BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Punnett and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2009-011

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Fleur Punnett
Number
2009-011
Programme
Nine to Noon
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Nine to Noon – discussion between commentators about New Zealand’s change in government – one commentator recalled overhearing a conversation at Auckland Airport in which a man told some tourists that the former Prime Minister was a lesbian – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, accuracy and discrimination and denigration

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – comments were intended to be humorous and ironic – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – programme not a news, current affairs or factual programme to which the accuracy standard applied – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – comments related to an individual, not to a section of the community – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  During a segment called "The Week That Was" on Nine to Noon, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 14 November 2008, the host and two guest commentators began a conversation about New Zealand's change in government after the 2008 General Election. During the conversation, comedian Te Radar stated that he had recently arrived back from America and at the airport had overheard a man talking to some tourists about New Zealand’s change in Prime Minister. He said:

I was at the airport, we flew in last Sunday morning and there were some tourists there, and you know humility in victory is a wonderful thing, and there was a guy there who was obviously quite pleased with the election result and they said 'has there been a change in government?' And he said, 'Yeah, we got rid of the old PM, she was left of Mao, a bloody communist and a lesbian. She's gone. Best thing that ever happened to the country'. And I thought 'whoa, welcome back, it is so great to be back'.

Complaint

[2]   Fleur Punnett made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging the commentator's reference to former Prime Minister Helen Clark being a lesbian breached standards relating to good taste and decency, accuracy and discrimination and denigration. She stated that she found the remark offensive and that Radio New Zealand National was not the place to make comments about a person’s sexuality.

Standards

[3]  RNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 5 and 7 and guidelines 1a and 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Guideline 1a
Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. time of day, target audience.

Standard 5 Accuracy

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/or
  • does not mislead.
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.

Guideline 7a
This standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is:
(i)     factual
(ii)     a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion; or
(i)     legitimate humour, drama or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4]   At the outset, RNZ acknowledged that the complainant had found the commentator's remark offensive. It noted that the programme contained commentary from New Zealand comedian Te Radar and that he was reporting on comments made by either a real or fictitious person at Auckland Airport upon his return from overseas. The broadcaster argued that the reference to Ms Clark being a lesbian was fleeting and was made without malice. It declined to uphold the complaint that the comment breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).

[5]   With respect to Standard 5, the broadcaster contended that the item complained about was not a news or current affairs programme, and therefore the accuracy standard did not apply.

[6]   Turning to Standard 7, RNZ stated that, due to the fleeting, humorous and satirical intentions of the comment, the threshold for a breach of the denigration standard had not been reached. It declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[7]   Dissatisfied with RNZ's response, Ms Punnett referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The complainant said that the essence of her complaint was that RNZ had trivialised her concern and that she was left thinking that "as long as the comment is a fleeting one, a person can say whatever they like on [RNZ]".

Authority's Determination

[8]   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)

[9]   When the Authority considers an alleged breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the programme had an adult target audience
  • Te Radar is a New Zealand comedian well-known for his satirical humour.

[10]  The Authority notes that Te Radar did not actually state that Ms Clark was a lesbian, but was recounting with amazement a conversation he had overheard at the airport. In the Authority's view, Te Radar was clearly being ironic when describing the conversation and, rather than supporting what the man had said, he had been shocked by it.

[11]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[12]   Standard 5 requires broadcasters to make reasonable efforts to ensure news, current events and other factual programmes are accurate in relation to all material points of fact and do not mislead. The Authority considers that the item subject to complaint was a commentary piece which did not form part of a news, current affairs or factual programme. Accordingly, it finds that the accuracy standard does not apply in the circumstances.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[13]   Standard 7 only applies to comments targeted at a "section of the community", as opposed to an individual. Because the complainant’s concern related to the former Prime Minister, rather than a section of the community, the Authority finds that Standard 7 does not apply. In any event, the Authority is of the view that the comment was not made with the intention of denigrating the Prime Minister but to highlight the attitude of some voters. Accordingly, it declines 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

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
1 April 2009

Appendix

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

1.         Fleur Punnett's formal complaint – 1 December 2008
2.         RNZ's response to the formal complaint – 9 January 2009
3.         Ms Punnett's referral to the Authority – 21 January 2009
4.         RNZ's response to the Authority – 27 January 2009