Skip to main content

Coffey and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2014-152

Members

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

Complainant

  • Nicci Coffey

Dated

4th March 2015

Number

2014-152

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand National

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd

Summary 

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

A participant on 'The Panel' during Afternoons with Jim Mora made comments about men wolf whistling at women, such as 'bring back the wolf whistle', 'a whistle is not harassment', 'a lot of women are the ones that haven't been whistled at, that have got a problem with it' and 'we are the peacocks, you guys are the ones that look at us'. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the broadcast condoned and encouraged sexual harassment of women, as the panellist's comments were clearly her own opinion and did not reach the level of offensiveness required to find a breach of the relevant standards.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration, Good Taste and Decency, Law and Order


Introduction

[1]  A panellist taking part in 'The Panel' during Afternoons with Jim Mora was asked by the host, 'What has been on your mind?' The panellist gave her views on men wolf-whistling at women, and made comments including 'bring back the wolf whistle', 'a whistle is not harassment', 'a lot of women are the ones that haven't been whistled at, that have got a problem with it' and 'we are the peacocks, you guys are the ones that look at us'.

[2]  Nicci Coffey complained that these comments condoned and encouraged sexual harassment of women.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration, good taste and decency, and law and order standards, as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item was broadcast on 7 November 2014 on Radio New Zealand National. 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 encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, women as a section of the community?

[5]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) 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.

[6]  The term 'denigration' has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people.1 'Discrimination' has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment.2 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.3

[7]  The complainant argued that the panellist's comments 'will have the effect of continuing and enhancing a stereotype of behaviour that is discriminatory to women and offensive to men whom it was implied are willing to be considered as harassers of women'.

[8]  Guideline 7a to the discrimination and denigration standard states that it is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion. The panellist's comments regarding wolf-whistling were plainly an expression of her opinion. The panellist herself and the show's host, Mr Mora, made it clear to listeners that these comments were her opinion only.

[9]  In any case, the host and another male panellist (who had not offered any view until he was asked at the end of the segment) countered the comments and acknowledged they were controversial and would likely trigger a strong response from the audience. For example:

  • 'There are a lot of women who take umbrage at a wolf whistle, though...' (host)
  • 'It's a hospital pass of a question...' (panellist)
  • 'I just don't get it. I've never wolf-whistled at anyone, it just seems rude and I can never imagine doing it.' (panellist)
  • 'I'll be interested to see the text reaction, which is now starting to come in...' (host; to which the female panellist responded, 'I'm sure you'll get a few...')

[10]  Accordingly, we are satisfied that overall the broadcast did not carry the 'high level of invective' necessary to encourage discrimination or denigration in breach of this standard and we decline to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Did the broadcast threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[11]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.4 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.5

[12]  The complainant argued that the behaviour encouraged by the panellist was 'contrary to good taste and decency as it is bad taste and indecent to state men ought to judge and comment on the physical attractiveness of women'.

[13]  RNZ argued that in the context of a 'magazine style programme' in which participants are asked the open question of 'What's on your mind...', listeners should expect to hear participants' opinions on a broad range of matters. It considered the panellist's comments were 'at the very mild end of sexual material' and did not meet the threshold required to find a breach of this standard.

[14]  When we consider a complaint about good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:

  • 'The Panel' segment features varying panellists who offer a wide range of opinions on a wide range of topics
  • audience expectations of the programme and of Radio New Zealand
  • the programme's adult target audience.

[15]  While we understand that some listeners may have found the panellist's comments objectionable, we do not think they would have been unduly surprising or distressing to most listeners when taken in context. 'The Panel' is described on RNZ's website as offering 'a range of panellists from right along the opinion spectrum'.6 It showcases a wide variety of opinions from different panellists that can reasonably be expected to be provocative or controversial on occasion.7 Listeners may not necessarily agree with the opinions expressed, but that in itself is insufficient to find a breach of the standard, and it serves the purpose of encouraging lively debate and listener interaction with the programme.

[16]  For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold a breach of Standard 1.

Did the broadcast encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity?

[17]  The intent behind the law and order standard (Standard 2) is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity.8 The standard exists to ensure that broadcasters refrain from broadcasting material which does not respect the laws which sustain our society.9

[18]  The complainant argued that the panellist's comments regarding wolf-whistling condoned and encouraged sexual harassment, contrary to the Human Rights Act 1993 (specifically section 62(2)).

[19]  We do not consider that the broadcast encouraged listeners to break the law or otherwise promoted criminal activity. Wolf-whistling does not constitute a criminal offence, the comments were clearly the personal opinion of the panellist and they were countered by the other participants in the discussion.

[20]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 2.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
4 March 2015

 

Appendix

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

1     Nicci Coffey's formal complaint – 10 November 2014
2     RNZ's response to the complaint – 8 December 2014
3     Ms Coffey's referral to the Authority – 10 December 2014
4     RNZ's response to the Authority – 22 December 2014

 

 


1See, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks, Decision No. 2006-030

2For example, Teoh and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-091

3E.g. McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network, Decision No. 2002-152

4Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112

5Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)

6http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/thepanel

7For example, the Authority has previously considered a complaint about panellists joking that Mattel should make a ‘terrorist Barbie’ or a ‘suicide bomber Barbie’: Caddie and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2011-172

8See, for example, Keane and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-082

9Hunt and Māori Television, Decision No. 2009-010