BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Caddie and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2011-172

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Manu Caddie
Number
2011-172
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Afternoons with Jim Mora – discussion about recent release of controversial Barbie doll – panellist suggested there was a market in the Muslim world for “terrorist Barbie”, and in response the host suggested “suicide bomber Barbie” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, accuracy, discrimination and denigration, and responsible programming standards

Findings
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – panellists were offering commentary and opinion in a satirical manner, making the point that the marketers of Barbie dolls were smart to release controversial Barbies – comments did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Muslims as a section of the community – not upheld

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – comments were light-hearted and intended to be satirical/a joke – most viewers would not have been offended or distressed by the comments taking into account the context – not upheld

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

Standard 5 (accuracy) – comments were clearly commentary and opinion rather than statements of fact – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  At approximately 4.30pm during Afternoons with Jim Mora, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 27 October 2011, the host and panellists discussed the recent release of a controversial collectors’ edition Barbie doll. They offered the view that creating a concept that was “provocative” and generated discussion was effective marketing. The host and one of the panellists then had the following exchange:

Panellist:         I have an idea for them. I think there’s a huge market in the Muslim world,
                      and you know why can’t we have terrorist Barbie?

Host:               Suicide bomber Barbie.

Panellist:         Suicide bomber Barbie, I mean that would get them going.

Host:               Comes with a little belt.

Panellist:          Why not!

[2]  Manu Caddie made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging that the comments “about the Muslim community”, namely, that “names such as ‘terrorist Barbie’ and ‘suicide bomber Barbie’ with an explosives belt would sell well in the Muslim world”, breached broadcasting standards.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached Standards 1 (good taste and decency), 5 (accuracy), 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 programme encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Muslims as a section of the community?

[5]  Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community. The Authority has consistently defined “denigration” as blackening the reputation of a class of people (see, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks1), and “discrimination” as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment (for example, see Teoh and TVNZ2). It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard (for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network3).

[6]  The complainant argued that the comments denigrated and discriminated against Muslims by “implying some inherent connection between the Muslim faith and culture and terrorism and suicide bombers”. He said these comments were not factual, and could be couched as the presenters’ views, but he would be surprised if anyone found the comments funny or satirical.

[7]  RNZ argued that for an item to breach the standard it would have to contain a high level of invective, portray a section of the community as inherently inferior or as having inherent negative characteristics, portray a section of the community in a highly offensive way, encourage negative racist stereotypes, or amount to hate speech or vitriol. It noted that the Authority had previously declined to uphold a complaint about a programme which satirised the media’s generally negative portrayal of Islam and in which the host equated Islam with terrorism.4 RNZ considered that on this occasion:

...the programme participants, in an ill-advised attempt at humour, tried to lampoon both the Mattel company’s strategy to release new versions of collectors’ Barbie dolls for sale to adult collectors by suggesting further possible collectors’ dolls. The lampooning became more fanciful with suggestions of a “terrorist Barbie” and a “suicide bomber Barbie”.

[8]  RNZ also noted that the Authority looks at the following factors in considering a complaint under Standard 7:

  • the language used
  • the tone of the person making the comments
  • the forum in which the comments were made; talkback radio, for example, is recognised as a robust forum
  • whether the comments appeared intended to be taken seriously, or whether they were clearly exaggerated hyperbole
  • whether the comments were repeated or sustained
  • whether the comments made a legitimate contribution to a wider debate, or were gratuitous or calculated to hurt or offend.

[9]  RNZ concluded that, taking into account these factors, there was no invective or incitement in the language, and that upholding the complaint would unreasonably restrict the participants’ freedom of expression.

[10]  We can understand the complainant’s concerns about the comments, in the sense that they played on negative stereotypes associating Muslims with terrorism, which some listeners may have found offensive.

[11]  However, looking at the above factors listed by RNZ, we are satisfied that on this occasion, the remarks made by the panellist and the host were expressed in a light-hearted tone, were an attempt at satire and humour, and were not intended to be taken seriously. They were offering views on the topic under discussion, namely that Mattel’s marketers were effective in releasing controversial or “provocative” Barbie dolls which generated attention and debate, rather than intending to make any criticism of, or derogatory comment about Muslims generally. The remarks did not carry the level of invective necessary to encourage the blackening of Muslims’ reputations, or the different treatment of them, to their detriment.

[12]  In these circumstances, we are satisfied that the comments did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against a section of the community, and we agree with the broadcaster that upholding the complaint would unjustifiably restrict the right to freedom of expression afforded to both the broadcaster and the programme participants. We therefore decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 7.

