BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Whitla and The Radio Network Ltd - 2004-104

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Neil Whitla
Number
2004-104
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Paul Holmes Breakfast – Newstalk ZB – comment about recent pack rape allegations against Australian rugby league players – host described women who attended parties with rugby league players as “moles” and suggested that they were asking for trouble – allegedly denigrated women

Findings
Standard 7 – Guideline 7a (discrimination and denigration) – comment encouraged denigration of women who socialise with rugby league players – not a genuine expression of serious comment – upheld

Order
Section 13(1)(a) – broadcast of a statement

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] At about 7.55am on 2 April 2004 the host of Paul Holmes Breakfast on Newstalk ZB (Paul Holmes) commented on recent pack rape allegations against a team of Australian rugby league players. Mr Holmes described women who attended parties with rugby league players as “moles” and implied that they were asking for trouble.

Complaint

[2] Neil Whitla complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, that Mr Holmes had implied that women deserved to be sexually violated as a result of drinking at a party, which he said was ignorant and abusive to women. He wrote:

I would like to express my disgust and amazement that a person with the role and position that Mr Holmes has at making such a statement. It is bad enough for the average person on the street to hold such a view, but for Paul Holmes to broadcast such views and being in a role that can influence others I am totally amazed at his expression of ignorance and abuse directed toward the women (and other women) concerned.

Principles

[3] TRN assessed the complaint under Principle 7 and Guideline 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which read:

Principle 7

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

Guideline 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:

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

[4] TRN did not uphold the complaint, noting:

  • The broadcast was part of a daily “free-wheeling” discussion with a sports presenter.
  • Mr Holmes was “underlining the extent of group sex in the Aussie football culture”.
  • “It is a known fact that prominent sports teams like those in the NRL are targeted by female ‘groupies’ and Paul Holmes was suggesting that females venturing into this culture could be asking for trouble”.
  • The views expressed were a genuine expression of serious comment.

Referral to the Authority

[5] In his referral Mr Whitla pointed out:

  • He did not consider that the broadcast was a “serious comment”. He considered that Mr Holmes had “no intention of being serious, given the way in which he spoke about the issue of alleged sexual violation”.
  • The issue of consensual sex in the Australian national rugby league should not be confused with sexual violation or rape allegations relating to an on-going police investigation.
  • He considered that the woman at the centre of the allegation and other women in general had been:

… described in a way that supports the sexual abuse of women in our society. That is, “if you go to a party and get drunk you deserve to get raped”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[6] In its response to the referral, TRN reiterated that Mr Holmes was entitled to “underline the dangers for women venturing into this ‘league territory’ “.

Authority's Determination

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

[8] 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 crossed on this occasion.

[9] The Authority considers that the host’s comments were ill-chosen. They reinforced incorrect and unfair stereotypes and perpetuated a myth that women who are sexually assaulted have somehow “asked for it”, which the complainant considered implicitly supported the sexual abuse of women. Whether intentional or not, the host’s comments had the effect of encouraging the denigration of women who socialise with certain men’s sports teams in an environment where alcohol is present.

[10] The Authority notes that Guideline 7a to Principle 7 states that the Guideline is not intended to prevent the broadcast of “a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion” or “legitimate humour or satire”. While Principle 7 does not prevent the broadcast of discussion about the matters described in the broadcast, on this occasion the Authority does not consider that either exception applies. The host’s manner of delivery was flippant, and it seems possible that, contrary to the broadcaster’s assertion, he was attempting to be humorous and provocative. However, both “serious” comment and “legitimate” humour about this subject matter require more care and reasoning than was demonstrated. Without this care, the highly damaging inference that women who are raped bear a significant degree of responsibility for the crime rests without challenge.

[11] For the reasons set out above, the Authority upholds this complaint.

[12] For the avoidance of doubt, the Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching this determination. For the reasons given above, the Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that comments made during a broadcast by The Radio Network of Paul Holmes Breakfast on Newstalk ZB on 23 March 2004 breached Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[13] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It invited submissions from the parties.

[14] The complainant sought an order that the presenter read a statement on air during peak listening hours and suggested that his organisation, Safe Networks, meet with both the broadcaster and the presenter to discuss the matter before the broadcast of the statement.

[15] TRN indicated that it would be willing to broadcast a statement at a time similar to the time the material complained about was broadcast. It suggested that the statement refer to the Authority’s website and to NewsTalk ZB’s website, www.newstalkzb.co.nz, where it indicated that it would make a summary of the decision available for one week.

[16] The Authority has considered the submissions on orders made by the parties. It notes that it has no jurisdiction under the Broadcasting Act to require that the parties meet to discuss issues raised by the complaint. However, the Authority considers that the breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion was sufficiently serious to warrant the broadcast of a statement approved by the Authority. Accordingly it imposes the following order:

Order

Pursuant to section 13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders The Radio Network Ltd to broadcast a statement approved by the Authority. That statement shall:

  • be broadcast within one month of the date of this decision, at a time and date to be approved by the Authority
  • summarise the Authority’s decision on the complaint
  • explain that TRN has been ordered to make the statement as a result of the Broadcasting Standards Authority’s decision to uphold a complaint about Paul Holmes Breakfast broadcast on 2 April 2004
  • explain that a copy of the decision on the complaint is available on the Authority’s website www.bsa.govt.nz
  • explain that a copy of the decision on the complaint is available on NewsTalk ZB’s website, www.newstalkzb.co.nz for a period of one week from the time of broadcast of the statement.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
2 September 2004

Appendix

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

  1. Neil Whitla’s Formal Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd – 2 April 2004
  2. TRN’s Response to Mr Whitla – 19 April 2004
  3. Mr Whitla’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 28 April 2004
  4. TRN’s Response to the Authority – 26 May 2004
  5. Mr Whitla’s Submission on Orders – 5 August 2004
  6. TRN’s Submission on Orders – 5 August 2004