BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Barclay and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2019-003 (20 May 2019)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainant
  • Bindy Barclay
Number
2019-003
Programme
Morning Report
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that an interviewee’s language, broadcast during an item on Morning Report on 10 December 2018, was violent and inappropriate. The item reported on the declining memberships of sports clubs in New Zealand and featured an interview with the Club Captain of a tennis club. The interviewee commented that the tennis courts were so empty ‘you could… fire a machine gun and hit no one.’ The Authority noted that the right to freedom of expression allows individuals to express themselves in their own words, provided this does not cause undue harm. In this case, the comment made by the interviewee was brief, was not overly graphic or targeted at a particular individual or group, and was not intended to be taken literally. Taking into account contextual factors, such as the adult target audience of Morning Report and RNZ National, the broadcast was unlikely to unduly distress or disturb listeners, or any children that might have been listening, and was not so graphic as to require an audience advisory for violent content.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Programme Information, Children’s Interests, Violence  


The broadcast

[1]          An item on Morning Report, broadcast on 10 December 2018, reported on the declining memberships of sports clubs in New Zealand. During an interview, the Club Captain of a tennis club commented:

Over the summer months you could come down here [to the tennis courts] between now and February and fire a machine gun and hit no one. There won’t be anybody playing. Might be one or two or four people of our nine seniors maybe four of them will get together and come and have a hit, once a week, or maybe our juniors will have a hit but this place is terribly unused. [Emphasis added]

[2]          The item was broadcast at 8.35am on RNZ National.

The complaint

[3]          Bindy Barclay complained that the broadcast breached the good taste and decency, programme information, children’s interests and violence standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, for the following reasons:

  • The interviewee’s reference to mass shootings was inappropriate and would not have been expected by listeners in the context of the story.
  • The comments could have been edited in a way that excluded any reference to a machine gun. As broadcast, the quote was ‘extremely anti-social’ and conjured a ‘violent image in a graphic manner’.
  • The interview was broadcast at a time when children were likely to be listening.
  • It was irresponsible for media to suggest that shootings might occur in public places, such as local tennis courts.

[4]          Following the attack on 15 March 2019, Ms Barclay commented that the inappropriateness of the comment was made more pertinent. She submitted that, if the comment was deemed to be unacceptable in light of the attack, it should also be deemed unacceptable at the time of broadcast in December 2018.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]          RNZ responded that the words were used as a turn of phrase to indicate how empty the club’s tennis courts were. Previous decisions by the Authority indicated that the reference would not breach the nominated standards.

The standards

[6]          The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from listening to broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.1

[7]          The programme information standard (Standard 2) is concerned with ensuring audiences are properly informed about the likely content of a broadcast.2 In a radio context, this means that where a broadcast may be outside audience expectations of the radio station or programme, an audience advisory should be broadcast.3    

[8]          The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) states that broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.

[9]          The violence standard (Standard 4) requires broadcasters to exercise care and discretion when referencing violence.

Our findings

Freedom of expression and context

[10]        In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. When we consider a complaint that broadcasting standards have been breached, however, our primary focus is whether a broadcast has caused harm. When making our decision, we therefore weigh the value of the programme and the importance of the expression against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. We also assess the wider context of the broadcast.

[11]        In this case, Ms Barclay has alleged that listeners would not have expected this type of language, which was unnecessarily violent and inappropriate for the time of broadcast when children might be listening. It was open to the broadcaster to edit this part of the interview to remove the offensive content, which would not have impacted on the interviewee’s message in any way.

[12]        The Authority has previously recognised that ‘the right to freedom of expression allows individuals to express themselves in the way that they choose, so long as standards are maintained.’4  In a diverse society such as New Zealand, people communicate differently, and there is value in hearing the authentic New Zealand voice in reporting.5   That being said, authentic language should not cause harm at a level requiring the Authority’s intervention.

[13]        In this case, we do not consider that the harm alleged by the complainant reached a level which would justify our upholding the complaint and limiting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and we expand on our reasons for this finding below.

[14]        The complainant has also raised her concern that, in light of the 15 March attack, such language would not now be deemed appropriate for broadcast and should not therefore have been broadcast at the time.

[15]        We acknowledge the complainant’s concerns in this regard and recognise the importance of considering the wider context of the broadcast in our decision-making.6

[16]        However, this interview was broadcast in December 2018, around three months prior to the 15 March attack. Had this particular interview taken place following the attack, the interviewee might have chosen to use different language, or the broadcaster may have made different decisions in how this interview was edited for broadcast. Our assessment of the wider context of the broadcast must therefore be limited to the context at the time of broadcast, and we are unable to assess this particular broadcast in light of the events of 15 March.

