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McCammon and The Radio Network Ltd - 2013-061

Members

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

Complainant

  • John McCammon of Christchurch

Dated

19th November 2013

Number

2013-061

Channel/Station

Newstalk ZB

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The host of talkback programme Canterbury Mornings expressed the view that parking wardens in Christchurch were ‘scum’ for ticketing people in the central city, after everything they had been through with the earthquakes. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the host’s comments were unacceptable, irresponsible and denigrated parking wardens. The comments related to a legitimate issue and were well within the host’s right to free speech, especially given that talkback radio is recognised as a robust and opinionated environment. A caller also challenged the host, so listeners were given a countering perspective.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration, Responsible Programming


Introduction

[1]  During Canterbury Mornings, a talkback programme, the host expressed his view that parking wardens in Christchurch were ‘scum’ for ticketing people in the central city, given they were still coping with the aftermath of the earthquakes. A caller subsequently challenged that view. The programme was broadcast on Newstalk ZB on the morning of 14 August 2013.

[2]  John McCammon made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, alleging that the host’s comments denigrated parking wardens who were lawfully carrying out their employment duties. He said the host should be required to apologise to all parking wardens.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency, discrimination and denigration, and responsible programming standards, 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 breach broadcasting standards?

[5]  Mr McCammon argued that the host’s comments that parking wardens were ‘scum’ were unacceptable, irresponsible and derogatory, saying the host’s position of power and responsibility made him capable of influencing public opinion which created ‘a dangerous environment’ for parking wardens. The Christchurch City Council and the Southern Local Government Officers Union wrote letters to the Authority in support of the complaint.

[6]  The comments subject to complaint began with the host describing his experience seeing parking wardens issuing tickets at Christchurch Hospital. He said parking wardens ‘are scum in my view’ for ticketing people in the central city ‘when we don’t have much of a central city anymore’, following the earthquakes. Later in the programme, a caller phoned in and challenged the host for calling parking wardens ‘scum’, as they were ‘just doing their job’, and she described the host’s view as ‘juvenile’ and ‘narrow-minded’.

[7]  The host was expressing his genuinely held view that parking wardens were ‘scum’ in the context of his opinion that ‘in this day and age in Christchurch when we don’t have a central city, the least the council can do is allow for free parking for everybody in the central city’. This related to a legitimate issue of public interest – that is, whether it was right for parking wardens to be ticketing people in central Christchurch in circumstances where the city was still damaged and people continued to recover from the psychological, emotional and financial effects of the earthquakes. Further, the host allowed the caller ample time to voice her objection and strongly criticise his use of the term ‘scum’, so listeners were provided with a countering perspective.

[8]  We do not consider that the host’s comments were objectionable or ‘socially irresponsible’ when taken in the context of talkback radio, which is recognised as a robust and opinionated environment. This was a discussion about a legitimate issue and the comments were well within the host’s right to free speech.

[9]  The complainant also argued that the host denigrated all parking wardens on account of occupational status. ‘Occupational status’ refers to employment status, that is, being unemployed or the recipient of a benefit, rather than a particular occupation, so ‘parking wardens’ do not qualify as a section of the community under the discrimination and denigration standard.1

[10]  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
19 November 2013

Appendix

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

1                 John McCammon’s formal complaint  – 14 August 2013

2                 TRN’s response to the complaint – 19 August 2013

3                 Mr McCammon’s referral to the Authority – 3 September 2013

4                 Letter from Christchurch City Council in support of complaint (including transcript of 
                   comments) – 20 September 2013

5                 TRN’s response to the Authority – 24 September 2013

6                 Letter from Southern Local Government Officers Union in support of complaint – 30
                   September 2013


1This is consistent with the prohibited grounds of discrimination listed in section 21 of the Human Rights Act 1993 and referred to in section 19 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990.