BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Trigg and The Radio Network Ltd - 2004-159

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Selina Trigg
Number
2004-159
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Newstalk ZB – Larry Williams Breakfast Show – three-way discussion between host and two guests about Tuvaluan overstayer recently convicted of assaulting his wife for second time – guest made comment purporting to justify violence against women – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency – allegedly denigratory of women

Findings
Principle 1 (good taste and decency) – in context, no obscene language or content – not upheld

Principle 7 (social responsibility) – Guideline 7a (denigration) – taken in isolation comments offensive – but in context, comments clearly not meant to be taken at face value – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] On The Larry Williams Breakfast Show, broadcast on Newstalk ZB on the morning of 16 July 2004, host Larry Williams, along with broadcaster Tau Henare and journalist Wendyl Nissen, discussed the dialysis-dependant Tuvaluan overstayer who had recently been convicted, for the second time, of assaulting his wife. The focus of the discussion was whether this man should be deported, and suffer the fatal consequences of not receiving his dialysis.

[2] During the spirited discussion the following exchange took place:

Presenter:           It is 8:25, back with Tau and Wendyl, just to finish off the Tuvaluan
                          overstayer who has beaten his wife again, Tau, this is a death sentence if
                          he goes back?

Tau Henare:        Yes it is, and really you know I mean you can’t, you can’t really kick him
                          out, I mean…

Wendyl Nissen:   Oh, it’s alright to beat your wife eh? Nothing wrong with that.

Tau Henare:        No, no I’m not saying that…

Wendyl Nissen:   You know, more men should do it

Tau Henare:         Did I say that you stupid woman? You silly… its no wonder they get hit,
                          I tell you, with remarks like that, it's no wonder

[3] A transcript of the full conversation is annexed as Appendix 1.

Complaint

[4] Selina Trigg complained to The Radio Network, the broadcaster, that the broadcast breached Principles 1 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. In summary, she noted:

  • as a family lawyer she had considerable experience in domestic violence
  • the situation of many victims was that they believe they “deserve” the violence
  • physical violence was often accompanied by belittling verbal abuse
  • many offenders blamed their victims
  • Tau Henare’s comments reflected and perpetuated these messages and beliefs
  • The comments undermined the hard work being done to send a message to the community that domestic violence was unacceptable
  • she found the comments offensive, and believed many victims of domestic abuse would as well
  • the comments displayed a permissive attitude to, and in fact encouraged, violence against women
  • children could have been listening to the broadcast.

[5] Ms Trigg also referred to conversations she had had with the complaints coordinator for TRN, noting that she had been told:

  • the complaints coordinator had spoken to Tau Henare and told him the comments were not appropriate and were not to occur again
  • no public statement would be made because the issue should not be revisited.

[6] Ms Trigg requested a public apology from Tau Henare, and that both he and TRN make a donation of time, money or advertising to a suitable charity.

Principles

[7] TRN assessed the complaint under Principles 1 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which state:

Principle 1
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Principle 7
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.

Guidelines

7a  Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

  1. factual; or
  2. a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or
  3. by way of legitimate humour or satire.
7b  Broadcasters shall be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted listening times.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8] TRN did not uphold the complaint. It noted that the two participants usually appear once a week in a segment that “generally sets one against the other”. It stated that accordingly, the tone and tenor of the discussion and the nature of the way these two people bantered with each other were important in determining what was actually conveyed.

[9] TRN stated:

Wendyl’s irony in saying …”it’s ok to beat your wife?”, is immediately answered with a “no, no” from Tau (you omit these words in your complaint). However in the nature of the exchange Tau adds a rider to that in what is a reply put down to Wendyl – “no wonder they get hit”. So what we now have is two statements of irony. However, importantly, in two instances in this exchange Tau has rejected any notion that beating your wife can be condoned.

[10] In relation to Principle 1, TRN concluded that:

While the complained of words may have seemed inappropriate, taken in the context of the ironic nature of the exchange, plus the amelioration by the host, the complaint is not upheld under Principle 1.

[11] In relation to Principle 7, TRN concluded that:

Once again, based on context, there is no evidence of malice or denigration against women by Tau Henare. Yes, he seems to respond inappropriately to the irony from Wendyl but it is a reply also couched in irony and is therefore covered in guideline 7a(iii).

You also raise the question of the broadcast being heard by children. The Tau and Wendyl Friday slot is long standing and is a known feisty, often humorous and on the edge segment. We believe parents would have long ago made up their mind whether this was appropriate radio for children. Newstalk ZB targets an audience 35 years plus.

[12] TRN concluded:

We sympathise with your views and under no circumstances would we condone a deliberate attempt to denigrate women in such a way.

Tau Henare is an occasional broadcaster on Newstalk ZB and we have made it very clear to him, the dangers of taking a similar path again.

Referral to the Authority

[13] Ms Trigg was dissatisfied with TRN’s response and referred her complaint to the Authority. In her referral she reiterated the comments she had made in her original complaint, although she did not pursue her initial concerns that the broadcast failed to consider the interests of children. In commenting on TRN’s response to her complaint, she noted:

  • she did not accept that irony in Guideline 7a(iii) can be used to defend the comments, as the comments would not be interpreted by listeners as being ironic
  • comments that encourage or defend the use of domestic violence were neither humorous nor satirical
  • she accepted the words “you stupid woman … you silly…” were a personal put down of Wendyl Nissen, but such a put-down sent a message that it is appropriate to denigrate women in this way, especially as the comments were made in the context of a discussion about domestic violence
  • the comments as a whole referred to women in general, not just Wendyl Nissen
  • the comments were not ameliorated in the way suggested by the TRN response, especially as Tau Henare went on to say “no, I am serious” when interrupted by the host after his comments about hitting women
  • the later comments about the jailing of the overstayer were overshadowed by the statements he had made about women being justifiably hit.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14] TRN added only one point in its response to the referral; that when Tau Henare said “no I am serious” he was referring to deportation being a death sentence, rather than being serious about his comments about hitting women.

