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Matthewson and NZME Radio Ltd - 2017-060 (21 September 2017)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Carol Matthewson

Dated

21st September 2017

Number

2017-060

Programme

Sportstalk

Channel/Station

Radio Sport

Broadcaster

New Zealand Media and Entertainment

Summary

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

During a talkback segment on Sportstalk, the host Mark Watson criticised northern hemisphere sports media and the British and Irish Lions rugby team. The host made provocative statements about the Lions team who were at that time touring New Zealand, saying, among other things, ‘hopefully you get smashed’. The host then engaged in a heated discussion with a talkback caller about northern hemisphere rugby and rugby media. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the host’s comments undermined broadcasting standards. The comments made, while critical and provocative, did not exceed audience expectations within the robust and opinionated environment of talkback radio, and particularly on Radio Sport. The Authority noted that the free and frank expression of opinions is an important aspect of the right to freedom of expression, and is valued in our society. Mr Watson was entitled to express his opinion, even if it was critical or if others disagreed, and his comments were not so offensive that they reached a level which warranted the Authority’s intervention. The Lions team and its supporters are not a section of the community to which the discrimination and denigration standard applies, and the balance standard was also not applicable to this particular segment.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration, Balance


Introduction

[1]  During a talkback segment on Sportstalk, the host Mark Watson discussed his opinions on the state of northern hemisphere rugby and the recent British and Irish Lions rugby tour. He also engaged in a heated debate on the topic with a caller. Mr Watson made the following statements during the broadcast:

  • ‘Good luck against the Blues, hopefully you get smashed.’
  • ‘I hate Northern Hemisphere rugby with a passion. I can’t stand it.’
  • ‘Hopefully you’re crap against the Blues and the Crusaders.’

[2]  Carol Matthewson complained that Mr Watson’s comments were highly offensive and a clear departure from standards of common decency. Ms Matthewson was also concerned that the views of the talkback caller who presented a countering perspective to Mr Watson’s were not adequately acknowledged.

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

[4]  The segment was broadcast on Radio Sport on 5 June 2017 at 5.50pm. 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 threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[5]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from viewing or listening to broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.

The parties’ submissions

[6]  Ms Matthewson submitted:

  • Mr Watson’s comments were ‘objectionable and offensive’ and amounted to ‘an unsolicited personal opinion’ that went beyond what could reasonably be considered ‘provocative and edgy’ in the ‘robust environment’ of talkback.
  • ‘There is surely a widely-shared community standard which is breached when someone hosting a radio programme expresses a wish for a group of people to suffer or get injured. This goes beyond [being] simply “offensive or rude”.’

[7]  NZME submitted:

  • The statement that ‘hopefully [the Lions] get smashed. Hopefully [they] don’t win another game on this tour’ was the host’s opinion. It is common for a host in a role such as Mr Watson’s to be deliberatively provocative to stimulate debate from callers in the talkback arena.
  • The Authority has consistently recognised that talkback radio is a ‘robust and opinionated environment, in which the host and callers often engage in heated conversations and express strong or provocative views’.
  • The host did engage in a heated discussion with a caller, during which he stated that he ‘hate[d] northern hemisphere rugby with a passion’, however the caller had chosen to participate in the talkback forum.
  • NZME was satisfied that, while the host’s statements may have been harsh, they did not breach broadcasting standards, given the nature of the forum.

Our analysis

[8]  The right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, is the starting point in our consideration of complaints. We may only interfere and uphold complaints where the limitation on the right is reasonable and justified in a free and democratic society.1 The free and frank expression of opinions is an important aspect of the right, and is fundamental to the operation of our democratic society. Talkback radio provides a forum for this exchange of opinions to occur.

[9]  When we consider a complaint about good taste and decency, we take into account relevant contextual factors, which here include:

  • the time of broadcast at 5.50pm
  • the radio station’s adult target audience
  • the title of the programme which assists in signposting it is a talk show (Sportstalk)
  • audience expectations of Radio Sport generally, Sportstalk, and the host Mr Watson.

[10]  We recognise that Ms Matthewson found Mr Watson’s comments to be offensive, and we acknowledge her concern for the effect that these comments may have on Lions supporters and their perceptions of the New Zealand public.

