BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Makea and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2012-028

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Rachel Makea
Number
2012-028
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item reported on Australian Open Tennis Championships – reporter commented with regard to Serena Williams’ performance, “The American was almost schizophrenic – she hit four double faults in one game, as well as an ace” – allegedly in breach of discrimination and denigration, and accuracy standards

Findings
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – term “schizophrenic” was used colloquially as an adjective to describe Ms Williams’ sporting performance – comment did not carry any invective or malice – use of the term did not encourage discrimination against, or the denigration of, people with mental illness as a section of the community – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – use of term “schizophrenic” was not a statement of fact – amounted to commentary and was therefore exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  An item on One News, broadcast on TV One on 23 January 2012, reported on the Australian Open Tennis Championships, with particular focus on the match between Serena Williams and Ekaterina Makarova. The reporter commented with regard to Ms Williams’ performance, “The American was almost schizophrenic – she hit four double faults in one game, as well as an ace.”

[2]  Rachel Makea made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the reporter’s comment was offensive and inappropriate, as schizophrenia was “a serious thing”.

[3]  The issue is whether the item, and specifically the reporter’s use of the term “schizophrenic”, breached Standards 5 (accuracy) and 7 (discrimination and denigration) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

Did the item encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, people with mental illness as a section of the community?

[5]  Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[6]  The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people (see, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks1). “Discrimination” has been defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group to their detriment (see for example Teoh and TVNZ2). It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard (see, for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network3).

[7]  Ms Makea argued that the reporter’s use of the term “schizophrenic” in this context “sends the wrong message to the public... that it is [okay] to refer to people in this way”. She argued that the item “condoned stereotyping of people who experience schizophrenia or more widely mental illness”.

[8]  TVNZ argued that the use of the term “schizophrenic” was not intended to denigrate or discriminate against people with a mental illness; it was used in a sporting (as opposed to a mental health) context, and was intended to describe contradictory sporting performance, it said. The broadcaster asserted that the term “schizophrenic” could be used colloquially to refer to “a state characterised by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements”.4

[9]  We are satisfied that the reporter’s comment did not reach the necessary threshold to encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, people with a mental illness. It was clearly used colloquially, as an adjective to describe inconsistency in Ms Williams’ performance, in the sense that she performed extremely well in some parts of the game, but not so well in others. The term was immediately followed by the statement, “she hit four double faults in one game, as well as an ace”, which clarified the manner in which the term was being used. We therefore consider that viewers would have understood the intended meaning of the comment, that the comment did not carry invective or malice, and that it was not intended as an attack on people with schizophrenia or mental illness.

[10]  Taking into account the right to freedom of expression which is guaranteed by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, we decline to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Was the item inaccurate or misleading?

[11]  Standard 5 (accuracy) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.5

[12]  Ms Makea argued that it was inaccurate to apply the term “schizophrenic” to the “erratic” performance of a tennis player. TVNZ reiterated its arguments under Standard 7, and asserted that the reporter’s use of the term “schizophrenic” was not a material point of fact.

[13]  Guideline 5a to Standard 5 states that the accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion. We are satisfied that the reporter’s use of the term was not a statement of fact, but rather amounted to commentary on Ms Williams’ performance, and was therefore exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a.

[14]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
17 July 2012

Appendix

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

1                  Rachel Makea’s formal complaint – 25 January 2012

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 22 February 2012

3                 Ms Makea’s referral to the Authority – 12 March 2012

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 28 May 2012


1Decision No. 2006-030

2Decision No. 2008-091

3Decision No. 2002-152

4http://www.dictionary.reference.com/browse/schizophrenic

5Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036