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Busse and Milner Busse and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2012-038

Members

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

Complainant

  • G A Busse and A L Milner Busse of Auckland

Dated

17th July 2012

Number

2012-038

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item reported on Pike River Inquiry and new evidence that manager at the mine sent emails about a new job minutes after the explosion – reporter quoted a miner’s mother who had called out, “This is while my boy was dying! Jesus Christ!” – use of “Jesus Christ” allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, and discrimination and denigration standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – “Jesus Christ” when used as colloquial expression of shock and dismay does not amount to coarse language and would not offend or distress most viewers – phrase was part of a verbatim quote from a miner’s mother, expressing her genuine distress and upset in relation to a highly emotionally charged and tragic event – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – phrase used as an expression of dismay and upset and was not an attack against Christians – no invective – comment did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Christians as a section of the community – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  An item on One News, broadcast on 14 February 2012, reported on the Pike River Inquiry, and was introduced by the presenter as follows:

Anger and emotion erupted at the Pike River Inquiry today. It followed evidence a manager at the mine was sending emails about a new job just minutes after the explosion which killed 29 men. [Manager’s name] said he didn’t realise there had been a major incident, but the timing has infuriated the dead miners’ families.

[2]  During the item, the reporter explained by voiceover that, “The timing of the emails so upset [name of miner]’s mother that she called out, ‘This is while my boy was dying! Jesus Christ!’”

[3]  Mr G A Busse and Mrs A L Milner Busse made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the reporter’s quoting of a statement which used the phrase “Jesus Christ” as an expletive was disrespectful and offensive to the Christian faith.

[4]  The issue is whether the item, and specifically the inclusion of the phrase “Jesus Christ”, breached Standards 1 (good taste and decency) and 7 (discrimination and denigration) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

Did the item, and specifically the inclusion of the phrase “Jesus Christ”, threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[6]  Standard 1 is primarily aimed at broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1

[7]  The Authority has consistently recognised that the use of variations of the word “Jesus” as an exclamation for the purpose of expressing irritation, dismay or surprise, in our modern secular society, does not amount to “coarse language”, and while offensive to some people, is not likely to offend or distress the majority of viewers, as it has come to be considered by many people to be part of everyday colloquial speech.2

[8]  On this occasion, the phrase “Jesus Christ” was expressed as a verbatim quote from the mother of a miner who died in the Pike River tragedy, as she reacted to new evidence revealed during the Inquiry. It was an accurate account of her genuine distress, and her shock and dismay at the timing of the manager’s emails, as opposed to commenting on, or disrespecting a religious deity. The right of the mother to freely express herself in this manner carried high value in terms of freedom of expression, as did the broadcaster’s right to impart such information accurately, and the audience’s right to receive it.

[9]  Considering the value of the speech and other relevant contextual factors, including that it was broadcast during an unclassified news programme targeted at adults, we are satisfied that the comment would not have surprised or offended most viewers.

[10]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Did the item encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Christians as a section of the community?

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

[12]  The complainants argued that the item was discriminatory because the names of other deities would not be used in a similar manner.

[13]  The term “discrimination” has been consistently defined by the Authority as encouraging the different treatment of members of a particular group, to their detriment (for example, Teoh and TVNZ3). It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard (see, for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network4).

[14]  As noted above (see paragraph [7]) the Authority recognises that the word “Jesus” and its variants are often used colloquially and have come to be generally accepted as part of everyday speech, for example as an exclamation denoting surprise, shock or dismay. We are satisfied that on this occasion the phrase “Jesus Christ” was used in this manner; it did not carry any invective and therefore did not reach the high threshold required to encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Christians as a section of the community. It did not blacken the reputation of Christians, or encourage the different treatment of them, to their detriment.

[15]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 7.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
17 July 2012