BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Paranjape and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2010-069

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Shirish Paranjape
Number
2010-069
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Afternoons with Jim Mora – discussion about Russia’s proposal to use a controlled nuclear explosion to contain an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico – comment from expert from Auckland University – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – standard primarily concerned with sexual or violent material or coarse language – broadcast not likely to have offended listeners – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – light-hearted discussion – insufficient invective to encourage discrimination against or denigration of Russians as a section of the community – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   At 4.30pm during Afternoons with Jim Mora, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 14 May 2010, the host discussed with a guest how Russia had suggested a controlled underground nuclear explosion to contain an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. The guest commented, “It’s all a bit James Bond, isn’t it? Imagine if it went wrong. ...It sounds insane, only Russians would come up with this.” The host responded, “Nothing does go wrong with nuclear explosions... they’re very safe.” The two men laughed.

[2]   The men then spoke to an engineering scientist from Auckland University’s School of Engineering to get her opinion on the Russians’ suggestion. She said that it was “definitely something that [she] would be quite concerned about” and that geologically it would create a lot of risks. When asked by the host if it would work, she said she would be “very, very concerned... it doesn’t seem at all possible from what I’ve heard about what the Russians are doing”.

Complaint

[3]   Shirish Paranjape made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging that the broadcast breached standards of good taste and decency because the Russians were nuclear experts and the New Zealand expert claimed to be more knowledgeable. The complainant also considered that the “negative reaction of the panel” was biased against Russians and that if the suggestion had been made by another country they would have supported it.

Standards

[4]   RNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice which provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]   RNZ noted that the broadcast was primarily a discussion about a Russian proposal to cap a leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico by using a controlled underground nuclear blast. It said that the panel, including the hosts and the expert, “focused on the possible geological risks, the associated radioactive issues and the very deep high reservoir pressures which all suggested the proposal was fraught with difficulty.” RNZ considered that their comments had addressed the proposal as much as the fact that it had come from Russia.

[6]   The broadcaster noted that the Authority had previously stated that good taste and decency was primarily concerned with broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language, “none of which were an issue in this particular broadcast”. With regard to Standard 7, the Authority had ruled that a breach required the blackening of a particular group and that the threshold for encouraging denigration was high. RNZ maintained that the light-hearted comments in the programme with reference to “Russians” did not meet that criteria.

[7]   Accordingly, RNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

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

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.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[10]   The Authority has previously stated (e.g. Yeoman and TVNZ1) that standards relating to good taste and decency are primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. The broadcast complained about did not contain any material of this kind. Further, we do not consider that the programme, which was simply a discussion about the Russians’ proposal for containing the oil leak, contained anything that was likely to offend listeners or that strayed beyond current norms of good taste and decency in breach of Standard 1.

[11]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[12]   Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[13]   The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people (e.g. Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks2). “Discrimination” has been defined by the Authority as encouraging the different treatment of members of a particular group, to their detriment (for example, Teoh and TVNZ3).

[14]   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 or discrimination in contravention of the standard (see, for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network4).

[15]   In our view, none of the panellists’ comments carried sufficient invective to be considered to have encouraged denigration of, or discrimination against, Russian people as a section of the community. The discussion was light-hearted and focused on the practicality of the suggestion of using a nuclear explosion for containing the oil leak. While the programme participants may have been incredulous with regard to Russia’s proposal, they did not make any comments which blackened the reputation of Russians in general, or which encouraged different treatment of that section of the community to their detriment.

[16]   Accordingly, we find that the broadcast did not encourage denigration or discrimination in breach of Standard 7 and we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
5 August 2010

Appendix

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

1.           Shirish Paranjape’s formal complaint – 16 May 2010

2.          RNZ’s response to the complaint – 28 May 2010

3.          Mr Paranjape’s referral to the Authority – 31 May 2010

4.          RNZ’s response to the Authority – 18 June 2010


1Decision No. 2008-087

2Decision No. 2006-030

3Decision No. 2008-091

4Decision No. 2002-152