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Leitch and Television New Zealand Ltd and TVWorks Ltd - 2012-104

Members

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

Complainant

  • Leo Leitch of Hamilton

Dated

4th December 2012

Number

2012-104

Channel/Station

TV One and TV3

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd and TVWorks Ltd


Complaints under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News Tonight and 3 News – items used the word “gay” to mean “homosexual” – allegedly in breach of accuracy standard

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – Authority has previously declined to determine an identical complaint from Mr Leitch – complaints frivolous and trivial – vexatious to refer three identical complaints following Authority’s previous ruling – Authority declines to determine the complaints in accordance with section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  Three news items covering the debate around legalising “gay marriage”, used the word “gay” numerous times to mean “homosexual”. The items were broadcast on TV One and TV3 on 27 July and 29 August 2012.

[2]  Leo Leitch made formal complaints to Television New Zealand Ltd and TVWorks Ltd, the broadcasters, arguing in relation to each of these items that, “The word ‘gay’ is not an objective, impartial term when used to describe homosexuals or homosexual activity. It is an indication of sympathy and support.” He referred to guideline 5c to the accuracy standard, which states that news must be impartial.

[3]  The issue is whether the news items breached Standard 5 (accuracy) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority have viewed recordings of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the news items breach broadcasting standards?

[5]  In the Authority’s decision Leitch and Television New Zealand Ltd,1 the Authority considered an identical complaint from Mr Leitch about the use of the word “gay”. The Authority declined to determine the complaint on the grounds that it was frivolous and trivial, saying:2

In our view, the term “gay” is commonly accepted and widely used in reference to homosexuals and homosexuality. It is not a derogatory term when used in this manner, and we disagree that it is in the same realm as “poofter” or “faggot”, as alleged by the complainant. On this occasion, the item subject to complaint was a straightforward news report, and the reporter’s use of the term did not carry any invective or make any judgement on the item’s subject matter.

Mr Leitch’s concern about the use of the word in this context does not, in our view, raise any issues of broadcasting standards of a level which warrants our consideration. Section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 allows the Authority to decline to determine a complaint which it considers to be frivolous, vexatious, or trivial. Pursuant to this section, we decline to determine Mr Leitch’s complaint on the grounds that it was frivolous and trivial.

[6]  While in that instance we offered the view that the word “gay” was not derogatory, we also disagree with the complainant that the word “gay” indicates sympathy and support. It is a neutral term, and as noted in our previous ruling, a term that is accepted and widely used. Its descriptive use in the context of these news items does not raise any issues of broadcasting standards.

[7]  We are satisfied that these complaints are frivolous and trivial and that we can properly decline to determine them. In addition, we think that referring three identical complaints to this Authority, despite our earlier finding on this issue in relation to a complaint from Mr Leitch, could be seen to be vexatious. While we may have initially misinterpreted the basis of Mr Leitch’s complaint (that is, that the word was sympathetic rather than derogatory), we clearly outlined our view that the use of the word in a news item to mean “homosexual” did not raise any issues which warranted our consideration.

[8]  We therefore decline to determine the complaints in accordance with section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to determine the complaints.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
4 December 2012

Appendix

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

Leitch and Television New Zealand Ltd

1           Leo Leitch’s formal complaint – 30 August 2012

2          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 24 September 2012

3          Mr Leitch’s referral to the Authority – 25 September 2012

4          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 12 October 2012


Leitch and TVWorks Ltd

1           Leo Leitch’s formal complaints – 13 and 30 August 2012

2          TVWorks’ response to the complaints – 30 August 2012

3          Mr Leitch’s referrals to the Authority – 31 August 2012

4          TVWorks’ responses to the Authority – 5 and 8 October 2012


1Decision No. 2011-118

2 Leitch and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2011-118 at paragraphs [5] to [6]