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Foreman and NZME Radio Ltd - 2018-012 (18 April 2018)

Members

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

Complainant

  • David Foreman

Dated

18th April 2018

Number

2018-012

Programme

The Country

Channel/Station

Newstalk ZB

Broadcaster

New Zealand Media and Entertainment

Summary

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

A segment on The Country featured the host interviewing The Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern not long after she began her term as Prime Minister. Towards the beginning of the interview the host asked the Prime Minister, ‘Do you wake up and say to yourself, “Holy shit! I’m Prime Minister!” and have to pinch yourself?’ The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the host’s comment breached community norms of good taste and decency and was discriminatory. Taking into account relevant contextual factors including low level of offensive language used, the light-hearted tone, and audience expectations, the broadcast did not threaten community norms of good taste and decency, or justify restricting freedom of expression. There was no malice or condemnation underlying the host’s comment, so it did not reach the threshold for encouraging discrimination against any section of the community.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency. Discrimination and Denigration 


Introduction

[1]  A segment on The Country featured the host interviewing The Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern not long after she began her term as Prime Minister. Towards the beginning of the interview the host asked the Prime Minister, ‘Do you wake up and say to yourself, “Holy shit! I’m Prime Minister!” and have to pinch yourself?’

[2]  David Foreman complained that the comment breached community norms of good taste and decency and that the question was discriminatory as the host would not have asked an older male Prime Minister the same question.

[3]  The issues raised in Mr Foreman’s complaint are whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The episode was broadcast on Newstalk ZB at 6.19am on 25 November 2017. 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 good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) aims to protect audience members from listening to and viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, taking into account the context. Current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast.

The parties’ submissions

[6]  Mr Foreman submitted the word ‘shit’ is generally unacceptable, and adding a blasphemous element exacerbated the level of offensiveness. He considered most people would regard the use of the phrase ‘holy shit’ in a broadcast as unacceptable.

[7]  NZME submitted:

  • The Authority has previously found that the use of ‘God’ is not considered coarse language for the purposes of this standard.1 The use of ‘holy’ here is analogous.
  • In its research on the acceptability of words in broadcasting, the Authority found that the majority of people surveyed did not find the word ‘shit’ to be unacceptable.2

Our analysis

[8]  When we determine a complaint alleging a breach of broadcasting standards, we first consider the right to freedom of expression. We weigh the value of the broadcast, as well as the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. 

[9]  In considering the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused, and the good taste and decency standard as a whole, context is highly relevant. Relevant contextual factors in this case include:

  • Newstalk ZB has an adult target audience
  • The Country is a segment focused on agribusiness in New Zealand and has a rural, adult target audience
  • the time of broadcast at 6.19am
  • the phrase complained about was fleeting and was used only once in the broadcast
  • there was no indication from the broadcast that the Prime Minister was offended by the question or the use of the phrase.

[10]  The Authority will only find a breach of this standard if we consider certain language violated currently held community norms of good taste and decency, to the extent that limiting the right to free speech is justified. While the phrase used in this case may not be everyone’s preferred choice of language, the right to freedom of expression allows individuals to express themselves in the way they choose, so long as standards are maintained.

[11]  We acknowledge some people may find the use of variations of ‘God’, ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘holy’ unnecessary and offensive. However, expressions of this nature are commonly used as exclamations, without any intention to be offensive. We have previously found that, in many cases, use of these expressions will not breach broadcasting standards, though context is critical in each case.3 The Authority’s research into the acceptability of words in broadcasting found that only 11% of those surveyed considered the word ‘shit’ to be totally unacceptable in any broadcasting context.4

[12]  Overall, we do not consider the use of the phrase complained about in this particular broadcast segment went beyond audience expectations, or that it was likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress. In the context it did not reach the threshold necessary to breach community norms of good taste and decency or to justify limiting the right to freedom of expression.

[13]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency standard.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against a section of the community?

[14]  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.

[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 class of people (guideline 6a).

[16]  In light of the importance of the right to freedom of expression, mentioned above, 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 (guideline 6b).

The parties’ submissions

[17]  Mr Foreman submitted

  • The host only phrased the statement the way he did because he was addressing a young woman. If he was addressing an older man in the same position he would have phrased it differently.
  • The use of ‘obscene language’ appeared to be a deliberate attempt to denigrate the Prime Minister and throw her ‘off her stride’.

[18]  NZME submitted:

  • The host made no reference to Ms Ardern’s age or gender in the interview.
  • The tone of the host’s comment was light-hearted.
  • There was no inference from the host that Ms Ardern did not deserve the role of Prime Minister. Nor was there any form of discrimination or denigration that could be inferred from the context of the statement or the tone of the host.

Our analysis

[19]  The discrimination and denigration standard applies only to the sections of the community identified in the wording of the standard. It appears Mr Foreman’s concerns relate primarily to the treatment of Ms Ardern during the interview. The standard does not apply to the treatment of particular individuals, which is rather dealt with under the fairness standard.

[20]  Nevertheless, we do not consider the host’s comment could reasonably be said to have encouraged discrimination against, or the denigration of, the Prime Minister or women generally. The comment was light-hearted and was not malicious or nasty. It appeared to be made in the context of highlighting the course of events that led to Ms Ardern becoming Prime Minister and the rapid changes she experienced in that respect.

[21]  Weighed against the right to freedom of expression, the host’s comment did not reach the high threshold required to find a breach of this standard.

[22]  Accordingly we do not uphold this aspect 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
18 April 2018 

 

Appendix

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

1      David Foreman’s formal complaint – 25 November 2017
2      NZME’s response to the complaint – 12 January 2018
3      Mr Foreman’s referral to the Authority – 15 January 2018
4      NZME’s confirmation of no further comment – 28 February


1 See Davie and MediaWorks TV Ltd (Decision No. 2015-090)

2 What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2013)

3  See, for example, Stewart and Television New Zealand Ltd (Decision No. 2017-093) and Keam and Television New Zealand Ltd (Decision No. 2017-090)

4 What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2013)