Newstalk ZB – talk – host Paul Holmes – host’s comment – sticking out like dog balls – offensive language
Principle 1 – colloquial – not offensive in context – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
A report about sport and recreation was referred to during the talk programme on Newstalk ZB between 7.00–8.00am on 31 January 2001. The host (Paul Holmes) said that one conclusion "stuck out like dog balls".
D Brazier complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, that the comment was offensive.
Explaining that the host was quoting a Committee member and that it was delivered in a conversational tone, TRN denied that the comment would cause any major offence among an audience aged 35 plus which listened Newstalk ZB. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TRN’s decision, D Brazier 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.
The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
A recently released report about sport and recreation was discussed on talkback on Newstalk ZB on the morning of 31 January 2001. The host said this one conclusion "stuck out like dog balls".
D Brazier complained to TRN, the broadcaster, that the comment was uncalled for and offensive. He added that he expected such comments from callers to be blocked out.
TRN 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.
TRN pointed out the host’s comment occurred during an editorial piece in which he quoted a member of the Committee. It added that the tone was conversational and that it would not have caused major offence among listeners aged 35 plus who listened on a daily basis to robust talkback.
When he referred his comment to the Authority, D Brazier disputed TRN’s claim that the comment was conversational in tone and not intended to shock. He had been offended and shocked, he wrote, and expected those in authority to agree that the language had breached Principle 1.
When considering whether a broadcast has breached Principle 1, the Authority is obliged to take into account the context in which the broadcast complained about occurs. The context is relevant, but not decisive.
The contextual factors which the Authority considers relevant on this occasion include the time of the broadcast, the type of broadcast, and the manner in which the comment was made.
The comment was made during a programme at a time when many children would have been at home preparing for school. However, the type of programme – talk – is a genre which, TRN argues, is listened to by a demographic aged 35 plus. While the comment was coarse, the Authority accepts, as TRN explained, that the host was repeating a colloquial comment made by a Committee member.
The Authority is concerned that the broadcast was made at an hour when children could have been at home, and may have been listening because of their parents’ choice of station. However, it does not accept that the comment reached the threshold required for Principle 1 to be transgressed. The Authority also notes that its recent research records that the word "balls" ranked 16 in a list of 22 offensive words respondents were asked to rank. The Authority concludes that Principle 1 was not breached.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
26 April 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint.