, the broadcast fell short of such encouragement and, therefore, the threshold was not reached. In reaching this conclusion, the Authority notes that the host did not indulge in a sustained verbal assault on priests. Rather, a single "offending" comment was made within a wider discussion regarding a religious concept. Accordingly, the Authority concludes that Standard 6 was not contravened.

[20] A majority of the Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards and applies them in a manner which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons, a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
20 March 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Bernard Maney’s Complaint to Triangle Television Ltd – 21 November 2002
  2. Mr Maney’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 16 January 2003
  3. Triangle’s Responses to the Authority (plus attachments) – 23 and 24 January 2003
  4. Mr Maney’s Final Comment – 29 January 2003