BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Whitmore and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1999-029

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • J Withers
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • N and C Whitmore
Number
1999-029
Programme
Breakfast
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

The word "Poms" was used on Breakfast broadcast on TV One on 23 December 1998 at 7.00am in reference to the English cricket team which was touring Australia.

Mr and Mrs Whitmore complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the word "pom" was without doubt racial discrimination. They asserted that no other race was belittled in the same way, and noted that the remark was often used in association with a report of a losing sporting performance.

TVNZ responded that in its view the word did not carry the offensive connotations which the complainants attached to it. It was, TVNZ argued, a term used affectionately by residents of New Zealand and Australia. It noted that the issue had already been before the Authority which had concluded that the term did not breach broadcasting standards. It declined to uphold the complaint.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr and Mrs Whitmore referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

During Breakfast broadcast on TV One on 23 December 1998 at 7.00am, the word "poms" was used in connection with the English cricket team which was touring Australia

Mr and Mrs Whitmore complained to TVNZ that the term "poms" was racial discrimination. In their view, no other race was belittled in the same way. They noted that the term was generally used sarcastically when a losing sporting performance was being reported.

Mr and Mrs Whitmore said the word caused offence, ill feeling and encouraged discrimination both in the street and in the workplace. They noted that other racial groups were not referred to by similar derogatory terms.

TVNZ advised that it had considered the complaint under standard G13 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which was nominated by the complainants. That standard requires broadcasters:

G13  To avoid portraying people in a way which represents as inherently inferior, or is likely to encourage discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation or the holding of any religious, cultural or political belief. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

factual, or

the expression of genuinely-held opinion in a news or current affairs programme, or

in the legitimate context of a humorous, satirical or dramatic work.

TVNZ advised the Whitmores that it had considered the use of the word "poms" on a number of occasions, and in its view the term did not carry the offensive connotations attributed to it by them. TVNZ argued it was a term used affectionately by New Zealanders and Australians to refer to those of British extraction, adding:

Further, we believe it’s a word which emphasises rather than detracts from the close historical links that have existed and still exist between the United Kingdom and these antipodean nations.

TVNZ rejected the complainants’ view that the word "poms" was comparable to terms used to describe other racial groups, such as "chinks", "wogs" or "horis". These terms, it argued, were clearly sinister in nature and offensively racist. It submitted that the word "poms" was in a quite different category.

TVNZ noted that the issue had been before the Authority on a previous occasion when it was asked to decide whether the expression "pitiful poms" breached broadcasting standards. On that occasion the Authority decided the remark did not represent British people as inherently inferior or was likely to lead to discrimination against them.

In addition, TVNZ noted that the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission had ruled that the words "pom" and "pommy" were "unlikely to offend, insult, or intimidate."

TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

In their referral to the Authority, Mr and Mrs Whitmore argued that the use of phrases such as "pathetic or pitiful poms" was offensive and racial, and not, as TVNZ suggested, historical affection. They noted phrases such as "pommy bastards" and "whingeing poms" which were used to express contempt for unwelcome immigrants by some New Zealanders. They added:

When TVNZ wishes to belittle poor sporting performance by the English, the term "Pom" is used to show contempt, and they have the cheek to say it is an "affectionate term".

Mr and Mrs Whitmore maintained that other nationalities "did not have to put up with this kind of thing." They considered that TVNZ should refrain from "this sort of discrimination" if it was to uphold a professional image.

In its report to the Authority, TVNZ denied that the term was used as one of contempt or abuse, and held to its view that the term "poms" had been used affectionately over the years.

TVNZ said it agreed with the complainants that expressions such as "pommy bastards" and "whingeing poms" were terms of abuse. However, it argued, the abuse lay in the words "bastards" and "whingeing", and not in "pommy" or "poms".

TVNZ concluded by noting that in reaching its decision, it had been mindful of the Authority’s decision No: 1998-113 in which a similar complaint had been discussed.

In their final comment, Mr and Mrs Whitmore disputed TVNZ’s claim that the word "poms" had been used affectionately, arguing that it was only ever used in a disparaging way. In their view, it was used to belittle or show contempt and was offensive. They maintained that no other race was treated to that form of discrimination.

The Authority’s Findings

As TVNZ pointed out, the Authority has adjudicated on this issue on a previous occasion. Its Decision No 1998-113 concluded that there was nothing discriminatory about the use of the expression "pitiful poms" in a sports report relating to the performance of the English rugby team. In that decision, it also took account of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s ruling that the words "pom" and "pommy" were unlikely to offend, insult or intimidate.

The Authority finds no reason to revise its view on the use of the word "poms". It does not consider the remark, again on this occasion made in the context of a sports report, represented British people as inherently inferior or was likely to lead to discrimination against them. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
19 March 1999

Appendix

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

N and C Whitmore’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 24 December 1998

TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 22 January 1999

N and C Whitmore’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 7 February 1999

TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 11 February 1999

N and C Whitmore’s Final Comment – 18 February 1999