BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Mace and TVWorks Ltd - 2008-115

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Tim Mace
Number
2008-115
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
A Thousand Apologies – sketch comedy lampooning the pan-Asian experience in contemporary New Zealand – allegedly denigratory

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – programme clearly satirical and intended to be humorous – skits did not encourage denigration or discrimination – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] An episode of A Thousand Apologies, a television sketch comedy that addressed the diversity of the pan-Asian contemporary experience in New Zealand and lampooned stereotypes and situations, was broadcast on TV3 at 9.30pm on Friday 12 September 2008.

[2] One of the skits in the episode involved a man being interviewed about his experience with one airline. He explained, with great appreciation, that he had been detained and had his bags searched which meant that he did not have to queue to go through customs, and he had been given “special food” on the plane. A flight attendant was shown spitting into the man’s food before serving it to him.

[3] In another skit, a woman at a party was talking to three Asian women about how she was unable to differentiate between their nationalities based on their appearance. One was Japanese, one Korean, and one Chinese. They told the woman which nationality they were, and she pulled out a permanent marker and wrote the capital letters “J”, “K”, and “C” on the women’s foreheads. Having still identified them incorrectly, the women were shown correcting the letters.

[4] The programme was preceded by the following verbal and written warning:

This programme is rated adults only and contains language that may offend some people.

Complaint

[5] Tim Mace made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme was not fit for broadcast because of “degradation of race relations throughout the spectrum of races within New Zealand society”.

[6] There were many examples of this throughout the programme, the complainant said. The programme showed “an airline interview that showed a man getting an internal body search, verbally abused and his airline food spat in because of his clothing, race and colour”. The programme also included “a drunk white woman writing letters on Chinese, Japanese and Korean women’s foreheads so she could tell them apart”. These skits, he said, were “not funny and totally not a part of humorous society with any type of moral standard”.

Standards

[7] TVWorks assessed Mr Mace’s complaint under Standard 6 and guideline 6g of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

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.

Guideline 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:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

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

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8] The broadcaster wrote about the programme:

Edgy, irreverent, and occasionally rude, A Thousand Apologies lampoons stereotypes and situations that are familiar to many New Zealanders: from beleaguered home stay students to overqualified Indian parking wardens, possessive Indian mothers to overachieving Chinese students. It pokes fun at everyday racism. No one is immune.

[9] TVWorks pointed out that the episode complained about was classified Adults Only, meaning it contained adult themes and was directed primarily at a mature audience. Adults Only programmes may be screened between midday and 3pm on weekdays, and after 8.30pm until 5am.

[10] Turning to Standard 6, TVWorks noted that the Authority has defined denigration “to mean the blackening of the reputation of a class of people”, and stated that “in light of the right to free expression contained in s14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, a high threshold must be crossed before a breach of the standard will be found”.

[11] The broadcaster emphasised that the standard “is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is... in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work”. A Thousand Apologies was very clearly a humorous work, it said. The programme was comprised of a series of skits “sending up stereotypes and highlighting intercultural ignorance in contemporary situations”. This concept was central to the skits complained about by Mr Mace, TVWorks said, and therefore they did not “degrade a people and instead poke fun at difference equally”.

[12] TVWorks noted that the Authority had stated that “this does not mean that drama, humour or satire are given unchecked freedom; their identification by guideline 6g(iii) simply reflects the fact that democratic societies place a high value on these forms of artistic expression, and limitations should be imposed only in special circumstances”.

[13] TVWorks considered that the skits had not crossed the line so as to be such a special circumstance. The broadcaster acknowledged that race can be a highly sensitive issue but concluded that the skits “in no way blackened the reputation of any race”. While humour by its very nature is not universal, it said, fans of the programme found the satire funny because “it highlights ignorance and indirectly ridicules the notion of stereotypes. This can be a very valuable contribution to wider social debate, enabling people to laugh – quite often at themselves”.

[14] The broadcaster concluded that, in the context of the genre of the programme, the time of broadcast – which targeted an adult audience with a more sophisticated understanding of humour than younger viewers – and the central premise of the skits, neither the skits nor the intent behind them could be construed as blackening the reputation of any race. They were unlikely to have been taken seriously by a significant number of viewers, it said, and therefore TVWorks declined to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[15] Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, Mr Mace referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that “this TV programme has incited violence on many occasions and is a cause of racial disharmony”.

[16] The complainant argued that the programme consisted of shock value “sure to offend people under the disguise of comedy”. He concluded by saying that A Thousand Apologies was not funny and was “a degradation of race relations on an unprecedented level never seen before in New Zealand”.

Authority's Determination

[17] The members of the Authority have viewed 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.

[18] Guideline 6g to the fairness standard prevents broadcasts from encouraging denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community on account of race. The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as the blackening of the reputation of a class of people (see for example Decision No. 2004-129). In Decision No. 2008-050, the Authority found that encouraging discrimination means to encourage the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment.

[19] The Authority has stated on a number of occasions that, given the requirements for free speech under the Bill of Rights Act, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standards (see, for example, Decision No. 2002-152).

[20] Guideline 6g expressly states that it is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is “in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work”. A Thousand Apologies was a satirical comedy programme which lampooned racial stereotypes and highlighted ignorance among the various cultures in New Zealand, particularly with respect to Asians. While it poked fun at many racial groups, the intent of the programme was to ridicule and challenge racial stereotypes and highlight intercultural misunderstanding, rather than to denigrate or discriminate any group. The humour may not have appealed to everyone, but the Authority agrees with TVWorks that neither the skits nor the intent behind them could be construed as blackening the reputation of any group.

[21] Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 December 2008

Appendix

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

1.     Tim Mace’s formal complaint – 18 September 2008
2.     TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 6 October 2008
3.     Mr Mace’s referral to the Authority – 10 October 2008
4.     TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 3 November 2008