BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Parlane and The Radio Network Ltd - 2014-014

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Jim Parlane
Number
2014-014
Programme
The Two
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB


Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

One of the hosts of talkback show, The Two, treated two callers in a way that the complainant considered to be unfair. The broadcaster upheld his complaint in relation to one of the callers. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the action taken by the broadcaster was insufficient, or that the broadcast otherwise breached standards. Talkback radio is recognised as a robust and opinionated forum in which hosts may sometimes behave rudely. The host in this case was expressing her opinion, and her comments did not go beyond what could reasonably be expected.

Not Upheld: Fairness (Action Taken), Fairness, Accuracy, Good Taste and Decency        


Introduction

[1]  During a talkback show, The Two, one of the hosts repeatedly labelled a caller (‘Caller 1’) ‘stupid’, after she shared her views on the use of public funding to transport prisoners on commercial airlines. The host also criticised another caller (‘Caller 2’) who used the word ‘homo’ when discussing whether homosexual people were ‘overrepresented’ in our political parties. The programme was broadcast on Newstalk ZB at 8pm on 10 January 2014.

[2]  Jim Parlane made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd, alleging that the host was a ‘bully’ and her ‘basic rudeness goes beyond what is fair and decent’. He also thought the host gave an ‘inaccurate impression that flying was unsafe’ when discussing the transportation of prisoners on commercial airlines.

[3]  TRN upheld the complaint that Caller 1 was treated unfairly, and it spoke to the host concerned. It declined to uphold the rest of the complaint.

[4]  Mr Parlane referred his complaint to the Authority, arguing that the action taken by the broadcaster in upholding part of the fairness complaint was insufficient. While he raised many standards in his original complaint, in his referral he permitted the Authority to consider the complaint under the most relevant standards.

[5]  The issue therefore is whether the action taken by the broadcaster having upheld the fairness complaint was sufficient in relation to Caller 1, and whether the broadcast otherwise breached the fairness, accuracy and good taste and decency standards as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[6]  The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was the action taken by the broadcaster, having upheld the complaint in relation to the first caller, sufficient?

[7]  As noted above, TRN upheld the fairness complaint in relation to the first caller. It agreed with the complainant that the host ‘overreacted and was unnecessarily frustrated by the caller’. TRN said it had counselled the host on the matter.

[8]  Mr Parlane did not consider this was a sufficient response to the host’s ‘aggressive and abusive’ tones when dealing with Caller 1. He argued ‘that simply warning [the host] is not sufficient to educate her on proper standards’.

[9]  In the broadcast, the host said to Caller 1, in response to her view that it was unfair to use public funding to transport prisoners on commercial airlines (rather than making them pay themselves):

You’re actually compounding how stupid you are [Caller 1] and it’s a lovely name wasted on someone who is a waste of space… [Caller 1], go and read a book or something, or do a crossword. Do something… Corrections Minister Anne Tolley – there’s another genius – her and [Caller 1] would bond … [Caller 1] do you want the job of going to tell [prisoners], ‘we are going to put you in a prison where you’ve only got one hour out of your cell every day, and you’re going to pay for it, son’? So, you’ve got to just think it through…

[10]  The complainant phoned in to the programme and expressed his view that Caller 1 was treated unfairly during the discussion, to which the host responded, ‘I think it was fair reportage. She was very stupid.’ Later in the programme, the host acknowledged that she had been unfair, saying:

I just had a chat with [name] and [name]. It seems you’re right, I did, when recalling my conversation with [Caller 1], overuse the word ‘stupid’. I don’t resile from that diagnosis, but there was no need for me to just hammer it away. Thanks for that feedback.

[11]  Given that the host acknowledged on air at the time that her comments had gone too far, we find that the action taken by the broadcaster was sufficient. It has upheld this part of the complaint, acknowledging the breach, and discussed this with the host to prevent similar breaches in future. An additional on-air apology at some later time would not have achieved anything more in terms of redressing the unfairness to the caller.

