Radio Pacific talkback – host John Banks – dog control – host said he would shoot a dog ranger about to shoot his dog – offensive – irresponsible
Principle 2 – comment advocated criminal violence – inconsistent with maintenance of law and order – uphold
Principle 7 – not relevant
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
The control of dogs was discussed on talkback on Radio Pacific at about 6.45am on Thursday 7 December 2000. While expressing sympathy for the owners of cats killed by a dog, the host (John Banks) said he would shoot any dog ranger who came onto his property to shoot his dog.
Mark Vincent, National President of the New Zealand Institute of Animal Control Officers Inc, complained to The RadioWorks New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the comments were "disgusting, irresponsible, and distressing".
As the broadcaster did not respond to the complaint, Mr Vincent on behalf of the Institute referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
When asked by the Authority for comment, The RadioWorks apologised for losing the complaint. It acknowledged the comment was strong, but declined to uphold the complaint on the basis that it was the genuine opinion of a host known for his controversial views.
For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaint as a breach of Principle 2 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
The members of the Authority have read a transcript of the item complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
Dog control and the fate of dogs which killed cats were discussed on Radio Pacific’s talkback programme on the morning of 7 December. The host, John Banks, expressed sympathy to a caller whose cat had been killed by a dog, and continued:
But if a dog ranger came onto my property and shot my dog, I want you to know .... I would shoot the dog ranger. So as long as you clearly understand that now .... . A dog ranger comes onto my property and shoots Muldoon I will shoot the dog ranger. It is as simple as that.
Mark Vincent, National President of the New Zealand Institute of Animal Control Officers, complained to the broadcaster that the remarks were "disgusting and bloodcurdling". He also described them as "appalling, offensive and totally distasteful". Moreover, he wrote, they were "irresponsible and distressing" as the host was a former Minister of Police.
When the broadcaster failed to respond to the complaint, Mr Vincent referred it to the Authority.
In its response to the Authority, The RadioWorks acknowledged that Radio Pacific had received the complaint but that it appeared to have been mislaid. It apologised unreservedly.
The RadioWorks assessed the complaint under Guideline 7a of Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. They read:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible
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) by way of legitimate humour or satire.
Describing the broadcast as a genuine expression of serious opinion made by a host who expressed strong and sometimes controversial opinion, The RadioWorks maintained that the remarks fell within the exception allowed by guideline 7(a)(ii) of Principle 7. It declined to uphold the complaint.
The RadioWorks did not provide a tape of the item and accepted the transcript supplied by the complainant as a full and accurate account of the broadcast.
In the Institute’s final comment, Mr Vincent advised that the broadcaster’s response had been considered by the its National Executive. The Institute maintained that the comments were inappropriate, outrageous, and reckless. A retraction and apology were sought.
The broadcaster failed to respond to the complainant’s initial complaint, and was unable to provide the Authority with a tape of the broadcast complained about. When The RadioWorks responded to the Authority as to why it had failed to respond to the initial complaint within the statutory time limit, it advised that the complaint had been mislaid during the festive season. It apologised for the omission. Fortunately, the complainant had obtained a transcript of the broadcast a few days after it had been made. This was made available to the Authority and it recorded the host’s comments. The RadioWorks acknowledged that it was full and accurate.
The Authority reminds The RadioWorks of its obligation under Principle 8 of the Radio Code to provide tapes, and expects that practices are now in place to ensure, first, that formal complaints are not mislaid, and second, that audio tapes are made available in accordance with the Code.
The Authority considers that Principle 2 of the Code is more appropriate to the complainant’s concerns. It reads:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.
The RadioWorks was asked if it wished to address this standard specifically. It advised that it had nothing to add, other than noting that the comments were an expression of the host’s opinion, and that the host was known to hold passionate views in regard to the protection of animals.
The Authority accepts that the host holds strong views on the topic. Nevertheless, there is a range of ways in which such views can be expressed. On this occasion, the host said, and repeated, that he would commit a violent criminal act against a dog ranger who was carrying out his lawful duty. The Authority therefore concludes that the remarks breached Principle 2. Accordingly, it upholds the complaint.
For the above reasons, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by The RadioWorks New Zealand Ltd of an item on Radio Pacific on 7 December 2000 breached Principle 2 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. However, on the basis that the host who made the remarks complained about is no longer a host with Radio Pacific, the Authority does not intend to impose an order on this occasion.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
14 June 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint.