BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

de Hamel and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2007-135

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • William de Hamel
Number
2007-135
Programme
Peewee’s Sister
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Peewee’s Sister – children’s short story about a boy who was being bullied for his school lunch – story contained two parts involving scuffles between characters – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, law and order and social responsibility

Findings
Principle 7 (social responsibility) – theme of a bully being beaten by his own tactics of physical force not inappropriate for a children’s story – broadcaster sufficiently considered the story’s effect on child listeners – not upheld

Principle 1 (good taste and decency) – subsumed into consideration of Principle 7

Principle 2 (law and order) – subsumed into consideration of Principle 7

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]     A children’s short story called Peewee’s Sister, was read on Radio New Zealand National during its children’s story time segment on the morning of Sunday 21 October 2007. The story was about a child nicknamed Peewee, whose lunch was taken from him every day by Fat Rata, the school bully. During the story, listeners learnt that Peewee and one of his friends, whose lunch was also being taken, had formed a plan to stand up to Fat Rata and fight back. Lisa, Peewee’s older sister, was supportive of this plan as she was aware that the bully was taking her brother’s lunch each day and was scornful about the fact that Peewee was letting it happen.

[2]   During the school lunch time, Fat Rata again demanded Peewee’s lunch and Peewee decided to stand up for himself, refusing to hand over his sandwiches. Fat Rata tried to grab Peewee’s lunch box from him and a brief scuffle ensued before it was broken up by a teacher. Fat Rata told Peewee that he was going to get him and waited for him after school. As Peewee was walking home, Fat Rata confronted him and another scuffle ensued. Fat Rata held Peewee down on the ground while Peewee’s friends, too scared to intervene, looked on. Fat Rata was about to punch Peewee when Lisa appeared and grabbed Fat Rata by the hair and dragged him away. Lisa slapped Fat Rata and told him to stop bullying her brother, after which he ran off crying.      

Complaint

[3]   William de Hamel made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards of good taste and decency, law and order and social responsibility.

[4]   The complainant argued that the story conveyed the message to children that violence was a successful way to resolve playground problems.

Principles

[5]   RNZ assessed the complaint under Principle 7 and guidelines 7b and 7c of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Principle 7
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.
Guidelines

7b   Broadcasters shall be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted listening times.

7c   The time of transmission is an important consideration in the scheduling of programmes which contain violent themes.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   RNZ noted that the story had been broadcast on a Sunday morning, during its children’s story time segment. The broadcaster considered that it was doubtful that either Principle 1 (good taste and decency) or Principle 2 (law and order) applied in the situation.

[7]   The broadcaster stated that it had subsumed the complainant’s “substantive issues” into its consideration of Principle 7. It considered that while the story did contain references to scuffles, it was not the story’s principal theme and that the moral of the story appeared to be about who a person could rely on as one’s friends. It argued that the descriptions of the scuffles were not graphic, that they did not encourage listeners to participate in such behaviour and that they were incidental to the overall thrust of the story.    

[8]   RNZ found that the material contained in the item was not sufficient to breach Principle 7 (social responsibility). It declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[9]   Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr de Hamel referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[10]   The complainant stated that the story contained threats of violence and robbery within a school environment, mistrust of adult assistance and a physical assault on the bully. He maintained that Principles 1, 2 and 7 had been breached.  

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[11]   RNZ argued that while there were references to scuffles in the story, “they could not be characterised as threats, robbery, avoidance and mistrust of adult assistance or actual physical assault as claimed by the complainant”.

[12]   The broadcaster reiterated that the story did not contain material that would breach Principles 1, 2 and 7.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[13]   The complainant maintained that over 80% of the story described “threats, fear, robbery, avoidance of adult assistance or actual physical assaults”. Judged by current norms of decency and good taste, he wrote, the behaviour depicted in the broadcast set an unacceptable example for today’s children.

[14]   Mr de Hamel contended that “describing the techniques of bullying to children” breached Principle 2 (law and order), and that it was socially irresponsible to broadcast the story during children’s normally accepted listening times.

Authority's Determination

[15]   The members of the Authority have listened to 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.

Preliminary Matter

[16]   The Authority considers that the complainant’s concerns are adequately dealt with under its consideration of Principle 7 (social responsibility). Accordingly, it subsumes its consideration of Principles 1 and 2 into its consideration of the social responsibility standard.

Principle 7 (social responsibility)

[17]   While the story did contain violent themes, there is no requirement in broadcasting standards for a dramatic fictional work not to depict a world where bullies exist and violence is used to resolve conflict. In the Authority’s view, the story reflected the real world in which violence exists, and children sometimes find themselves threatened by bullies. The style of the story and the way in which it was told was not aggressive, and it did not advocate the use of violence but rather the importance of refusing to tolerate bullying behaviour. The story focused on the moral tale being conveyed about family, trust and who one can count on for help in difficult situations.

[18]   In these circumstances, the Authority considers that the broadcaster was sufficiently mindful of the effect the contents of the story would have on child listeners. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint that the item was socially irresponsible.    

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
30 April 2008

Appendix

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

1.            William de Hamel’s formal complaint – 25 October 2007
2.           RNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 20 November 2007
3.           Mr de Hamel’s referral to the Authority – 3 December 2007
4.           RNZ’s response to the Authority – 14 March 2008
5.           Mr de Hamel’s final comment – 20 April 2008