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Scarlett and The Radio Network Ltd - 2014-059

Members

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

Complainant

  • Jean Scarlett of Christchurch

Dated

15th July 2014

Number

2014-059

Channel/Station

Newstalk ZB

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


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

During Canterbury Mornings with Chris Lynch, the host expressed frustration with the length of time it had taken police to decide whether to proceed with criminal investigations in relation to the collapse of the CTV building in the Christchurch earthquake. He said, ‘for Christ’s sake, police, you can do better than this’. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the use of the word ‘Christ’ breached standards. The use of ‘Christ’ as an exclamation to express surprise or dismay has become an accepted part of colloquial speech and would not have offended most listeners.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Responsible Programming


Introduction

[1]  During Canterbury Mornings with Chris Lynch, the host discussed the progress of an investigation into the collapse of the CTV building in the February 2012 Christchurch earthquake. The host expressed frustration with the length of time it had taken police to decide whether to proceed with criminal investigations, saying:

…for Christ’s sake, police, you can do better than this. Three-and-a-half years on and you’re still trying to decide whether a criminal investigation should take place. That’s a bloody disgrace, frankly, an absolute disgrace.

[2]  The broadcast aired on Newstalk ZB at 9.10am on Tuesday 20 May 2014.

[3]  Jean Scarlett made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), alleging that the host had used the word ‘Christ’ as an ‘expletive’ which many listeners would find unacceptable.

[4]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and responsible programming standards as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  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 item breach broadcasting standards?

[6]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts containing 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 The responsible programming standard (Standard 8) requires broadcasters to be mindful of child listeners and to ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible, taking into account the context in which it is broadcast.

[7]  Ms Scarlett argued that the host could have used other words to express his ‘strong feeling’ on the subject, and felt that his choice of words would have been unexpected for an older target audience. TRN considered that in context, the use of ‘Christ’ was acceptable in context and ‘would not come as a surprise to a majority of listeners’.

[8]  The Authority has consistently recognised that the use of the word ‘Christ’ as an exclamation for the purpose of expressing irritation, dismay or surprise, in our modern secular society, does not amount to ‘coarse language’.3 While offensive to some people, it was not likely to offend or distress the majority of listeners, as it has come to be considered by many people to be part of everyday colloquial speech. It was clear in this instance that the host used the phrase ‘for Christ’s sake’ to express his frustration with the delay in the investigations into the collapse of the CTV building, a highly emotionally charged subject.

[9]  We are satisfied that the use of the word did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency and would not have offended most listeners taking into account the context, which here includes:

  • Newstalk ZB’s adult target audience
  • the comment was made during a discussion about a serious and important topic, the Christchurch earthquakes, which understandably generates heightened emotion and sensitivity
  • the importance of the right to freedom of expression and the host’s right to express his legitimately held views in his own words
  • the comment was made at 9.10am during the school term, so children were unlikely to be listening.

[10]  We therefore 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
15 July 2014

Appendix

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

1            Jean Scarlett’s formal complaint – 21 May 2014

2            TRN’s response to the complaint – 21 May 2014

3            Ms Scarlett’s referral to the Authority – 26 May 2014

4            TRN’s response to the Authority – 27 May 2014


1Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112
2Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)
3See, for example, Collier and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-123.