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Berry and RadioWorks Ltd - 2011-018

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainant

  • Glenn Berry of Tauranga

Dated

7th June 2011

Number

2011-018

Programme

Willie and JT

Channel/Station

Radio Live

Broadcaster

RadioWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Willie and JT – hosts interviewed the Prime Minister by telephone – one host joked that they were doing a phone interview because the Prime Minister used to suffer from polio and could not travel to the studio – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – comments obtuse and clumsy – attempt at humour – comments intended to rib Prime Minister and did not extend to all people who suffered from polio or immobility – within broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression – not upheld

 This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   During the Willie and JT programme, broadcast on Radio Live on the afternoon of 8 February 2011, the hosts Willie and JT discussed an imminent telephone interview with the Prime Minister John Key. Willie asked JT, “how come your beloved Prime Minister... is coming on with us on the phone? How come he can’t walk down here?” JT responded, “he had polio when he was little”. After some discussion, Willie said, “after this break we’ll join the polio-stricken Prime Minister John Key”.

[2]   At the commencement of the interview, Willie said to Mr Key, “JT was saying you had polio when you were younger, is that correct?” Mr Key said, “Me?” and JT said, “he was having a go at you for not walking down the stairs into the studio”. The Prime Minister replied, “yeah sorry I’ve just got about ten things to do at once”. At the end of the interview Willie said, “Good luck with the polio, John.”

Complaint

[3]   Glenn Berry made a formal complaint to RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the host’s comments about the Prime Minister having polio breached broadcasting standards. He considered that the comments were “in poor taste and lacking in decency and respect towards those members of the public who suffer from such ailments and/or who are incapacitated in some way which impedes their effective mobility”.

Standards

[4]   RadioWorks assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Radio 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

[5]   RadioWorks argued that the host’s original reference to polio was an off-hand remark relating to why the Prime Minister could not come into the studio for an interview. It maintained that “the hosts intended to ‘rib’ the Prime Minister and did not intend to degrade or make fun of anyone who has suffered from polio”. The hosts did not make any detailed comments about polio sufferers, it said. When John Key was made aware of the “running joke”, he “accepted it in good grace which again is an indication that the comments were not meant to be taken seriously and did not mock polio sufferers,” RadioWorks argued. The broadcaster said that it regretted that the complainant took offence to the comments, but concluded that Standard 1 had not been breached.

Referral to the Authority

[6]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Berry referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He considered that the hosts’ intent was irrelevant, and said that “the complaint is the fact [the comments] were made, and were made in drawing a parallel to someone’s excuse and inability for mobility and their suffering from polio or other crippling attribute”. Mr Berry reiterated his view that the comments were “in extremely poor taste” and argued that they were offensive and belittled people who suffered immobility.

Authority's Determination

[7]   The members of the Authority have listened to 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.

[8]   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:

  • Willie and JT was broadcast between 12.30pm and 4pm on a weekday
  • the comments were broadcast at approximately 3.30pm
  • the programme’s target audience
  • expectations of regular listeners.

[9]   On this occasion, we consider that it was clear that the hosts’ intention in making the remarks was to make fun of the Prime Minister, and that the comments were not intended to extend to all people who suffered polio or immobility. In our view, while somewhat obtuse and not to everyone’s taste, the hosts’ comments were an attempt at humour, and within the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. We do not consider that the programme’s regular listeners would have been surprised or unduly offended by the remarks.

[10]   Accordingly, taking into account the above contextual factors, we decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
7 June 2011

Appendix

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

1   Glenn Berry’s formal complaint – 9 February 2011

2   RadioWorks’ response to the complaint – 11 February 2011

3   Mr Berry’s referral to the Authority – 13 February 2011

4   RadioWorks’ response to the Authority – 30 March 2011