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de Villiers and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2012-108

Members

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

Complainant

  • Alex de Villiers of Auckland

Dated

4th December 2012

Number

2012-108

Programme

Police Ten 7

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Police Ten 7 – wanted offender described as “possibly Māori but pale skinned” and “possibly Māori, [with a] light complexion” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, accuracy, fairness and discrimination and denigration standards

Findings
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – segment did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Māori as a section of the community – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  A segment on Police Ten 7 profiled an aggravated robbery of a bar in Christchurch. Viewers were told that it was committed by three men, two armed with guns and one armed with a crowbar. The segment included security footage of the robbery, outlined the facts of the case, and outlined ways that viewers may be able to help police identify the offenders. The presenter said:

Now we’ve got some good descriptions of these guys. Let’s start with the main offender. Now he’s around 25 to 30 years of age, possibly Māori but pale skinned…

[2]  As the presenter said this, the following information appeared in text next to images of the offender taken from security footage:

            Male, possibly Māori

            Light complexion

            25-30 years…

[3]  Alex de Villiers made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, arguing that “‘fair-skinned’ could be European, Pacific Islander or any other race. The presumption that the offender is Māori is based upon and/or suggests a bias.”

[4]  Mr de Villiers nominated Standards 1 (good taste and decency), 5 (accuracy), 6 (fairness) and 7 (discrimination and denigration) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. In our view, Standard 7 is the most relevant and we have limited our determination accordingly. In summary, the other standards were not breached because:

  • The good taste and decency standard is primarily concerned with sexual material, nudity, coarse language and violence, and most viewers would not have been offended by the      description of the offender when broadcast in the context of a reality series about the work of New Zealand police (Standard 1).
  • The description was not a “material point of fact”, and reasonable viewers would have understood that the description was compiled from interviews with witnesses, and from the security footage, so they would not have been misled (Standard 5).
  • Mr de Villiers is concerned that the description was biased against Māori, and the fairness standard applies only to individuals, not groups, taking part or referred to (Standard 6).

[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 broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Māori as a section of the community?

[6]  Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

[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). It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the New Zealand 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 Network3).

[8]  In determining an alleged breach of broadcasting standards, we weigh the potential harm caused by the broadcast, against the values underpinning the right to freedom of expression.4 No harm was caused by this broadcast; reasonable viewers would have taken the segment for what it was – a call for people to help the police to identify the offender, based on their work on the case so far.

[9]  The description of the offender as “possibly Māori but pale skinned” could not be seen as blackening the reputation of Māori, or encouraging the different treatment of them, to their detriment. Reasonable viewers would have understood that the description was compiled from interviews with witnesses, and from the security footage. There was no invective in the statement such that the programme could be seen as encouraging the denigration of, or discrimination against, all Māori as a section of the community.

[10]  We therefore find that upholding the complaint would unreasonably restrict the right to freedom of expression, and 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
4 December 2012

Appendix

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

1           Alex de Villiers’ formal complaint – 16 August 2012

2          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 31 August 2012

3          Mr de Villiers’ referral to the Authority – 10 September 2012

4          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 26 September 2012


1Decision No. 2006-030

2Decision No. 2008-091

3Decision No. 2002-152

4Which is guaranteed by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990