Did the comments threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[13]  Standard 1 states that broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency. The primary objective of this standard is to protect against the broadcast of sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.5 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.6 In this respect, the standard is intended to ensure that programmes reflect community norms of decorum and civility.

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

  • the comments were broadcast at approximately 4.30pm when children could have been listening
  • the nature of the programme
  • the programme’s target audience
  • Radio New Zealand’s target audience
  • expectations of regular listeners.

[15]  The complainant considered that the comments were “bad taste in the extreme”. RNZ argued that the issue was whether the linking of a suggestion of producing a Barbie for the Muslim world with examples of terrorist or suicide bomber Barbie was “so grossly offensive” as to breach Standard 1. It noted that the programme was not aimed at children, and that “The audience expectation for this programme is one of a robust, often quirky, and usually different treatment of news and current affairs items”. RNZ maintained that, in general, the Authority has found that interpreting the standard to prevent the satirical or humorous treatment of religion would unreasonably restrict freedom of expression.7

[16]  As already noted, the context for the comments on this occasion was a discussion about the release of a controversial Barbie doll, in which the panellists offered the view that Barbie’s makers, Mattel, utilised successful marketing strategies by issuing dolls that would draw people’s attention to Barbie and get them talking about the brand. In an attempt at humour, and in a light-hearted tone, the panellists went on to suggest other possible “controversial” dolls.

[17]  This was well within the panellists’, and the broadcaster’s, right to freedom of expression. As Afternoons with Jim Mora, and more generally, Radio New Zealand National, is targeted at an adult audience and does not have any natural appeal to younger listeners, we do not consider that listeners were likely to take the panellists’ suggestions seriously, or that most listeners would have been unduly surprised or offended by the comments.

[18]  For these reasons and taking into account the relevant contextual factors, we find that the broadcast did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency, and that upholding the complaint would place an unjustifiable restriction on the right to freedom of expression.

Was the programme socially irresponsible?

[19]  Standard 8 requires broadcasters to ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible. Guideline 8a to that standard states that broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme content may have on children during their normally accepted listening times, and guideline 8b states that the time of transmission and the audience profile of the station are important considerations in the scheduling of programmes which contain violent themes.

[20]  The complainant argued that, as the broadcast was after school, the comments “could encourage children to associate all adherents of the Muslim faith with terrorism and suicide bombing”.

[21]  RNZ argued that “The Panel” was not a recognised children’s listening time. It also noted that the panellists made the point that they were talking about a collectors’ item aimed at adults, rather than toys for young children. It said that the participants had referred to some form of violence, rather than reporting on violent incidents or broadcasting dramatic works with a violent theme.

[22]  As outlined above, we do not consider that “The Panel” would appeal to child listeners, and we accept that Radio New Zealand National is, in general, targeted at an adult audience. In any case, we disagree that the panellists’ comments about Barbie dolls – which were clearly opinion and intended to be satirical or comedic – would have influenced children’s perception of Muslims in the manner alleged.

[23]  With regard to guideline 8b, we agree with the broadcaster that two fleeting references to “terrorist Barbie” and “suicide bomber Barbie” could not be considered to amount to a discussion of “violent themes” as envisaged by the guideline.

[24]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 8.

Were the comments inaccurate or misleading?

[25]  Standard 5 states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.

[26]  Mr Caddie argued that the suggestion that there was a market for terrorist and suicide Barbies in the Muslim world was “quite inaccurate” because it was unlikely Muslims who supported terrorists and suicide bombers would choose to buy a Barbie doll. RNZ said it doubted whether Standard 5 applied to the comments.

[27]  Guideline 5a states that the accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as comment, analysis or opinion. In our view, the panellist’s remark that, “I have an idea for them. I think there’s a huge market in the Muslim world, and you know why can’t we have terrorist Barbie?” was clearly couched as his personal opinion – particularly as he referred to an “idea” and used the words “I think” – and would not have been interpreted by listeners to be a statement of fact.

[28]  We therefore find that the accuracy standard does not apply, and we decline to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
27 March 2012

Appendix

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

1                  Manu Caddie’s formal complaint – 30 October 2011

2                 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 24 November 2011

3                 Mr Caddie’s referral to the Authority – 16 December 2011

4                 RNZ’s response to the Authority – 28 December 2011


1Decision No. 2006-030

2Decision No. 2008-091

3Decision No. 2002-152

4Ikram and TVNZ, Decision No. 2004-152

5Turner and TVNZ, Decision No. 2008-112

6Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006).

7For example, Simmons and Others and CanWest TVWorks, Decision No. 2006-022 and NZ Catholic Bishops Conference and CanWest TVWorks, Decision No. 2005-112