[11]  However, having listened carefully to the broadcast we do not consider that the host made any comments willing the Lions rugby players to be injured, as alleged by the complainant. In the context of a talkback sports show broadcast on Radio Sport, which focused on rugby in this instance, most listeners would have understood the host’s comments, including ‘hopefully you get smashed’, not as an encouragement for the players to become injured, but rather as an expression of the host’s desire to see the Lions rugby team lose. The tone and delivery of the comments did not go beyond the type of sports commentary and rugby banter that is typically expected on this radio station.

[12]  We acknowledge the host’s statements, including towards the caller, were harsh, critical and deliberately provocative, but in our view they were not so offensive as to outweigh the broadcaster’s or the host’s right to freedom of expression. Taking into account the opinionated environment of talkback radio and the expectation that it will provide a forum for robust and provocative debate and critique, the comments did not reach the high threshold necessary to breach standards of good taste and decency.

[13]  Overall, we do not consider that any potential harm arising from the broadcast would outweigh the right to freedom of expression. We therefore do not find any breach of Standard 1.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Lions rugby players and their supporters, as a section of the community?

[14]  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.

[15]  ‘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 particular section of the community.2 It is well established that a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, is required to conclude that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in contravention of the standard.3

The parties’ submissions

[16]  Ms Matthewson submitted:

  • The Lions rugby team was clearly a section of the community distinguished by both race (Britain and Ireland) and culture (rugby players representing the culture of those countries).
  • Mr Watson’s statements were ‘tantamount to encouraging denigration of a section of the community’ (Lions rugby players), and were made with ‘malice and nastiness’.
  • Mr Watson encouraged the different and discriminatory treatment of a particular section of the community, to their detriment.

[17]  NZME submitted:

  • Mr Watson was not making statements about anyone from the northern hemisphere, or British or Irish People. He was referring to northern hemisphere rugby and the attitudes of those involved in it, particularly the media.
  • Neither the Lions rugby team, nor northern hemisphere media covering the Lions tour, is a recognised section of the community.
  • The statements were not made on the basis of ethnicity, race or culture.
  • Speech that offends, or is rude, is not determinative of a breach of this standard.

Our analysis

[18]  The sections of the community specified in the discrimination and denigration standard are consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993.4 We do not consider that the Lions rugby team, its supporters, or the British media amount to a section of the community to which Standard 6 applies.

[19]  In any event, comments in a broadcast will not breach the standard simply because they are critical of a particular group, because they offend people, or because they are rude.5 Mr Watson’s statements, while they could be seen as rude and potentially offensive, did not in our view carry the necessary level of malice to reach the high threshold for finding a breach, when taken in context. As we have said in relation to good taste and decency, they were in keeping with the nature of competitive, inter-country sports banter often delivered in sports commentary and on Radio Sport.

[20]  Accordingly, we do not find a breach of Standard 6.

Was the programme required to be balanced?

[21]  The balance standard (Standard 8) 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 viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.

The parties’ submissions

[22]  Ms Matthewson submitted that the caller’s ‘valid’ views were not acknowledged by the host.

[23]  NZME submitted that the balance standard only applied to news and current affairs programmes, and the item in question was talkback so the standard was not applicable.

Our analysis

[24]  We do not consider this particular segment amounted to news, current affairs or factual programming to which the balance standard applied. This was clearly a sports talkback segment and in our view analogous to ‘programmes which are wholly based on opinions or ideas’, which are generally not considered to be news or current affairs.6

[25]  We therefore do not uphold the balance complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich

Chair

21 September 2017 


Appendix

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

1      Carol Matthewson’s formal complaint – 7 June 2017
2      NZME’s response to the complaint – 7 July 2017
3      Ms Matthewson’s referral to the Authority – 27 July 2017
4      NZME’s response to the Authority – 14 August 2017
5      Ms Matthewson’s final comments – 21 August 2017
6      NZME’s confirmation of no further comment – 31 August 2017

 


1 See sections 5 and 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and Introduction: Freedom of Expression, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6.

2 Guideline 6a

3 Guideline 6b

4 See https://www.hrc.co.nz/enquiries-and-complaints/what-you-can-complain-about/

5 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 15

6 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18