BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Boparai and TVWorks Ltd - 2011-086

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Sunny Boparai
Number
2011-086
Programme
60 Minutes
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
60 Minutes – interview with former Breakfast presenter Paul Henry – questioned Mr Henry on his controversial remarks about the Chief Minister of Delhi – comments about the Chief Minister were re-broadcast – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, controversial issues and discrimination and denigration

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues) – interview did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – focused on Paul Henry and his perspective on the various controversies in which he was involved – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – Paul Henry’s comments did not extend to a section of the community – interviewer challenged his views – interview did not encourage discrimination or denigration of Indian people – not upheld 

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – comments about the Chief Minister revisited in current affairs context – interview would not have offended or distressed viewers – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]  An item on 60 Minutes, broadcast on TV3 at 7.30pm on Sunday 5 June 2011, entitled “What Was He Thinking”, featured an interview with former television presenter Paul Henry. The item was introduced as follows:

The word almost everyone uses about broadcaster Paul Henry is ‘polarising’. Some people think the worst of him, others the best. So, where does he stand himself? Well as [our reporter] discovered, he makes no bones about it.

[2]  The 60 Minutes reporter questioned Mr Henry on his controversial presenting style which led to his suspension and ultimately his resignation from TVNZ’s morning current affairs programme Breakfast. The interview canvassed a number of comments that had attracted widespread publicity at the time they were made, including Mr Henry’s remarks about the Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit.

[3]  At the start of the interview, the reporter asked Mr Henry if he was “loaded” and he said that “everything’s relative, so yes, I could take you to umpteen different places in the world where, compared with those people, I am just absolutely loaded”. In response, the reporter commented, “India, for example.” Later, Mr Henry stated, “I never imagined that I would be horrendously rich and horrendously well respected”, to which the reporter remarked, “Well, perhaps not so respected after he uttered these words...” The item cut to an extract from Breakfast in which Mr Henry repeatedly ridiculed the Chief Minister’s surname, deliberately calling her “Sheila dick shit”.

[4]  Returning to the interview, Mr Henry explained, “I am honest. I just say it as I see it. I mean you tailor what you’re saying to a degree, everyone tailors what they’re saying, you know,” and the reporter responded, “It doesn’t seem that you do.” She stated:

But do you not think your description of yourself, “I am just being honest,” is not just a little bit of a cop-out? I mean, is that being honest, or is that just being a prat, and being unkind, very unkind?

[5]  Later in the interview the reporter stated, “I think in New Zealand in the last few decades, [we have tried to be] a bit kinder, a bit more sophisticated. And it feels a little bit like Paul Henry’s come along and he’s reignited a kind of redneck in everybody.” Mr Henry defended his position, saying that he did not think that it was a fair assessment because, “When you say rednecks, then there is the implication that in some way I am involved in promoting racism or something like that.” The reporter questioned, “Well, aren’t you?” He responded:

Oh, absolutely not. Quite the opposite. I am just calling it as I see it. If we had a country full of people who called it as they see it, this would be the country so void of any racism, you know. Racism comes from breeding people who are frightened to say what they really think.

[6]  The reporter noted that Mr Henry had been called a “racist” and a “bigot”, and he insisted that these allegations were untrue. Returning to Mr Henry’s comments about the Chief Minister, the following exchange occurred:

Reporter:     You know, let’s have a look at what you said about Sheila Dikshit.

Henry:         I am pleased to see that you are pronouncing her name correctly. Most institutions
                  mispronounce her name because it is such a funny name. [smirks]

Reporter:     Well, it is an interesting name.

Henry:         I think Television New Zealand are still officially referring to her surname as ‘Dixit’ because it’s
                  much more palatable than ‘dick shit’, which is the true pronunciation of her name.

[7]  The item cut to the Breakfast extract, before returning to the interview, as follows:

Henry:        The whole reason we were talking about it, and that it was as funny as it was, is the job she
                  had been given. You recall at the time that the conflict over there was the fact that the
                  [Commonwealth Games] village was covered in shit, that no one could move into it because
                  the conditions were so incredibly bad, that just a few days before, the effigy of a
                  New Zealander had been burnt on the street. There were a whole combination of things which
                  led to me saying those things, which are never reported when the lines are taken out of
                  context, and even you presenting those lines to me now, is taking them entirely out of
                  context.

