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Armitage and The Radio Network Ltd - 2011-093

Members

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

Complainant

  • MG and WP Armitage of Lower Hutt

Dated

13th September 2011

Number

2011-093

Programme

Newstalk ZB

Channel/Station

Newstalk ZB

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Newstalk ZB – host referred to comments by chief executive of the EMA that female workers are less productive because they take sick leave when they are menstruating – host said, “In other words, when a woman is on her rags, she calls in crook to work” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard 

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – while comment would have offended some listeners, the phrase was colloquial and referring to menstruation which is not in itself derogatory – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]  At approximately 9.30pm during a talkback programme on Newstalk ZB, broadcast on the evening of 24 June 2011, the host referred to recent comments made by the chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA). The host said:

...he could be asked to step down because he suggested that once-a-month sick problems are a factor that affect work only for women. In other words, when a woman is on her rags, she calls in crook to work. How outraged are you about that? Or, I was talking to an employer today, he said, “You know, it’s true.” But then even if it is true, would a woman not be entitled, if she is not feeling up to going to work, would she not be entitled to take a day or two off?

Complaint

[2]  MG and WP Armitage made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, alleging that the host’s reference to “women on rags” was derogatory and breached standards relating to good taste and decency.

Standards

[3]  Standard 1 and guideline 1a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Guideline 1a

Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. time of day, target audience.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[4]  TRN argued that, while “this was an unfortunate colloquialism to use”, taking into account the time of broadcast (9.30pm) and the programme’s adult target audience, it did not reach the necessary threshold to breach Standard 1. It therefore declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[5]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, MG and WP Armitage referred their complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. They considered TRN’s view that the phrase was “an unfortunate colloquialism” to be “nonsense”. The complainants wrote, “A colloquialism is a phrase that is common in everyday, unconstrained conversation and this phrase is most certainly not used in that way. It is in fact a nasty, disgusting phrase that is rarely heard and most certainly should not be heard on responsible radio.” They considered the fact that the phrase was broadcast at 9.30pm to be irrelevant, as it was still “disgusting and demeaning to all women”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[6]  TRN acknowledged that the phrase was not a “contemporary” colloquialism, but argued that it fell within the Oxford dictionary definition of “not used in formal or elevated speech”. It reiterated that it had found in its response that the use of the phrase was “unfortunate” but maintained that it did not breach Standard 1 due to the time of broadcast and the programme’s adult target audience.

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:

  • the comment was broadcast at 9.30pm
  • Newstalk ZB’s adult target audience
  • the expectations of regular listeners.

[9]  While we accept that the host’s reference to a woman “on her rags” was somewhat crude and unfortunate, and that some listeners, including members of Newstalk ZB’s target audience, may have been surprised or offended by it, we agree with the broadcaster that it was a colloquial expression. In our view, references to menstruation are not in themselves derogatory towards women, and the host’s intention was to offer commentary on the remarks made by Alisdair Thompson, rather than to offend listeners.

[10]  Taking into account the relevant contextual factors, and particularly the 9.30pm time of broadcast, we find that the host’s comment did not breach Standard 1.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
13 September 2011

Appendix

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

1                 MG and WP Armitage’s formal complaint – 24 June 2011

2                 TRN’s response to the complaint – 6 July 2011

3                 The Armitages’ referral to the Authority – 14 July 2011

4                 TRN’s response to the Authority – 21 July 2011