Radio Pacific – news item about woman swept away in a flood – news reader laughed – offensive
Principle 1 – style of delivery of item offensive – apology inadequate – uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 A news item on Radio Pacific dealt with a woman who was swept away during a flood. The newsreader laughed as he read the item.
 Glen Lee complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that laughter during an item about a human tragedy was offensive.
 In response, The RadioWorks acknowledged that the item had been accompanied by laughter. It said that the hilarity followed a joke which had been told off-air during a preceding commercial break. However, it added, immediately after the laughter, an announcer apologised.
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster's response, Mr Lee 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 complaint.
 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.
 A woman who was swept away in flood was referred to in a news item broadcast on Radio Pacific at about 8.20am on 21 June 2002. The news reader laughed as he read the item.
 Glen Lee complained that the news reader’s "giggle" was "disgusting". He advised that he had telephoned to express his concern and said that he was "fobbed off" with the excuse that the laugh was a carry over from the hosts’ break. However, Mr Lee added, the preceding news item had been read without any hilarity.
 As Mr Lee did not nominate a standard, The RadioWorks assessed the complaint under Principle 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It reads:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
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 RadioWorks advised that the explanation given over the phone was correct. It stated:
Prior to the news headlines being read out, there was a commercial break of 3 minutes duration. During this period there was some hilarity, off air, in the studio. When the broadcast recommenced, the announcer was laughing. He commenced reading the news headlines, and laughed again. He was not laughing at the news item but as a result of the previous off-air joke. Both announcers immediately apologised for the laughter and returned to a more serious style of broadcast.
 The RadioWorks declined to uphold the complaint.
 On the basis, first, that the preceding item had been read without hilarity, and second, that he could not recall an apology, Mr Lee said he was dissatisfied with The RadioWorks’ decision.
 The broadcaster acknowledged that it was unfortunate that the laughter, which occurred during the reading of the news, coincided with an item involving a human tragedy. Nevertheless, it maintained that the laughter arose from comments made off-air during the commercial break, and an apology was made immediately by an announcer who appreciated the seriousness of the situation.
 Principle 1 of the Radio Code requires broadcasters to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency. The Authority notes that the Guideline to this Principle requires an assessment not only of the context of a broadcast, but also the style of delivery. This complaint concerned the broadcast of a news reader’s laughter while reading a news item about the search for a missing woman swept away by flood waters from a caravan park.
 The broadcaster acknowledged the announcer’s laughter and explained that it arose from comments made off-air during a preceding commercial break. It was unfortunate, it added, that the laughter coincided with the news headline. However, it continued, it was followed by an apology from an announcer "who appreciated the seriousness of the situation".
 From the tape of the news item which the broadcaster supplied, the Authority heard one broadcaster interrupting the news to say "I’m sorry", and the other announcer saying in the background "No, that’s my fault". As the tape supplied covers only the news item complained about, the Authority does not know whether the delivery of the specific item was the first or a later item during the broadcast.
 The Authority accepts that incidents, such as the one complained about, occur occasionally. It also agrees with the broadcaster that the delivery style of the item was unprofessional.
 The Authority notes that, in the correspondence, the broadcaster apologised to the Authority, but not to the complainant. It does not consider that the nature or the style of the rather cursory on-air apology ameliorates the offensive nature of the broadcast. The Authority agrees with the complainant that the laughter during a news item about a human tragedy was offensive, and a breach of Principle 1.
 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 Nos. 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 to 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. In reaching this conclusion, the Authority has taken into account all the circumstances of these complaints, including the nature of the complaint.
For the reasons above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by The RadioWorks Ltd of a news item on Radio Pacific on 21 June 2002 breached Principle 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss. 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The Authority does not intend to impose an order on this occasion. The broadcaster acknowledged the broadcast was unprofessional and the Authority considers that there is little to be gained by the imposition of an order.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
26 September 2002
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: