Skip to main content

Craig and The Radio Network Ltd - 2003-132

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Ross Craig of Albany

Dated

4th December 2003

Number

2003-132

Channel/Station

Newstalk ZB

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint
Newstalk ZB – Paul Holmes Breakfast Advertising Standards Complaints Board upheld a complaint about a Levi jeans advertisement – host critical of what he regarded as religious bigotry – socially irresponsible – unbalanced – inaccurate

Findings
Principle 4 – not applicable – no uphold

Principle 6 – not applicable – no uphold

Principle 7 – satire – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Paul Holmes, as the host of Paul Holmes Breakfast on Newstalk ZB, was highly critical of religious bigotry which, he contended, was the motivation for some people to complain about a television advertisement for Levi jeans. He expressed the view, by way of comment, in a broadcast shortly before 8.00am on 27 August 2003.

[2] Ross Craig complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, that the comments lacked balance, fairness and accuracy. He expressed particular concern that Bible-believing Christians were equated with extremist Muslims.

[3] In response, TRN stated that the material complained about was editorial comments and that the host was entitled to disagree with a decision of the Advertising Standards Complaints Board. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TRN’s decision, Mr Craig referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) 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 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] The programme Paul Holmes Breakfast has been broadcast by TRN on Newstalk ZB for some 16 years. According to TRN, the programme consists of interviews on issues of the day, reports by correspondents and editorial comments from the host.

[7] In a broadcast shortly before 8.00am on 27 August 2003, the host (Paul Holmes) expressed forceful opinions about what he described as religious fascism, religious literalism and Christian zealotry which he contended were the motivation for the complaint about a television advertisement for Levi jeans which had used the phrase "Born Again". He noted that the complaint was upheld.

The Complaint

[8] Ross Craig complained to TRN that the host’s comments were unbalanced, unfair and inaccurate.

[9] With regard to balance, Mr Craig pointed out that the comments had dealt with a controversial issue but there had been no opportunity for rebuttal.

[10] As for accuracy, Mr Craig contended that the host had not distinguished between fact and opinion and, among other things, had equated Bible-believing Christians with extremist Muslims. Moreover, he said, there was nothing extreme in complaining about an advertisement and such a complaint did not deserve "an aggressive verbal attack". The host, he noted, had been "extremely judgmental".

[11] Mr Craig also argued that it was unfair to portray the people who complained about the advertisement as "worthy of contempt". He added:

My complaint covers a number of alleged breaches of principles that your station is by law required to adhere to. As you well know the airways are a powerful tool in forming community values and opinions. I find it most objectionable for there to be blatant verbal attacks on a section of people that are not empowered to respond. I ask you to take strong remedial action to ensure that such a low, selectively judgmental, standard of broadcasting does not occur in the future. What is needed is comment that is balanced, fair and accurate, all of which were sadly lacking in the specified broadcast.

The Standards

[12] TRN assessed the complaint under the following standards in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Principles and relevant Guidelines provide:

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.

Guideline

4b  Broadcasters may have regard, when ensuring that programmes comply with Principle 4, to the following matters:

(i) An appropriate introduction to the programme; and

(ii) Any reasonable on-air opportunity for listeners to ask questions or present rebuttal within the period of current interest. Broadcasters may have regard to the views expressed by other broadcasters or in the media which listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of.

Principle 6

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

Guideline

6c  Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, shall be clearly distinguished.

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) is by way of legitimate humour or satire.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[13] TRN advised that the programme included editorial comments from the host and the complaint focused on comment made by the host about a decision of the Advertising Standards Complaints Board when it upheld a complaint about a television advertisement for Levi jeans.

[14] On the basis that the comments were editorial opinion, TRN argued that there was no need to provide opportunities for balance. It accepted that the comments might have been judgmental, but argued that they were legitimate opinion. The host, it noted, had equated extreme Muslims with people at the extreme end of the "Christian Continuum".

[15] As the host was not restricted from advancing editorials which could include satire, TRN declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Authority

[16] Mr Craig did not accept that comment, which might be called editorial opinion, did not have to comply with the requirements for balance. He was unable to respond further on the extreme Muslims remark as he did not have a transcript.

[17] Mr Craig argued that the host had made discriminatory comments about the legitimate expression of religious and culture beliefs. He agreed with TRN’s description of the comments as "lampooning the complaints". "Lampooning", he wrote, meant "virulent" satire. He summarised his complaint:

I allege that [the host] did not act in a socially responsible manner. [The host] portrayed the complainants to the Levi jeans advertisement as people worthy of contempt. He set about to denigrate them when all they had done was to legitimately advance their religious/cultural beliefs.

I find it most objectionable for there to be blatant verbal attacks on a section of people that are not empowered to respond.
What is needed is comment that is balanced, fair and accurate, all of which were sadly lacking in the specified broadcast.

The Authority’s Determination

[18] The Authority considers that the host’s comments, although made during a programme which was substantially factual, were clearly editorial opinion. It notes that the host of Paul Holmes Breakfast, as is the practice of hosts with similar radio programmes which use a talkback format, uses provocative editorial comment as a regular feature to encourage a response from listeners. The comment on this occasion was introduced with the phrase "Another thing I’m shocked at", and included a plethora of adjectives. For example, the complainants to the ASCB were described as coming from the "thick end of religious zealotry".

[19] In view of its conclusion that the host’s comments were editorial opinion, the Authority considers that neither Principle 4 nor Principle 6 is relevant. These standards are both concerned with the balance and accuracy of news and current affairs programmes, rather than an editorial opinion. The Authority acknowledges the inclusion of editorial comments on programmes such as Paul Holmes Breakfast and refers to the requirement in Guideline 6c for such opinion to be clearly identified. Guideline 6c requires that factual reports are clearly distinguished from opinion, analysis and comment and it was apparent on this occasion by the inclusion of such phrases as "Another thing I’m shocked at".

[20] The Authority has assessed the complaint as one about a broadcast which was said to encourage the denigration of or discrimination against a section of the community on account of its religious beliefs. Guideline 7a of Principle 7 of the Radio Code is the applicable standard.

[21] In view of their challenging nature, the Authority considers that the comments made on this occasion breached that general requirement. However, Guideline 7a concludes with the following:

This requirement [regarding the broadcast of programme which encourage denigration or discrimination] does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual,

ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or

iii) is by way of legitimate humour or satire.

[22] Having listened to the comments, the Authority considers that exception (iii) is applicable. The comments were made forcefully but, because of the florid language used and the tone of presentation, the Authority concludes that they were satire. The Authority considers that the host’s verbal pyrotechnics broadcast on this occasion were clearly satirical opinions and declines to uphold the complaint. As it notes, the Authority considers that the views were expressed strongly. However, it finds them humorous rather than virulent or vicious and finds that they did not transgress the limitations contained in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 December 2003

Appendix

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

1.  Ross Craig’s Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd – 1 September 2003
2. TRN’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 4 September 2003
3. Mr Craig’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 7 September 2003
4. TRN’s Response to the Authority – 12 September 2003