Reporter:     So, you think that you are misunderstood?

Henry:         Oh, I don’t really care. I think I am purposely misunderstood by a lot of people.

Reporter:     But maybe that was just the tipping point, because next came the interview with the Prime
                   Minister about the Governor General, how would you describe those comments, just as a bit
                   of a laugh?

Henry:         Cheeky. No, not as a bit of a laugh, cheeky. I wanted to find out what his criteria was for the
                  next Governor General.

[8]  With reference to his high profile suspension and resignation from Breakfast, Mr Henry stated, “So, I lost my job”, and the reporter said, “You can’t understand why you lost your job anyway, can you?” She asked Mr Henry whether he had apologised for the comments that he made about the Governor General, stating, “You don’t think you’re wrong?” Mr Henry responded, “What am I actually wrong for? You know, if I am wrong for anything it is poor judgment, if I am wrong for anything at all.”

[9]  Towards the end of the programme, the 60 Minutes presenter stated, “When [the reporter] first met Paul Henry for this story, she wasn’t sure what to expect. He is so quick to attack, to point out your flaws and weaknesses. But, as it turned out, Henry poked more fun at his own peculiarities, of which there are quite a few...”

Complaint

[10]  Sunny Boparai made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards relating to good taste and decency, controversial issues and discrimination and denigration.

[11]  The complainant considered that Mr Henry’s behaviour during the interview was “unapologetic”, “arrogant” and brought back “old wounds”. In particular, he said that Mr Henry “again made remarks about Sheila [Dikshit] and said that he wasn’t sorry and said all of this laughingly”. Mr Boparai argued that the interview was “provocative” and provided Mr Henry with a platform “to be rude and hurt people’s feelings again”. He stated, “I was deeply offended about his behaviour and the way TV3 was trying to cover this up and thought this would be a good way of bringing him back with a clean slate.” Further, he asserted that the interviewer made a “very insensitive comment about Indians in the opening lines” of the interview.

Standards

[12]  Mr Boparai nominated Standards 1, 4 and 7 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

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.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[13]  TVWorks apologised to the complainant for any offence that the item had caused him. However, it considered that the 60 Minutes item provided a critical analysis of Mr Henry and his controversial comments which resulted in his high profile resignation from TVNZ. The item did not intend to exonerate Mr Henry or trivialise his comments, it said, and was not an attempt to “bring him back with a clean slate or give him another platform to be rude and hurt people’s feelings”, as alleged by the complainant.

[14]  In the broadcaster’s view, the interviewer took a position that was critical of Mr Henry, his attitude and his broadcasting style. For example, it noted her remark that since making the controversial comments Mr Henry was “not so well respected” and her suggestion that he was being “a prat”, as opposed to being honest. It said that the “controversial material” was not intended to provoke viewers, but was included in the broadcast for the purpose of providing contextual background for the interview.

[15]  TVWorks noted that the original broadcast of Mr Henry’s comments about Sheila Dikshit on Breakfast had been the subject of a successful broadcasting standards complaint.1 It contended that the matter had been adequately dealt with and that the 60 Minutes item did not seek to bring back “old wounds”. The broadcaster considered that the story was of significant public interest and maintained that viewers would have understood that the controversial comments about Sheila Dikshit occurred in a critical current affairs context and were not representative of the views held by 60 Minutes or TV3.

[16]  For these reasons, the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[17]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Boparai referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that the interview was biased and sought to portray Mr Henry in a “positive way” despite his “unapologetic and ruthless” behaviour for the purpose of promoting his new radio show. He referred to the reporter’s “joke on Indians”, and contended that the broadcast “further promotes racist, irresponsible and ignorant behaviour”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[18]  The broadcaster noted that the Authority had previously stated that the purpose of Standard 1 was not to prohibit challenging material, or material that some people may find offensive. Rather, its purpose was to ensure sufficient care was taken so that challenging material is played only in an appropriate context and that challenges were not so offensive that they are unacceptable regardless of context, it said.

