BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Schwabe and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2010-174

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Paul Schwabe
Number
2010-174
Programme
Morning Report
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Morning Report – news item reported on controversial comments made by Breakfast presenter, Paul Henry, about Chief Minister of Delhi and New Zealand’s Governor-General – comments about Chief Minister re-broadcast – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – legitimate news report – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – item did not encourage discrimination against or denigration of a section of the community – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]   A news item on Morning Report, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National at 6.38am on 8 October 2010, reported on controversial comments made by television presenter, Paul Henry, on Breakfast.

[2]   The news reader introduced the item by stating that the Indian Government had condemned what it called “racist and bigoted” remarks by TVNZ host, Paul Henry. He said that the TVNZ Breakfast host had made fun of Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit, stating at one point that the name “Dick Shit” was even more appropriate because she was Indian. A reporter stated:

As host of TVNZ’s Breakfast programme, Paul Henry is no stranger to controversial comments but the latest saga has now reached the world stage. It was this exchange broadcast last week, then heavily promoted on TVNZ’s website, that India’s Minister of External Affairs, S.M. Krishna, calls racist, bigoted and totally unacceptable.

[3]   An excerpt of Mr Henry’s comments was broadcast. Towards the end of the item, the news reader stated that Mr Henry had since been suspended in relation to other comments he made questioning whether the Governor-General, Sir Anand Satyanand, was a New Zealander, and asking the Prime Minister whether he would appoint someone who “looked and sounded more like a New Zealander”.

Complaint

[4]   Paul Schwabe made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached broadcasting standards.

[5]   The complainant said that he was “shocked and infuriated to hear the foul language and racial slurs used by TVNZ’s Paul Henry” broadcast on Morning Report.

Standards

[6]   RNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7]   Looking first at Standard 1, RNZ stated that standards relating to good taste and decency were primarily aimed at broadcasts that contained sexual material, nudity, violence, or coarse language. In the broadcaster’s view, the news item complained about did not fall into any of these categories. RNZ stated that the issue was whether the broadcast’s repetition of Mr Henry’s “offensive lampooning of [the Chief Minister’s] surname” nevertheless breached standards of good taste and decency.

[8]   When considering the complaint, RNZ said that it had distinguished between reporting material which may be offensive to listeners, and reporting material in an offensive manner. TVNZ noted that news items reporting on Mr Henry’s comments about the Chief Minister and the Governor-General had been broadcast throughout the Morning Report programme and that the actual comments had been re-broadcast twice. There was “clearly” a public interest in Mr Henry’s comments given the diplomatic incident that arose from their original broadcast, it argued, and it was important to contextualise the Indian Government’s reaction by broadcasting the comments in the “least sensational manner possible”.

[9]   RNZ argued that not including the comments would have been a “disservice to our audience who may well have been left wondering what all the ‘fuss’ was about”. Further, it said, “not to broadcast the ‘offending’ comments would amount to an unreasonable restriction on our society’s ability to impart and receive information, something which is a commonly held value enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990”.

[10]  For these reasons, RNZ declined to uphold a breach of Standard 1.

[11]  Turning to the discrimination and denigration standard, the broadcaster noted that a high level of invective against a particular group was required in order to establish a breach. RNZ argued that its “dispassionate” reporting of the incident did not meet the necessary threshold and it declined to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

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

[13]  The complainant argued that RNZ’s response seemed to “blur” the fact that it had re-broadcast the “offending comments” more than once on the programme. In his view, this was “unnecessary”, “deliberate” and “provocative” because the contents of those comments had already been made “abundantly clear by responsible broadcasters and print media” in the days preceding the RNZ broadcast.

[14]  With regard to Standard 1, the complainant argued that “‘dick’ (penis) and ‘shit’ (faeces)” amounted to coarse language and that their “direction at a particular person in a serious racial slur was very plainly offensive in the original TV One broadcast”. He said that “after extensive anger, disgust and protest at home and abroad, the actual recorded comments were even more offensive when deliberately re-broadcast by RNZ a week later”.

[15]  Turning to RNZ’s assertion of “dispassionate reporting of the incident” in the “least sensational [manner] possible”, Mr Schwabe argued that the item was a “sensational and arrogant re-broadcast of racially inflammatory offensive material”.

[16]  The complainant “assumed” that the Authority would agree that the original broadcast of Mr Henry’s comments breached broadcasting standards, and therefore that the re-broadcast of those comments on RNZ’s Morning Report programme was also a breach.

Authority's Determination

[17]  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)

[18]  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 item was broadcast on Morning Report, a news and current affairs programme
  • Radio New Zealand National and Morning Report have an adult target audience.

[19]  The Authority has previously stated (e.g. Yeoman and TVNZ1) that standards relating to good taste and decency are primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. The broadcast subject to complaint does not fall into any of these categories.

[20]  In our view, the item complained about was a legitimate and straight-forward news report on controversial comments made by a well-known television presenter which had attracted large scale publicity. We do not consider that reporting on the comments or re-broadcasting them would have offended or distressed listeners and we decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[21]  Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[22]  As noted above, the item subject to complaint was a straight-forward news report and we do not consider that it encouraged denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard. We decline to uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
22 February 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Paul Schwabe’s formal complaint – 19 October 2010

2                 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 4 November 2010

3                 Mr Schwabe’s referral to the Authority – 8 December 2010

4                 RNZ’s response to the Authority – 15 December 2010


1Decision No. 2008-087