[15] TRN otherwise stood by its original decision not to uphold the complaint.

Authority's Determination

[16] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in Appendix 2. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[17] At the outset the Authority acknowledges the views and concerns of the complainant, whom the Authority accepts has detailed experience and understanding of the effects of domestic violence. Clearly her complaint has been motivated by a genuine concern that the comments complained of, made as they were by someone whose views may be influential, served to legitimise and excuse violence against women.

[18] Certainly, the Authority is of the view that the comments were ill-judged, and taken in isolation, were deeply offensive. But of themselves, these factors do not necessarily equate to a breach of the nominated broadcasting standards. What the Authority must do is to examine the entire broadcast. It must determine whether the words complained of, in the context in which they were broadcast, met the required standards.

[19] Judged in this light, the Authority is of the view that the broadcast did not breach either of the nominated standards.

[20] In relation to that aspect of the complaint alleging that the broadcast breached the standard of good taste and decency, the Authority observes that Principle 1 is primarily designed to address concerns surrounding the use of obscene or offensive language or imagery.

[21] While acknowledging that some may have found Tau Henare’s comments offensive, the comments were clearly ironic, and were rebuffed by Wendyl Nissen in the context of a spirited and ironic exchange. The Authority therefore does not consider that the broadcast breached the required standards of good taste and decency.

[22] On balance, the Authority does not accept that the effect of the broadcast was to denigrate women. When seen in the context of the whole broadcast the Authority considers that it was clear that Tau Henare did not intend his words to be taken at face value, and did not intend to convey the message that violence against women was justified. His words were clearly intended to be an ironically humorous response to Wendyl Nissen’s provocative and sarcastic comment, “It’s alright to beat your wife … nothing wrong with that … more men should do it”.

[23] The Authority observes that such robust debate and verbal jousting is obviously a key feature of the discussions between Tau Henare and Wendyl Nissen. The words complained of were simply an unwise extension of that vigorous debate rather than reflecting an intention to express any serious or credible opinion about domestic violence.

[24] The Authority is supported in its view by the fact that Tau Henare’s later comments made it clear that he takes a dim view of violence against women and that the Tuvaluan man deserved a jail sentence.

[25] In these circumstances, the Authority considers that the broadcast did not breach the required standard of social responsibility and did not encourage denigration of women.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 November 2004

Appendix 1 – Transcript of Broadcast

Presenter:
It is 8:25, back with Tau and Wendyl, just to finish off the Tuvaluan overstayer who has beaten his wife again, Tau, this is a death sentence if he goes back?

Tau:          Yes it is, and really you know I mean you cant, you cant really kick him out, I mean…

Presenter: oh god…

Wendyl:    oh, it’s alright to beat your wife eh? Nothing wrong with that.

Tau:          no, no I’m not saying that…

Wendyl:    you know, more men should do it

Tau:         
did I say that you stupid woman? You silly… its no wonder they get hit, I tell you, with remarks like that, its no wonder

Presenter: now now, come on

Tau:          I’m serious, I’m serious, look, if you send him back then what we are getting into is
                the death penalty, and suppose…

Wendyl:    it's not the death penalty for beating his wife

Tau:         
look, I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, here’s the one way to sort it out, Wendyl you go and sign his deportation form…

Wendyl:    look, the guy…

Tau:          No, you do it…

Wendyl:    the guy..

Tau:          and then you be responsible for his death

Wendyl:    well, like most men…

Tau:         I think you are ungracious…

Wendyl:    do you want me to say anything?

Tau:          …you are willing to spend $500 million on a bloody toilet but you can’t spend…

[indistinguishable]

Presenter: alright, okay, Wendy, Wendyl, let Wendyl have a chance…

Wendyl:   
$500 thousand actually, and yeah, no, that’s fine, and so every man before he raises his fist to hit his wife or anyone, or any child, or any woman, is not, shouldn’t be thinking, if I actually contact flesh here, I wonder what that’s going to do to my life, oh, it might mean I get sent back and I die, oh I’ll just bash the shit out of her anyway

Tau:          go ask her, go ask her…

Presenter: see…

Tau:          go and ask her what she thinks about deporting him…

Presenter: alright…

Wendyl:    why don’t you go and ask half the men in New Zealand why they beat their wives
                because you are condoning it

Tau:          no sorry, this is not about everybody else

Presenter: ok, ok Tau, so clearly Wendyl you think he should go

Wendyl:    well I think he’s had a chance, you know, he raised his fist and he did it, so, sorry

Presenter: now to you Tau, what, you give him one more chance do you?

Tau:          no, I mean, look, put him inside for God’s sake

Presenter: yeah, well he may well go inside

Tau:          Look, we have a jail system

Wendyl:    yeah we need another person to pay for in our jail system, don’t we?

Tau:          oh yeah, see this is right, see this is how, this is how the liberals get out of it…

Wendyl:    its only costing us thousands of dollars

Tau:          …this is how the liberals get out of it, it’s got nothing to do with it. Ask his wife what
                 should happen

Wendyl:    well his wife must have reported him beating her, otherwise we wouldn’t know about it

Presenter: his wife wants him to stay obviously.

[moves on to another topic]

Appendix 2

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

  1. Selina Trigg’s formal complaint to The Radio Network – undated
  2. TRN’s response to the formal complaint – 5 August 2004
  3. Ms Trigg’s referral to the Authority – 25 August 2004
  4. TRN’s response to the referral – 7 September 2004