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Auge and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-108

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainant

  • Amelie Auge of Dunedin

Dated

23rd November 2010

Number

2010-108

Programme

Border Patrol

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Border Patrol
– undeclared meat package from France intercepted at Auckland International Mail Centre – MAF official commented that people eat horse in France and discussed the dangers associated with raw meat in terms of its potential to carry diseases – allegedly in breach of discrimination and denigration standard


Findings

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – comment about diseases not directed at French people – did not encourage discrimination or denigration – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An episode of the reality TV series Border Patrol was broadcast on TV One at 7.30pm on 26 July 2010. Border Patrol was a locally produced television programme that followed the daily activities of New Zealand’s border security staff, including Customs officials at airports and Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) officials at international mail centres.

[2]   The final segment focussed on bio-security at the Auckland International Mail Centre, and was introduced with the following statement:

Bio-security risks are not only found in people’s luggage but disguised as gifts through the mail centre. These items threaten our lucrative farming and growing industries.

[3]   Footage of a dog on a mail conveyor belt was shown, as a MAF Detector Dog Handler explained that the dog was “looking for something quite frantically and he hasn’t quite worked out which one it is”. The dog settled on a particular package, and the MAF officer explained that it was from France and discussed her previous experience with packages from that country, stating that they often contained lavender and lots of plant material. Opening the package, she commented:

It kind of feels like a magazine but I can feel lumpy bits in it as well. And straight away I can smell what smells to me like meat, maybe a sweet ham or something like that from Europe.

[4]   The officer opened the package, revealing a magazine with plastic-wrapped meat between the pages. She stated:

As you can see here inside the magazine there are chunks of salami and meat. So we’ve got five Glad-wrapped parcels of salami, could be any sort of meat. This is France, bearing in mind they eat horse and salami is only a dried product or smoked at best so it’s not cooked in any way, it doesn’t have any sort of cooking processing. And it looks a little bit homemade just by the irregularities so that could be perhaps why they wanted to send it to friends here. What I’m going to do is, because it was concealed in the manner that it was, it looks a little bit suspicious to me and I’m going to pass it on to one of our quarantine inspectors who will get hold of the enforcement unit.

[5]   Explaining her decision to pass the meat on for further investigation, the officer stated:

It’s not cooked; it’s not heat-treated in any way so it could have anything from Anthrax to Foot and Mouth, Mad Cow Disease, goodness knows what the meat is. There’s an awful lot of diseases that could be brought in. There are very few countries in the world that you can bring meat products in this form into New Zealand.

Complaint

[6]   Amelie Auge made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached Standard 7.

[7]   The complainant argued that the MAF officer’s comments, for example “you know they eat horse over there” and “they have lots of diseases”, were “unrelated to the actual case and were very offensive towards French people and culture”. She considered the comments “sounded racist”, and said that this was particularly so because of their irrelevance to the story.

[8]   Ms Auge argued that the officer “had no idea what type of meat it was ... and made these comments [even though] she was totally ignorant”. In the complainant’s view, when the officer mentioned diseases, she should have said that “there are diseases in Europe that are not present in New Zealand and this is why we cannot allow meat into the country”. Instead, she argued, the officer made it sound as though “all diseases of New Zealand are imported from France and that French people and the country in general [are] disgusting and dirty”.

Standards

[9]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 7 and guideline 7a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

Guideline 7a

This standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is:

• factual

• the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual
  programmes, or

• legitimate humour, drama or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[10]   TVNZ noted that the Authority had consistently defined denigration as blackening the reputation of a class of people. It also stated that, in light of the right to free expression contained in section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high threshold had to be crossed before a breach of Standard 7 could be found. It contended that encouraging discrimination meant to encourage the different treatment of members of a particular group, to their detriment.

[11]   The broadcaster said that the segment subject to complaint followed the “formulaic approach” of the programme, routinely taken when officials discovered material in breach of New Zealand border laws. It considered the MAF officer was “simply explaining her thought processes” as she opened the package and that upon discovering raw meat from France, “explained her reasons for needing to send the package on for further investigation.” She “observed” that they ate horse in France, it said, and “her concern was around the fact that the meat had not been cooked which posed a potential threat of undesirable content making its way across the New Zealand border.”

[12]   TVNZ said that it did not consider the officer’s comments were intended to cause offence to French people or culture. Instead, it said, “she was simply doing her job and outlining potential threats to New Zealand borders which uncooked meat, from any country, can pose”.

[13]   The broadcaster argued that the officer did not say that “all the diseases of New Zealand are imported from France and that French people and the country in general [are] disgusting and dirty”, as contended by the complainant.

[14]   TVNZ concluded that the item had not reached the threshold required to amount to encouraging discrimination or denigration against French people, and it therefore declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[15]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Auge referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[16]   The complainant reiterated her view that the item was “highly offensive”, and argued that allowing such comments would increase “social tensions and racism” towards French people and culture, particularly because the comments were made out of context.

[17]   Ms Auge contended that the offensiveness of the broadcast was compounded by the officer’s behaviour; the officer looked “disgusted” when mentioning horse meat and making comments regarding diseases, she said. In the complainant’s view, the officer’s tone was completely “inappropriate”. She argued that the comments were intended to make the programme more dramatic.

[18]   Ms Auge said that the programme screened during prime family viewing time, and that the broadcaster should therefore be more careful not to “degrade” other cultures or people.

Authority's Determination

[19]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[20]   Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community. “Denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people (e.g. Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks1), and “discrimination” as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group to their detriment (e.g. Teoh and TVNZ2).

[21]   It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard (see, for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network3).

[22]   The complainant argued that the officer’s comments about the French eating horse meat and the possibility of raw meat carrying diseases, discriminated against and denigrated French people and their culture. She considered that the officer made it sound as though “all diseases of New Zealand are imported from France and that French people and the country in general [are] disgusting and dirty”.

[23]   TVNZ argued that the officer was “simply explaining her thought processes” as she opened the package and discovered the raw meat, and it considered that her comments were not intended to cause offence.

[24]   In our view, the officer’s comment about French people eating horse meat was a legitimate observation communicated in a calm and non-derogatory manner. We agree with TVNZ that it was not intended to cause offence to French people or culture.

[25]   With regard to the officer’s comments about the potential for raw meat to carry diseases such as Anthrax and Foot and Mouth, we consider that they were educational and factual statements that provided valuable insight into the potential bio-security risks posed by undeclared raw meat entering the country. They were clearly not aimed at French people, as contended by the complainant.

[26]   For these reasons, we do not consider that the officer’s comments encouraged the denigration of, or discrimination against, French people or culture. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
23 November 2010

Appendix

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

1.           Amelie Auge’s formal complaint – 27 July 2010

2.          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 20 August 2010

3.          Ms Auge’s referral to the Authority – 27 August 2010

4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 11 October 2010


1Decision No. 2006-030

2Decision No. 2008-091

3Decision No. 2002-152