BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Ryan and NZME Radio Ltd - 2017-005 (24 March 2017)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Julian Ryan
Number
2017-005
Channel/Station
ZM

Summary

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

An audio clip promoting the ZM radio station stated that ZM played ‘hit after hit after goddamn hit’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the phrase ‘hit after goddamn hit’ was offensive to those who hold Christian or other religious beliefs and contrary to children’s interests. The Authority acknowledged that use of the term ‘goddamn’ may have caused offence to some listeners. However, in this case it was used as part of the station’s promotional messaging for playing continuous music and was not dwelt upon. Taking into account the right to freedom of expression, and the context of the broadcast, the term ‘goddamn’ could not be said to have encouraged the denigration of, or discrimination against, all Christians or others who hold religious beliefs. The broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests, having regard to the station’s target audience and the expectations of its listeners.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration, Children’s Interests


Introduction

[1]  An audio clip promoting the ZM radio station stated, ‘Hit after hit after goddamn hit. Hit music lives here.’

[2]  Julian Ryan complained that the phrase ‘hit after goddamn hit’ was offensive to those of Christian or other religious faiths, and encouraged children to use blasphemous language.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration and children’s interests standards as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The station promo was broadcast on 1 January 2017 at 5.30pm on ZM. The members of the Authority have listened to 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, Christians or those of other religious faiths, as a section of the community?

[5]  The objective of the discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) is to protect sections of the community from verbal and other attacks. The standard 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 Ryan submitted:

  • Use of the phrase ‘goddamn’ is extremely offensive to those of Christian or other religious faiths.
  • The use of this phrase cannot be defended on freedom of expression grounds, as it was not used to present factual information, a genuine expression of serious comment, or legitimate humour; ‘It [was] nothing more than an attempt at a pithy one-liner used to promote ZM’.

[7]  NZME submitted:

  • A high threshold must be met in order to trigger a breach of this standard and to otherwise abrogate the right to freedom of speech.
  • The use of the word ‘goddamn’ in the promotional clip did not carry the necessary invective or malice to encourage discrimination against, or the denigration of, all people who believe in a god.

Our analysis

[8]  ‘Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment. Denigration is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community.1 The importance of freedom of expression means that a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, will be necessary to conclude that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in contravention of this standard.2

[9]  The context of a broadcast is key, when assessing whether the discrimination and denigration standard has been breached.3 Here, relevant contextual factors include:

  • the nature of ZM as a station, which is known for being ‘edgy’ and for ‘pushing the boundaries of acceptability’4
  • the radio station’s target and likely audience. While the broadcaster has submitted that children are not ZM’s target audience, they may form part of its likely audience at 5.30pm
  • audience expectations of ZM.

[10]  We acknowledge that the use of the phrase ‘goddamn’ may have caused offence to some listeners including Mr Ryan, and that it was not in accordance with his beliefs. However, the Authority has consistently held that variations of the word ‘god’ are generally not considered coarse language by most people in New Zealand’s secular society, noting that this type of phrase is widely used as part of everyday colloquial speech.5 Taking into account all relevant contextual factors, we have reached the view that the use of the word during this brief ZM promotional material did not encourage the different treatment of those who hold religious beliefs, or devalue their reputation.

[11]  Here the word was used to emphasise the station’s promotional message – that it continuously played hit music. It did not carry any element of malice or nastiness, it was brief, and it was not dwelt on. The right to freedom of expression not only protects the broadcast of certain content, such as material which is factual or humorous, but also protects the broadcaster’s right to present content in the way it chooses. NZME is permitted to promote ZM to its target audience in a way that it considers will appeal and resonate with that audience. We do not consider that the broadcast content would have gone beyond the expectations of regular listeners of this station, and when weighed against the importance of the right to freedom of expression, it did not reach the high threshold required to find a breach of this standard.

[12]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint under Standard 6.

Did the broadcaster ensure that children could be protected from broadcasts which may adversely affect them?

[13]  The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) states that broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.

The parties’ submissions

[14]  Mr Ryan submitted that the phrase normalised blasphemy and encouraged children to use blasphemous language.

[15]  NZME submitted that:

  • ZM does not play children’s programmes and is an adult-targeted radio station. Children would be expected to be subject to parental supervision when listening to the station.
  • Use of the phrase would not be outside audience expectations.
  • The Authority has previously found that the word ‘god’ is not considered coarse language by most members of New Zealand society. By extension, the similar word ‘goddamn’ would not be unacceptably challenging for children listening with parental supervision.

Our analysis

[16]  We acknowledge NZME’s submission that children do not form part of ZM’s target audience. However we note that, as the ZM promotional material was broadcast at 5.30pm during children’s normally accepted listening times,6 children may have formed part of the likely audience.

[17]  For the reasons outlined in our discussion of the discrimination and denigration standard, we find the use of the word ‘goddamn’ in the context of this promotional material did not breach the children’s interests standard. As we have said, variations of the word ‘god’ are not generally considered coarse language by most people in New Zealand’s secular society, and are widely used as part of everyday colloquial speech. While some people may consider this sort of language to be inappropriate for children, it was not unexpected in the context of promoting ZM, a radio station which is not specifically targeted at children, and which is known for featuring at times challenging material (see paragraph [9]).

[18]  Accordingly we do not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
24 March 2017

 

Appendix

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

1      Julian Ryan’s formal complaint – 2 January 2017
2      NZME Radio’s response to the complaint – 7 February 2017
3      Mr Ryan’s referral to the Authority – 8 February 2017
4      NZME’s response to the Authority – 22 February 2017

 


1 Guideline 6a
2 Guideline 6b
3 Guideline 6d
4 See, for example, Williams and The Radio Network Ltd, Decision No. 2014-019 at [6]
5 See, for example, Davie and MediaWorks Television Ltd, Decision No. 2015-090 at [7]. The Authority’s research examining the acceptability of words in broadcasting also indicates that the majority of people found the use of ‘God’ acceptable, with only 17% ranking the word as ‘totally unacceptable’: What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2013) at page 9
6 Definitions, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9