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Shore and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2017-064 (16 November 2017)

Dated

16th November 2017

Number

2017-064

Programme

Breakfast

Channel/Station

TVNZ 1

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

Summary

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

During a sports news segment on Breakfast, the sports presenter was discussing American golfer Jordan Spieth’s victory at the British Open Championship. At the end of the segment the presenter remarked, ‘Yeah, they don’t have very good humour the British, do they? They probably didn’t get [Mr Spieth’s] speech.’ A complaint was made that this comment was ‘racist and untrue’. The Authority did not uphold the complaint, finding the comment was not malicious and was unlikely to cause widespread offence, therefore any potential harm caused by the broadcast did not outweigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

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


Introduction

[1]  During a sports news segment on Breakfast, the sports presenter discussed American golfer Jordan Spieth’s victory at the British Open Championship. During the footage, Mr Spieth was shown shooting an eagle and a British commentator was heard saying, ‘You are joking!’ The presenter remarked, ‘He’s not joking, the American finishing 12-under for the tournament.’

[2]  Footage of Mr Spieth’s victory speech was then shown and he said, ‘I’m going to take this (trophy) back to America, which might upset a few of you all here, but I’ll return it to try and bring it back again.’ The presenter then said, ‘Yeah, they don’t have very good humour the British, do they? They probably didn’t get that speech.’

[3]  Neil Shore complained that the presenter’s comment was ‘racist and untrue’, and that this was ‘not the first time that casual racism has been displayed by this presenter, with regard to the British’.

[4]  The issues raised in Mr Shore’s complaint are whether the segment breached the good taste and decency, discrimination and denigration, balance and accuracy standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The segment was broadcast at 7.30am on 24 July 2017 on TVNZ 1. 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?

[6]  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

[7]  Mr Shore submitted:

  • The sports presenter’s comment was ‘completely racist and untrue’.
  • The comment was not funny, nor was it intended to be funny. Rather it was intended as a ‘dig’ at British people.

[8]  TVNZ submitted:

  • Breakfast is aimed at an adult audience.
  • The BSA has previously acknowledged that ‘children of a vulnerable age are unlikely to watch the news unattended’ and adult supervision is expected during unclassified news programmes.
  • The presenter’s comment was referencing the British commentator’s statement, ‘you are joking!’ and Mr Spieth’s joke in his victory speech that he will bring the cup back in order to be able to take it away again.
  • While TVNZ understands that Mr Shore found the comment offensive, the good taste and decency standard is not designed to prevent material which people may consider rude.
  • TVNZ did not believe that the comment was racist or that it would cause widespread and serious offence.

Our analysis

[9]  Our starting point in the consideration of any complaint is to acknowledge the importance of the right to freedom of expression, which includes both the broadcaster’s right to present programmes in the way it chooses, and the audience’s right to receive and view those programmes. We may only intervene and limit the right to freedom of expression where we consider the harm caused by a broadcast is great. This means that a high threshold is required for us to make a finding that a broadcast threatened standards of good taste and decency in breach of Standard 1.

[10]  Context is highly relevant when we consider a complaint under the good taste and decency standard. In determining whether the comment subject to complaint was likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards, the following contextual factors are relevant:

  • the segment was broadcast at 7.30am
  • the nature of Breakfast as a mixture of news, sports and entertainment
  • Breakfast has an adult target audience
  • the presenter’s comment was made in reference to remarks made by the British commentator and Mr Spieth in the pre-recorded sports item
  • the presenter’s tone in making the comment was light-hearted, not malicious.

[11]  We acknowledge that Mr Shore found the sports presenter’s comment to be racist and insulting to British people. However, we are satisfied that taking into account the context and the factors listed above, the comment did not reach the high threshold necessary to threaten standards of good taste and decency, or to warrant placing a limit on the right to freedom of expression.

[12]  The comment was brief and in our view it was clearly intended to be light-hearted and humorous, rather than as a serious comment or attack on British people. As noted by the broadcaster the comment was made in response to the footage of the golf tournament, the British commentator’s apparent surprise at Mr Spieth’s performance, and Mr Spieth’s victory speech. The comment did not go beyond audience expectations of Breakfast, which offers a mixture of news, sports and entertainment segments, or expectations of the programme presenters, who frequently engage in light-hearted banter on a wide range of topics.

[13]  For these reasons we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 1.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, British people, 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.1

The parties’ submissions

[16]  Mr Shore submitted:

  • The sports presenter’s comment amounted to ‘casual racism’.
  • This was not the first time this presenter has displayed casual racism towards British people.
  • The comment would not be so well received if it referred to people of another country.

[17]  TVNZ submitted:

  • The presenter’s comment did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community.
  • The presenter’s comment was ‘clearly off the cuff and intended to be light-hearted’.
  • There was no ‘nasty intent’ behind the comment.

Our analysis

[18]  We acknowledge that Mr Shore found the presenter’s comment to be racist and that he was offended by it. However, the Authority has previously noted that a comment will not breach the discrimination and denigration standard simply because it is critical of another group, because it offends people or because it is rude.2 The importance of freedom of expression means 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

[19]  In assessing whether a broadcast has gone too far, we consider, among other factors: the language used; the tone of the person making the comments; the forum in which the comments were made; whether the comments appeared intended to be taken seriously; and whether the comments were repeated or sustained.

[20]  As we have said in relation to good taste and decency, the sports presenter’s comment was brief and not repeated or dwelt upon, her tone was light-hearted rather than malicious, and it was made in the context of the preceding sports news item reporting on American golfer Mr Spieth’s victory at the British Open. We do not think that in this context her comment could reasonably be interpreted as devaluing the reputation of, or encouraging the different treatment of, all British people as a section of the community.

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

Did the comment breach the balance or accuracy standards?

[22]  Mr Shore also submitted that the presenter’s comment breached the balance and accuracy standards, claiming that the comment was ‘untrue’ and that the British have a ‘fine record of humour’.

[23]  We are satisfied that neither of these standards was breached, on the grounds that:

  • The presenter’s comment did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance, and therefore did not trigger the requirements of the balance standard (Standard 8).
  • The accuracy standard does not apply to statements that are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion. The presenter’s comment was an aside remark that was intended to be humorous, and would not have been interpreted by viewers as a statement of fact (Standard 9).

[24]  Accordingly, we do not uphold these aspects of the complaint.

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
16 November 2017

 


Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1      Neil Shore’s formal complaint – 24 July 2017
2      TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 21 August 2017
3      Mr Shore’s referral to the Authority and further comments – 22 August 2017
4      TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 28 September 2017

 


Guideline 6a

 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16

3 Guideline 6b; Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16