[19]  TVWorks noted that Appendix 1 to the Code states that news programmes are not classified because of their distinct nature. It emphasised that 60 Minutes was a current affairs programme which contained challenging material on occasion. In this instance, it did not consider that that the item included any content that was “unacceptably challenging” for a current affairs programme targeted at adults.

[20]  With regard to its use of the Breakfast extracts, the broadcaster contended that the context of Mr Henry’s comments in the 60 Minutes item was somewhat different to that in the original broadcast. It noted that the various “Breakfast sagas” had attracted significant public interest and said that the extracts were included in the item to provide context and background for the interview. It noted the Authority’s previous decision in Schwabe and RNZ,2 where it declined to uphold a complaint about the re-broadcast of Mr Henry’s controversial comments on the Morning Report programme. TVWorks argued that the complaint in this instance was commensurate to that in Schwabe and should therefore be treated similarly. While it acknowledged that the 60 Minutes item screened some time after the original Breakfast broadcast and so was not “news” per se, it asserted that Mr Henry remained a person of significant and ongoing public interest, particularly considering the recent publication of his book and his high profile appointment by Radio Live.

[21]  TVWorks maintained that upholding the complaint on this occasion would place an undue limitation on its right to freedom of expression. It considered that the use of the Breakfast extracts was justified in the context of an interview with a controversial, high profile public figure.

[22]  With regard to Standard 4, the broadcaster considered that most viewers would have understood that the purpose of the interview was to establish Mr Henry’s perspective on the various controversies in which he was recently involved; it was not intended to “maliciously revisit his remarks for the purpose of causing offence or to ‘damage the relations in society’”, it said.

[23]  The broadcaster argued that, given the widespread publicity that the comments had received at the time that they were made, most viewers would have been well aware of significant viewpoints on the issue. Further, it maintained that the 60 Minutes reporter took a position that was critical of Mr Henry’s attitude and broadcasting style. It reiterated its view that the interview did not seek to condone Mr Henry’s behavior or exonerate him for his controversial remarks. Overall, the broadcaster was satisfied that the reporter remained objective and that Mr Henry’s views were firmly established as his own and not those of the reporter or TV3.

[24]  Turning to Standard 7, TVWorks maintained that the broadcast did not encourage denigration against a section of the community. In particular, it rejected the complainant’s assertions that there was “malice on the interviewer’s part”, that she “cracked jokes on Indians”, or that the item promoted “racist, irresponsible and ignorant behavior”. While it accepted that the original Breakfast broadcast breached Standard 7, it argued that “this should not preclude the use of the offending material in an analytical or informative context as in current affairs programmes like 60 Minutes”. It maintained that the material was essential to providing background information and to establish context for the interview.

[25]  The broadcaster acknowledged that many viewers found Mr Henry “unpleasant and his views odious”. However, it did not accept that there was an obligation “at this point” for him to apologise and retract the comments; the Authority had already upheld complaints about the Breakfast broadcast and ordered an apology, it said.

[26]  TVWorks maintained that Standards 1, 4 and 7 had not been breached.

Authority’s Determination

[27]  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.

Standard 4 (controversial issues)

[28]  Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[29]  First, we must consider whether the 60 Minutes item amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance, typically defined by the Authority as something that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public (e.g. Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd3).

[30]  In our view, the item on this occasion consisted of an interview with one man, Paul Henry, about his personal experiences and his perspective on the various controversies in which he was recently involved. The Authority has previously found that Standard 4 does not apply to programmes focusing on individual stories (see, for example, Egg Producers Federation and TVWorks4). We consider that the interview’s scope was clearly established when the presenter introduced the item, stating:

The word almost everyone uses about broadcaster Paul Henry is “polarising”. Some people think the worst of him, others the best. So, where does he stand himself? Well, as [our reporter] discovered, he makes no bones about it. (emphasis added)

[31]  We note that, during the interview, Mr Henry was questioned on a number of topics, ranging from revelations about his childhood and familial relationships to his high profile comments about the Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit. While Mr Henry’s comments about the Chief Minister in the original Breakfast broadcast might be controversial, for the reasons given above, we do not consider that the 60 Minutes interview itself amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance.

