BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Mannion and The RadioWorks Ltd - 2002-175

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • Syd Mannion
Number
2002-175
Broadcaster
The RadioWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio Pacific # 3

Complaint
Radio Pacific hosts Pam Corkery and Paul Henry – interview with RNZ Navy Commander about the help being given to a damaged British destroyer – some questions denigrated the British – unbalanced – unfair

Findings
Principle 4 – interviewee not harassed – no uphold

Principle 5 – no one treated unfairly – no uphold

Principle 7 – British navy personnel not denigrated – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The assistance being given by the New Zealand Navy to the British destroyer damaged at Lord Howe Island was the subject of an interview broadcast on Radio Pacific at about 8.20am on 12 July 2002. Hosts Paul Henry and Pam Corkery interviewed Commander John Campbell of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

[2] Syd Mannion complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the broadcast breached the broadcasting standards as some of the questions denigrated the crew and commander of the destroyer, and the interviewee was treated unfairly.

[3] In response, The RadioWorks maintained that some of the questions referred to well known naval traditions and practices, and were not malicious. The Commander had answered the questions in a succinct and cordial manner, it said, and it declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s decision, Mr Mannion referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

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

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] At about 8.20am on 12 July 2002 Commander John Campbell of the Royal New Zealand Navy was interviewed on Radio Pacific about the Navy’s assistance to the British destroyer which was damaged at Lord Howe Island. The interview was conducted by Paul Henry and Pam Corkery, who are both regular hosts at that time of the day.

The Complaint

[7] Syd Mannion complained that the interview was "offensive and bigoted". The Commander, he noted, responded in a mature manner to a number of "adolescent" questions. The Commander outlined the assistance being given by the New Zealand Navy, while the questions invited of him comments to confirm the interviewers’ prejudice, among other matters, that the British were well known for their lack of personal hygiene. The interview, Mr Mannion concluded, had encouraged the interviewee, albeit unsuccessfully, to make derogatory remarks about the British, and was neither just nor fair to the British crewmen, their commanding officer, or to the interviewee.

The Standards

[8] The RadioWorks assessed the complaint under the standards in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice nominated by Mr Mannion. The Principles (and relevant Guidelines) read:

Principle 4

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.

Guidelines

4a  Broadcasters will respect the rights of individuals to express their own opinions.

Principle 5

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

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.

Guidelines

7a  Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual; or

ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or

iii) is by of legitimate humour or satire.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] The RadioWorks said that the interview began with several questions about the current situation, which were answered by the Commander in a "succinct and cordial manner". A question about the Commander of the destroyer "crying into his rum", The RadioWorks continued, referred to the Navy’s traditional daily tot of rum and was not malicious.

[10] A question about the lack of personal hygiene among the British crew, The RadioWorks argued, arose from a long-held view that the English lacked personal hygiene. It added:

The whole interview was conducted in a friendly, light-hearted manner, which Commander Campbell seemed to enjoy. Commander Campbell concluded the interview by thanking both Paul Henry and Pam Corkery for having him on the programme; we maintain that this would not have happened if the interview were conducted in the manner you have alluded to.

[11] Referring to Principles 4 and 5 of the Radio Code, The RadioWorks declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[12] Explaining that it was several weeks since he had heard the broadcast and although some of his comments might contain errors in detail, Mr Mannion argued that his recall of the broadcast was accurate in essence.

[13] Mr Mannion maintained that it was necessary to consider not only the words used in the interview, "but the tone and intention". For example, he considered that the tone of the reference to "crying into his rum" was malicious. The RadioWorks argument to the contrary, he wrote, was "contradicted by the actual tone of voice, phrasing and attitude used by the interviewers".

[14] He made the same point in regard to the questions about personal hygiene. The tone and insinuation contained in the interview, he maintained, was "unacceptable racial defamation".

[15] Mr Mannion acknowledged that the Commander’s answers were succinct. However, he disagreed that he was light hearted, adding:

His tone was diplomatically terse which I suggest was a reflection of the awkwardness he was feeling at the embarrassing interview techniques he was being subject too. It is to Commander Campbell’s credit that he remained polite and professional.

[16] By way of final comment, Mr Mannion, said that the interview was neither legitimate satire nor humour.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[17] The RadioWork’s disputed Mr Mannion’s views and, arguing that the majority of Radio Pacific listeners shared its view, contended that the interview was "interesting, serious and at times humorous". The interview, it asserted, was conducted in a cordial manner.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[18] In his final comment, Mr Mannion, stated that it was important that the Authority listened to a tape of the broadcast before making its determination.

The Authority’s Determination

[19] In assessing the complaint, the Authority records at the outset that, having listened to a tape of the broadcast, it found the tone of the interviewers to be slightly bantering, mocking, teasing and light-hearted. It also notes that, in contrast, the approach of the interviewee, Commander John Campbell of the Royal New Zealand Navy, was courteous and objective.

[20] Mr Mannion complained that Commander Campbell was harassed and that the interviewers sought answers which would confirm the assumptions contained in the questions.

[21] The Authority is of the view that Commander Campbell did not appear to be harassed by the interviewer with questions, for example, about the mental state of the Commander of the destroyer damaged at Lord Howe Island. In contrast to some inflexions in the questions, he gave succinct and informative answers to questions based on his experience, but declined to answer questions which fell outside his professional expertise. The Authority does not consider that Principle 4 was contravened.

[22] The Authority also concludes that the interview did not deal unfairly with the interviewee or with the commander or crew of the British destroyer. The questions which raised the issue of inadequate skills on the commander’s part and his response to the event, were legitimate and timely and not pursued. Accordingly, the Authority considers that all the people referred to were not dealt with unfairly.

[23] Similarly, although some of the questions referred to a stereotype of questionable hygiene among British sailors, they did not go so far as either to encourage denigration or discrimination against British Navy personnel in view of the high threshold required to breach Standard 7, Guideline 7a.

[24] The Authority accepts that the interviewers at that hour on Radio Pacific attempt to entertain as well as to inform. The tone of the interview complained about, as a consequence, was slightly irreverent and made use of some common stereotypes about the British Navy. However Commander Campbell focused on the questions which sought information and, largely because of his conscientious approach, the Authority concludes that the broadcast did not breach the standards.

[25] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards and applies them in a manner which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
17 October 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Syd Mannion’s Formal Complaint to The RadioWorks Ltd – 19 July 2002
  2. The Radio Work’s Response to Mr Mannion – 2 August 2002
  3. Mr Mannion’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – Received 27 August 2002
  4. The Radio Work’s Response to the Authority – 29 August 2002
  5. Mr Mannion’s Final Comment – 4 September 2002