Skip to main content

O'Neill and TVWorks Ltd - 2012-077

Dated

25th September 2012

Number

2012-077

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item reported new details relating to a New Zealand man who raped and murdered a hitchhiker from the Czech Republic – interviewee and reporter used the term “nutters” – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, law and order, accuracy, fairness, discrimination and denigration, and responsible programming

Findings
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – “nutters” used to refer to person who is dangerous and deranged, and was not intended to comment on people with mental illness – item did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, people with mental illness as a section of the community – not upheld

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – viewers would have understood intended meaning of “nutters” – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 on 30 May 2012, reported new details relating to a New Zealand man who raped and murdered a hitchhiker from the Czech Republic. It included an interview with the victim’s former employer, who said, “I’d definitely be telling [tourists] not to hitchhike, especially females on their own… because every now and again, one of these nutters does crop up”. Immediately following this, the reporter commented, “…it’s just those sorts of nutters that put New Zealand back in the spotlight, but this time for all the wrong reasons”.

[2]  Thomas O’Neill made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the use of the term “nutters” was “discriminatory and abusive” towards people with mental illness. He said that it was “inappropriate to make a blanket referral to the mentally ill as running around murdering people”.

[3]  We consider that Standards 1 (good taste and decency) and 7 (discrimination and denigration) are the most relevant to the complainant’s concerns, and we have limited our determination accordingly. The complainant also raised Standards 2 (law and order), 5 (accuracy), 6 (fairness), and 8 (responsible programming). These are not applicable because:

  • the use of the term “nutters” did not encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity (Standard 2)
  • the use of the term “nutters” was not a material point of fact but clearly part of the interviewee’s opinion, and its intended meaning would have been clear to viewers so they would not have been misled (Standard 5 and guideline 5a)
  • the fairness standard only applies to individuals and organisations, and not to groups of people (Standard 6)
  • the comments were made during an unclassified news programme targeted at adults, and would not have caused panic, unwarranted alarm or undue distress (Standard 8).

[4]  The issue therefore is whether the item breached Standards 1 and 7 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 encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, people with mental illness as a section of the community?

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

[7]  The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people (see, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks1). “Discrimination” has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group to their detriment (see, for example, Teoh and TVNZ2).

[8]  The term “nutters” was first used in the item by the victim’s previous employer, before it was repeated and linked back to the employer, in the reporter’s final comment. The term was used by the interviewee in a very specific way to refer to a person who is dangerous and deranged with the potential to commit heinous crimes (such as the murder which was the subject of the item). The focus of the item was the tragic circumstances of the woman’s death, and the use of the word was clearly not intended as a comment on people with mental illness. Nothing in the item encouraged the denigration of, or discrimination against, people with mental illness as a section of the community.

[9]  Giving full weight to the right to the requirements of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, we find that upholding the complaint would unjustifiably limit the right to freedom of expression. We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Did the item threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[10]  Standard 1 states that broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency. The standard is primarily concerned with the broadcast of sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.3 The Authority will also consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.4

[11]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:

  • the item was broadcast during 3 News which was unclassified
  • the term “nutters” was used by an interviewee and the reporter
  • it was used in the context of an item reporting on a hitchhiker who was raped and murdered
  • 3 News’ adult target audience
  • audience expectations.

[12]  As noted above, the term “nutters” was used to refer to a person who is dangerous and deranged, in the context of a comparison to the man who murdered and raped a hitchhiker. It was not used to refer to people with mental illness and there was no mention of mental illness in the item. We consider that viewers would have understood the intention of the word, and would not have been offended by its use in this context.

[13]  Accordingly, 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
25 September 2012