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Ranger and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2012-080

Members

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

Complainant

  • Diana Ranger of Wellington

Dated

25th September 2012

Number

2012-080

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand National

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
All Night Programme – reviewed book about events during World War II – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – review did not minimise the horror of the Holocaust or the events depicted in the novel – book presented as a historical fictional novel that was a blend of fact and fiction – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  During the All Night Programme, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 9 May 2012, a guest reviewed a book called “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”, written by Laurent Binet. The book is in the genre of historical novel where a fictional account is written around an historical event. The historical event in this case was the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich by Czech patriots in Prague during World War II.

[2]  Diana Ranger made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme contained “historical nonsense” and “appalling, vicious and unrelentingly heart-breaking rubbish about actual true horror”. The complaint was directed at, and could only be directed at, the broadcast review. The essence of the complaint was that the reviewer in speaking about the events in the course of the review, trivialised the gravity of what actually happened in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. In particular, the complainant took exception to the reviewer referring to the book as “a cracking good story”. Clearly, the complainant feels that something as horrific as the reprisal slaughter of all of the inhabitants of the town of Lidice should be spoken about with more reverence than for it to be associated with words like “a cracking good story”.

[3]  The issue is whether the programme, and specifically the book review, breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency) of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

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

[5]  In assessing an alleged breach of broadcasting standards, we must give proper consideration to the right to freedom of expression which is guaranteed by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Any restriction on the right to free speech must be prescribed by law, reasonable, and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (section 5).

[6]  The starting point is to assess the value of the particular speech, and then to balance this against the potential harm that is likely to result from allowing the unfettered dissemination of that speech. The item subject to complaint was a book review consisting of the expression of interpretation and opinion of the author’s work. It contained educational and intellectual speech, which is valuable in our society.

[7]  Standard 1 (good taste and decency) is primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 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.2 Here, the complainant was offended by the broadcast because of the way the story was conveyed. In particular, she argued that it contained “speculation” and “nonsense”, and was not an “historical” novel, as stated in the item. She referred to the reviewer’s comments, for example, that it was a “cracking good story”.

[8]  We are concerned with whether the book review as broadcast, and not the book itself, breached the good taste and decency standard. Taking into account the context of the broadcast, in particular that the review was broadcast on Radio New Zealand National, the radio station’s adult target audience, and audience expectations, we are satisfied that the content of the programme would not have offended or distressed most listeners. The review did not minimise the horrors which took place under the Nazi regime or the tragic reprisal events described in the book. To the contrary, the reviewer acknowledged that the story depicted “one of the most frightful atrocities of the war”. We can understand that to some listeners, and particularly those with special sensitivities, the words “a cracking good story” would seem to be jarring when they are even broadly related to such horrific events. We are satisfied however that the general tenor of the review was reasonable and appropriate, and not likely to be offensive to most listeners.

[9]  Further, the review clearly and accurately presented the book as a historical fictional novel – that is, a story based on true events but which was a blend of fact and fiction. For example, the reviewer made the following comments:

  • “[The author]’s approach is an interesting one. I suppose you would call it a historical novel, in that it is written in slightly a novelishy sort of way. [The author] is French and so he is doing a sort of post-modern take on it, and what he does is put himself into the novel a bit…”
  • “What [the author] does about a third-way through the book, which I found quite irritating… he will say something and then he will challenge it… he will say, ‘Well I don’t actually know if that’s true or not, I’m just saying that because I am trying to make the novel move along…’”
  • “…I think you want, when you’ve got someone writing about history, you want that person to be totally in charge and you feel that everything they are writing is pretty much true… you don’t want this continuously questioning because you lose faith in it, I think”.

[10]  For these reasons, and giving full weight to the requirements of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, we find that upholding the complaint would be an unjustifiable limit on the right to freedom of expression.

[11]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the 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