[32]  In any event, we consider that the reporter took a “devil’s advocate” approach during the interview, challenging Mr Henry on the basis of views held by a large section of the community. For example, she remarked that he was “not so well respected”, that he was “a prat” and that “it feels a little bit like Paul Henry has come along and he’s reignited a kind of redneck in everybody”. In addition, Mr Henry’s comments about the Chief Minister received widespread publicity at the time they were made so that most viewers would have been aware of significant viewpoints on the issue.

[33]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the 60 Minutes interview breached Standard 4.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[34]  Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[35]  The complainant argued that Mr Henry was unapologetic and arrogant during the interview, in particular with regard to his comments about the Chief Minister. Mr Henry made the following remarks on the topic:

  • “...Most institutions mispronounce [Sheila Dikshit’s] name because it is such a funny name.”
  • “I think Television New Zealand are still officially referring to [Sheila Dikshit’s] surname as “Dixit” because it’s much more palatable than ‘dick shit’, which is the true pronunciation of her name.”

[36]  We note that, in relation to complaints concerning the original Breakfast broadcast, the Authority found that Mr Henry’s comments about Sheila “Dick Shit” extended beyond her as an individual, to people of Indian descent.5 In contrast, we consider that his comments during the 60 Minutes interview, while pejorative to the Chief Minister personally, did not extend to a section of the community to which Standard 7 applies.

[37]  With regard to the Breakfast extracts included in the item, we agree with TVWorks that they were intended to provide context for the interview, rather than to “maliciously revisit [Mr Henry’s] remarks for the purpose of causing offence”. We do not consider that re-broadcasting the comments during a current affairs programme encouraged denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard.

[38]  The complainant also asserted that the reporter made a “very insensitive comment about Indians in the opening lines” of the interview. We presume that he is referring to the brief exchange at the start of the interview, when Paul Henry commented that, compared with people living in some parts of the world, he would be considered “loaded”, and the reporter responded, “India, for example.” In our view, the reporter’s comment was clearly intended as a reference to Mr Henry’s remarks about the Chief Minister, and it did not carry any invective or encourage denigration or discrimination against Indian people as a section of the community.

[39]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 7.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[40]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the item was broadcast on 60 Minutes, an unclassified current affairs programme
  • the programme’s adult target audience
  • expectations of regular viewers.

[41]  The Authority has previously stated (e.g. Yeoman and TVNZ6) that standards relating to good taste and decency are primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. In our view, the item subject to complaint did not fall within any of these categories. However, the Authority has also said that it will consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.7

[42]  As noted above (see paragraphs [30] to [32]), the interview canvassed Mr Henry’s perspective on some of his controversial remarks made on Breakfast, including comments about the Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit. We note that, at the time they were made, these comments attracted widespread publicity and were a matter of significant public interest. It was legitimate, and in our view, inevitable, that an interview with Paul Henry would revisit these comments and seek to establish his views on their appropriateness, both at the time they were made, and with the benefit of hindsight. We agree with TVWorks that Mr Henry’s comments were revisited in an analytical and informative current affairs context and that the interview did not seek to condone Paul Henry’s behaviour or exonerate him for his controversial remarks.

[43]  For these reasons, we do not consider that reporting on the comments or re-broadcasting them, in the context of a current affairs programme aimed at adults, would have offended or distressed viewers. We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
13 September 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Sunny Boparai’s formal complaint – 6 June 2011

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 14 June 2011

3                 Mr Boparai’s referral to the Authority – 30 June 2011

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 29 July 2011


1Adams, Godinet and Parsons and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-145

2Decision No. 2010-174

3Decision No. 2005-125

4Decision No. 2009-053

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

6Decision No. 2008-087              

7Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency as a Broadcasting Standard (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)