BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Rees and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2016-051 (15 September 2016)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Sam Rees
Number
2016-051
Programme
ONE News
Channel/Station
TV ONE

Summary

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

The sports presenter during a ONE News bulletin described the performance of the Blues rugby team as ‘schizophrenic’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the use of the term was unacceptable and contributed to the stigmatisation of people with mental illness. The Authority recognised that the use of the term ‘schizophrenic’ to describe a sports team may be seen as insensitive and inappropriate. However, in the context of this item the Authority found the comment did not reach the high threshold for encouraging discrimination against, or denigration of, those with mental illness. The term was used in a colloquial manner, and did not contain any malice towards people with mental illness.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  A ONE News item discussed an upcoming game between the Crusaders and Blues rugby teams. The sports presenter introduced the item as follows:

The Crusaders are picking up danger signals ahead of their showdown with a Blues side described as schizophrenic this week – the Crusaders desperate not to be out-muscled by the unpredictable Aucklanders, who are returning to Eden Park after three weeks on the road.

[2]  Sam Rees complained that the description of the Blues as ‘schizophrenic’ was ‘totally unacceptable’ and contributed to the stigmatisation of people with mental illness.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration standard as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.1

[4]  The item was broadcast on TV ONE on 26 May 2016. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, people with mental illness as a section of the community?

[5]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, 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.

The parties’ submissions

[6]  Mr Rees considered that use of the term ‘schizophrenic’ to describe a rugby team was ‘totally unacceptable’, as schizophrenia is a serious mental illness and not a slang word to be used on television. He felt the use of the term continued to ‘stigmatise and decimate people with mental health conditions’. Mr Rees argued that other medical diagnoses, such as diabetes or cancer, are not used to describe sports teams, therefore neither should ‘schizophrenia’.

[7]  TVNZ relied on a previous decision of the Authority, which found that use of the phrase ‘almost schizophrenic’ to describe Serena Williams’ tennis performance did not breach the discrimination and denigration standard.2 It argued that similarly in this item, the term was used colloquially to describe the nature of the team’s performance and did not carry any level of invective directed towards people with mental illness.

Our analysis

[8]  ‘Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment.3 The term ‘denigration’ is defined by the Authority as devaluing the reputation of a class of people.4

[9]  It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of condemnation is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard.5

[10]  We understand that the presenter’s description of a rugby team as ‘schizophrenic’ could be seen as insensitive and inappropriate by some viewers, and we agree broadcasters should take care when using this type of language, which may be interpreted as alluding to a mental health condition.

[11]  However, the term ‘schizophrenic’ can also be interpreted to have an alternative, colloquial meaning that is not intended to be offensive towards, or demeaning of, those with mental illness.6 We are satisfied this was how the term was used in this item. ‘Schizophrenic’ was used by the presenter of a sports news bulletin to describe a rugby team’s performance. The comment did not contain any element of malice, nor could it be said to encourage the different treatment of people with mental illness. In this context, we do not think the broadcast reached the high threshold necessary for breaching the standard.

[12]  Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 6.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
15 September 2016

 

Appendix

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

1     Sam Rees’ formal complaint – 27 May 2016
2     TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 24 June 2016
3     Mr Rees’ referral to the Authority – 28 June 2016
4     TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 4 August 2016

 


1 This complaint was determined under the new Free-to-Air Television Code, which took effect on 1 April 2016 and applies to any programmes broadcast on or after that date: http://bsa.govt.nz/standards/overview

2 Makea and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2012-028

3 Guideline 6a

4 As above

5 Guideline 6b

6 For example, the Collins Dictionary defines ‘schizophrenic’ as an ‘informal’ adjective meaning ‘experiencing or maintaining contradictory attitudes, emotions, etc’: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/schizophrenic