Skip to main content

St Paul's Presbyterian Church, Katikati and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2002-108

Members

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

Complainant

  • St Paul's Presbyterian Church of Katikati

Dated

22nd August 2002

Number

2002-108

Programme

Saturday Morning

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
National Radio – Saturday Morning – joke told during Easter period – poor taste – breach of good taste and decency

Findings
Principle 1 – contextual matters – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] On the Saturday Morning programme broadcast on National Radio on 30 March 2002, during the Easter period, John Campbell interviewed Jonathan Hardy, a professional actor. Mr Hardy told a "joke" about Easter.

[2] Barbara Boston, on behalf of the Session of Elders of St Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Katikati, complained to Radio New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the "joke" told during the Easter period was particulary offensive.

[3] Declining to uphold the complaint, RNZ said that taken in context, the item did not breach current norms of good taste and decency.

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

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

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the item complained about, and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

The Broadcast

[6] On the Saturday Morning programme broadcast on National Radio on 30 March 2002, during the Easter period, John Campbell interviewed Jonathan Hardy, a professional actor, who related a "joke" with a religious theme:

A centurion who was standing on Golgotha under the Cross and heard these noises going on above him, and looked up and said – "What’s going on up there?" and the voice came back – "Under the circumstances just trying to get comfortable".

The Complaint

[7] Mrs Boston, on behalf of the Session of Elders of St Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Katikati, complained to Radio New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the "joke" was offensive. She wrote:

At any time, this would be in poor taste. It should have been apparent that, to tell this during Holy Week – the most sacred time in the Church’s calendar – would deeply offend many of your listeners.

The Standards

[8] The complainant did not nominate any specific principles from the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice against which to assess the complaint. RNZ assessed the complaint against Principle 1. Principle 1 and the relevant guideline read:

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).

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] RNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It explained that the "joke" was Mr Hardy’s recollection of "a little story" told to him by a Franciscan priest. It wrote:

The story was related in a humorous vein and in the context of an ongoing discussion about early morning rises and the Easter season.

[10] Noting that the "joke" was told during a live interview, RNZ continued:

In reviewing the story which Mr Hardy retold, Radio New Zealand found that it was not a direct reflection of a particular character and was, if anything, the portrayal of an attempt at humour. The story had a certain irony in that it was attributed in the first instance by the interviewee to a Franciscan priest who was a friend.

[11] RNZ considered the relevant contextual issues were the "use of the words as a part of a live interview and the retelling of a story." It wrote:

In evaluating the broadcast, Radio New Zealand has to take into account the expression of what the interviewee was saying and how this was expressed in the spoken word. While these expressions can sometimes cause offence to some members of our audience, that does not mean that in a democratic society such as New Zealand’s, that they should be denied the opportunity to be broadcast or that only one "voice" should be heard. It is a hallmark of our society’s commonly held values as enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 that citizens have a right to the freedom of expression and this extends to what is broadcast in the form of interviews on National Radio.

[12] In relation to Principle 1, RNZ concluded that taking into account the contextual matters stated above, the item did not breach current norms of good taste and decency.

The Referral to the Authority

[13] On behalf of the Church, Mrs Boston, expressed dissatisfaction with RNZ’s decision, and argued that it had failed to consider properly the relevant contextual issues. She wrote:

In this instance the context was a programme with a nation-wide listener base, set in the middle of Easter – the most sacred observance of the Christian calendar, with the Cross and the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ as its centrality.

[14] The Church also argued that as a large proportion of the people in New Zealand identify themselves with the Christian faith, many listeners would have been offended by the item. It said, "the timing was tasteless and inconsiderate."

[15] The Church disputed RNZ’s contention regarding the story’s intended "humorous flavour" and its claim that the story was "not a direct reflection of a particular character." It wrote:

As the Cross and the Crucifixion focuses almost entirely on one particular character, and no other victim of such a death has found any place of prominence in history, it is inescapable that Jesus would be the one to whom the story referred and called to mind – with the Easter timing as a back-up.

… Bad taste is still bad taste, in serious or humorous vein. That it was claimed to have been told to the speaker by a Franciscan priest puts it in a more regrettable light, not less.

[16] While the Church accepted RNZ’s point regarding the lack of editorial control in a live interview programme, it argued it was still the host’s responsibility to have been sensitive to his listeners and to have apologised for any offence caused.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[17] RNZ said it had nothing further more to say about the complaint. However, it had acknowledged the offence taken by the complainant to the broadcast, and had passed on its comments to the producer.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[18] The Church wrote:

We would just hope that the Authority might agree that the sensitivity and restraint which is extended by the media in matters of racism, sexuality etc, might also be exercised in matters of spiritual faith. We believe that was not achieved.

The Authority’s Determination

[19] When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Principle 1 of the Radio Code, 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. The Authority considers that the relevant contextual factors on this occasion are the nature of the programme, the manner in which the "joke" was told and that it was a live interview programme.

[20] The Authority accepts that some listeners would have found the remark thoughtless and insensitive because it was broadcast during the Easter period, and that there was an opportunity for the presenter to apologise. While it is the Authority’s view that the joke was contrived, it notes that no offensive language was used and the "joke" was told conversationally in context of a live interview. It considers that given the contextual factors referred to above, the remark did not breach current norms of good taste and decency. Accordingly, the Authority concludes that on this occasion there has been no breach of Principle 1.

[21] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 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). 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 the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
22 August 2002

Appendix

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

  1. The Session of Elders of St Paul’s Presbyterian Church’s Formal Complaint to Radio New Zealand Limited – 8 April 2002
  2. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 13 May 2002
  3. The Church’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – received 10 June 2002
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 21 June 2002
  5. The Church’s Final Comment – 5 July 2002