BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Nicholson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-062

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Stuart Nicholson
Number
2009-062
Programme
Breakfast
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast – host made comments about "virtually blind" producer – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – host's comments were light-hearted and intended to be humorous – directed at one individual rather than blind people in general – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  During Breakfast, broadcast on TV One between 6.30am and 9am on 17 April 2009, the hosts apologised for a noise that had occurred in the background while the news was being read. One host explained that the noise was caused by the executive producer "who's virtually blind". The host elaborated, mimicking the producer trying to read viewers' faxes, and also making a lot of noise taking a plate to the hosts as he could not see the table. He commented on the fact that "he is blind and he is an executive producer of a television programme, and you blame us for things that go wrong! ...It's just dawning on me how ridiculous the situation is". The host again apologised for the noise, saying, "Our fault for letting him walk around".

Complaint

[2]  Stuart Nicholson made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the host's comments breached standards of good taste and decency, as they "were demeaning and ridiculed" blind or partially sighted people.

Standards

[3]  TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4]  TVNZ stated that Breakfast was "a mixture of news, serious interviews, magazine segments, review and often frequent good-natured ribbing at the expense of almost anyone in the headlines or visiting the set". It said that participants and viewers appreciated this, and in particular the host's "'shoot from the lip' hyperbolic comments" [were] an accepted style and integral part of the daily morning fare for the programme's growing audience".

[5]  The broadcaster said it had spoken to the people involved and it was explained that this was "a running gag between colleagues. Tony the producer is not blind, but has bi-focal glasses which he has to put on his forehead to read the viewer faxes and [the hosts] were teasing him". It said they had apologised as their intention was to tease a co-worker and not to offend viewers.

[6]  Looking at good taste and decency, TVNZ considered the following contextual factors were relevant. First, viewers were familiar with the host's "off the wall" brand of humour, and his tendency to make off-the-cuff remarks in an attempt at humour. This was one such occasion, TVNZ said. It also noted that the host's comments were not intended to refer to blind people in general. TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the comments breached Standard 1.

Referral to the Authority

[7]  Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Mr Nicholson referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He argued that even if such comments were part of the host's style, that did not mean it was acceptable behaviour. Regardless of whether the comments were intended to be humorous, Mr Nicholson said, they could still be hurtful and damaging for blind people. He disagreed with TVNZ that the comments were not aimed at blind people in general, and that if they were directed at a colleague, they should not have been broadcast on air.

Authority's Determination

[8]  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.

[9]  When the Authority considers an alleged breach of good taste and decency, it takes into account the context of the broadcast. The relevant contextual factors on this occasion include:

  • the programme was broadcast between 6.30am and 9am
  • expectations of regular viewers
  • the programme had an adult target audience
  • Breakfast was an unclassified, magazine-style news and current affairs programme.

[10]  In the Authority's view, the host's references to the programme's executive producer were light-hearted, intended to be humorous, and not meant to be taken seriously. Further, his comments were directed only towards the executive producer, rather than blind people in general, particularly as he commented on the irony of having a "virtually blind" man as the executive producer of a television programme. The Authority accepts that the host's humour is not to everyone's taste but notes that such light-hearted banter and humour is well within the parameters of acceptability for a magazine programme aimed at an adult audience.

[11]  In these circumstances, the Authority considers that the host’s behaviour did not stray beyond current norms of good taste and decency. It therefore declines to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 August 2009

Appendix

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

1.         Stuart Nicholson's formal complaint – 17 April 2009
2.        TVNZ's response to the complaint – 15 May 2009
3.        Mr Nicholson's referral to the Authority – 11 June 2009
4.        TVNZ's response to the Authority – 30 June 2009