BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Noble and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2005-001

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • P F Noble
Number
2005-001
Programme
Off the Wire
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Off the Wire – participants discussed a food outlet that had opened in a church – commented “the body of Christ does come with six grams of fat” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and denigratory

Findings
Principle 1 (good taste and decency) – in context, not indecent or in poor taste – not upheld

Principle 7 (social responsibility) – item not critical of Christians or Christian practices – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] The participants in Off the Wire, broadcast on National Radio on 3 October 2004 at around 3:00 am discussed recent news events, including the opening of a food outlet in a New York church. One of the participants said:

…the body of Christ does come with six grams of fat, but it will be good for the sinner on the run, pulling in and grabbing some absolution, I’ll have the transubstantiation happy meal, 10 Hail Mary’s with barbeque sauce and a large temptation of fries to go…

Complaint

[2] P F Noble complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was “deeply offensive to all Christians and particularly to Catholics for whom the invocation ‘the Body of Christ’ comes at a very solemn moment in their liturgy”.

[3] The complainant asserted that New Zealand as a nation had recently been disgusted by indignities inflicted on Jewish and Moslem members of the community. However, he said, “the media’s well established practice of denigrating the precepts and customs of Christianity continues unabated”.

[4] Mr Noble contended that the people responsible for the item should “receive a formal reprimand for what at best can be seen as a disturbing indiscretion but which is in reality a glaring display of immaturity and bad taste”.

Principles

[5] Radio New Zealand Ltd assessed the complaint under Principles 1 and 7 and Guideline 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Principle 1

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

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 to the complainant, the broadcaster noted that the Authority considered contextual factors in determining whether a broadcast has breached standards of good taste and decency. It noted that the comments were made in the context of a comedy show which was recorded live in front of an audience in Dunedin. It added:

…the comment you complained of…was made fleetingly, was not dwelt upon, and did not target a particular religion.

[7] Radio New Zealand said that it was generally careful to ensure that either the context was such that the language or humour is admissible within the context, or that “questionable” material was used in “truly adult listening times”. It stated that there was now “a more liberal attitude to such issues, and it is both our duty to allow for that as well as to monitor its parameters”.

[8] The broadcaster did not find that the item breached Principle 1 (good taste and decency) of the Code. In addition, it found no breach of Principle 7 (social responsibility) as “the principle does not extend to legitimate humour or satire”.

Referral to the Authority

[9] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Noble referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He stated that the broadcaster’s treatment of the matter was “quite unconvincing and totally unacceptable”. The complainant maintained that “self regulation and common decency” should have prevented the programme from being broadcast.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[10] The broadcaster drew the Authority’s attention to its recent Decision No. 2004-187, which it contended was an “identical scenario” to the present complaint. Radio New Zealand argued that a listener had been offended by “a piece of satire in a humorous piece in a clearly identified comedy programme” in both cases.

[11] The broadcaster maintained that the comments were allowed under Guideline 7a, and were not in breach of either Principle 7 or Principle 1 of the Code.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[12] In his final comment to the Authority, Mr Noble contended that the broadcaster seemed to regard the Authority’s recent decision as “giving a carte blanche in regard to humorous programmes conforming to Principle 7”. Further, he argued that there was a “cross over point” when using satire, beyond which “considerable discretion must be exercised”.

[13] While it could be acceptable, the complainant acknowledged, to target individuals or institutions within a religious group, it was a “vastly different matter to ridicule deeply held beliefs and practices”. The item gave offence to all Christians and belittled the doctrines and practices of the Catholic religion, he said.

[14] Mr Noble maintained that the broadcast was “blatantly” in breach of Principles 1 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

Authority's Determination

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

Good taste and decency

[16] The Authority does not uphold this part of the complaint.  When the Authority considers a complaint alleging a breach of the good taste and decency standard, it takes into account the context in which the broadcast complained about occurs.  In the present case the Authority considers that a humorous reference to Christian practices, in a light-hearted and irreverent improvised comedy show, is neither indecent nor in bad taste. 

Denigration

[17] Nor does the Authority uphold this part of the complaint.  There is no suggestion that the words complained of were denigratory of Christians or their practices.  The words were instead an improvised joke – in a comedy programme – about the unusual situation of a fast-food outlet being opened in a church.  The tone was extremely light-hearted and the words used were not at all critical or condemning of Christian faith. 

[18] While the complainant was clearly offended by such a light-hearted reference to religious practices, such reference of itself does not raise an issue of broadcasting standards or threaten the denigration guideline in Principle 7.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
18 February 2005

Appendix

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

  1. P F Noble’s formal complaint – 26 October 2004
  2. Radio New Zealand’s decision on formal complaint – 2 December 2004
  3. Mr Noble’s referral to the Authority – 21 December 2004
  4. Radio New Zealand’s response to the Authority – 11 January 2005