BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Ambanpola and RadioWorks Ltd - 2012-098

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Panduka Ambanpola
Number
2012-098
Broadcaster
RadioWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
The Edge

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Jay-Jay, Mike and Dom Show – during segment called “The Olympic Athletes Hall of Names” the hosts joked about the names of athletes – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, discrimination and denigration, and responsible programming standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – comments were a light-hearted attempt at humour – focus of comments was athletes’ names, not their nationalities – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – focus of comments was the individuals’ names and not their nationalities – comments were intended to be humorous and did not carry any invective – did not encourage discrimination against, or the denigration of, any section of the community – not upheld

Standard 8 (responsible programming) – comments not socially irresponsible – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  During a segment called “The Olympic Athletes Hall of Names” on the Jay-Jay, Mike and Dom Show, the hosts highlighted, and joked about, the names of Olympic athletes, including athletes from China, South Korea and Australia. The segment was broadcast on The Edge radio station on the morning of 1 August 2012.

[2]  Panduka Ambanpola made a formal complaint to RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the host’s “name mocking” was “simply wrong”.

[3]  The issue is whether the hosts’ comments breached Standards 1 (good taste and decency), 7 (discrimination and denigration), and 8 (responsible programming) of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  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]  In assessing an alleged breach of broadcasting standards, we must give proper consideration to the right to freedom of expression which is guaranteed by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Any restriction on the right to free speech must be prescribed by law, reasonable, and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (section 5).

[6]  The starting point is to assess the value of the particular speech, and then to balance this against the potential harm that is likely to result from allowing the unfettered dissemination of that speech. The broadcast in this instance consisted of a segment in which the hosts highlighted names of Olympic athletes, and in some instances countries, which they found funny or unusual; for example they referred to:

  • “China’s table tennis star, Ding Ning”
  • “South Korea’s world number one ranked Judo athlete, Wang Ki Chun”
  • “…an Australian table tennis player… somehow I don’t think she’s Australian though, her name is [sound effect of a cat]… Miao Miao, M-i-a-o M-i-a-o.”

[7]  The segment was broadcast throughout the week, with different names highlighted in each programme. It occurred during the 2012 London Olympics, which received extensive media coverage. The purpose of the broadcast was primarily humour and entertainment. The Authority has previously acknowledged,1 and some standards in the Code recognise,2 that humour and satire are important forms of speech on which society places value. We therefore think we should be cautious about interfering with the broadcast of the segment, and its reception.

[8]  Standard 1 (good taste and decency) is primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.3 The Authority will also consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.4

[9]  Here, the alleged harm, in terms of the underlying objectives of the standard, was said to derive from the hosts “making fun of overseas Olympians’ names”.

[10]  RadioWorks described the content as “juvenile” at worst, and “humour based on highlighting the phonetic ‘misinterpretations’ brought about by different languages”. No single nationality was targeted, and the material did not extend beyond “silly” into malicious, it said. The broadcaster provided a recording of a later broadcast where the hosts referred to the country “Djibouti”, and, two New Zealand athletes, “A. Punt”, who sounded like “she has a gambling problem”, and “Brent Newdick”.

[11]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:

  • the segment was broadcast on the Jay-Jay, Mike and Dom Show on The Edge radio station
  • it was broadcast at a time when children could be listening
  • the station’s target audience of 15- to 39-year-olds
  • expectations of regular listeners.

[12]  We consider that the hosts’ comments were a light-hearted attempt at humour, and were consistent with material often broadcast on The Edge. We agree that the comments did not target any specific nationality, and that the focus of the comments was the names, rather than the nationalities, of the athletes referred to.

[13]  The complainant took particular offence at comments which questioned whether one athlete was Australian, and in her complaint wrote, “I remember someone else in New Zealand fell into trouble for making fun out of names”. We presume the complainant is referring to comments made by a television presenter who deliberately mispronounced the name of the then Chief Minister of Delhi.5 The presenter’s comments in that case, which were upheld by the broadcaster and this Authority as a breach of good taste and decency, are clearly distinguishable from the broadcast we are considering; the comments were not limited to the Chief Minister personally, but made specific reference to her ethnicity and were therefore considered to extend to Indian people as a section of the community.

[14]  Taking into account the nature of the comments and the context of the broadcast, in particular that The Edge is well known for its irreverent humour and has a niche audience, we are satisfied that the potential harm to listeners, in hearing the comments, was minimal.

[15]  For these reasons, and giving full weight to the requirement of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, we find that upholding the complaint would be an unjustifiable limit on the right to freedom of expression. We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint. 

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

[16]  Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community. Guideline 7a(iii) states that the standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of legitimate humour.

[17]  The complainant questioned the impact of the broadcast on “migrant communities”.

[18]  As noted above, the comments were not confined to any one nationality and were instead based on individuals’ names. The segment broadcast later in the week referred to the names of two New Zealand athletes, and a country. In any event, the comments were intended to be humorous and did not carry the invective necessary to find a breach of Standard 7.

[19]  Accordingly, we find that the comments did not encourage discrimination against, or the denigration of, any section of the community, and we decline to uphold this part of the complaint. 

Was the broadcast socially irresponsible?

[20]  Standard 8 requires broadcasters to ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible. Guideline 8a states that broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme content may have on children during their normally accepted listening times.

[21]  For the reasons expressed above, namely that the comments were light-hearted and intended to be humorous, and did not contain any derogatory racial undertones, we find that the broadcast was not socially irresponsible and that children’s interests were adequately considered.

[22]  We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
24 October 2012

Appendix

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

  1.     Panduka Ambanpola’s formal complaint – 1 August 2012
  2.     RadioWorks’ response to the complaint – 27 August 2012
  3.     Panduka Ambanpola’s referral to the Authority – 28 August 2012
  4.     RadioWorks’ response to the Authority – 30 August 2012

1

See, for example, Swift and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2012-017
 

2For example, guideline 6a to Standard 6 (fairness) and guideline 7a to Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) of the Free-to-Air Television Code

3Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112

4Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November, 2006)

5Adams, Godinet and Parsons and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-145