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Peat and RadioWorks Ltd - 2003-027

Members

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

Complainant

  • Stephen Peat of Auckland

Standards Breached

Dated

10th April 2003

Number

2003-027

Channel/Station

Radio Hauraki

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint
Radio Hauraki breakfast programme – Matthew Ridge had AAA credit rating – "Arrogant Angry Arsehole" – derogatory and offensive

Findings
Principle 1 – context – no uphold

Principle 5 – referred to named person – unfair – uphold

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Summary

[1] Former international rugby league player and current television host, Matthew Ridge, was referred to during the breakfast programme broadcast on Radio Hauraki on 26 November 2002. In view of the news report that Mr Ridge was again facing driving related charges, the hosts said that he had a new credit rating, AAA, for "Arrogant Angry Arsehole".

[2] Stephen Peat complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the comment was derogatory and the language was offensive.

[3] In response, TRN said that the comment was not unfair in view of Mr Ridge’s past escapades, and it did not consider the language offensive in view of the station’s target audience. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision Mr Peat referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the aspect of the complaint that the broadcast was unfair.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape 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] Former international rugby league player and current television presenter Matthew Ridge, who was allegedly facing driving related charges, was referred to in an item broadcast during the morning programme on Radio Hauraki, at about 7.20am on 26 November 2002. It was said that he now had a new credit rating, AAA, which stood for "Arrogant Angry Arsehole".

The Complaint

[7] Stephen Peat complained about the use of such language which he described as derogatory and defamatory. Noting that he had never met Matthew Ridge, Mr Peat contended that no one, whether or not a celebrity, deserved to be "maligned in such a way".

The Standards

[8] The Radio Network Ltd (TRN) assessed his complaint under Principles 1 and 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

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 5

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

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] TRN outlined a number of "scrapes" in which Mr Ridge has been involved over the years. It also said that Radio Hauraki broadcast to a predominantly male audience between the ages of 35–54 and that humour and entertainment was the main content of its "edgy" breakfast show. Moreover, it added, the "pricking of celebrity balloons" was a regular occurrence.

[10] Turning to the specific comment complained about, TRN argued that it was acceptable under Standard 5 in view of the humorous delivery and Mr Ridge’s known record. It did not accept that the word was unacceptable for listeners to Radio Hauraki, and declined to uphold the complaint. TRN’s Complaints Co-ordinator also observed:

I should add that this breakfast team has been firmly reminded of the dangers of referring to a person while before the Courts.

The Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[11] Mr Peat repeated his complaint that the language was outside the bounds of good taste and decency, even when used in a humorous context, and it set an unwelcome precedent for the abuse of high profile personalities. Moreover, he considered that Mr Ridge had not been treated fairly.

[12] Pointing out that he fell within Radio Hauraki’s target audience, Mr Peat considered that Mr Ridge deserved an on-air and written apology.

The Authority’s Determination

[13] The Authority has focused on the use of the word "arsehole" on Radio Hauraki, to describe Matthew Ridge, on the morning of 26 November. The Authority acknowledges that Mr Ridge, a former international rugby league player and current television host, could be considered to be a celebrity in view of the publicity his activities attract in some areas of the media. The broadcaster refers to the many "scrapes" in which Mr Ridge has been involved. In view of recent reports that he was facing further driving related charges, the breakfast hosts described him on-air as an "Arrogant Angry Arsehole".

[14] The broadcaster argued that the comment was not unfair in view of Mr Ridge’s past escapades, and it did not consider the language offensive in view of the station’s target audience.

[15] The Authority does not accept that Radio Hauraki’s listeners at 7.20am on a Tuesday comprised solely its target audience of males aged 35 to 54. No radio station can guarantee its listeners comprise only a particular target audience. It is the Authority’s view that the audience at that hour would undoubtedly include a number of children listening before going to school. The Authority also notes that its research disclosed that the word "arsehole" was ranked seventh by respondents when asked to rank 22 words in order of unacceptability.

[16] The Authority is prepared to accept that the use of the word "arsehole" alone may not amount to a breach of Principle 1, given that the style of delivery was intended to be humorous, and that it was made during an "edgy" breakfast show. However, the Authority does not regard as acceptable the use of the word "arsehole" in regard to a named person. Further, it does not accept the broadcaster’s contention that Matthew Ridge’s "past scrapes" justified its use, and notes that the reference arose out of charges which had yet to be heard. Accordingly, the Authority finds a breach of Principle 5 which requires that broadcasters deal justly and fairly with people referred to.

[17] The Authority records that in Decision No: 1997-008 (13 February 1997), it upheld a complaint about the use of the word "arseholes" during a programme on radio station 95 bFM to describe the Mayor of Auckland City and its Councillors and determined that it breached the requirement now contained in Principle 1 of the Radio Code.

[18] The Authority considers that the context in that decision is distinguishable from the facts of this complaint. In Decision No: 1997-008 the word’s use was described as an "angry outburst": and "bitter and abusive" and "insulting and offensive". In contrast in this complaint the Authority notes that the word’s use was intended to be "humorous" and made "during an edgy breakfast show" Context gives relevant guidance in determining whether language complained about breaches currently accepted standards of good taste and decency.

[19] The social objective of regulating broadcasting standards is to guard against broadcasters behaving unfairly, offensively, or otherwise excessively. The Broadcasting Act clearly limits freedom of expression. Section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that the right to freedom of expression may be limited by "such reasonable limits which are prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". For the reasons given in Decision No. 2002-071/072, the Authority is firmly of the opinion that the limits in the Broadcasting Act are reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. The Authority records that it has given full weight of the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 when exercising its powers under the Broadcasting Act on this occasion. For the reasons given in this decision, the Authority considers that the exercise of its powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the reasons above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast of a comment on Radio Hauraki at 7.30am on 26 November 2002 breached Principle 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.

[20] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose orders under ss.13 or 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. In view of the circumstances of the current complaint, the Authority is of the view that the breach is not sufficiently serious to justify the imposition of an order. Therefore, no order is imposed.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
10 April 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Stephen Peat’s Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (through the Broadcasting Standards Authority) – 27 November 2002
  2. TRN’s Response to the Complainant – 9 December 2002
  3. Mr Peat’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 24 December 2002
  4. TRN’s Response to the Authority – 14 January 2003