BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Judge and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1998-113

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • J Withers
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • A F Judge
Number
1998-113
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

The touring English rugby team was described as "the pitiful Poms" by a sports reporter during the news hour on One Network News between 6.00-7.00pm on 5 July 1998.

Mr Judge complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the remark was racist and derogatory and that in his view, the presenter should be dismissed forthwith.

TVNZ responded that the word "pitiful" was an accurate description of the performance of an international rugby side which had lost seven games in a row.  As far as the word "Pom" was concerned, it believed it was almost always used in a good natured or affectionate way.  As such it did not consider that it breached standard G13.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Mr Judge referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix).  On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Discussing the touring English rugby team, a sports presenter described them as "the pitiful Poms" during the news hour on One Network News broadcast on 5 July 1998 between 6.00-7.00pm.

Mr Judge complained to TVNZ that the comment was racist and derogatory and was likely to encourage people to discriminate against those of British origin.  In his view, the presenter should have been dismissed for making the remark.

TVNZ advised that it had considered the complaint under standard G13 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, as requested.  That standard requires broadcasters:

G13    To avoid portraying people in a way which represents as inherently inferior, or is likely to encourage discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation or the holding of any religious, cultural or political belief.  This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely-held opinion in a news or current affairs programme, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a humorous, satirical or dramatic work.

TVNZ responded that it found it hard to believe that the remark could have caused serious offence.  In its view, the word "pitiful" was an accurate description of the performance of an international rugby side which had lost seven games in a row.  As far as the word "Pom" was concerned, TVNZ maintained that it was almost always used in a good natured or affectionate way.  In support of its view, it referred to a recent decision of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission which had ruled that the words Pom and Pommy were "unlikely to offend, insult or intimidate."

In his referral to the Authority, Mr Judge stressed that his objection to the use of the word Pom in the media was because of its potential to cause individuals to be the subject of derision.  He noted that it was invariably used by sports presenters, and not by other news presenters.  He advised that should the Authority make an adverse decision, he would refer the matter to the Race Relations Board.

In the Authority's view, the use of the word Pom in the context of the "pitiful Poms" to describe the rugby team was not capable of causing the harm contemplated by standard G13.  The Authority does not consider that this remark, made in the context of a sports report, represented British people as inherently inferior, or was likely to lead to discrimination against them.  It was an ad lib colloquialism specifically directed at the reportedly dismal efforts of the touring rugby team.  In that context, the Authority does not consider the standard was breached. 

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
24 September 1998

Appendix



A F Judge's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 5 July 1998

Through the Broadcasting Standards Authority, Mr Judge of Matamata complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about remarks made by a sports presenter on One Network News on 5 July 1998 between 6.00-7.00pm.

Discussing the performance of the touring English rugby side, the commentator observed: "so seven losses out of seven on tour for the pitiful Poms".  Mr Judge complained that the remark was racist, and in his view, the commentator should be dismissed forthwith.  He said that if he saw him make such a racist remark on television again, he would advise the British media of these racist attacks.  He suggested that in the current climate it would not help New Zealand with its exports.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 27 July 1998

TVNZ advised that it had considered the complaint under standard G13 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.  Turning to the complaint, it advised that it had reviewed the sports segment in which the comment was made, and said it found it hard to believe that the remark could have caused serious offence.  It wrote:

The word "pitiful" was an accurate description of the performance of an international rugby side which had lost seven games in a row.  As far as the word "Pom" was concerned, TVNZ argued that it was almost always (except perhaps when preceded by an abusive adjective) used in a good natured or affectionate way.  TVNZ suggested it was rather like a Briton speaking of a "Kiwi" or an "Aussie" when describing New Zealanders or Australians.

TVNZ pointed to a recent decision of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in Australia, where it was held that "pom and pommy were unlikely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate."

TVNZ concluded that the comment did not breach standard G13.  It advised that it did not consider it necessary to turn to the three qualifying clauses in the standard.

Mr Judge's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 29 July 1998

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Mr Judge referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

When he referred the complaint, Mr Judge wrote that he was "amazed" that the word Poms could be accepted as not being derogatory and racist, and even remotely comparable to Kiwi and Aussie, as TVNZ had argued.

He reported that when he came to New Zealand in 1974, his son was subjected to abuse at school and called a "Pommie bastard".  He also noted that when an All Black winger came to his son's school after a tour of England, he told the class that "all Poms were dirty".  Mr Judge advised that these incidents resulted in his son being victimised at school, and suggested that it was what happened when the media was not advised of the repercussions of such statements.

In concluding, Mr Judge wrote that he and many others did not see the word Pom as being an affectionate term.

In an accompanying letter, Mr Judge added that he wished to press the matter further in the hope that other immigrants from England would not have to suffer the abuse his son had received. 

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 5 August 1998

TVNZ noted that in his letter of 27 July, Mr Judge had cited some examples where he considered the word "Pom" had been used in a derogatory fashion.  It agreed wholeheartedly that those expressions were disgusting and derogatory, but added that it was the use of the words "bastard" and "dirty" that made them so.  It suggested that it would be the same if the phrases had been "Kiwi bastard" or "all Aussies are dirty".

In the case of the news item, TVNZ noted, the adjective used was "pitiful".  In the context of a sports story in which an international touring team had failed to win a match, it considered the term to be descriptive, rather than derogatory.  It added that it was certainly no worse than the ignominy heaped on the team by the British media.

Mr Judge's Final Comment - 11 August 1998

Mr Judge wrote that he could not understand TVNZ's continued reference to Poms in the same context as Kiwis and Aussies.

He noted that Poms was the term used for convicts in the 19th century, Kiwis were a flightless bird, and Aussie was a derivative of Australia.  He asked where the similarity was.

Mr Judge also pointed out that the word Poms was mainly used by sports presenters and not the news presenters, and suggested that it was because the news presenters understood the impact that such a racist term had on people.

Mr Judge also suggested that it was unlikely that the sports presenter would make racist comments against the Pacific Islanders, or would say "the pommie Queen is arriving in New Zealand".  In his view, the word Poms should be banned by TVNZ and replaced by the word Brits.

Mr Judge concluded by noting that he awaited the Authority's decision with interest.  Should it be negative, he said, he would take the case to the Race Relations Board.