The words "stick my hard dick up your butt" were reported by the complainant to have been used by an announcer on The Rock at around 10.20pm on 20 July 1999. The complainant reported that the same announcer used the words "in between the legs" in the course of a discussion about an eclipse of the moon, during the evening of 28 July 1999.
The Rape Prevention Group Inc. complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that it had breached Principles 1 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Rape Prevention Group maintained that the two comments were offensive and harmful to women. It said that being referred to as sex objects and "mere bodies" degraded women.
The broadcaster responded that The Rock was targeted at a male audience aged between 18-39 years and that its style appealed to large numbers of that group. In the broadcaster’s view, those people were entitled to their own radio station which reflected their values, language and attitudes. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s decision, the Rape Prevention Group referred its complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority upholds the complaint about the 20 July broadcast, but declines to uphold the complaint about the 28 July broadcast. The Authority orders The RadioWorks to pay costs of $500.00 to the Crown.
The members of the Authority have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. No tapes of the items were provided. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.
According to the complainant, whose version was not disputed by The RadioWorks, an announcer (Glen Green) on The Rock made the following comments. First, on 20 July, around 10.20pm, he used the phrase "…stick my hard dick up your butt" while talking to a woman caller. He then told listeners "if you’re offended by this, don’t listen". Secondly, on 28 July, during the evening, the complainant reported that the announcer used the phrase "in between the legs" while talking about an eclipse of the moon.
The Rape Prevention Group complained that the comment made on 20 July was of a graphic sexual nature. It also complained that it was made in a threatening way. It said that one of its committee members had described the comment as "verbal rape". As for the second comment, the Rape Prevention Group said that: "It is as though sex and women are continually on this man’s mind".
The Rape Prevention Group considered that both comments breached Principle 1 and Guideline 7a of Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. Principles 1 and 7 provide:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.
Guideline 7a of Principle 7 provides:
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 belief. 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.
The Rape Prevention Group described the comments as degrading and indecent. It said that they encouraged degradation and discrimination against women and possibly others in the community.
The Rape Prevention Group suggested that the comments about which it complained were typical of those made on The Rock. It said that The Rock frequently degraded women by talking about them as sex objects, "mere bodies" or as if they were just "hunks of flesh". It was particularly concerned about the particular announcer who made the comments complained about as it considered his attitude to be offensive and harmful to women. Furthermore, it considered that The Rock’s "general manner" was often "crude and obscene".
The Rape Prevention Group opined that explicit or sexist comments could encourage "sex/rape" fantasies in a segment of The Rock’s male audience. In its view, when women were objectified, discrimination against them in the community would occur – "often in the form of sexual harassment and violence".
In its response, The RadioWorks emphasised that The Rock was a station targeted at a male audience aged between 18-39 years and that its programming was directed at them. It said that it adopted "a raw down-to-earth, politically incorrect approach" which appealed to its target audience. It agreed that the station’s approach did not have universal appeal, but argued that those to whom it did appeal were entitled to have their own radio station which reflected their values, language and attitudes. It also reported that The Rock was the number one station among males aged 18–39 in the Manawatu area.
The RadioWorks declined to uphold the Rape Prevention Group’s complaints.
When the Rape Prevention Group referred its complaints to the Authority, it said that having a target audience of 18-39 year old males did not justify denigrating women. It expressed its concern at targeting this audience with messages that objectified women. It contended that members of this group were frequently the perpetrators of harassment or sexual assault. It then asked:
Should an audience have the right to a station that helps form, or reflects such bad attitudes towards women?
The Rape Prevention Group observed that many people were "obliged" to listen to The Rock in public places, such as shops, garages, cafes and workplaces. It said that when women expressed anger or concern over things said on-air, The Rock would either cut them off or use this as "further opportunity to degrade or ridicule".
In its report to the Authority, The RadioWorks repeated that the Rock targeted a male audience aged between 18–39 years, and that its programming strongly catered for and appealed to this group. It restated that the station’s "raw, down-to-earth, politically incorrect" approach did not have universal appeal, but that those to whom it did appeal were entitled to have their own radio station.
The RadioWorks then commented briefly on the Rape Protection Group’s specific complaints. In response to the complaint about the 28 July broadcast, it said the announcer was "using legitimate humour or satire, given the time of day and the target audience of The Rock". As to the complaint about the 20 July broadcast, The RadioWorks said the language used was language "commonly used in the target demograph of The Rock". It added that the comments were not maliciously directed at the caller. Rather, it said "it was an ‘off-the-cuff’ remark directed at a punch line of a joke told… on-air".
The RadioWorks made two concluding points. First, it said that it could see how the comments made could, in isolation, be offensive to some people and it said it had addressed these concerns with the DJ. Finally, it commented that the balance between "appropriateness" and "inappropriateness" within the context of The Rock’s format "can be difficult".
In assessing the complaints under Principle 1, the Authority considers the context in which the comments were made. Context may include the station’s target audience and the time of broadcast. But contextual factors are not decisive. Overall, the Authority has to test the comments complained about against community standards of good taste and decency.
Dealing first with the 20 July comment, the Authority considers the language used by the announcer to be unacceptably gratuitous, sexually explicit, and aggressive. It finds that, in these circumstances, the broadcast is not redeemed by its context. The Authority upholds the complaint about the 20 July comment.
Turning to the comment made on 28 July, the Authority finds the words used by the announcer inoffensive in themselves. From the incomplete information provided to it about the discussion surrounding the comment, the Authority is unable to discern a breach of broadcasting standards. Therefore, it declines to uphold the complaint about the 28 July broadcast.
The Authority does not find it necessary to consider Principle 7 on this occasion. In view of the very limited information about the context of the comments, it is not possible for it to ascertain at whom the comments were directed. The issues are more appropriately addressed under Principle 1.
In reaching its decision on these complaints, the Authority notes that it has not been assisted by the station’s failure to provide tapes of the broadcasts. It directs The RadioWorks’ attention to Principle 8. That principle reads:
For a period of 35 days after broadcast, broadcasters are required to be able to provide a copy of the tapes of all open line and talkback programmes, and all outside broadcast news and current affairs coverage. For the same period, broadcasters are also required to retain, or be able to obtain, a tape or script of news and current affairs items.
As the Authority observed in Decision No: 1999-191, 192, programmes during which listeners can phone in and have their contributions broadcast live constitute open-line programmes, and are thus subject to the requirements of Principle 8.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast of a comment on The Rock at about 10.20pm on 20 July 1999 breaches Principle 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It declines to uphold the complaint about the comment made on The Rock during the evening of 28 July 1999.
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose penalties pursuant to s.13(1) and s.16(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It invited submissions from the parties as to penalty.
The Authority imposes the following order:
Pursuant to s.16(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders The RadioWorks to pay costs of $500.00 to the Crown within one month of the date of this Decision.
That Order shall be enforceable in the Wellington District Court.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
3 February 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. The Rape Prevention Group’s Complaint to The RadioWorks – 14 August 1999
2. The RadioWorks’ Response to the Formal Complaint – 31 August 1999
3. The Rape Prevention Group’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority
– 10 September 1999
4. The RadioWorks’ Response to the Authority – 18 October 1999
5. The RadioWorks’ Submission on Penalty – 14 December 1999
6. The Rape Prevention Group’s Submission on Penalty – 15 December 1999