Watts and CanWest RadioWorks Ltd - 2004-105
- Joanne Morris (Chair)
- Diane Musgrave
- Tapu Misa
- Paul France
- Gary Watts
ProgrammeSong "Let’s Get Retarded"
Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
"Let’s Get Retarded" by Black Eyed Peas – song – allegedly offensive – alleged discrimination against people with disabilities
Principle 1 (good taste and decency) – context – not upheld
Principle 7 (discrimination) – song did not encourage discrimination – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 The song “Let’s Get Retarded” by Black Eyed Peas was broadcast on The Edge at various times between 8.15am and 10.12pm between 12 and 24 May 2004.
 Gary Watts complained to The Edge about the “offensive and discriminatory” song lyrics. He commented:
There is reference to epilepsy and other specific disabilities in this particular song (lyrics) which has seriously upset, offended and adversely affected many people listening to your great radio broadcasts.
 The Edge did not assess the complaint under any specific standard in its initial response to Mr Watts. However, CanWest RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster of The Edge, assessed the complaint under Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice when it responded to the Authority’s request for comment on Mr Watts’s referral. The principle and its relevant guideline read as follows:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.
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:
i) factual; or
ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or
iii) by way of legitimate humour or satire.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 The Edge commented:
- The song was played because people had been “heavily requesting it”.
- It had sought listeners’ feedback and found they wanted to continue to hear the song.
- The fact that the song offended some people was “unfortunate”, but:
… this is not the intention of the song as it states in the first line “in this context I mean no dis-respect”.
- As the song’s popularity was waning, it intimated that removal from The Edge’s play list was imminent.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with The Edge’s response, Mr Watts referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority for investigation and review.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority
 CanWest RadioWorks, which broadcasts the Edge, responded to the Authority’s request for comment on the referral.
 First, it noted that Mr Watts’s concerns had never been investigated as a “formal broadcasting standards complaint”. The Edge’s response had referred to his concern that the song was “offensive and discriminatory of people with disabilities”, but was more focused on “what versions of the song were available and why”.
 CanWest RadioWorks then noted that Mr Watts had referred specifically to Principle 7 in the referral of his complaint to the Authority. In relation to Principle 7, it advised that its view was that the song did not “exceed the threshold of denigratory or discriminatory portrayal of people with disabilities”. It continued:
The song could not be classed as “hate speech”. The music is challenging and has generated comment but the [Radio Complaints] Committee has determined that by playing the song the station has not breached the requirement that it be socially responsible.
Complainant’s Final Comment
 In his final comment, Mr Watts reiterated his view that Principle 7 had been breached by the broadcast of the song. He wrote:
Obviously a lack of respect [for people with disabilities] will cause offensiveness and ultimately cause harm and damage to people.
 The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the song complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. They have also read a transcript of the song’s lyrics. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 The Authority notes that The Edge’s response to Mr Watts’s formal complaint did not refer to specific standards, and that CanWest RadioWorks’s response to the Authority’s request for comment on Mr Watts’s referral commented only on Principle 7 of the Radio Code.
 The Authority reminds the broadcaster of its statutory obligation to have in place a proper procedure for considering formal complaints. In the Authority’s opinion, the original complaint should have been dealt with by CanWest RadioWorks, rather than The Edge. And, in view of the matters raised in Mr Watts’s original complaint, it should have been assessed by the broadcaster under Principle 1 (good taste and decency) and Principle 7 (discrimination).
 Principle 7 and Guideline 7a are set out above in paragraph . Principle 1 and the relevant guideline under that principle read:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
Broadcasters will take into consideration current norms of decency and good taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast eg time of day, target audience.
Principle 1 (good taste and decency)
 When the Authority considers a complaint which alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the Authority regards the following matters as relevant to its determination:
- It is indicated in the lyrics that the song is not intended to be disrespectful of those with disabilities.
- The lyrics describe a particular style of dancing:
Lose control of body and soul.
Don’t move too fast people, just take it slow.
Don’t get ahead, just jump to it…
- The use of the word “retarded” is not intended as a reference to people with intellectual disabilities. In that sense, the song appears to be a contemporary equivalent of songs such as Prince’s "Let’s Go Crazy".
 Overall, while the lyrics could be regarded by some listeners as insensitive, they were not indecent or sufficiently in bad taste to breach the standard. Accordingly, the Authority concludes that the broadcast of the song did not breach Principle 1.
Principle 7 (discrimination)
 The Authority has ruled on a number of occasions that a high level of discrimination or denigration is required before a broadcast contravenes Principle 7 and Guideline 7a. In the Authority's view, the threshold was not crossed on this occasion. While the Authority understands the complainant’s concern, and the particular concern expressed for parents of children with disabilities, it does not consider that the comments encouraged denigration of, or discrimination against, those with disabilities. Therefore, the Authority finds that Principle 7 was not breached.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
2 September 2004
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Gary Watt’s Formal Complaint to The Edge – 19 June 2004
- The Edge’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 23 June 2004
- Mr Watt’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 30 June 2004
- CanWest RadioWorks Ltd’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 14 July 2004
- Mr Watt’s Final Comment – 27 July 2004