Good Taste and Decency

[17]        We accept, however, that the context of the programme and the wider broadcast (at the time of broadcast) is an important factor, and is particularly crucial in determining whether current norms of good taste and decency have been maintained.

[18]        The relevant contextual factors we have considered in this case include:

  • the nature of Morning Report, a news and current affairs programme targeted at adult listeners, and RNZ National
  • the time of broadcast at 8.35am on a weekday, when children might be listening
  • the adult target audience and audience expectations of Morning Report and RNZ National generally
  • the lack of audience advisory or warning prior to broadcast
  • the nature of the comment itself, which was used to illustrate a point by way of metaphor
  • the absence of any malice or intent to target a particular group.

[19]        As we have noted above, this comment was made by a third party during an interview that had value in terms of the right to freedom of expression. The comment was brief and was not repeated again throughout the segment, which was otherwise an innocuous news item about the lack of attendance at sports clubs and so was not focused on any violent or distasteful themes.

[20]        While it could be argued that more appropriate language could have been chosen by the interviewee, as we have said above, there is a value in hearing New Zealanders’ stories in their own words. We do not consider this comment was likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards, given the reference was not overly graphic and the interviewee did not dwell on the metaphor in any way. We agree that this was a colloquial turn of phrase that was not intended to be taken literally by listeners.

[21]        We have also had regard to similar previous decisions by the Authority. The comment made in this broadcast differs from comments made by a talkback host in a previous decision of the Authority, Blisset and RadioWorks.7  In that case, the host said, for example: ‘the Herald on Sunday… no idea why someone just hasn’t taken a shotgun there and cleaned out the entire news room… if you see a rabid journalist, you shoot them straight away, and then the infection doesn’t spread…’8. The Authority upheld the complaint, finding that the comments made by the host were graphic, specific, targeted at an identifiable group (journalists at a named publication), and repeated.9   

[22]        Here, the comment made by the interviewee was general and was not directed at any particular individual or group. It was purely metaphorical and, in these circumstances, we do not consider that standards of good taste and decency were undermined.

[23]        We therefore do not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Programme Information

[24]        We acknowledge the complainant’s concern that listeners would not have expected to hear this type of language in the context of a report about declining sports club memberships.

[25]        However, for the reasons we have outlined above, we do not consider that this brief comment took the broadcast beyond audience expectations for a news item broadcast on RNZ National and targeted at adults, and featuring comments from an interviewed third party.

[26]        In these circumstances, we do not consider an audience advisory or warning was required, and we do not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Children’s Interests

[27]        Material likely to be considered under the children’s interest standard includes (among others) violent content or themes which are outside audience expectations of the station or programme.10

[28]        This interview was broadcast at 8.35am before school and during term time, when children might be listening.

[29]        Taking into account the contextual factors listed above, however, we do not consider children were likely to be adversely affected by the comment made during this broadcast. The interviewee’s reference to a machine gun and the metaphor used was likely to go over the heads of most child listeners, particularly as it was brief and made in the context of a news report targeted at adults. As we have said above, we do not consider that the comment would have been outside audience expectations for Morning Report and RNZ National.

[30]        We therefore do not uphold the complaint under the children’s interests standard.

Violence

[31]        Guideline 4b to the violence standard states that any description of, or reference to, violence should be justified by the context. However, the violence standard will rarely apply to radio, given violent material has more impact visually.11

[32]        While this comment was made in the context of a news item reporting on declining sports club memberships, the interviewee was responding to the issue being reported and was expressing himself in his own words. The comment was a verbal reference only and was not graphic or specific in its description of violence.

[33]        Taking into account the contextual factors and our reasoning under the good taste and decency standard above, in our view, the comment made by the interviewee was not so graphic as to require an audience advisory, or to otherwise justify our intervention in upholding the complaint under the violence standard.

[34]        We therefore 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

 

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

20 May 2019

 

Appendix

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

1              Bindy Barclay’s formal complaint – 10 December 2018

2              RNZ’s response to the complaint – 18 January 2019

3              Ms Barclay’s referral to the Authority – 21 January 2019

4              RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 22 February 2019

5              Ms Barclay’s further comments – 1 April 2019

6              RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 2 April 2019

 


1 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12

2 Commentary: Programme Information, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12

3 Guideline 2a

4 Lough and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2017-080, at [11]

5 Above at [12]

6 See, for example, Graham and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2017-049, in which a radio play about a house fire was broadcast shortly after the Port Hills fires in Christchurch. Having regard to the particular circumstances, the Authority ultimately did not uphold the complaint, but acknowledged that the broadcast of the play could be distressing for some listeners and particularly for those impacted by the fires.

7 Decision No. 2012-006

8 At paragraph [5]

9 See paragraphs [19]-[20], [34] and [36]

10 Guideline 3b

11 Guideline 4a