Host Ritchie Watson told a caller to Radio Pacific to "take a swallow of the body of Christ and have a few gins with it" during his talkback programme broadcast on 23 October 1999 between 11.00–12.00pm.
Terry Ryan complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, broadcaster of Radio Pacific, that the remarks, which were addressed to him, were a serious breach of decency and good taste.
The RadioWorks advised that the remark was unacceptable and reported that the host had apologised and indicated that he had not realised that such comments would offend. It responded that the reference to "having a few gins" had been unacceptable, but did not find that it breached the good taste requirement.
Dissatisfied with the station's response, Mr Ryan referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. No tape of the item was provided. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
A caller to Radio Pacific was told by the host (Ritchie Watson) to take the body of Christ and have a few gins with it. This exchange was broadcast on 23 October 1999 between 11.00–12.00pm.
Mr Ryan, the caller, complained to The RadioWorks that the comment showed a serious breach of decency and good taste. In Mr Ryan’s opinion, the words had been spoken very deliberately and he said he was sure that the host realised the significance of what he was saying.
The RadioWorks responded that it was unable to verify the wording of the remarks as the machine which was recording the broadcast had malfunctioned at about that time. However, it advised, the host had acknowledged that the report was accurate. The remarks, The RadioWorks continued, were unacceptable to the station. It advised that the host had apologised. He had been unaware that his comments would offend to such a degree, it added, and gave an assurance that they would not occur again.
The RadioWorks considered the complaint under Principle 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:
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.
The RadioWorks advised that it did not consider the remarks had fallen outside this standard, and although it found the reference to "having a few gins" out of place, it did not uphold the complaint.
Mr Ryan referred the matter to the Authority for investigation and review.
In its response to the Authority, The RadioWorks first apologised for the malfunctioning of the machine which was supposed to have recorded the broadcast, and advised that it had been repaired the following day. It reported that in reassessing the complaint, it believed that it should have been considered under Principle 7 instead of Principle 1. That principle reads:
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) is by way of legitimate humour or satire.
The RadioWorks concluded that the remarks fell into the exemption provided under paragraph (iii) of the principle and that there had therefore been no breach of standards.
In his final comment, Mr Ryan took issue with The RadioWorks’ argument that the exemption applied, arguing that there was nothing satirical or humorous about the remark. It was, he continued, blasphemous and a breach of the good taste standard. He elaborated on the sacredness of Holy Communion and argued that it was irresponsible to ridicule or satirise the beliefs it embodied.
The Authority has not been assisted in its determination of this complaint by the absence of a tape of the broadcast complained about. It understands that the machine recording the programme malfunctioned at about the time the comment was made. This is unfortunate and in contravention of the requirement set out in Principle 8 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice that broadcasters shall be able to provide a copy of the tape of all talkback programmes. Nevertheless, the Authority notes, there is no dispute about what was said.
The complaint was dealt with by the broadcaster first under Principle 1. It found no breach, even though it accepted that the comment was likely to offend some listeners. It reported that the host had apologised and indicated that he had failed to appreciate that such a remark would offend to such a degree.
The Authority also recognises that the remark could be offensive to some people. Its view is reinforced by the results of public opinion surveys it has conducted which indicate that blasphemy is viewed by some as a very serious lapse of good taste. However, it is the Authority’s task to articulate community standards generally when it adjudicates on a matter of good taste. Again referring to its research, it notes that the community’s views on blasphemy are polarised but that to a majority, the remarks in question would not offend the standard. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint that Principle 1 was breached.
Next it assesses the complaint under Principle 7. The remark, the Authority finds, was provocative but not offensive and it does not consider that it crossed the threshold required to encourage discrimination against or denigration of Christians. It also declines to uphold this aspect.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
17 February 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered when the Authority determined this complaint:
1. Terry Ryan’s Complaint to The RadioWorks Ltd – 30 October 1999
2. The RadioWorks’ Response to the Formal Complaint – 24 November 1999
3. Mr Ryan’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 28 November 1999
4. The RadioWorks’ Response to the Authority – 20 December 1999
5. Mr Ryan’s Final Comment – 12 January 2000