BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Cook and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2013-014

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Frank Cook
Number
2013-014
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Afternoons with Jim Mora – host and panellists discussed coroner’s recommendation – panellist criticised recommendation and stated, “for god’s sake, somebody drown that coroner” – panellist’s comment allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, law and order, accuracy, fairness, and discrimination and denigration

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency), Standard 2 (law and order), Standard 5 (accuracy), Standard 6 (fairness), and Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – panellist’s comment was a flippant remark used to express his criticism of the coroner’s recommendation – was not intended to be taken literally or as a serious encouragement to commit unlawful acts – comment aimed at coroner in his professional capacity and so was not unfair to him – coroners not a section of the community – comment was opinion and not a factual statement to which standard 5 applied – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  During Afternoons with Jim Mora, the host and panellists discussed the Ministry of Transport’s consideration of a coroner’s recommendation to make high visibility clothing compulsory for cyclists, after a road safety policeman was killed while cycling in Petone. One of the panellists, a former Mayor of Christchurch, criticised the coroner’s findings, stating:

My view of this is I have never read so much crap for years… the key issue is road design, and we are so good at blaming the cyclists. Now, this poor truck driver didn’t see a person who was very visible, and that’s because the road wasn’t designed properly… I suggested that we look at shifting the infrastructure onto the side of the road, widening the footpath to put a cycle-way above the infrastructure… All this nonsense of high-fluoro jackets – for god’s sake, somebody drown that coroner…

[2]  The programme was broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on the afternoon of 15 February 2013.

[3]  Frank Cook made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging the panellist’s concluding remark, “for god’s sake, somebody drown that coroner”, was inconsistent with the maintenance of law and order and unacceptable for broadcast on national radio.

[4]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached standards relating to good taste and decency (Standard 1), law and order (Standard 2), accuracy (Standard 5), fairness (Standard 6), and discrimination and denigration (Standard 7), as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The members of the Authority have listened a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the broadcast, and specifically the panellist’s comment, breach broadcasting standards?

[6]  Mr Cook argued that the panellist’s remark that somebody should “drown” the coroner carried “criminal intent” and was unacceptable, especially when made by a former Mayor of Christchurch. While he acknowledged that coroners’ decisions were open to strong criticism, Mr Cook argued that the comment overstepped the boundaries of fairness and became personally abusive. In addition, he argued that the panellist did not accurately or fairly represent the framework within which coroners make their recommendations.

[7]  RNZ described the panellist’s comment as a “throwaway line” and argued that those who hold public office should expect to be subject to criticism. It considered that upholding the complaint would be an unjustifiable limit on the right to freedom of expression.

[8]  We are satisfied that the panellist’s comment was acceptable in context and that it did not breach any of the broadcasting standards raised in the complaint. This was a flippant, off-the-cuff remark, made during an intellectual discussion about the perceived legitimacy of recommendations made by a public officer pertaining to important matters of public safety. The phrase “somebody drown that coroner” was a figure of speech used by the panellist to convey his strong criticism of the coroner’s recommendation, because, in his view, the issue was road design, not cyclist visibility. It was clear from the context in which the words were used, and from the panellist’s tone of voice, that this was not intended to be taken literally or as a serious encouragement to commit an unlawful act. 

[9]  The comment was not “personally abusive”, as alleged, but was clearly aimed at the coroner in his professional capacity and this particular recommendation. While the complainant argued that the panellist denigrated all coroners on account of occupational status, we note that “occupational status” refers to employment status, that is, being unemployed or the recipient of a benefit, rather than vocation, and therefore “coroners” do not qualify as a section of the community.1

[10]  In terms of accuracy, the comment was clearly the panellist’s personal critique and opinion of the coroner’s recommendation, not a point of fact. The comment did not relate to a discussion about the framework within which coroners make their recommendations, and would not have misled listeners in the manner alleged.

[11]  There is a high level of public interest in discussing and critiquing decisions or recommendations that have the potential to impact on the development of public policy. The comments clearly fell within the panellist’s right to freedom of expression and his right to convey his opinion in the way he wanted.

[12]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
25 July 2013

Appendix

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

1          Frank Cook’s formal complaint – 16 February 2013

2          RNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 8 March 2013

3          Mr Cook’s referral to the Authority – 4 April 2013

4          RNZ’s response to the Authority – 8 May 2013


1This is consistent with the prohibited grounds of discrimination listed in section 21 of the Human Rights Act 1993 and referred to in section 19 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990.