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Cone and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2003-038

Members

  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa
  • J H McGregor

Complainant

  • James Cone of Johnsonville

Dated

15th May 2003

Number

2003-038

Programme

Morning Report

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Morning Report audio of a woman giving birth  preceded item about maternity services – gratuitous, distressing and socially irresponsible

Findings
Principle 1 and Guideline 1a; Principle 5 and Guideline 5c & Principle 7 and Guideline 7d  not socially irresponsible  not gratuitous – no warning necessary – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Summary

[1] An item on Morning Report which discussed the lack of maternity services in Queenstown was broadcast on National Radio on Monday 13 January 2003. The item was introduced with a brief sound effect of a woman giving birth.

[2] James Cone complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the audio was gratuitous, distressing and socially irresponsible.

[3] In response, RNZ said that the audio was neither socially irresponsible, nor was it intended to cause alarm. RNZ also stated that the nexus between pregnancy and birth was irrefutable. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr Cone referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have listened to an audio 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 Broadcast

[6] An item reporting on the lack of maternity services in Queenstown was broadcast on Morning Report on Radio New Zealand at 7.50am on Monday 13 January 2003. The item was introduced with a short audio of a woman giving birth and the words, "bringing babies into the world in Queenstown".

The Complaint

[7] Mr Cone complained to the broadcaster that the item was gratuitous as none of the women interviewed during the item had given birth. Mr Cone therefore regarded the audio as being unrelated to the item.

[8] Mr Cone considered that the broadcaster did not maintain standards consistent with the observance of good taste and decency and, in relation to the audio, he stated:

This part of the complaint is in the context of recent refusals to permit filming of a live birth.

[9] Mr Cone also noted that the audio was broadcast without warning. He said it was particularly distressing, in this instance, because against the background noise of his environment, he interpreted the sound of a woman giving birth, as being a medical emergency in his own home. This aspect of the presentation he deemed to be socially irresponsible.

The Standards

[10] RNZ assessed the complaint under Principles 1, 5 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, as nominated by the complainant. The Principles, and relevant Guidelines, 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.

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.

Principle 5

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

Guideline

5c  Programmes shall not be presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress.

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.

Guideline

7d  If a programme is likely to disturb, an appropriate warning should be broadcast.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[11] RNZ noted that the duration of the audio was only a few seconds and that it was immediately followed by the words "bringing babies into the world in Queenstown". RNZ submitted that as the nexus between pregnancy and birth was irrefutable the audio was not gratuitous.

[12] RNZ concluded that there was nothing in the audio or item that could effect a breach of Principle 1 relating to good taste and decency.

[13] RNZ also said:

It [the audio] did not and was not intended to cause panic or alarm and therefore it was not appropriate to broadcast a warning on this occasion.

[14] Accordingly, RNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[15] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr Cone referred his complaint to the Authority. He responded to the issues raised by RNZ as follows:

The length or duration of the audio was neither relevant nor proportional to the distress it caused which was real.

The audio was unexpected and therefore the sound of a woman giving birth, broadcast in his home, deserved to be treated as a medical emergency until proven otherwise.

The audio was gratuitous as the sound was of a specific woman giving birth, and not one of the women interviewed during the programme.

The audio created a graphic impression which he found offensive.

The Authority’s Determination

[16] When the Authority determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Principle 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, the Authority 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 principle. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context in which the item complained about was broadcast.

[17] The Authority notes that the sound of a woman giving birth was integrated with a voice-over informing the listeners about the nature of the item. In the Authority’s view, it was an appropriate introduction to an item about bringing babies into the world. It is irrelevant, the Authority adds, that the audio did not relate specifically to any of the women who participated in the item. The Authority considers that the audio was relatively brief and that it was unlikely to cause unwarranted alarm. Therefore, under the circumstances, a warning was unnecessary.

[18] Accordingly, the Authority is of the opinion that the use of the audio, in the context of the item being broadcast, did not breach any of the nominated principles.

[19] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret 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 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, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Dr Judy McGregor
Member
15 May 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Mr Cone’s Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 13 January 2003
  2. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 31 January 2003
  3. Mr Cone’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 13 February 2003
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 12 March 2003