BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Truijens and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2019-012 (7 May 2019)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainant
  • Sef Truijens
Number
2019-012
Programme
The Weekend
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Summary


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that an interview on The Weekend, which covered various aspects of racism in Canada, breached the good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards. The Authority found that the interviewee’s use of ‘goddamn’ as an expletive was unlikely to undermine or violate widely shared community norms. Further, the interviewee’s reference to the colonial treatment of Canada’s indigenous people did not breach the discrimination and denigration standard. The Authority found that the comments did not apply to a recognised section of the community consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993. The Authority therefore found any restriction on the right to freedom of expression would be unjustified.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration



The broadcast

[1]  On an episode of The Weekend, an interview with Canadian author Scaachi Koule about her new book canvassed a range of issues relating to her own experiences and included her views on racism in Canada. As well as discussing her experiences as an immigrant and person of colour living in Canada, she touched on the treatment of indigenous people. This included a reference to Canada before European colonisation with the phrase:

Long before any of us dummies showed up and, you know, raped everybody and murdered everybody…

[2]  The broadcast also contained the word ‘goddamn’, where Ms Koule said, in reference to being told to stay off social media, ‘I lose my goddamn mind’.

[3]  The episode was broadcast on RNZ National on 20 January at 9.05am. The Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast and have read all documents referred to in the Appendix.

The complaint


[4]  Sef Truijens complained that the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, for the following reasons:

  • ‘Goddamn’ is an offensive term and not appropriate for use in a broadcast.
  • The use of this word would not be accepted in any situation where good taste and decency are required. 
  • Its use as an expletive upsets many religious people.

[5]  Mr Truijens also complained that the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code for the following reasons:

  • The suggestion that non-indigenous people immigrating to Canada ‘murdered everybody and raped everybody’ devalued the reputation of that section of the community.
  • These words accused non-native immigrants of murdering and raping all of the native population.
  • This is not only regarding the effect specifically on white Canadians, as the comments made might affect immigrants from other ethnicities.
  • The phrase carries a high level of invective, is inflammatory and can only be seen as denigrating of non-native immigrants.

The broadcaster’s response


[6]  RNZ submitted:

  • A review of the use of the word ‘goddamn’ indicated that the Authority is unlikely to uphold a complaint about it.
  • The discrimination and denigration standard is designed to protect against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.
  • It is difficult to see how the comments made would affect non-native immigrants, as envisaged by the standard.

The standards

[7]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.1

[8]  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.

[9]  A high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, will be necessary to find that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in breach of the standard.2

Our analysis


[10]  In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. Accordingly, when we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we weigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. This could be harm to an individual, or harm to society or the audience generally. On this occasion the main harm alleged is the denigration of all people who have immigrated to Canada (ie all non-indigenous residents of Canada).

Good Taste and Decency

[11]  The complainant submitted that the term ‘goddamn’ is an offensive term that would have offended religious people. We acknowledge some people may find the use of variations of ‘God’ unnecessary and offensive. However, expressions of this nature are commonly used as exclamations, without any intention to be offensive. We have previously found that, in many cases, use of these kinds of expressions will not breach broadcasting standards, though context is critical in each case.3

[12]  The word ‘God’ ranked last (31 out of 31) in our 2018 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research, with only 15% of respondents finding its use unacceptable in any circumstances.The research suggests that the general level of unacceptability for this expression in the community is low.

[13]  We found the following contextual factors important in our determination:

  • The term was used once during the broadcast.
  • It was used as an exclamation.
  • It was not used in a derogatory way or directed at anyone.

[14]  For these reasons we do not consider the use of this expression on this occasion was likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.

Discrimination and Denigration

[15]  The discrimination and denigration standard applies only to recognised ‘sections of the community.’ The sections of the community identified under the standard are broadly consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993,5 which include colour, race, ethnicity or country of origin.6

[16]  The complainant argued that Ms Koule’s words ‘accused non-native immigrants [to Canada] of murdering and raping all of the native population.’   The Authority does not consider ‘non-native immigrants’ to be a recognised section of the community for the purposes of this standard. The complainant has identified a broad group of people who do not share colour, race, ethnicity or country of origin, with their only shared feature being that they are not indigenous people of Canada.

[17]  We therefore do not consider that the comments discriminated against or encouraged denigration of a recognised section of the community, in breach of the standard.

[18]  Accordingly we do not uphold this complaint.

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

7 May 2019   

 

   
Appendix

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

1                 Sef Truijens’ formal complaint – 23 January 2019

2                 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 22 February 2019

3                 Mr Truijens’ referral to the Authority – 25 February 2019

4                 RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 21 March 2019

 



1 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
Guideline 6b
3 See, for example, Stewart and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2017-093 and Keam and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2017-090
4 See Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018)
5 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 15
6 Human Rights Act 1993, s 21