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Martyn and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2016-042 (22 August 2016)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Karen Martyn

Dated

22nd August 2016

Number

2016-042

Programme

Newshub

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

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

An item on Newshub reported on the world’s first legally recognised Pastafarian wedding between two members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (CFSM). The reporter referred to the CFSM as a ‘spoof religion’, and stated, ‘Pastafarians believe that pirates are supreme beings from which all humans evolved, and it’s an official religion’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that describing the CFSM as a ‘spoof religion’ was denigrating, disrespectful and discriminatory. It took the view that the broadcaster’s reference to the Church as a ‘spoof religion’ was an opinion which was available to be taken and able to be expressed, and that the high threshold required for discrimination and denigration to be established had not been reached. The Authority also did not uphold a complaint that the reference to pirates as ‘supreme beings’ was inaccurate. The comment would have been seen as nonsense which was incidental to the point of the broadcast. The focus of the item was that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster had been authorised to conduct marriage ceremonies and that the world’s first such ceremony had taken place in New Zealand.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration, Accuracy


Introduction

[1]  An item on Newshub reported on the world’s first Pastafarian wedding between two members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (CFSM). The reporter referred to the CFSM as a ‘spoof religion’, and stated, ‘Pastafarians believe that pirates are supreme beings from which all humans evolved, and it’s an official religion’.

[2]  Dr Karen Martyn, the celebrant or ‘Ministeroni’ for the wedding, complained that describing the CFSM as a ‘spoof religion’ was denigrating, disrespectful and discriminatory. She also complained that the reference to pirates as ‘supreme beings’ was incorrect, as according to CFSM beliefs, pirates were in fact the ‘first sentient beings’ created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration and accuracy standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.1

[4]  The item was broadcast on TV3 on 16 April 2016. 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 encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Pastafarians as a section of the community?

[5]  The objective of the discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) is to protect sections of the community from verbal and other attacks. The standard 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]  ‘Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment. ‘Denigration’ is defined as devaluing the reputation of a class of people. A high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, will be necessary to conclude that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in breach of the standard.2

[7]  Dr Martyn said that the people involved in the broadcast were hurt, humiliated and disappointed with Newshub’s coverage of the event, and she questioned why Newshub would ‘refer to any religion as ‘spoof’ unless they explicitly stated that is what they were (in which case, they would not be a religion)’. She also complained that, in this item, the CFSM and its members’ beliefs were treated differently to the way other ‘more powerful, more popular’ religious beliefs would ordinarily be treated.

[8]  MediaWorks argued that a high level of condemnation was required before a broadcast could be said to have breached the denigration and discrimination standard, and it did not consider that the comments made by the reporter in this item reached the threshold required. MediaWorks regretted that the comments made during the item caused Dr Martyn, and other Pastafarians, hurt and humiliation.

[9]  Our understanding is that the CFSM was approved to perform marriage ceremonies in New Zealand by the Department of Internal Affairs in December 2015. As part of this process, the CFSM had to satisfy the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages that the principal object of the organisation was to uphold or promote religious beliefs, philosophical or humanitarian convictions.3

[10]  The Newshub item was a human interest piece reporting on the wedding celebration between two Pastafarians and the fact that this world-first ceremony was taking place in New Zealand. The tone of the item in our view reflected the fun and festive atmosphere of the wedding, rather than mocking or making fun of the CFSM. The term ‘spoof religion’ was a descriptive opinion which was reasonably able to be drawn. The opinion was not expressed maliciously nor with any level of invective and its expression was in keeping with the freedom that we all have to state views of this kind.

[11]  In these circumstances, we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 6.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[12]  The accuracy standard (Standard 9) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.4

[13]  In relation to the item’s reference to pirates as ‘supreme beings’, Dr Martyn complained that no members in fact said this and, in the CFSM’s view, pirates were in fact ‘the first sentient beings (the first humans created by the FSM [Flying Spaghetti Monster] and they were peaceful explorers’.

[14]  MediaWorks argued that ‘the pirate detail was immaterial to the audience’s understanding of the item as a whole, which was principally about the occasion of the first legally recognised Pastafarian wedding in New Zealand’. MediaWorks did not consider the error would have misled viewers.

[15]  In our view, there were no material points of fact being addressed in the reporter’s reference to pirates as being ‘supreme beings’. There is murkiness around the expressions ‘pirates’, ‘supreme beings’ and ‘sentient beings’. Most viewers would have seen this as nonsense incidental to the focus of the item, which was that in New Zealand the CFSM had been approved to perform marriage ceremonies and that the world’s first such ceremony had taken place.

[16]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint under Standard 9.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich

Chair

22 August 2016

 

Appendix

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

1      Karen Martyn’s formal complaint – 17 April 2016

2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 11 May 2016

3      Dr Martyn’s referral to the Authority – 8 June 2016

4      MediaWorks’ response to the referral – 7 July 2016

5      Dr Martyn’s final comments – 5 August 2016


This complaint was determined under the new Free-to-Air Television Code, which took effect on 1 April 2016 and applies to any programmes broadcast on or after that date: http://bsa.govt.nz/standards/overview  

See guidelines 6a and 6b to Standard 6.

3  Marriage Act 1955, section 9(4)

4  Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036