Nine to Noon – interview with Linda Clark – blasphemy – "Christ" – offensive language
Principle 1 – community generally would not find offensive – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
An interview with Linda Clark, formerly Television New Zealand Ltd’s political editor, on Nine to Noon was rebroadcast on The Best of Nine to Noon at around 6.45pm on National Radio on 22 December 1999.
Rev Campbell complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the interviewee had used the word "Christ" as an exclamation. He considered that the language breached broadcasting standards requiring good taste and decency.
RNZ responded that, despite the risk that the use of the word might offend a number of listeners, in the context of an interview conducted live, and in the circumstances in which the word was used by the interviewee, it had not breached standards of good taste and decency.
Dissatisfied with RNZ’s decision, Rev Campbell 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 listened to a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
An interview with Linda Clark, TVNZ’s recently retired political editor, on Nine to Noon was rebroadcast on The Best of Nine to Noon at around 6.45pm on National Radio on 22 December 1999.
Rev Campbell complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the interviewee had used the word "Christ" as an exclamation. He took strong exception to the language which he considered breached broadcasting standards regarding good taste and decency.
RNZ assessed the complaint under Principle 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which requires broadcasters:
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.
In RNZ’s view, the relevant contextual factors were:
i) The interview was conducted in a live situation
ii) The interviewee was a vivacious personality
iii) The language used was in keeping with the tone and style of the interview
iv) The word was an "intensifier" in the sentence, was only used once in the interview, and was not used gratuitously
v) The word was "not blasphemous in the sense that it did not encourage the denigration of a particular religious sector or belief"
vi) The use of the word did not lead to any further discussion of a religious nature
vii) In terms of research into language found offensive by listening audiences, it was "not one of the more offensive phrases that could have been used"
RNZ explained that although the word could have been edited out before the interview was rebroadcast, it was left in because the interviewee had used it to give particular emphasis to what she was saying. In RNZ’s opinion, it was integral to the sentence, and:
To maintain the integrity of the interview required the retention of the phrase.
RNZ also considered that research indicated that while some listeners might be offended by the use of the word, others would consider it acceptable.
In all the circumstances, RNZ concluded that the use of the word in the interview did not transgress standards of good taste and decency.
In his referral of the complaint to the Authority, Rev Campbell disagreed with RNZ’s assessment of the complaint, saying that "The use of Our Saviour’s name in the interview referred to in [his original] letter was wrong per se". He considered that a number of points raised by RNZ stemmed "from a position of philosophical relativism".
In its response to the Authority, RNZ reiterated the seriousness with which it took the use of what might be considered blasphemous language. RNZ explained that, despite not upholding the complaint, its Senior Management Committee had considered the overall use of language on radio, and staff had been reminded of their responsibilities and the need for caution in this area.
In assessing complaints under Principle 1, the Authority considers the context in which the comments were made. The Authority considers it relevant on this occasion to note that the word was used spontaneously by the interviewee, in a manner which it considers was not intended to give offence to listeners. However, it records that it does not accept that all the matters advanced by RNZ as relevant contextual matters were in fact so. In particular, it questions RNZ’s assertions that the use of the word was not gratuitous and integral to the sentence in which it was used.
Nevertheless and taking relevant contextual matters into account, the Authority has to test the language complained about against community standards of good taste and decency. On this occasion, the Authority recognises that the use of the word "Christ" in the context complained about could be seen as offensive to some people. It notes that public opinion surveys conducted by the Authority indicate that blasphemy is viewed by some as a very serious lapse of good taste. However, the Authority’s research also shows that the community’s views on blasphemy are polarised, and to a majority, the use of the word in question in this context would not offend against community standards of good taste and decency. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint that Principle 1 was breached in the specific situation complained about.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
11 May 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Rev Colin Campbell’s Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 31 December 1999
2. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 11 February 2000
3. Rev Campbell’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 18 February 2000
4. RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 20 March 2000