BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Pollard and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-036

Members
  • J H McGregor
  • Tapu Misa
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • Colleen Pollard
Number
2003-036
Programme
Breakfast
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
Breakfast Social commentator’s pre-Christmas reference to Jesus Christ as "a Middle Eastern carpenter who owned nothing" – insensitive and offensive to Christians

Findings
Standard 6 and Guideline 6g – satire – high threshold not reached – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Summary

[1] Comments made on Breakfast between 7.00–9.00am by a social commentator, Joe Bennett, were broadcast on TV One on Friday 13 December 2002. During the programme, Joe Bennett expressed the view that Jesus Christ was "a Middle Eastern carpenter who owned nothing".

[2] Colleen Pollard complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the timing and nature of the commentary was both insensitive and offensive to Christians.

[3] In response, TVNZ explained that the segment was one in a regular series featuring Joe Bennett, who on this occasion was making fun of the traditional components of a Northern Hemisphere Christmas being perpetuated in a Southern Hemisphere summer. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Pollard referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Breakfast is the title of the programme shown on TV One between 7.00–9.00am each weekday morning. Comments made on the programme by a social commentator were broadcast on Friday 13 December 2002, during which the commentator, Joe Bennett, expressed the following view relating to the traditional components of a Northern Hemisphere Christmas being perpetuated in a Southern Hemisphere:

We are celebrating the 2000th birthday of a Middle Eastern carpenter who owned nothing and we celebrate it by doing one-third of our annual retail spending …

The Complaint

[7] Ms Pollard complained to TVNZ that the timing and nature of the commentary was both insensitive and offensive to Christians.

The Standards

[8] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Standard, and relevant Guideline, reads:

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any organisation taking part or referred to.

Guideline

6g  Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] TVNZ stated that the segment which included social commentary was one in a regular series featuring Joe Bennett. The focus of the segment was the commentator’s satirical view on why New Zealanders, who celebrate Christmas at the height of summer, should persist with traditions born in the snowy winters of Northern Europe.

[10] TVNZ noted that the satirising of religion was not a new phenomenon. In TVNZ’s view the commentator neither "belittled nor mocked" Christ. TVNZ added:

He [the commentator] made a joke about Christ, in the midst of a number of other humorous references to the Christmas traditions. It was presented in rollicking good humour and … most viewers would have enjoyed the joke without feeling any less about Christianity or its tenets.

[11] TVNZ concluded that in the satirical context of the segment, the commentator’s view did not "encourage denigration of, or discrimination against" Christian people on account of their beliefs. In addition, TVNZ noted that the guideline specifically allows for "the legitimate context of a … humorous or satirical work." Accordingly, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[12] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Pollard maintained that the commentator’s view was not only in extremely bad taste, with poor timing being so close to Christmas, but that it was also in breach of the Human Rights Act.

The Authority’s Determination

[13] The segment complained about was a pre-Christmas broadcast, on TV One’s Breakfast show. It was presented by a social commentator, Joe Bennett, who made a joke describing Christ as "a Middle Eastern carpenter who owned nothing".

[14] Ms Pollard’s complaint encompassed not only the substance of the comment, which she considered was insensitive and offensive to Christians, but also the timing of the comment, given its proximity to Christmas.

[15] The Authority observes that in respect of Standard 6, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person referred to and, in terms of Guideline 6g, are required to avoid portraying persons in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community. The section of the community, referred to in this complaint, was the Christian community.

[16] The Authority accepts that some viewers would have found the comment insensitive because it was broadcast during the build up to Christmas. However, the Authority has ruled on a number of occasions, that a high threshold applies before a broadcast contravenes Guideline 6g. In the Authority’s view, the style and nature of the commentator’s segment, which was a satirical comment in the context of a magazine style item, did not denigrate or discriminate against Christ or Christians. The Authority concludes that the high threshold required to effect a breach of the Standard was not reached. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint.

[17] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Dr Judy McGregor
Member
15 May 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Ms Pollard’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 17 December 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 10 February 2003
  3. Ms Pollard’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 20 February 2003
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 5 March 2003