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Kinsella and Canwest RadioWorks Ltd - 2007-059

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Michael Kinsella
Number
2007-059
Programme
Radio Live
Channel/Station
Radio Live

 


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Radio Live

– host repeatedly referred to the Catholic Church as “the church of paedophilia” and commented that “the church is rife with paedophilia among its priests” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, balance, fairness and accuracy

 

Findings
Principle 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

Principle 4 (balance) – broadcast did not discuss a controversial issues of public importance – not upheld

Principle 5 (fairness) – the church’s representative was given a sufficient opportunity to rebut the comments made by the host – not upheld

Principle 6 (accuracy) – host did not make any unqualified statements of fact – the accuracy standard did not apply – not upheld 

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  During a talkback item on Radio Live, broadcast at 1pm on 27 April 2007, host Lindsay Perigo commented on a press release from the Catholic Church relating to the “Anti-Smacking Bill” (the proposed repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961). While commenting on the press release the host referred to the Catholic Church several times as being “the church of paedophilia”. In response to the host’s comments a church representative rang the show to discuss the press release. During his discussion with the church representative the host made the remark “…the church is rife with paedophilia among its priests”.

Complaint

[2]   Michael Kinsella complained to CanWest RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item had breached the standards of good taste and decency, balance, fairness and accuracy. He argued that the host had made “highly insulting and slanderous remarks, and allegations about Catholic priests”.

[3]   The complainant believed that the host’s comments were offensive and aimed at denigrating the reputation and standing of the Catholic Church and its clergy.

Principles

[4]   CanWest assessed the complaint under the principles nominated by the complainant.

Principle 1 Good Taste and Decency

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Principle 4 Balance

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Principle 5 Fairness

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.

Principle 6 Accuracy

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]   CanWest argued that the programme was targeted at adults and was one in which callers were engaged in robust debate about many things, including the comments made by the host. It did not believe that a significant number of listeners would have found the host’s comments unacceptable considering the context in which they were made. CanWest pointed out that a communications representative for the church had been given the opportunity to respond to the host’s comments and that this had provided context and a range of views to listeners. As a result, it declined to uphold the good taste and decency complaint.

[6]   The broadcaster believed that the subject discussed by the host was not a controversial matter of public importance and therefore the balance principle did not apply. Accordingly, it declined to uphold the balance complaint.

[7]   CanWest did not consider that there was any lack of fairness to the Catholic Church, because of the robust debate that took place between the host and the church’s communications representative. It maintained that the robust discussion between two evenly matched individuals ensured that the church’s position was well represented, and it found that Principle 5 was not breached.

[8]   The broadcaster maintained that the accuracy principle did not apply in this case because the host had not made any unqualified statements of fact, but was expressing his own opinion. It therefore declined to uphold the accuracy complaint.

Referral to the Authority

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

Authority's Determination

[10]   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.

Principle 1 (good taste and decency) 

[11]   When the Authority considers a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. Relevant contextual factors on this occasion include:

  • the adult target audience of the programme
  • the measured tone of the host
  • the repetition of the phrase “church of paedophilia”.

[12]   The Authority notes that the comments complained about were made in the robust environment of talkback radio and it accepts that they were made, as is the practice in that situation, with the intention of provoking debate. Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the good taste and decency complaint.

Principle 4 (balance)    

[13]   The topic that was being discussed during the programme was the Catholic Church’s press release relating to the then proposed “Anti-Smacking Bill”. The Authority does not consider this to be a controversial issue of public importance to which the balance standard applies. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the balance complaint.

Principle 5 (fairness)

[14]   The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the Catholic Church was given a reasonable opportunity to put across its viewpoint, which it did through its communications representative. The host and the church representative engaged in a robust debate regarding the church’s press release and the cases of paedophilia involving Catholic priests. The Authority believes that both individuals were evenly matched and that the church’s representative was given a fair opportunity to rebut what the host had said.

[15]   In the Authority’s view, the programme was fair to the Catholic Church and accordingly it finds that Principle 5 was not breached.

Principle 6 (accuracy)

[16]   Principle 6 requires factual accuracy in “news and current affairs programmes”. The Authority must determine whether this talkback programme fell into one of those categories. The Authority has previously held that one situation in which a talkback programme amounts to “current affairs” is when a host makes unqualified statements of material fact that set the basis for the discussion (see Decision No. 2005-016).

[17]   The Authority agrees with CanWest that the host did not make any unqualified statements of fact on this occasion, but was expressing his own opinion on paedophilia in the Catholic Church. Accordingly, the Authority finds that Principle 6 did not apply and it declines to uphold the accuracy complaint. 

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
25 September 2007

Appendix

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

1.            Michael Kinsella’s formal complaint to the broadcaster – 6 May 2007
2.           CanWest’s decision on the formal complaint – 7 June 2007
3.           Mr Kinsella’s referral to the Authority – 19 June 2007
4.           CanWest’s response to the Authority – 20 July 2007