BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Wallace and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2016-037 (25 July 2016)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Keith Wallace
Number
2016-037
Channel/Station
Prime TV

Summary

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

During an episode of The Crowd Goes Wild, the hosts discussed the results of the US Masters golf tournament. Host Mark Richardson, referring to English golfer Danny Willett (who ultimately won the tournament), commented in relation to footage of Mr Willett playing a hole, ‘you’re leading the Masters – how’re you going to handle this, you pommy git? Right, so pretty well then, old chap I see’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the phrase ‘pommy git’ was openly racist and derogatory. The hosts of The Crowd Goes Wild are known for their style of presentation and humour, which is often irreverent and ‘tongue-in-cheek’. The comments were not ‘nasty’ or ‘derogatory’ and were not intended to reflect negatively on English people generally. In these circumstances, the use of the term ‘pommy git’ did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency and did not reach the high threshold for encouraging the denigration of, or discrimination against, all English people as a section of the community.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  During an episode of The Crowd Goes Wild, the hosts discussed the results of the US Masters golf tournament. Host Mark Richardson, referring to footage of English golfer Danny Willett (who ultimately won the tournament) playing a hole, commented, ‘you’re leading the Masters – how’re you going to handle this, you pommy git? Right, so pretty well then, old chap I see’ (as Mr Willett took a one-shot lead).

[2]  Keith Wallace complained that the phrase ‘pommy git’ was ‘said in a nasty tone of voice’ and was openly racist and derogatory.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.1

[4]  The item was broadcast on Prime TV on 11 April 2016 at 7pm. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the broadcast threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[5]  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. In television, this standard is usually considered in relation to offensive language, sexual material, nudity and violence, but may also apply to other material presented in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.

[6]  Mr Wallace considered that the reference to Mr Willett as a ‘pommy git’ was ‘said in a nasty tone of voice’ and he said he was ‘shocked that such a statement could be made on prime TV time as it is openly racist and derogatory’.

[7]  SKY argued that the term was used in humour, and was ‘designed to highlight a possible crowd reaction to an English golfer coming out of nowhere to start challenging a hometown hero [Jordan Spieth].’ SKY stated that, as Danny Willett continued to do well, ‘the perceived reaction was increasingly positive and more appreciative as was the language used’.

[8]  With reference to previous decisions by the Authority about the use of the phrase and its variations,2 SKY concluded no standards were breached but nevertheless apologised to the complainant, saying, ‘we are sorry that a comment that was meant to be light-hearted was upsetting to you’.

[9]  When we consider the good taste and decency standard we take into account the relevant contextual factors, which here include:

  • the time of broadcast at 7pm, during children’s normally accepted viewing times
  • the humorous nature of the programme
  • the programme’s adult target audience
  • the hosts of The Crowd Goes Wild are well-known for their style of presentation and humour (both on television and on radio),3 which is often irreverent and ‘tongue-in-cheek’
  • audience expectations of the hosts and of The Crowd Goes Wild
  • the hosts went on to commend Danny Willett for his win in the Masters.

[10]  While some viewers, including the complainant, may argue that more appropriate language should have been used, we consider regular viewers would expect this type of humour from the show’s hosts and would not have been unduly surprised or offended by the phrase in this context. We agree with the broadcaster that most viewers would have recognised that Mr Richardson was making light of the fact that Mr Willett had outdone American favourite in the tournament Jordan Spieth. The hosts also went on to explicitly commend Mr Willett’s performance and success in the tournament.

[11]  Overall, the use of the term ‘pommy git’ did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency, taking into account the humorous tone of the segment, along with factors such as audience expectations of The Crowd Goes Wild. We therefore do not uphold the complaint under Standard 1.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, English people as a section of the community?

[12]  The purpose 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.

[13]  ‘Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment. ‘Denigration’ is defined as devaluing the reputation of a class of people (guideline 6a). In light of the importance of the right to freedom of expression, 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 breach of the standard (guideline 6b).

[14]  As noted by the broadcaster, this Authority has previously considered the use of the phrase ‘pommy git’ as well as variations of this phrase, and concluded that the use of this language did not breach broadcasting standards.

[15]  In the case of Foreman and The Radio Network Ltd, the Authority did not uphold a complaint that the use of the term ‘pommy git’ breached the good taste and decency, fairness and discrimination and denigration standards.4 Regarding the combination of ‘pommy’ and ‘git’ in Foreman, the Authority said, ‘it does not consider that the use of the term “pommy git” in the item represented British people as inherently inferior or that it was likely to lead to discrimination against them’. In that decision, the Authority also noted previous decisions about the use of the word ‘pom’,5 which found there was nothing discriminatory about the use of the expression, and took into account the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s ruling that the words ‘pom’ and ‘pommy’ were unlikely to offend, insult or intimidate.

[16]  In our view, the same reasoning applies in this case. The host’s comments were clearly limited to Mr Willett. We do not consider that Mr Richardson was commenting negatively on English people generally. Nor do we think that he was being ‘nasty’ or ‘derogatory’, as alleged by the complainant. As we have said in relation to good taste and decency, we agree with the broadcaster that the humour of the segment related to the way the English golfer came ‘out of nowhere’ to win an American tournament, surprising the tournament favourite.

[17]  In this context, the reference to ‘pommy git’ did not reach the high threshold necessary to find that the broadcast encouraged discrimination against, or the denigration of, all English people as a section of the community.

[18]  We therefore do not uphold this part 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
25 July 2016

 

Appendix

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

1      Keith Wallace ’s formal complaint – 22 April 2016
2      SKY’s response to the complaint – 9 May 2016
3      Keith Wallace ’s referral to the Authority – 10 May 2016
4      SKY’s response to the Authority – 9 June 2016

 

 


1 This complaint was determined under the new Free-to-Air Television Codebook, which took effect on 1 April 2016 and applies to any programmes broadcast on or after that date: http://bsa.govt.nz/standards/overview

2 See Foreman and The Radio Network Ltd, Decision No. 2009-158, discussed further below at [15]‑[16], Whitmore and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 1999-029 and Judge and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 1998-113

3 For example, see Williams and New Zealand Media and Entertainment, Decision No. 2015-019 

4 Foreman and The Radio Network Ltd, Decision No. 2009-158 at [13]

5 Whitmore and Television New Zealand LtdDecision No. 1999-029 and Judge and Television New Zealand LtdDecision No. 1998-113