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McGeechan and CanWest Radioworks Ltd - 2006-048

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Diane Musgrave
Dated
Complainant
  • John McGeechan
Number
2006-048
Channel/Station
Solid Gold FM

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Solid Gold FM breakfast show – host told joke about an Indian person who is greeted at the gates of heaven by an angel who shouts “Jesus, your taxi’s here” – complainant felt joke dehumanised Indian people and was racist – allegedly in breach of social responsibility standard

Findings
Principle 7 and guideline 7a – joke did not encourage discrimination against or denigration of Indian people – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Broadcast

[1] On the morning of 27 March 2006, the host of the Solid Gold FM breakfast show made the following joke after saying “I think it’s funny, I hope it doesn’t offend you”:

[2] An Indian goes up to heaven, and the angel at the gates says “Yes, what do you want?”, and the Indian says “I’m here for Jesus!”, and the angel shouts out “Jesus, your taxi’s here”.

Complaint

[3] John McGeechan made a formal complaint to CanWest RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the joke breached Principle 7 (social responsibility). He stated that the joke should not be excused as “legitimate humour” because it was racist. He said:

Racism takes many forms, and although this may not be the burning cross on the front lawn, it is nevertheless very offensive. It is the sort of insidious racist comment that has a drip-drip effect on the consciousness of society.

[4] Mr McGeechan argued that the joke reduced Indians to “a comical race of cab drivers” and dehumanised them.

Principles

[5] CanWest assessed the complaint under Principle 7 and guideline 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Principle 7

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

Guideline 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) by way of legitimate humour or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6] In its response, CanWest disagreed that the joke was in breach of Principle 7. It maintained that the joke did not denigrate or blacken the reputation of Indians, or incite or encourage discrimination against Indians.

[7] The broadcaster noted that the host of the Solid Gold breakfast show was well known for his “trademark wide ranging and even handed irreverence”. The joke did no more than light-heartedly poke fun at the number of Indian taxi drivers and the assumptions that were made, “even in heaven”. CanWest stated that jokes were a regular feature of Solid Gold, and that no one group or individual was targeted. It did not uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[8] Dissatisfied with CanWest’s response, Mr McGeechan referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He argued that CanWest’s response had illustrated his point that the joke reinforced the stereotype that all Indians were taxi drivers.

Authority's Determination

[9] 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.

[10] In determining a complaint about guideline 7a to Principle 7 (social responsibility), the Authority must determine whether a broadcast encouraged denigration of or discrimination against a section of the community. The complainant has argued that this broadcast was racist and perpetuated a stereotype that all Indian people were taxi drivers.

[11] It is well-established that in light of the requirements of 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 standard (see for example Decision No. 2002-152). The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as meaning blackening the reputation of a class of people (see for example decisions 1994-062 and 2004-129).

[12] On this occasion, while the Authority has some concern about the obvious racial stereotyping in the joke, it observes that there is nothing negative about being a taxi driver. Therefore the Authority finds that associating Indian people with this occupation did not blacken the reputation of this section of the community.

[13] The Authority also notes that, prior to telling the joke, the host stated “I think it’s funny, I hope it doesn’t offend you”. The Authority is of the view that the host clearly did not intend to encourage discrimination against Indian people.

[14] Overall, the Authority finds that the joke did not contain the high level of invective which would contravene the standard. It declines to uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
14 August 2006

Appendix

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

  1. John McGeechan’s formal complaint – 27 March 2006
  2. CanWest’s decision on the formal complaint – 8 May 2006
  3. Mr McGeechan’s referral to the Authority – 11 May 2006
  4. CanWest’s response to the Authority – 14 June 2006