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Bebb and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2010-042

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Warren Bebb
Number
2010-042
Channel/Station
Prime TV

Complaint under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Crowd Goes Wild – presenter made remark about a man with red hair who was attempting to set a new world record for juggling a soccer ball with his feet – allegedly in breach of the discrimination and denigration standard

Findings
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – people with red hair not a “section of the community” protected under Standard 7 – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An episode of The Crowd Goes Wild, a comedic sports news programme, was broadcast on Prime TV at 7pm on Wednesday 27 January 2010. Towards the end of the programme, the presenters reported on an English man and world record holder who was attempting to set a new world record for juggling a soccer ball with his feet while walking 31 miles. The man had red hair.

[2]   During the brief segment, the following exchange took place between the presenters:

Presenter 1:   As an equal opportunity employer, I like to see those less fortunate achieving
                     and fulfilling goals – like this fella. See if you can guess his disability.

Presenter 2:   No. He doesn’t have a disability.

Presenter 1:   He’s got a lisp, I know for certain.

[3]   After the first presenter explained the man’s new record attempt, during which footage of the man juggling a soccer ball was shown, the second presenter stated, “Apologise to all redheads watching, Mark, including my mother”.

Complaint

[4]   Warren Bebb made a formal complaint to SKY Network Television Ltd (SKY), the broadcaster, alleging that the presenter’s statement, “See if you can guess his disability”, in reference to the man with red hair, breached the discrimination and denigration standard.

[5]   The complainant argued that the red-headed man had been treated like a “third class citizen” because of his red hair and pale skin colour. He considered that, “comments such as these serve to validate the attitudes and actions of bullies in the school yard and make the lives of children with red hair hell by negatively affecting their self-esteem”.

Standards

[6]   Standard 7 and guideline 7a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They provide:

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, 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.

Guideline 7a

This standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is:

  • factual
  • a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion; or
  • legitimate humour, drama or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7]   A representative from SKY called the complainant and told him that “making fun of redheads goes back to the 18th century in the USA, when many Irish immigrants were there”. Mr Bebb stated that SKY’s representative had told him that the issue would be discussed with the presenter concerned.

Referral to the Authority

[8]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s oral response, and having not received a written response from SKY within the 20 working day time limit, Mr Bebb referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9]   SKY stated that The Crowd Goes Wild was a locally made, half-hour show with two well known Kiwi hosts that offered a relaxed and humorous look at the day’s sporting news. It argued that the show’s style was “firmly tongue in cheek with a fast paced combination of off-beat humour, satire and irony.”

[10]   The broadcaster contended that the presenter had not referred to the colour of the man’s hair or made any derogatory comments about people with red hair. It said that it had spoken to the presenter about the complaint and that it could “confirm that his comments and the views he expresses during the programme are not designed to offend viewers”.

[11]   SKY maintained that the broadcast had not breached Standard 7.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[12]   Mr Bebb noted that Standard 7 did not mention hair colour as a basis for discrimination, but that it did refer to “race”.

[13]   The complainant contended that, “Redheads with their accompanying pale skin and freckles are ‘a more or less distinct group’ in the global human population”. He stated that they all shared a recessive gene which gave them red hair, and argued that this confirmed that such people fell within the definition of “race” as their physical characteristics were inherited genetically.

Authority's Determination

[14]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Procedural Matter

[15]   The Broadcasting Act 1989 provides that broadcasters must respond to formal complaints within 20 working days by notifying complainants of their decision on the complaint. In this instance, Mr Bebb did not receive a decision on his complaint from SKY but simply received a telephone call stating that the presenter of The Crowd Goes Wild would be spoken to. SKY did not consider whether Standard 7 – the standard raised in Mr Bebb’s complaint – was breached.

[16]   The Authority reminds SKY of its obligations under the Broadcasting Act 1989 and expects that the broadcaster will respond appropriately to all formal complaints in future.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[17]   Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage 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”. Mr Bebb’s complaint relates to people with red hair. Because hair colour is not a protected ground under the discrimination and denigration standard, we find that Standard 7 was not breached in this respect.

[18]   For the record, however, we note that the presenter’s reference to the English man’s red hair was extremely oblique. We consider that, for most viewers, the fact that the presenter was referring to the man’s hair colour when he spoke of a “disability” would not have become clear until the second presenter suggested that he “apologise to all redheads watching”. A brief and indirect remark of this nature would not reach the threshold for encouraging denigration of, or discrimination against, people with red hair. Accordingly, even if the standard did apply to a section of the community on the basis of hair colour, we find that the comment contained insufficient invective to amount to a breach of Standard 7.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
6 July 2010

Appendix

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

1.           Warren Bebb’s formal complaint – 27 January 2010

2.          SKY’s oral response to the formal complaint – 26 February 2010

3.          Mr Bebb’s referral to the Authority – 25 March 2010

4.          SKY’s response to the Authority – 26 April 2010

5.          Mr Bebb’s final comment – 7 May 2010