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20 Complainants and Radio Virsa - 2018-039 (24 August 2018)

Members

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

Complainant

  • 20 Complainants

Dated

24th August 2018

Number

2018-039

Programme

Bhakhde Masley

Channel/Station

Radio Virsa

Broadcaster

Radio Virsa

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld complaints from 20 complainants about a segment of Punjabi talkback programme, Bhakhde Masley. During the programme, the host questioned the teachings of a deceased Sikh religious figure by posing hypothetical questions about how he and his widow, now also deceased, had children. The host implied that, given the leader’s teachings about celibacy, his widow and other family members must have had sex with animals. The complainants alleged that this discussion breached the privacy of the individuals referred to, and was degrading and humiliating. The Authority acknowledged that the segment was in poor taste, but found that the broadcast was not in breach of the standards raised by the complainants. The individuals referred to were either deceased (so the privacy standard could not apply) or lived overseas, making it difficult to assess the harm that could have been caused. The discussion was ultimately hypothetical and was not intended to be taken literally. The Authority noted that the right to freedom of expression comes with responsibilities by those who exercise it, and it is clear that this broadcast caused offence and significant division within the Sikh community in New Zealand. On this occasion, however, the Authority could not uphold the complaints based on the particular standards raised.

Not Upheld: Privacy, Balance, Accuracy, Fairness, Discrimination and Denigration  


The broadcast and background

[1]  On 15 April 2018, Radio Virsa broadcast Punjabi talkback programme, Bhakhde Masley.

[2]  As this programme was broadcast in Punjabi, we sought an independent translation and transcription of the relevant segment. According to the translation we have been provided, during this broadcast segment, Mr Singh discussed with a caller to the programme the religious principles adopted by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a Sikh priest and a controversial, but widely revered, religious figure. We understand that Bhindranwale was married to Pritam Kaur, and the couple had two sons. Bhindranwale was killed on 6 June 1984 and it appears that his wife, Pritam Kaur, died on 15 September 2007.

[3]  According to Mr Singh in the broadcast, Bhindranwale, who was the ‘chief of the Taksal’, taught his followers that the chief does not have sex with women. Given these teachings, Mr Singh went on to ask how Bhindranwale and his wife, Pritam Kaur, had children. He asked: ‘…did she [Pritam Kaur] give birth to them by some donkey, bull or through somebody else?’ He went on to question how other daughters in the faith, and Bhindranwale’s sons, would have children and whether their wives would ‘sleep with bulls’.

[4]  The Punjabi transcription of these sections of the broadcast, provided to us by the Translation Service at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), read:

Radio Virsa 2018 039 image 1

... 

Radio virsa 2018 039

 

The complaints

[5]  We received 19 privacy complaints about this broadcast, which were made directly to the Authority. These complainants submitted that:

  • The host should not have been discussing what kind of physical intimacy the widow, Pritam Kaur and her late husband had in their marriage, as this was a topic to be shared only between husband and wife.
  • The host asked humiliating and degrading questions about Pritam Kaur.
  • While the complainants accepted that Pritam Kaur and Bhindranwale are deceased, they considered that the host also abused the couple’s living family.
  • The translation provided to the Authority softened the impact of the Punjabi statements.

[6]  We also received one complaint referral about this broadcast, raising the balance, accuracy, fairness and discrimination and denigration standards, in addition to privacy. This complaint was not upheld by Radio Virsa and the complainant chose to refer their complaint to the Authority for independent investigation and review. This complainant submitted that:

  • The host did not attempt to balance his comments, in accordance with the balance standard, by seeking an opinion from someone who held a different view.
  • The questions raised by the host were based on a false premise and were therefore inaccurate. This inaccuracy led to the family being treated unfairly.
  • The statements denigrated Pritam Kaur individually, and all widows, in breach of the discrimination and denigration standard. The host also used language that was denigrating towards women generally.

The broadcaster’s response

[7]  In response to these complaints, Radio Virsa submitted:

  • Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and Pritam Kaur are both deceased so the privacy standard does not apply to them. The broadcast contained no private facts about their children.
  • This brief segment did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance under the balance standard.
  • The broadcast was not a factual programme under the accuracy standard and in any case it reflected the host’s analysis, comment or opinion.
  • The broadcast did not denigrate all widows (who in any event cannot be considered a section of the community).
  • The broadcast was not unfair to the widow or her husband, given these individuals are deceased and held respected religious positions, and could therefore be expected to be subject to some criticism.

Overview of findings and freedom of expression

[8]  In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. So when we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we first look at the right to freedom of expression. We weigh the value of the programme, and the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast.

[9]  The right to freedom of expression in New Zealand allows broadcasters to raise ideas in a way that might be satirical, provocative or in poor taste, provided it does not cause harm. The right to freedom of expression therefore comes with responsibilities and broadcasting standards are designed to guide broadcasters in this exercise.

[10]  We acknowledge that, due to Pritam Kaur’s and Bhindranwale’s religious positions, the specific comments complained about were in poor taste and caused offence to a large section of the Sikh community in New Zealand. However, we must apply the standards that have been raised by the complainants and, in this case, we have found that the standards raised have not been breached.

