BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Naqvi and The Radio Network Ltd - 2008-142

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Raza Naqvi
Number
2008-142
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Paul Holmes Breakfast – host discussed recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai – made various comments about Muslims and terrorism – allegedly in breach of controversial issues, accuracy, fairness, and discrimination and denigration standards

Findings
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – programme was an opinion piece – lacked the necessary invective to cross the threshold for denigration – not upheld

Standard 4 (controversial issues - viewpoints) – programme was not a news, current affairs or other factual programme – standard not applicable – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – programme was not a news, current affairs or other factual programme – standard not applicable – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – not unfair to Muslim people – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] During a segment in the Paul Holmes Breakfast show, broadcast on Newstalk ZB at 7.56am on 28 November 2008, the host started a discussion about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. The host began by saying:

Some questions and answers for our general edification on the Mumbai massacres. Number one: How do we know they are Muslim, the perpetrators of this? Answer: Because that’s the way it is these days. Unless it’s an American high school massacre it’s Muslims, end of story.

Number two: How many people do they need to kill before they’re happy, these Muslims? Answer: How would you know? It never stops. It never stops.

Number three: Should the leadership for the New Zealand Muslim community condemn the massacre? Answer: yes.

Number four: Have they ever condemned atrocities like this? I don’t think so. I don’t think they’ve ever done so. I know this was an issue in the UK. They wanted the British Muslim community to start condemning terror attacks. I suppose the poor fellows are frightened to do so, but I think they eventually indicated that they’re not a very good idea. It doesn’t really engender harmony in the world this kind of stuff.

Number five: Why do they kill people like this? Answer: Because they are weird people, some of them are weird. They cover up their women with a lot of cloth.

Number six: Why do they do these killings? Answer: Because they’re failed people, some of them are failed people. And misdirected and misguided, and they’re ramped up by other bad people. They were once very good with tiling. If you go to the Alhambra palace, ah, when the Islam people ran Spain, they did a lot of tile work, it’s very good tiling. Their ancient buildings have very good tiling. And they invented the number zero and algebra. But this was a very long time ago, this was a long time ago. Islam hasn’t been up to much since. So now they sneak around killing people, which is what appears to have happened in Mumbai in several targets.

And a very difficult one for the Indian security services to deal with I expect, because there were so many targets, and ah, so many targets and you probably didn’t know where to direct your attention.

[2] The host then discussed the topic with two commentators. The following exchange took place:

Host:
Well, Mumbai. Isn’t it awful?

Commentator 1:
Yeah. Not good is it Mike?

Commentator 2:
Well, there’s nothing much you can say though, is there? You've got a bunch of terrorists and they’ve attacked the hotels and the police stations and the railway stations and the restaurants, but, ah, you know.

Commentator 1:
It's interesting though, I didn’t realise until I just heard earlier on your wonderful show Paul that India is a good target because they don't have so much security, they don't have security in the hotels and they haven't really upgraded to terrorism as the rest of the world has.

Host:
...What do they want? I don’t know, these Muslims. When is it going to end?

Commentator 1:
Can you stop being so racist.

Host:
A Muslim doctor phoned this morning and said, "I condemn it Mr Holmes."

Commentator 1:
But can I just point out that not all Muslims are terrorists and actually Muslims are a fantastic people with a centuries-old culture, older than any we can hope to attain to.

Host:
I know, that is true.

Commentator 1:
You know, they're a fabulous people and just because some of them, you know, you tend to sort of cast your net very wide sometimes.

Host:
I must say, yes, no, you're dead right I suppose.

Commentator 1:
Thank you, and having been over and been with them, they're a gorgeous people.

Host:
Yes, I know they’re lovely, Middle Eastern people. Middle Eastern people are so hospitable, so friendly.

Complaint

[3] Raza Naqvi made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, alleging the broadcast breached standards relating to good taste and decency, controversial issues, accuracy, fairness, discrimination and denigration and responsible programming.

[4] Mr Naqvi stated that he was concerned about the way the host presented the programme, which he believed was totally biased and targeted Islam as a religion and Muslims as followers. He contended the broadcast contained offensive comments, biased discussion, incorrect information and discriminatory statements which would have "offended all Muslim listeners".

[5] The complainant noted that, throughout the broadcast, the host associated the Muslim religion with terrorists and argued that the host was "spreading hatred among Muslims and [the] non-Muslim community". He also noted the host's self-made question and answer list and argued that the host had failed to provide the source of his answers making the item misleading and inaccurate. He considered that Newstalk ZB was not a "channel where news comes from what people think", but was supposed to provide listeners with accurate information to the best of their knowledge. He also noted that one of the commentators had disagreed with the host's comments about Muslim terrorists, which he contended proved the presenter's thoughts were not facts "even in the eyes of non-Muslim listeners".

[6] With respect to Standard 4, Mr Naqvi contended the host failed to provide a reasonable opportunity for Muslim people to provide their viewpoint.

[7] Turning to Standard 6 (fairness), the complainant stated that the host was "biased right from the start" and that he had treated Muslims unfairly through the comments he had made.

[8] Mr Naqvi argued that the host's comments encouraged discrimination against and denigration of Muslims by members of the non-Muslim community and "even within Muslim communities". He contended that the host also discriminated against Middle Eastern Muslims over other Muslims, noting that Islam was a religion in numerous countries and not just those located in the Middle East.

[9] The complainant considered that because the host's comments were unbalanced, inaccurate, unfair and discriminatory, the broadcast of them was socially irresponsible.

Standards

[10] TRN assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5, 6 and 7 and guidelines 5a, 6a and 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or reasonable give opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 5 Accuracy

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/or
  • does not mislead.

Guideline 5a
The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guideline 6a
A consideration of what is fair will depend upon the genre of the programme (e.g. talk/talk back radio, or factual, or dramatic, comedic and satirical programmes).

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

Guideline 7a
This standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is

(i) factual

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

(iii) legitimate humour, drama or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[11] TRN stated that the Paul Holmes Breakfast show included a variety of segments including the one complained about where the host asked a series of questions and then answered them himself. It said these were often laced with satire as this one was.

[12] With respect to Standard 4, the broadcaster argued that because the segment was comment/satire it was not appropriate to canvass other points of view. It said that "these opportunities come in other parts of the Newstalk ZB format where talkback sessions provide an open forum to the audience". It declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4.

[13] TRN considered that the host was using comment and opinion to make a statement on the Mumbai bombings and, as such, the host's comments were not subject to the normal constraints of accuracy. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item was inaccurate.

[14] In relation to fairness, the broadcaster argued the "satirical slant" to the comments made them acceptable under the fairness standard. It noted that the host used the word "some" more than once so as not to include all Muslim people and that he said "dead right" when agreeing with the female commentator that not all Muslims were extremists. TRN declined to uphold the complaint that the item had breached the fairness standard.

[15] Turning to Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration), the broadcaster contended that in addressing the question of Muslim terrorism, the record of such acts was so frequent and so ingrained that to suggest Muslims were responsible for the Mumbai massacre was justified. It believed the host used "opinion and satire to make a point" and that there was "sufficient amelioration in the exchange with the female guest to show the host was only concerned about Muslim extremists". TRN declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[16] Dissatisfied with TRN’s response, Mr Naqvi referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Complainant’s Further Submission

[17] The complainant maintained that the broadcast was biased and made incorrect allegations about Muslims without providing any opportunity for Muslims to respond. He considered the host's remarks promoted the idea that Muslims in general – as opposed to extremists – were responsible for massacres such as the Mumbai attacks.

[18] Mr Naqvi noted that the broadcast was not preceded by a "disclaimer" warning people that the item comprised of comments and satire reflecting the host's view, and that it "may not tell the facts".

[19] The complainant maintained that the host's comments about Muslims were inaccurate and unfair. He noted that the host had prefaced some of his comments concerning Muslims with the word "some", but went on to argue that it was obvious the host was actually saying Muslims in general were responsible for killings everywhere.

