BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Bailey and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2002-083

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • R L Bailey
Number
2002-083
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio

Complaint
Dreams of a Suburban Mercenary – short story – offensive language – broadcaster not mindful of the effect on children

Findings
Principle 1 – artistic work – acceptable use in context – no uphold

Principle 7 and Guideline 7b – not targeted at young listeners – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] "Dreams of a Suburban Mercenary" was the title of the short story broadcast on National Radio after the midday news on Saturday, 2 February 2002. The story included the words "fucking" and "bastard".

[2] R L Bailey complained to Radio New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the language breached standards relating to good taste and decency, and that the broadcaster was not mindful of the effect the broadcast may have on children.

[3] In response, RNZ declined to uphold the complaint, stating that the programme was the reading of a dramatic work targeted to an adult audience and broadcast at a time when children would not normally be listening. It also stated that the words were not used repetitively or gratuitously.

[4] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr Bailey referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

The Complaint

[6] "Dreams of a Suburban Mercenary" was the title of the short story broadcast on National Radio after the midday news on Saturday, 2 February 2002. The story included the words "fucking" and "bastard".

[7] Mr Bailey complained to Radio New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the language breached standards relating to good taste and decency, and that the broadcaster was not mindful of the effect the broadcast may have on children.

[8] Mr Bailey was concerned with the time of the broadcast, "during the lunch time on a Saturday when families with children could well be listening". He said children could be sitting with adults listening to the story telling, or within ear-shot at that time of day.

The Standards

[9] Mr Bailey considered that the broadcast breached Principles 1 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Principles and relevant guidelines provide:

Principle 1

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Guideline

1a  Broadcasters will take into consideration current norms of decency and good taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast (eg time of day, target audience).

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.

Guideline

7b  Broadcasters shall be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted listening times.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] RNZ responded that the reading of the short story "Dreams of a Suburban Mercenary" should be considered in the context of the reading of a dramatic work. RNZ stated:

In evaluating the broadcast of an artistic or dramatic work such as a book, a piece of poetry or the reading of a short story Radio New Zealand has to take into account the expression of what the author has written and how this is expressed in the spoken word. It is a hallmark of our society’s commonly held values as enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 that citizens have a right to the freedom of expression and this extends to what is broadcast in the form of dramatic works on National Radio.

[11] Dealing specifically with Mr Bailey’s concerns, RNZ wrote:

…that the readings started after midday on a Saturday which is not a time targeted to a younger audience. Indeed the typical profile of National Radio listeners at most times and particularly in the weekend formats, is largely an adult, older age group.

It was further noted that the words complained of were each used on only one occasion and their use in both cases could not be considered gratuitous. The words used were used towards the end of the 17-minute piece and were not used as early attention grabbing device.

[12] Accordingly, RNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Authority

[13] Mr Bailey did not accept RNZ’s contention that the programme was targeted at adults. He said:

To me Radio New Zealand in this instance violated the standards as set out in "Principle 1" of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice of decency and good taste in language and behaviour at that time of day. Children could be sitting with adults listening to the story tellling, just as my wife and I, usually over our lunch. I am thankful our grandchildren were not with us that day.

Principle 7b has, in my view in this instance, not been taken into account so far as young children being within ear-shot at that time of day. The fact that children could be around and could hear this bad language must be taken into account when allocating time for programmes of this nature with such obscene language in them.

[14] Mr Bailey disagreed with the broadcaster’s view that the Bill of Rights allowed for the broadcast of the language complained about. He asked the Authority:

to bring a halt to the bad language of profanity and obscenity on our public radio during the hours when children could well be within ear-shot of the broadcast.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[15] In his final comment, Mr Bailey reiterated his comments that RNZ had breached the broadcasting standards. Mr Bailey considered that RNZ had not satisfactorily answered his concerns regarding children being within ear-shot at that time of day.

The Authority’s Determination

[16] When the Authority determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Principle 1 of the Radio Code, it is required to determine whether the material complained about breaches currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant but not determinative of whether the programme breaches the Principle. The Authority considers that the relevant contextual factors on this occasion are the nature of the programme, the time of broadcast, the target audience, and the manner in which the words were used.

[17] The Authority considers a short story reading is an artistic work. It also notes that this reading was intended for an adult audience and was broadcast after midday on a Saturday at a time the Authority accepts is not targeted to a younger audience. The Authority also considers inter-generational tension was a theme of this story, and that the theme was captured in the language. Furthermore, the Authority considers that the language was not used gratuitously or repetitively, and expressed the colloquial language of disaffected youths. Having considered the contextual matters referred to above, the Authority concludes that Principle 1 was not breached.

[18] In relation to Guideline 7b, Mr Bailey complained that the broadcaster had not been mindful of the effect of the broadcast on children. The Authority considers that several factors reduce the likelihood of children being adversely affected by the broadcast. In particular the Authority notes the very fleeting use of the terms complained about in the context of a 17-minute story. Accordingly, the Authority finds that Principle 7 was not breached.

[19] Finally, the Authority observes that to find a breach of Principles 1 and 7 on this occasion would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant Principles which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
20 June 2002

Appendix

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

  1. R L Bailey’s Formal Complaint to Radio New Zealand – 5 March 2002
  2. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 11 March 2002
  3. Mr Bailey’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 27 March 2002
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 7 May 2002
  5. Mr Bailey’s Final Comment – 15 May 2002