[11]  The item was ultimately hypothetical and was intended to critically question religious teachings. In our view, these were not allegations against the family intended to be taken literally. In this case, it is difficult for us to assess the harm that might have been caused to the individuals referred to, given the individuals discussed are either deceased or live overseas, and have not raised complaints themselves.

[12]  We are concerned that this broadcast has caused significant division within the Sikh community in New Zealand. However, our role is narrow and limited by the Broadcasting Act 1989. We respond to formal complaints that broadcasts have breached broadcasting standards. The scope of those standards, and the actions that we can take in response to complaints, are therefore prescribed for us in legislation.

[13] On this occasion, we are unable to uphold the complaints, for the reasons set out below.

Our findings

Privacy

[14] The privacy standard (Standard 10) states that broadcasters should maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual. The standard applies only to living natural people.2 As both Bhindranwale and his widow, Pritam Kaur, are deceased, the privacy standard therefore does not apply to them.

[15]  We further do not consider that the broadcast disclosed private information about Pritam Kaur’s and Bhindranwale’s sons, daughters-in-law or grandchildren and it is highly unlikely that these individuals could have a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information discussed, given its hypothetical nature. The conversation was primarily concerned with Pritam Kaur and Bhindranwale, with the family discussed only as an aside. Taken in context, therefore, we do not consider Mr Singh’s comments disclosed any private information about the individuals referred to.

[16] We therefore do not uphold the privacy complaints.

Remaining standards

[17]  We do not consider that the remaining standards raised were breached during this broadcast, for the reasons set out below:

  • Balance: The balance standard does not apply to talkback programmes.3 In any event, the comments complained about were brief and raised in a peripheral way to the main discussion about Bhindranwale’s teachings, and were therefore not ‘discussed’ by the hosts.4
  • Accuracy: Talkback programmes are not usually subject to the accuracy standard. In any event the host’s comments, being hypothetical questions raised to comment critically on Bhindranwale’s teachings, were clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion. 
  • Fairness: The complainant argued that the inaccurate information broadcast led to the family concerned being treated unfairly. When we make a decision under the fairness standard, the context and the nature of the programme are relevant considerations.5 This was a talkback programme (during which provocative discussion can be expected), and specifically a hypothetical discussion which raised questions primarily about deceased religious figures and (as an aside) a family who is based overseas. The broadcast was not unfair in these circumstances.
  • Discrimination and Denigration: ‘Widows’ are not a section of the community to which this standard applies.6 While the comments were vulgar towards the particular women referred to, we do not consider the hypothetical discussion was discriminatory or denigrated women generally.

[18] We therefore do not uphold this complaint.

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

 


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
24 August 2018

 


Appendix

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

1  Translation of Bhakhde Masley, broadcast 15 April 2018 – Translation Service, Department of Internal Affairs

Privacy Complaints

2     Jaspreet Singh’s privacy complaint – 5 May 2018
3     Khushmeet Kaur’s privacy complaint – 6 May 2018
4     Dilawar Singh’s privacy complaint – 6 May 2018
5     Bhupinder Singh’s privacy complaint – 6 May 2018
6     Baljit Singh’s privacy complaint – 6 May 2018
7     Gurjap Singh’s privacy complaint – 6 May 2018
8     Balwinder Singh Kang’s privacy complaint – 6 May 2018
9    Jagmohan Singh’s privacy complaint – 6 May 2018
10   Jassi Gill’s privacy complaint – 7 May 2018
11   Harjinder Singh’s privacy complaint – 7 May 2018
12  Gurdial Singh’s privacy complaint – 7 May 2018
13  Sukhwinder Singh’s privacy complaint – 7 May 2018
14  Balraj Singh’s privacy complaint – 7 May 2018
15  Gurinder Singh’s privacy complaint – 7 May 2018
16  Gagan Singh’s privacy complaint – 7 May 2018
17  Trilok Singh’s privacy complaint – 7 May 2018
18  Harpreet Singh’s privacy complaint – 7 May 2018
19  Baltej Singh Dhaliwal’s privacy complaint – 14 May 2018
20  Manroop Singh’s privacy complaint – 30 May 2018
21  Radio Virsa’s response to the complaints – 31 May 2018
22  Complainants’ further comments – 6 June 2018

Complaint Referral

23  Pardeep Singh’s formal complaint – 10 May 2018
24  Radio Virsa’s response to the complaints – 31 May 2018
25  Pardeep Singh’s referral to the Authority – 12 June 2018
26  Radio Virsa’s response to the referral – 6 July 2018


1 During the segment, Mr Singh refers to ‘Taksal’ and the ‘Taksalis’. We understand that this generally translates to an education institute or community of students, who associate themselves with a spiritual leader. It appears that during this broadcast, Harnek Singh is talking specifically about the Damdami Taksal, a Sikh educational organisation in India, and its former leader, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

2 1.2, Guidance: Privacy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 59

3 See Parlane and MediaWorks Radio Ltd, 2018-017 at [20]

4 Commentary: Standard 8 – Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18

5 Guideline 11a

6 The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) 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.