BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Riley and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-096

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Peter Riley
Number
2010-096
Programme
Breakfast
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast
– host made comment about Asian drivers slowing down – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency


Findings

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – comments provocative and borderline but threshold for restriction on freedom of expression not reached – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   During an episode of Breakfast, broadcast on TV One at 6.30am on Wednesday 16 June 2010, the host Paul Henry interviewed a representative from AA Insurance about a recent survey which investigated the top ten frustrations of drivers on New Zealand roads.

[2]   At the conclusion of the interview, Mr Henry discussed his biggest driving frustration with his co-host Pippa Wetzell, who also talked about what frustrated her while driving. Mr Henry then said:

You know the thing when people, it happens all the time in Auckland, a lot of Asians do it, all of a sudden they just start slowing down and I sit in my car going, “What? What is it you want? What are you looking for?”

[3]   Ms Wetzell interrupted Mr Henry saying, “I don’t know if you can say that is just due to one group of people; all sorts of people do it”. Mr Henry responded, “No, other people do it as well because the Asians have taught them how to do it. What do you want? Why are you slowing down?”

Complaint

[4]   Peter Riley made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that Mr Henry’s comments about Asian drivers breached standards of good taste and decency.

[5]   The complainant stated that he was “concerned that such a generalisation is unfounded and contributes to anti-Asian sentiment”.

Standards

[6]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 and guideline 1a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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 content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. programme classification, target audience, type of programme and use of warnings etc.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7]   TVNZ stated that Breakfast was aimed at an adult target audience and that Mr Henry’s comments were made in the context of a discussion about drivers’ most common frustrations. It considered that Mr Henry was entitled to describe one of his “personal pet driving hates” and to offer his personal opinion on the matter.

[8]   The broadcaster contended that it was “relevant that Ms Wetzell countered the views presented by Mr Henry”. It argued that Mr Henry’s comments were “off the cuff and intended to be comedic”, and that Mr Henry’s tone was “clearly humorous and not intended to be taken seriously”.

[9]   TVNZ argued that Mr Henry was renowned for this type of exaggerated hyperbole on the programme and that viewers expected this sort of behaviour from him. It considered that Mr Henry’s comments “were not pejorative about Asian drivers – suddenly slowing down while driving is permitted and may occur for a number of entirely legitimate reasons”. It contended that the comments displayed Mr Henry’s impatience with such driving, but did not necessarily reflect badly on the group he identified.

[10]   The broadcaster considered that Mr Henry’s comments were not dwelt on and that the discussion quickly moved on. It concluded that the comments did not stray beyond the bounds of good taste and decency and it declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

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

Authority's Determination

[12]   The members of the Authority have viewed 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.

[13]   When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the programme was broadcast between 6.30am and 9am
  • Breakfast was an unclassified news and current affairs programme
  • it had an adult target audience.

[14]   In our view, Mr Henry’s comments were intentionally provocative and borderline in terms of their acceptability. They perpetuated a negative stereotype about Asian people which we consider would have been offensive to a number of viewers.

[15]   However, the Bill of Rights Act 1990 gives people freedom to express their opinions and only allows for that right to be limited in cases where it is reasonable and proportionate to do so. When looking at an alleged breach of broadcasting standards, we must balance the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression against the purpose of the broadcasting standard concerned.

[16]   In our view, the Bill of Rights Act allows people to express opinions that others may find offensive, illogical or rude. We consider that the host’s comments on this occasion, while deliberately provocative and ill-conceived, were not sufficiently objectionable as to warrant us imposing a limitation on the broadcaster’s freedom of expression.

[17]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, we decline to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 1.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
3 November 2010

Appendix

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

1.           Peter Riley’s formal complaint – 17 June 2010

2.          TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 14 July 2010

3.          Mr Riley’s referral to the Authority – 19 July 2010

4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 1 September 2010