BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Ikram and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-152

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Ibrahim Ikram
Number
2004-152
Programme
Eating Media Lunch
Channel/Station
TV2

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Eating Media Lunch
– satirical take-off of documentary Super Size Me – presenter purportedly eating nothing but Middle-Eastern food for a month – developed stereotypical Muslim characteristics – ultimately ended up as Islamic terrorist – allegedly denigratory of Muslims

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – Guideline 6g (denigration) – item clearly satirical – intended to satirise not only Super Size Me but also media’s stereotypical portrayal of Muslims and Islam – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Broadcast

[1] On Eating Media Lunch on 22 July 2004, at 9:30pm, presenter Jeremy Wells satirised the recent documentary film, Super Size Me, in which the filmmaker ate nothing but McDonalds for 30 days and measured the effects on his health. In Eating Media Lunch, Jeremy Wells noted that there were three times as many Middle-Eastern style fast food outlets in Auckland as there were McDonalds and purported to live on nothing but Middle-Eastern style kebabs for 30 days, while measuring any effects.

[2] The presenter noted that after a few days, no change was apparent, but after a further period, he began to wear traditional Arab dress and read the Quran. Ultimately he became an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist. The scenes included a shot of him lighting his shoe on a bus, blowing up a car, and purportedly killing a cat in a home-video clearly intended to resemble the videos released by fundamentalist terrorist groups in the Middle East.

Complaint

[3] Ibrahim Ikram complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the broadcast was deeply offensive. He wrote:

What in the world do you people think you are doing? It’s not like Muslims and Arabs are already having an easy time in New Zealand that you need to bring in stereotypes of “terrorists”.

[4] He noted that not all Muslims were terrorists, and neither were all Arabs Muslim. He noted that only “Nazis and religiously intolerant people” would find the item amusing.

[5] Following TVNZ’s acknowledgement of his original complaint, Mr Ikram made further submissions. He noted that the item was stereotypical of Muslims in that it associated Turkish kebabs with the call to prayer, showed the presenter in gallabyia (traditional Arab dress) and headscarf when not all Arabs wore this dress, and then associated Islam with terrorism.

[6] Mr Ikram also noted that the item contained “fully fledged MOCKERY of Muslims”.

Standards

[7] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 6 (fairness) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, and in particular Guideline 6g, which state:

Standard 6 (fairness)
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guidelines

6g  Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

  1. factual, or
  2. the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or
  3. in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8] TVNZ did not uphold the complaint. It said:

The committee … felt that you had perhaps missed the point of this sketch. The idea was to lampoon the film Super Size Me in which the director eats nothing but McDonalds for a month. The film solemnly tells us that the director felt ill at the end of the experiment. Acting on the basis that anyone eating the same things over and over again for a month is going to suffer adverse side effects, and using the exaggeration that is part and parcel of all satire, Eating Media Lunch set out to show how nonsensical the McDonalds conclusions had been by showing how silly it would be to think that people consuming nothing but kebabs for a month would turn into terrorists.

As the sketch progressed the item offered satirical comment that aimed to skewer the prejudices of those people who think that every Arab person must be a terrorist. Similarly, it mocked the “stereotypes” to which you refer in your letter.

[9] TVNZ noted that the Authority had set a high threshold for the denigration standard under which the complaint was to be assessed (referring to Decision No. 2003-133), and that the item was also protected by Guideline 6g which noted that the prohibition against denigration was not intended to prevent the broadcast of material “in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work”.

Referral to the Authority

[10] Mr Ikram was unhappy with this response and referred his complaint to the Authority. In his referral, Mr Ikram noted that he was unaware that the programme was intended to be a satirical look at the media. He nevertheless considered that the piece did not so much make fun of the media’s representation of Islam, as encouraged it. He noted that the media’s representation of Islam was an issue that needed to be addressed but “not in this manner”.

