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Le Comte and The Radio Network Ltd - 2002-212

Members

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

Complainant

  • Paul Le Comte of Dunedin

Dated

17th December 2002

Number

2002-212

Channel/Station

Radio Sport

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint
Radio Sport – host Doug Golightly – men’s refuges derided as unnecessary for real New Zealanders – only use was for beaten partners of homosexual men – complainant’s email misread – unfair – irresponsible

Findings
Principle 7 Guideline 7a – high threshold not reached – no uphold

Principle 5 – change to email – implication that writer was homosexual – complainant not identified – on balance not unfair – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The Radio Sport programme on Saturday morning 17 August 2002, hosted by Doug Golightly, included a number of references to men’s refuges. The host questioned their need for "real" New Zealanders, suggesting that only the beaten partners of homosexual men would use them. That attitude was reflected in his comments on some emails he referred to during the broadcast. An email from the complainant, described as "Paul from Parnell", objected to the host’s views.

[2] Paul Le Comte complained to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, that the host’s comments about men’s refuges were irresponsible and incorrect. His email had been misread and implied that he was a homosexual.

[3] In response, TRN maintained that the comments were legitimate opinion broadcast during a strongly male-oriented programme. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TRN’s decision, Mr Le Comte 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 Doug Golightly hosted programme on Saturday morning on Radio Sport focuses on rugby. On the morning of 17 August 2002, the host made a number of comments in which he derided men’s refuges and those who used them.

The Complaint

[7] Paul Le Comte complained to TRN that the comments from the host, when he referred to refuges for men, questioned the manhood of the people who would use such a facility. The host, he continued, suggested that only the beaten partners of homosexual men would use the refuges.

[8] Mr Le Comte noted that the host then read out two emails from people who complained about the comments, adding:

Both writers were accused of being homosexual and told to go back to their boyfriends in Parnell.

[9] Mr Le Comte said he then sent an email of complaint. First, it was misread when the host said it included the phrase that he listened to an "outstanding show". Second, the host referred to him as "Paul from Parnell", and he was accused of being homosexual. Third, the host suggested that the email was then screwed up and thrown away.

[10] Describing the host’s comments and behaviour as both offensive and incorrect, Mr Le Comte argued that the "gross generalisations" abused a section in the community.

The Standards

[11] TRN assessed the complaint under Principle 7, Guideline 7a, of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It reads:

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 of legitimate humour or satire.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[12] TRN said that Mr Doug Golightly programme on Saturday morning was "strongly male orientated", and the host’s opinions on the need for a men’s refuge would not be surprising. TRN considered that the comment was legitimate in the context of the programme, and it declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[13] Expressing surprise that the broadcaster considered misinformed opinion and socially irresponsible comment was acceptable, Mr Le Comte described the on-air remarks as "disgusting". He also objected to the broadcaster questioning his sexuality.

The Authority’s Determination

[14] Following an initial examination of the complaint, the Authority was of the opinion that it raised issues in relation to Principle 5 of the Radio Code in addition to Principle 7. Principle 5 reads:

Principle 5

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

[15] When asked to comment on this Principle, TRN argued that it had not been breached by the broadcast. Talkback radio, it wrote, involved situations when callers might be "put down", and the Doug Golightly Show, it added, was known for its robust and "no prisoners taken style".

[16] The section of the community referred to in the item, to which Principle 7 applies, are, first, men who use refuges, and second, homosexual men. The broadcast made disparaging comments about both these groups. Moreover, the Authority does not accept that the comments were excusable as, to use TRN’s phrase, "legitimate opinion". The exceptions listed in Guideline 7a include "serious comment" and "legitimate humour". Neither applied to the broadcast complained about.

[17] However, the Authority has consistently taken the view that a high level of "encouragement" is necessary before it concludes that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination. It concludes that this threshold has not been reached on this occasion, and the broadcast did not breach Principle 7.

[18] As Mr Le Comte objected at the time of the broadcast to the host’s comments about refuges for men, he sent an email to the broadcaster in which he recorded his objections and concluded "Get back onto the sport". He signed his name.

[19] The host referred to the email on-air. First, he misquoted it to say that it referred to an "outstanding show", and second, that it was sent by "Paul of Parnell". The Authority accepts, because of the host’s comment noted in paragraph [8], that the implication of the phrase is that "Paul" is a homosexual.

[20] The Authority agrees that talkback is indeed robust and that people who participate may well be shown minimal civility. It considers that the unwarranted insinuation and self-serving doctoring of the email are undesirable developments of the talkback genre. Such doctoring impacts on the broadcaster’s credibility. However, given that the complainant was not identified, the Authority considers, on balance, that the broadcast did not breach Standard 5 of the Radio Code.

[21] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply 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 and applies them in a manner which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
17 December 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Paul Le Comte’s Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (forwarded through the Broadcasting Standards Authority) – 26 August 2002
  2. TRN’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 30 August 2002
  3. Mr Le Comte’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 2 September 2002
  4. TRN’s Response to the Authority – 16 September 2002
  5. Mr Le Comte’s Final Comment – 28 September 2002
  6. TRN’s Response to the Authority Regarding Standard 5 – 7 November 2002