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O'Brien and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2016-001 (4 May 2016)

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose

Complainant

  • Blair O'Brien

Dated

4th May 2016

Number

2016-001

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

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

A promo for Paul Henry, broadcast during 3 News, featured a photo of an alleged terrorist and host Paul Henry joking about the type of dialogue that would occur between members of a terrorist group. The Authority did not uphold a complaint alleging that this promo was highly offensive ‘so soon after the Paris terrorist attacks’ and breached the controversial issues standard. The promo did not explicitly mention the Paris terrorist attacks, was apparently intended to be humorous (as the hosts were all shown laughing) and was consistent with expectations of the host programme. The promo also did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue which triggered the requirement to provide balance.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Controversial Issues


Introduction

[1]  A promo for Paul Henry, broadcast during 3 News, showed a photo of an apparent terrorist. Host Paul Henry joked about the type of dialogue that would occur between members of a terrorist group, saying, ‘Who shot him? – I shot him, sir – I shot him too, sir – So did you all shoot him? – I threw a grenade’, as he and his co-hosts were shown laughing.

[2]  Blair O’Brien complained that the promo was highly offensive, especially so soon after the Paris terrorist attacks.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and controversial issues standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The promo was broadcast on TV3 at 6.27pm on 20 November 2015. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

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

[5] 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

[6] Mr O’Brien stated he was ‘amazed and distressed’ to see Mr Henry making fun of an alleged terrorist ‘shooting people and throwing grenades’ so soon after the Paris terrorist attacks which occurred a week earlier. He found the promo highly offensive and did not consider it to be ‘light-hearted’. Mr O’Brien disagreed with the broadcaster that the promo would not upset a significant number of viewers, and argued the world’s reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris would suggest otherwise.

[7]  MediaWorks noted the promo was broadcast during a news programme which screens at a scheduled time each day and has an adult target audience. It argued Mr Henry’s comments were light-hearted rather than malicious, saying they were a ‘satirical, facetious imagining of dialogue between the members of an unnamed terrorist group’. MediaWorks understood the complainant’s concerns about the proximity of the promo to the Paris terror attacks, but was satisfied the comments did not relate to or trivialise the attacks and would not have disturbed or alarmed a significant number of viewers.

[8]  When we determine a complaint under the good taste and decency standard, we take into account contextual factors, which here include:

  • the promo was broadcast during 3 News which was unclassified
  • the adult target audience of both 3 News and Paul Henry
  • audience expectations of 3 News and Paul Henry
  • the promo was broadcast one week after the Paris terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015.

[9] We appreciate the complainant’s concerns that the promo was broadcast in relatively close proximity to the terrorist attacks in Paris, and recognise that therefore jokes about terrorism could be seen to be in poor taste. However, the promo comprised a fleeting, satirical and typically irreverent reference to members of an unnamed terrorist group, which was apparently intended to be humorous. Mr Henry’s tongue-in-cheek and outspoken style is well-known, and while we accept that this content was broadcast during 3 News rather than in the Paul Henry programme itself, overall we do not consider his comments threatened current norms of good taste and decency in the context of a news broadcast aimed at adult viewers. The importance given to the right to freedom of expression means that the threshold for finding a breach of this standard is high, and we do not think that the promo reached that threshold.

[10]  Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 1.

Did the item discuss a controversial issue of public importance which required the presentation of alternative viewpoints?

[11]  The balance standard (Standard 4) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest. The standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.3

[12]  Mr O’Brien did not make any specific arguments in relation to controversial issues in his original complaint. MediaWorks argued that the standard is intended to ensure balance in news, current affairs and factual programming and does not apply to promos.

[13]  In later submissions Mr O’Brien disputed that the standard did not apply. He considered that MediaWorks’ reasons for not upholding his complaint under the good taste and decency standard (regarding the unique nature of news programmes) contradicted its reasoning under Standard 4 (which was based on the promo not being news, current affairs or factual programming), and therefore the promo should be considered to fall within the category of programming to which this standard applies.

[14]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.4

[15]  A promo for a news, current affairs or factual programme may also amount to a news, current affairs or factual programme in itself, for the purposes of the balance standard. However, the Authority has previously found that promos by their nature are unlikely to amount to a ‘discussion’ of a controversial issue which triggers the requirements of the standard.When issues are raised in a brief, humorous or peripheral way, this will not usually amount to a ‘discussion’.6 A discussion requires a more in-depth and substantive look at an issue, which is generally not possible in a short promo. Here, the promo was only 15 seconds in length and showed snippets of the host joking about the type of dialogue that may occur between members of a terrorist group. We do not think it could reasonably be described as a discussion of a controversial issue.

[16]  In any case, as we have noted the complainant did not explain why he believed the promo was unbalanced or omitted a significant point of view.

[17]  We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

[18]  As an aside, we make some comments in response to Mr O’Brien’s submissions under Standard 4 (see paragraph [13]). In our view, MediaWorks in its decision on the complaint was highlighting that the host programme 3 News and other news programmes are unique in nature and are therefore unclassified. This is due to the fact that news programmes often contain challenging material. The nature of 3 News as the promo’s host programme, including its target audience and audience expectations, is relevant to whether the Paul Henry promo breached standards of good taste and decency, as this was the context and timeslot in which the promo was broadcast.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich

Chair

4 May 2016

 

 

Appendix

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

1      Blair O’Brien’s formal complaint – 20 November 2015
2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 18 December 2015
3      Mr O’Brien’s referral to the Authority – 4 January 2016
4      MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 15 February 2016


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

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

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

For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)

5 De Villiers and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2009-163

See Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010)