[11] Mr Ikram repeated his view that the sketch was offensive, stereotyping all Muslims as Arab terrorists, and in particular:

  • showed the call to prayer as the presenter pretended to pray
  • made a direct connection between the reading of the Quran and becoming a terrorist
  • showed the presenter getting onto the bus and lighting his shoe
  • showed the terrorist-style home-video.

[12] Mr Ikram concluded:

With reference to Decision 2003-133, where the preposterous declaration is stated, “for a breach to occur, the Authority has required that a broadcast actually encourage denigration or discrimination”, I am appalled. If a threshold as high as this is set, it basically means that unless a program clearly states something offensive and then asks the viewers to carry out some offensive action, then will the Broadcasting Standards Authority act. Basically meaning that programs can be as rude and offensive as they like, as long as they hint towards being so rude and offensive.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[13] In its response to the referral, TVNZ made three points:

  • the programme was satire, and was a parody of the media representation of Islam
  • the item did not denigrate Muslims, and instead made to look ridiculous all the stereotypes that Mr Ikram deplored
  • the Authority had previously consistently ruled that the denigration/discrimination standard imposed a high threshold, and that a programme complained of must encourage denigration or discrimination.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[14] In his final comment, Mr Ikram made the following points:

  • he admitted the item was satirical, but noted that in the current climate, “satire and stereotypical images of Muslims is the last thing that we need”
  • while he accepted that the item was a send-up of the media’s portrayal of Islam, it was not funny and was simply stereotypical. It did not “play to inform, it played to entertain, and entertain in a way that I found appalling”
  • the denigration/discrimination threshold set by the Authority was far too high.

Authority's Determination

[15] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[16] The Authority does not uphold the complaint. The Authority notes that Eating Media Lunch is a programme which aims to satirise current media issues. The item complained of was very much in this vein, and began by clearly indicating that it intended to satirise Super Size Me.

[17] The Authority agrees with TVNZ’s response that as the sketch progressed it also made fun of the media’s generally negative portrayal of Muslims, by grossly exaggerating the media stereotype of Islam as a fundamentalist religion, and as TVNZ stated, “ma[king] to look ridiculous all the stereotypes that [the complainant] deplores”.

[18] In the view of the Authority, the nature of Eating Media Lunch and the obviously satirical and humorous intent of the item meant that the effect was not to denigrate; it was clearly not the intention of the programme to make any adverse comment about Muslims or about Islam. The Authority considers that this is the type of programme envisaged by Guideline 6g (iii) to Standard 6, and accordingly that the broadcast was not unfair or denigratory within the meaning of Standard 6.

[19] The Authority acknowledges the complainant’s view that, in the current social climate, satirising Muslims may serve to compound the prejudice Muslims already encounter. However, the Authority considers that such a view should not prevent the broadcast of legitimate satire; this is especially so when the satirical and humorous intent is as overt as it was in the present case. It would be a dangerous precedent to provide to any single identifiable group a greater degree of protection than others against legitimate humour or satire.

[20] Finally, the Authority wishes to comment on the concerns expressed by the complainant regarding the high threshold adopted by the Authority in considering complaints alleging denigration. The complainant asserted that a broadcast would have to “ask the viewers to carry out some offensive action” to reach the threshold of “encouraging denigration”. This is not the case. The denigration standard is instead intended to cover those situations where the words or actions contained in a broadcast in respect of an identified group are so offensive and unfair that those words or actions could be said to blacken the reputation of the members of that group; it is this class of words or actions that amounts to “encouraging denigration”. While the Authority has previously accepted that the threshold is high, it is not so high as to require that a broadcast actively encourage offensive action.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 November 2004

Appendix

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

  1. Ibrahim Ikram’s complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 23 July 2004
  2. TVNZ’s acknowledgement of receipt of formal complaint – 23 July 2004
  3. Mr Ikram’s clarification of formal complaint – 24 July 2004
  4. TVNZ’s decision on formal complaint – 12 August 2004
  5. Mr Ikram’s referral to the Authority – 14 August 2004
  6. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 26 August 2004
  7. Mr Ikram’s final comment – 2 September 2004