[12]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the action taken in relation to Caller 1 was insufficient.

Was the second caller treated unfairly?

[13]  The fairness standard (Standard 6) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct.1

[14]  Caller 2 phoned in to give his views on a discussion about whether homosexual people are ‘overrepresented’ in New Zealand political parties. The following exchange took place:

Caller 2:           …I think they are overrepresented, aren’t they? …I look at my own world and I don’t
                        know any homos.

Host:                Don’t say the term ‘homo’, mate. And also many people, because of attitudes like
                        yours, are still in the closet… Well don’t ever use that word ‘homo’… because it’s a
                        derogatory term…

[15]  Following the call, the host commented, ‘I can’t believe that dinosaurs like the last two callers in this area – bigotry and homophobia… I don’t believe [they’re] allowed phones.’

[16]  Mr Parlane argued that the host ‘savaged’ Caller 2 in a way that was ‘not necessary and excessively rude’. TRN considered that the host’s reaction to the caller’s use of the word ‘homo’ was ‘understandable and appropriate’.

[17]  The Authority has consistently recognised that talkback radio is a robust and opinionated environment in which hosts and callers often express strong or provocative views, and that talkback hosts will sometimes behave rudely.2 Rudeness is not in itself a breach of broadcasting standards.

[18]  Here, the caller was allowed to express his view, and what triggered the host’s reaction was not his viewpoint, but his use of a word which is now widely considered to be derogatory and offensive. Her criticism of him for using that word was not unfair and did not go beyond what could reasonably be expected in the robust context of talkback radio.

[19]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the fairness complaint in relation to Caller 2.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[20]  The accuracy standard (Standard 5) states that 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 does not mislead. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.3

[21]  Mr Parlane argued that the host’s comments ‘gave the audience the impression that flying was unsafe’ when transporting maximum security prisoners. He felt that the host ‘was clearly unfamiliar with the law related to this topic’ and that ‘little or no research had been done to confirm the topic’.

[22]  TRN argued that the comments made by the host were clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, so the accuracy standard did not apply (guideline 5a). It also noted guideline 5b to the accuracy standard, which states that talkback radio will not usually be subject to standards of accuracy, except where the presenter makes an unqualified statement of fact.

[23]  During the discussion about the transport of prisoners on commercial flights, the host said:

I still don’t see why we, as the flying public, should find out from a media organisation that we have just been flying with someone that is incredibly dangerous… If I was a prisoner going to maxi I’d probably have a few jokes as well.

[24]  This was clearly an expression of opinion, and not a statement of fact to which the accuracy standard applied. The host was simply challenging the idea that prisoners had been flying on commercial flights without other passengers’ knowledge, and giving her view, in a manner that would provoke discussion and debate.

[25]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the accuracy complaint.

Did the broadcast breach standards of good taste and decency?

[26]  Standard 1 (good taste and decency) is primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.4 Mr Parlane argued that the repeated use of the word ‘homo’ by the host was offensive, and that in doing so the host herself failed to appreciate that the term was derogatory. TRN maintained that the host’s comments were appropriate in context as she was confronting Caller 2 about his use of the word.

[27]  In our view, reasonable listeners would have understood that the host was not using the term ‘homo’ to be offensive, but to impress upon the caller that it is no longer an accepted term and considered derogatory. Taking into account the time of broadcast, the robust talkback environment, the radio station’s adult target audience, and expectations of the programme’s regular listeners, we are satisfied that the use of the word did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency.

[28]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 1.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
1 April 2014

Appendix

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

1                 Jim Parlane’s formal complaint – 15 January 2014

2                 TRN’s response to the complaint – 16 January 2014

3                 Mr Parlane’s referral to the Authority – 7 February 2014

4                 Further comments from Mr Parlane – 11 February 2014

5                 TRN’s response to the Authority and confirmation of no further comment – 11 February 2014


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

2See, for example, Mazer and RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2010-021

3Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036

4Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112