[20] Mr Naqvi reiterated his belief that the host's approach towards Muslims was objectionable and discriminatory.

Broadcaster's Response

[21] With respect to Standard 4, the broadcaster contended that the host had a record of 21 years of comment pieces including satire and opinion. It said "the audience is well aware of the style of his programme and would not have been surprised by his comment piece".

[22] The broadcaster reiterated that the host had used the word "some" more than once when referring to Muslims and terrorism. It concluded by saying that the complainant could not ignore the fact that many recent acts of terrorism had been committed by extremist Muslims.

Complainant’s Final Submission

[23] Mr Naqvi maintained that religion should not be discussed in satirical programmes and that if a broadcaster had an issue or was unsure about a particular religion, then it needed to invite a representative from that religion to talk about it.

Authority's Determination

[24] 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.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[25] The term "denigration" has consistently been defined by the Authority as meaning blackening the reputation of a class of people (see for example Decision No. 2006-030). 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 in contravention of the standard (see for example Decision No. 2002-152).

[26] On this occasion, the comments complained about were part of a regular segment in which the host gave his opinion on a news event. The style of the segment was provocative and, as the broadcaster stated, "laced with satire"; the host often employing humour and exaggeration to make his point.

[27] The Authority notes that guideline 7(a)(ii) to Standard 7 states that the standard is not intended to prevent material that is "a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion". Because democratic societies place a high value on these forms of expression, the Authority has set a high threshold for such material to amount to denigration; it would have to move towards the realm of hate speech or vitriol before the threshold would be crossed.

[28] The Authority accepts that the host's comments concerning Muslims and terrorism were provocative, particularly at the beginning of the piece. However, the statements lacked the necessary invective to cross the threshold for denigration. Further, towards the end of the piece, the host had modified his stance and ended up agreeing with the commentator that only some Muslims involved themselves in acts of terrorism and that Muslims in general were a "fantastic people". The Authority concludes that the host's comments did not amount to encouraging denigration or discrimination for the purposes of Standard 7.

[29] For the record, the Authority disagrees with Mr Naqvi's contention that religious beliefs and practices should be immune from satire. In Decision No. 2006-022, the Authority observed that it would be "a dangerous precedent to provide to any single identifiable group a greater degree of protection than others against legitimate humour or satire".

[30] Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 7.

Standard 4 (controversial issues - viewpoints) and Standard 5 (accuracy)

[31] Standards 4 (controversial issues - viewpoints) and 5 (accuracy) only apply to news, current affairs and other factual programmes. The Authority finds that the item subject to complaint did not fall within these categories. It agrees with the broadcaster that the host was not making statements of fact about Muslims, but was commenting, with a satirical slant, on a news event.

[32] Given that the standards did not apply to the broadcast, the Authority declines to uphold these parts of the complaint

Standard 6 (fairness)

[33] The fairness standard requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

[34] The Authority notes guideline 6a of the fairness standard states that a consideration of what is fair will depend on the genre of the programme (e.g. talk/talkback radio, or factual, dramatic, comedic and satirical programmes). As discussed above, the statements were part of an opinion piece by a host whose audience would have been familiar with his provocative style, and the satirical slant of the segment. While some of the comments about Muslims were exaggerated for effect, the overall tenor of the piece had been modified by the end of the programme. Accordingly, the Authority finds that the host’s comments were not unfair to Muslim people.

[35] In these circumstances, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the segment breached Standard 6.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
1 April 2009

Appendix

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

1.  Raza Naqvi's formal complaint – 8 December 2008
2. TRN’s response to the formal complaint – 22 December 2008
3. Mr Naqvi's referral to the Authority – 24 December 2008
4. TRN's response to the Authority – 19 February 2009
5. Mr Naqvi's further submission – 13 February 2009
6. TRN's response – 19 February 2009
7. Mr Naqvi's final submission – 3 March 2009