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Mathias and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-140

Members

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

Complainant

  • Donald Mathias of Christchurch

Dated

23rd December 2010

Number

2010-140

Programme

Breakfast

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast
– presenters discussed Civil Defence emergency survival kits – presenter commented on what people should have in their kits, Mormons being prepared for disasters as part of their faith, and whether people should just have a gun and bullets and use them to take other people’s kits – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency


Findings

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – comments were inane banter that was not intended to be taken seriously – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  During an episode of Breakfast, broadcast on TV One at 6.30am on Tuesday 7 September 2010, the presenters, Paul Henry, Pippa Wetzell and Peter Williams, discussed Civil Defence emergency kits.

[2]  At around 8am, Mr Henry’s first suggestion on the issue was that everybody should become Mormons, because, he said, Mormons had a plan for the end of the world as part of their religion.

[3]  Following a news bulletin, the presenters returned to the topic. After further general discussion about survival kits, Mr Henry suggested, “If we’re truly preparing for any kind of event, like say 2012, dare I say this, a gun”. The following exchange then took place:

Mr Henry:          Well there’s no preparing for 2012.

Mr Williams:       What’s happening in 2012?

Mr Henry:          Well it’s the end of the world isn’t it?

Ms Wetzell:       There is no preparing for the end of the world.

Mr Williams:       At the end of December or something?

Mr Henry:          Well I don’t know if you operate on the Mayan calendar but 2012, it’s all
                        over. So for those of us who’ve got a lot of time for the Mayans, Mayans and
                        Mormons, a lot of time for them, then we’re prepared for anything and I just
                        wonder if we do need to have some kind of weapon in our survival kit?

Ms Wetzell:        No.

Mr Henry:          And don’t forget you’ll need bullets. There’s no point having a gun without
                        bullets. That’s as much as I know about guns. Alright, a knife, a Stanley
                        knife, not a Stanley knife, a fish knife.

Ms Wetzell:       Again, I have a Stanley knife, do we need to have it in the kit or can I go
                        and get it? ...

Mr Henry:         Keep a gun and that way you can get someone else’s kit. You can just
                       go hunting the streets and say, oh I like what you’ve got, out comes the gun.

Ms Wetzel:       I don’t think it’s the time to joke about this.

Mr Henry:         No, it’s not.

[4]  The presenters then crossed to a weather reporter for a live update. A brief conversation took place between the presenters and the reporter about the gun suggestion, during which Ms Wetzell repeatedly stated that Mr Henry was “just joking”.

Complaint

[5]  Donald Mathias made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that Mr Henry’s comments breached standards of good taste and decency.

[6]  The complainant argued that Mr Henry’s “comments regarding emergency kits, Mormons and guns were entirely inappropriate” and “offensive”. He stated that he was in earthquake-stricken Christchurch and that Mr Henry’s comments were “neither helpful nor funny”.

[7]  Mr Mathias contended that Mr Henry’s suggestion to steal from others was, at the very least, poor taste and judgment, “but given our dire predicament is worse than looting”.

Standards

[8]  TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]  The broadcaster contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable in the context in which was it shown, including the time of broadcast, the programme’s classification, the target audience, and the use of warnings.

[10]  TVNZ argued that Mr Henry’s comments about Mormons and getting a gun were intended to be comedic. It considered that his tone was clearly humorous and his remarks were not intended to be taken seriously. It was of the view that Mr Henry was renowned for this type of exaggerated hyperbole on the programme and that regular viewers expected this sort of behaviour from him.

[11]  The broadcaster pointed out that Ms Wetzell told Mr Henry that the topic was not one to joke about and that she had stated her co-host was “just joking” when the suggestion came up again during the weather report.

[12]  TVNZ did not consider that viewers would have been offended by Mr Henry’s comments in the context of the segment, which it said was clearly intended to be humorous. It therefore declined to uphold the good taste and decency complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[13]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Mathias referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that Mr Henry’s comments were in bad taste considering Christchurch was in a state of civil defence emergency when the programme was broadcast.

Authority's Determination

[14]  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.

[15]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • Breakfast was broadcast at 6.30am during children’s normally accepted viewing time
  • it was an unclassified news and current affairs programme
  • the programme had an adult target audience
  • audience expectations.

[16]  The complainant argued that Mr Henry’s “comments regarding emergency kits, Mormons and guns were entirely inappropriate” and “offensive”.

[17]  In our view, Mr Henry’s comments formed part of the regular banter that occurred between the programme’s presenters. We consider that Mr Henry was attempting to be humorous and that his remarks were not intended to be taken seriously.

[18]  We also note that Mr Henry’s co-presenter told him that it was not an appropriate time to joke about the topic and repeatedly stated to viewers that Mr Henry was “just joking”. While the joke may not have been to everyone’s tastes, we consider that it did not breach standards of good taste and decency within a news and current affairs programme aimed at adults. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 1.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
23 December 2010

Appendix

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

1.          Donald Mathias’ formal complaint – 7 September 2010

2.         TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 30 September 2010

3.         Mr Mathias’ referral to the Authority – 12 October 2010

4.         TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 10 November 2010