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Kennedy and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2014-064

Members

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

Complainant

  • Erin Kennedy of Wellington

Dated

21st August 2014

Number

2014-064

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd


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

During a segment on The Paul Henry Show called ‘Who Even Is That?’, Mr Henry pointed out the Parliamentary Chamber and Gallery Officer in footage of the Parliamentary Chamber, and made unfair and derogatory comments about her duties and her personal attributes. The broadcaster upheld the complaint, and Mr Henry apologised on air a week later. The Authority considered the segment to be a serious breach of standards, but in all the circumstances found the action taken by the broadcaster was sufficient.

Not Upheld: Fairness (Action Taken)


Introduction       

[1]  During a segment on The Paul Henry Show called ‘Who Even Is That?’, Mr Henry pointed out the Parliamentary Chamber and Gallery Officer in footage of the Parliamentary Chamber and discussed her position and responsibilities. The presenter also read out excerpts from her job description. The segment was broadcast on TV3 at 10.30pm on 15 May 2014.

[2]  Erin Kennedy made a formal complaint to MediaWorks TV Ltd (MediaWorks), alleging that Mr Henry made ‘crude and gratuitous remarks about… [the woman’s] weight and her job’, and should not be allowed ‘to belittle and bully people’. MediaWorks upheld the complaint that the parliamentary officer was treated unfairly, and noted Mr Henry read out an apology one week after the broadcast was aired. Ms Kennedy referred her complaint to this Authority, arguing that the action taken by the broadcaster was inadequate.

[3]  The issue therefore is whether the action taken by the broadcaster, having upheld the fairness complaint, was sufficient.

[4]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was the action taken by the broadcaster, having upheld the fairness complaint, sufficient?

[5]  The fairness standard (Standard 6) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.1

[6]  Mr Henry’s comments about the parliamentary officer included:

  • ‘What she does is ensure all water carafes, water coolers and milk jugs are filled. She has other things to do as well, like she has to make sure that the billiard tables are brushed and set up. Honestly, these are her duties!’
  • ‘She has to be able to walk up to 12 kilometres per day, which could include pushing a trolley!’
  • ‘The last personal attribute she has to have, is she has to be able to move freely between narrow spaces [laughs] …She maybe got the job some considerable time ago [laughs].’
  • ‘But anyway, I’m sure she’s very good at it, and when did you last see an empty water carafe anywhere near that woman?’

[7]  In our view, Mr Henry’s comments amounted to a serious breach of the fairness standard. This was a predetermined, crafted and targeted attack by Mr Henry on a person who was simply going about her duties as an employee. The attack was sustained and scornful, making fun of her job, which Mr Henry evidently considered to be trivial, and her personal attributes, including her size. It was evident that Mr Henry was very amused by this. The person who was ridiculed had no cause to think that she would be subjected to public ridicule, and had not done anything to attract negative publicity. She had no opportunity to defend herself. It must have been foreseeable by Mr Henry that his comments would be hurtful and would cause harm and distress for this individual.

[8]  We therefore agree with the broadcaster’s decision to uphold the complaint, and we emphasise our view that this was a serious departure from our fairness principles. Our task on this occasion is to determine whether the broadcaster acted sufficiently and appropriately once it upheld the complaint under the fairness standard, and specifically whether the apology broadcast the following week was adequate, given the nature of the breach.

[9]  Ms Kennedy said that a ‘full and unreserved apology to the staff member concerned is needed’. She argued that the apology broadcast by MediaWorks was not adequate as it was aired ‘27 minutes into the programme’. She said that the item where the presenter ‘chose to humiliate a parliamentary [officer] for her… body shape’ had been seen widely, so ‘any apology should have been just as widely seen, not sandwiched between items near the end of a show’. She considered the presenter’s apology to be ‘half-hearted’.

[10]  MediaWorks said that as a result of the concerns expressed by Ms Kennedy, an on-air apology was made by Mr Henry, which it considered to be ‘comprehensive and not half-hearted, and was intended to sincerely redress the harm the broadcast may have caused’. Mr Henry said in that apology:

Last week on The Paul Henry Show, we did one of our regular segments ‘Who Even is That?’ We were taking a light-hearted satirical look at the job description of a Parliamentary Chamber and Gallery Officer. We’ve had a number of complaints about the way that we did this, and after looking into it, I accept that what I did was unfair. I wanted to say I’m really sorry for the distress and offence it’s caused. It wasn’t my intention at all; it absolutely wasn’t my intention to cause any distress.

[11]  MediaWorks said that ‘As is convention, the apology was broadcast at approximately the same part of the programme as the original offence and there was no intent to obscure it’. It also noted that the item was removed from TV3’s website four working days after the original broadcast. It considered these steps amounted to an appropriate and sufficient response to the breach.

[12]  We understand that the broadcaster has elected to screen the apology at the same time as the original segment; it is usual practice when the Authority orders a broadcast statement to specify it is to be broadcast at the same time and on the same day of the week, in an attempt to reach a similar audience. We also understand that the decision to broadcast an apology would have taken some time and consultation, once complaints had been received. We note that Ms Kennedy’s complaint is dated 18 May, three days after the broadcast, and appears to have been posted. It could have taken several days to arrive. In all the circumstances, we consider it reasonable that the apology was ultimately broadcast one week after the offending segment, on 22 May. By that stage MediaWorks had also taken the step of removing the item from its website.

[13]  Having been assured by the broadcaster that the apology was sincere, we are prepared, on this occasion, to accept that this is so and that this serious error of judgement is acknowledged and is regretted. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint.

[14]  We comment, however, that broadcasters need to ensure that programme presenters think about who they may hurt and need to think about the power of their medium when contemplating segments such as this. We would not like to see a situation like this repeated.

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

Peter Radich
Chair
21 August 2014

Appendix

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

1            Erin Kennedy’s formal complaint – 22 May 2014

2            MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 26 May 2014

3            Ms Kennedy’s referral to the Authority – 29 May 2014

4            MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 30 June 2014

5            Ms Kennedy’s final comment – 5 July 2014

6            MediaWorks’ confirmation of no final comment – 7 July 2014


1 Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014