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Britt and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-160

Members

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

Complainant

  • Thelma Britt of Christchurch

Dated

1st May 2012

Number

2011-160

Programme

Fair Go Ad Awards

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Fair Go Ad Awards – two teams of advertisers were asked to “sell us Quade Cooper for New Zealand’s next Prime Minister” during live advertising awards – included comments such as, “everyone hates Quade Cooper” – allegedly in breach of fairness and discrimination and denigration

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – piece was intended to be light-hearted and humorous, rather than malicious or abusive – presented in the spirit of good-natured ribbing and team rivalry – Mr Cooper not treated unfairly – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – standard only applies to sections of the community, not individuals – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  During a live show presenting the Fair Go Ad Awards, broadcast on TV One on 26 October 2011, two teams of advertisers were asked to design advertising campaigns within the length of the programme, to “sell us Quade Cooper for New Zealand’s next Prime Minister”. Mr Cooper played for the Australian Wallabies rugby team, and received widespread and largely negative attention during the Rugby World Cup following his well-publicised sporting run-ins with the New Zealand All Blacks captain earlier in the year.

[2]  One team brainstormed the following possible slogans for the campaign, which were shown on an easel:

  • “He helped Aussie lose. Vote Quade.”
  • “What’s the fuss? He’s one of us.”
  • “Super Cooper”
  • “Make Bondi the capital of New Zealand.”
  • “Come back Quade – just joking.”

[3]  The other team’s campaign focused on Mr Cooper’s mother. They presented story board slides which contained the following comments:

  • “You can tell it’s [a drawing of] Mrs Cooper because of the stubble and the close together eyes...”
  • “Everyone hates him but at least it’s something we can all agree on...”
  • “He’s got bugger all friends here so there’ll be plenty of time to run the country.”
  • “Quade’s okay, just ask his mum...”
  • “Bigger idiots have run bigger countries.”

[4]  Thelma Britt made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the “advertising campaign with the theme ‘Hate Quade’” encouraged “hatred of a person”. She considered that Fair Go should focus on “helping people not denigrating them”.

[5]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached Standards 6 (fairness) and 7 (discrimination and denigration) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[6]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was Mr Cooper treated unfairly?

[7]  Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.1

[8]  The Authority has previously commented that:2

The Authority observes that the fairness standard does not prevent criticism of public figures. Indeed, it is an essential element of free speech that even the most trenchant criticism of public figures be allowed. ...The question for the Authority is whether that criticism overstepped the boundaries of fairness, that is, whether it strayed into abusively personal territory.

[9]  TVNZ argued that the segment was intended to be light-hearted and to give Quade Cooper a “fair go by rebranding him”. It said there was no intention to offend him, his mother, or the audience. TVNZ argued that the programme had chosen a controversial and well-known figure who had recently featured prominently in the press, and that “The ‘ribbing’ of Mr Cooper in the Fair Go programme focused on his role as a Wallabies team member and was not personally exploitative or humiliating.” It considered that the comments such as “everyone hates him” were hyperbolic and not intended to be taken seriously, and related to his sporting career, not his personal life. The broadcaster also argued that as a prominent sporting figure Mr Cooper would expect that his actions on the field for a rival team would be joked about in this way. TVNZ concluded that the item was not unfair.

[10]  In our view, Fair Go’s audience would have understood that the segment was intended to be entertaining and light-hearted. It was presented in the spirit of gentle ribbing, and commented on an historic team rivalry. While remarks were made about people “hating” Mr Cooper, we consider that these were in reference to the media coverage during the Rugby World Cup which was critical of him, and the good-natured rivalry between Australian and New Zealand sports teams. The comments were not intended to be malicious or abusive.

[11]  We do not consider that in this context any harm was caused to Mr Cooper’s reputation or dignity, in terms of the objectives of Standard 6. Upholding the complaint would therefore unreasonably and unjustifiably restrict TVNZ’s exercise of its right to freedom of expression in choosing to broadcast a light-hearted piece during the Fair Go Ad Awards.

[12]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that Mr Cooper was treated unfairly in breach of Standard 6.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community?

[13]  Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[14]  Ms Britt considered that Fair Go should focus on “helping people not denigrating them”. As Standard 7 applies only to sections of the community, and not individuals, it cannot be considered in relation to Mr Cooper. We therefore decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
1 May 2012

Appendix

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

1                  Thelma Britt’s formal complaint – 27 October 2011

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 23 November 2011

3                 Ms Britt’s referral to the Authority – 29 November 2011

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 21 February 2012


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

2E.g. NZ Fire Service and RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2009-018