BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Watson and NZME Radio Ltd - 2016-085 (15 December 2016)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Doug Watson
Number
2016-085
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB # 2

Summary

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

During Kerre McIvor & Mark Dye Afternoons, the hosts had a conversation about tipping in the United States. They discussed a story told by a talkback caller, who said that a church published a Bible pamphlet to be used instead of a monetary tip. One host, who appeared to be reading from the pamphlet, said, ‘Some things are better than money, like your eternal salvation that was bought and paid for by Jesus,’ to which the other host responded by making a vomiting sound. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the vomiting sound made by the host was offensive to Christians and all those who hold religious beliefs. The Authority acknowledged that the host’s reaction would have caused offence to some listeners. However, the reaction reflected the host’s disagreement with the sentiment of the Bible pamphlet and the host was entitled to express this view. In the context of the broadcast, it did not reach the threshold necessary to encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, Christians or those who hold religious beliefs.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  During Kerre McIvor & Mark Dye Afternoons, the hosts had a conversation about tipping in the United States. They discussed a story told by a talkback caller, who said that a church published a Bible pamphlet to be used instead of a monetary tip.

[2]  One host, who appeared to be reading from the pamphlet, said, ‘Some things are better than money, like your eternal salvation that was bought and paid for by Jesus.’ The other host then made a vomiting sound before the programme moved to a commercial break.

[3]  Doug Watson complained that the host’s vomiting reaction to the reference to Jesus was extremely offensive to Christians and all those who hold religious beliefs.

[4]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The item was broadcast on Newstalk ZB at 2.30pm on 19 October 2016. 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 threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[6]  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 a radio context, this standard is usually considered in relation to offensive language, sexual references or references to violence, but may also apply to other material presented in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.

The parties’ submissions

[7]  NZME submitted that ‘while this was not the most elegant expression of disgust’, in the context of an adult-targeted radio station and a mid-afternoon programme to which children were unlikely to be listening, the host’s reaction did not breach the good taste and decency standard.

Our analysis

[8]  We acknowledge that the host’s reaction would have caused offence to some listeners.

[9]  Nevertheless, the right to freedom of expression permits individuals to express themselves, and their opinions, in the way they choose. This right must be weighed against the level of harm alleged to have been caused by the broadcast, in terms of the underlying objectives of the relevant broadcasting standards.

[10]  In this case, we do not consider the vomiting sound made by the host in response to the content of a Bible pamphlet threatened current norms of good taste and decency at such a level that would warrant our intervention. The reaction reflected the host’s disagreement with the sentiment of the Bible pamphlet, and while coarse, the host was entitled to express this view. This reaction was not dwelt upon or repeated (immediately after, the programme cut to a commercial break). In the context of a programme which is broadcast each weekday afternoon and described as featuring hosts with ‘strong views’,1 it did not reach the threshold for finding a breach of Standard 1.

[11]  Accordingly we do not uphold this part of the complaint.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Christians and/or those who hold religious beliefs, as a section of the community?

[12]  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

[13]  NZME Radio submitted that the host was merely expressing his opinion regarding the Bible pamphlet, which is permitted under this standard (guideline 6c), and the broadcast did not carry the high level of invective necessary to find a breach.

Our analysis

[14]  ‘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).

[15]  We do not consider the host’s reaction to the content of the Bible pamphlet could reasonably be said to have carried undertones of malice or nastiness at a level which encouraged the different treatment of all Christians or those who hold religious beliefs, or devalued their reputation. As we have said, this reaction reflected the host’s disagreement with the sentiment of the Bible pamphlet and was not dwelt upon or repeated. Weighed against the importance of the right to freedom of expression, the host’s reaction did not reach the high threshold required to find a breach of this standard.

[16]  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
15 December 2016

 

Appendix

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

1      Doug Watson’s formal complaint – 23 October 2016
2      NZME Radio’s response to the complaint – 27 October 2016
3      Mr Watson’s referral to the Authority – 1 November 2016
4      NZME Radio’s response to the Authority – 23 November 2016

 


1http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/on-air/kerre-mcivor-and-mark-dye-afternoons/