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Macnaughtan and The Radio Network Ltd - 2013-016

Members

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

Complainant

  • Thomas Macnaughtan of Auckland

Dated

11th June 2013

Number

2013-016

Channel/Station

Newstalk ZB

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

Overnight Talkback with Bruce Russell – host and caller discussed meteorite exploding over Russia, and host made comments to the effect he would rather it happened in Russia than in New Zealand – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – host’s comments were expressed in a light-hearted and flippant manner – comments would not have offended or distressed most listeners in context – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  During Overnight Talkback with Bruce Russell, the host and a caller discussed a meteorite exploding over central Russia, causing a shock that smashed windows, damaged buildings and injured many people. During the conversation, the host commented, “I’d rather they were over Russia than down here [in New Zealand]”, and, “1,500 injured Russians sounds better to me than 1,500 injured Kiwis”. The programme was broadcast on Newstalk ZB from 12am to 5.30am on 22 March 2013. The comments subject to complaint aired at about 4.22am.

[2]  Thomas Macnaughtan made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, alleging that the host’s “better them than us” comments lacked sensitivity and offended standards of good taste and decency.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast, and specifically the host’s comments, breached the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) as set out in 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, and specifically the host’s comments, threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[5]  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

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

  • Overnight Talkback with Bruce Russell was broadcast between 12am and 5.30am
  • the comments subject to complaint aired at about 4.22am
  • talkback radio is recognised as a robust and opinionated forum
  • the radio station’s, and talkback radio’s, adult target audience
  • audience expectations of talkback radio and Overnight Talkback with Bruce Russell.

[7]  TRN described the host’s comments as a “normal, human reaction” that was not unreasonable in context, stating, “Clearly the host was not advocating the injuring of 1,500 Russians. He was merely saying if it is going to happen, he would rather it happen as far away from home as possible”.

[8]  While, on the face of it, the host’s comments could be considered somewhat insensitive, we think this was a light-hearted, flippant remark, and was not intended as a serious insult relating to the plight of the Russians. This commentary was well within the host’s right to freedom of expression; he was merely commenting that he would not want 1,500 New Zealanders injured, rather than willing any harm on Russian people. The comments were broadcast in the early hours of the morning, during a talkback programme targeted at an adult audience. Talkback radio is recognised as a robust forum, and we do not think the host’s comments would have offended or distressed most listeners in this context.

[9]  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
11 June 2013

Appendix

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

1           Thomas Macnaughtan’s formal complaint – 26 March 2013

2          TRN’s response to the complaint – 27 March 2013

3          Mr Macnaughtan’s referral to the Authority – 3 April 2013

4          TRN’s response to the Authority – 19 April 2013


1Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112

2Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)