BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hawker and TVWorks Ltd - 2013-076

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Wayne Hawker
Number
2013-076
Programme
7 Days
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

Two teams of comedians on 7 Days made comments about the complainant, a Christchurch City Council candidate who had been in the news for exposing people who visited an illegal brothel. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that this was unfair. The complainant willingly put himself in the public eye, and it was reasonable to expect scrutiny. The comedy genre of the programme, and the tone of the comments, indicated this was not intended as a personal attack on the complainant, or to be informative, but was purely for the purpose of entertainment and humour, so potential harm to the complainant was minimal.

Not Upheld: Fairness, Good Taste and Decency, Controversial Issues, Accuracy, Discrimination and Denigration, Responsible Programming


Introduction

[1]  During 7 Days, a late-night comedy programme, two teams of comedians guessed the subject matter of footage taken from the week’s news stories as part of a segment called ‘What’s the story?’ This included footage of the complainant, Wayne Hawker, a Christchurch City Council candidate, who had been in the news for exposing people who visited an illegal brothel by posting their vehicle registrations on Facebook. In guessing what the footage was about, the comedians made comments about the complainant. The programme was broadcast at 9.30pm on TV3 on 27 September 2013.

[2]  Wayne Hawker made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that he was treated unfairly and the comments were factually incorrect.

[3]  We consider that the fairness standard is most relevant to the complainant’s concerns, so we have focused our determination accordingly. Mr Hawker also raised other standards which we have addressed at paragraph [16] below.

[4]  The issue therefore is whether the broadcast breached the fairness standard, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

Was Mr Hawker treated unfairly?

[6]  The fairness standard (Standard 6) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.1

[7]  The segment subject to complaint showed footage of the complainant, taken from the previous week’s news media, accompanied by commentary from the comedians who joked, while guessing the subject matter of the footage:

  • ‘He’s a local paedophile shopping for an ice cream van’ (in regards to footage of the complainant standing on the footpath next to a van, writing in a notebook)
  • ‘This plumber was found having intercourse with a hot tap’ (in regards to a news bulletin in which the complainant’s photograph appeared in the background).

[8]  The 7 Days host then explained that the footage related to ‘Christchurch City [Council] candidate Wayne Hawker [who] has followed through on his threat to publicise vehicle registrations of men visiting a brothel near his home.’ The comedians commented further:

  • ‘So he’s taking photos of people’s cars outside the brothel… On a completely unrelated note [speaking to the host], can I borrow your car this weekend?’
  • ‘[In a sarcastic voice] I think it’s a great idea, because there is nothing creepy about sitting in a car outside a brothel taking photos.’

[9]  Mr Hawker argued that the comments amounted to an attack on his character and integrity. He said the assertion he took photographs was incorrect and made him ‘sound like a weirdo… instead of a person who is prepared to stand up for an issue that is affecting their community’. The programme should have acknowledged the brothel was illegal, he said, as this would have drawn a ‘more balanced response’ from the participants. Mr Hawker said he was not contacted or advised in advance that he would be mentioned in the broadcast.

[10]  The Authority has previously recognised there is a higher threshold for finding unfairness to public figures, as opposed to lay people.2 Mr Hawker was a candidate in city council elections, and he willingly put himself in the public eye by taking his campaign against a local brothel to the news media. The complainant featured in stories broadcast by major news outlets in the week preceding the 7 Days broadcast, and we agree with TVWorks that he could ‘reasonably expect to be subjected to public scrutiny both serious and comedic’. It was not necessary in these circumstances to inform him prior to broadcast that the programme would include footage taken from news coverage, and commentary about why he was in the news.

[11]  Guideline 6a to the fairness standard provides that a consideration of what is fair will depend on the nature of the programme, including whether it is comedic or satirical. TVWorks described 7 Days as a ‘panel show that mocks the week’s news [stories] …[which] screens late Friday night [and] sees New Zealand’s top comedians pit their wits against each other with [the host] as referee’. The ‘What’s the story?’ segment is primarily intended to ‘entertain rather than guess the actual story but the host of the show always clarifies the actual news item at some point in the round’, it said.

[12]  It was obvious from the programme genre and the tone of the comments that what was said was not intended as a personal attack or serious comment on Mr Hawker’s conduct, character or integrity. The nature of the programme meant the comments were unlikely to have been taken seriously by viewers, and in this sense the potential for unfairness was mitigated. We accept the broadcaster’s contention that 7 Days’ regular audience would understand that the participants’ comments ‘are for the most part absurd and untrue in relation to the news stories they are satirising, so rely on the presenter’s clarification to inform them of the true story’.

[13]  It was not necessary, in the interests of fairness, to explicitly mention that the brothel was illegal. The legality or otherwise of the brothel had no bearing on the primary objective of the segment which was to humour and entertain, and would not have significantly influenced public opinion of the complainant or his campaign, or painted him in a more favourable light.

[14]  It was incorrect to say the complainant took photographs. However, the two brief references (see paragraph [8]) were made by a comedian and a guest after it was already established they had no idea what the footage was about or who the complainant was. In any event, given the comedy genre of the programme and that the purpose of the segment was to entertain and be humorous, rather than to inform, viewers’ perceptions would not have been overly influenced by the information given. Whether the complainant took photos or merely wrote down the registrations, he publicised the licence plates, and the true details of the story were readily available in the public domain following the recent media coverage.

[15]  Overall, the potential harm to the complainant was minimal, and does not justify us restricting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. We do not agree that Mr Hawker was treated unfairly and we decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Did the broadcasts breach the other standards raised in the complaint?

[16]  Mr Hawker also raised the good taste and decency, controversial issues, accuracy, discrimination and denigration, and responsible programming standards. In summary, these standards were not breached because:

  • The good taste and decency standard is primarily concerned with sexual material, nudity, coarse language and violence, or material likely to offend or distress. 7 Days is an AO-rated comedy programme broadcast at 9.30pm which involves comedians reviewing the week’s news stories including commenting on and satirising public figures or people who have put themselves in the public eye. The comments would not have offended or distressed the general audience when taken in context (Standard 1). Any offensiveness of the comments to the complainant has been appropriately addressed under the fairness standard.
  • 7 Days is a comedy and entertainment programme which satirises news and current affairs. It is not a ‘news, current affairs or factual programme’ as envisaged by the accuracy and controversial issues standards; viewers would not interpret it as an authoritative or factually accurate source of information, so in our view these standards are not applicable (Standards 4 and 5).
  • The discrimination and denigration standard applies to ‘sections of the community’, not individuals (Standard 7).
  • The responsible programming standard is primarily aimed at ensuring programmes are correctly classified and screened in appropriate timeslots; 7 Days was correctly classified AO, screened at 9.30pm and preceded by a warning (Standard 8).

[17]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint that these standards were breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
4 March 2014

Appendix

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

1                  Wayne Hawker’s formal complaint documents – 7 and 9 October 2013

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 5 November 2013

3                 Mr Hawker’s referral to the Authority – 5 November 2013

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 12 December 2013


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

2For example, Stowe and SKY Network Television Ltd, Decision Number 2012-025