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Regional Public Health, Hutt Valley District Health Board and The Radio Network Ltd - 2007-030

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Regional Public Health, Hutt Valley District Healt

Dated

14th August 2007

Number

2007-030

Programme

ZM Breakfast

Channel/Station

ZM

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
ZM Breakfast – presenter drank a yard glass on his 21st birthday – broadcast allegedly advocated excessive alcohol consumption and broadcaster not mindful of children

Findings
Principle 8 (liquor) – tone of item accepted practice as normal – socially irresponsible promotion of liquor – upheld   

Principle 7 and guideline 7b (children) – socially irresponsible to broadcast drinking of yard glass during children’s normally accepted listening times – upheld

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

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   Presenter Cam’s 21st birthday was celebrated on the ZM breakfast show at about 8.20am on 13 February 2007.  While in the carpark with another presenter, Cam attempted to drink a yard glass.  A yard glass is a drinking vessel – traditionally one yard long – containing about two litres of beer.

[2]   Throughout the broadcast, the presenters made comments that Cam “is going to throw up”, “doesn’t hold his liquor well”, “needs to drink quickly”, and “if he throws up on my shoes I am going to be so pissed”.  One female presenter described his actions as “gross”, and that he shouldn’t “force it down him”.

Complaint

[3]   On behalf of the Regional Public Health arm of the Hutt Valley District Health Board, David Towl complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster. He argued that the broadcast breached the standard which required broadcasters to avoid advocating excessive liquor consumption.  He also considered that it had breached the standard requiring broadcasters to be mindful of the effect any programme might have on children.

[4]   Mr Towl contended that radio presenters acted as role models to young people and that it was irresponsible for them to refer to the use of yard glasses.

Principles

[5]   TRN assessed the complaint against the nominated principles in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.  They read:

Principle 7

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

Guideline 7b   Broadcasters shall be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted listening times.

Principle 8

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters must observe restrictions on the promotion of liquor appropriate to the promotion genre being broadcast.  Liquor promotion should be socially responsible and must not encourage consumption by people who are under the legal age to purchase liquor.

Guideline 8g   In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters must avoid advocacy of excessive liquor consumption.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   TRN explained that ZM Breakfast was targeted at females aged 18 to 34 and included material which was “edgy and irreverent”.  Drinking a “yardie”, it continued, was the practice of many on their 21st birthday and that was enacted on the programme.  TRN argued that the legitimate act was not glorified and one co-presenter had said “it’s gross”, and “don’t force it down him”.

[7]   Denying that the broadcast advocated the practice, and arguing that it was unlikely that young children would have heard the broadcast, TRN wrote:

This was a bit of fun acceptable to the target audience.

Referral to the Authority

[8]   Dissatisfied with TRN’s response, Mr Towl referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.  Mr Towl contended that the consumption of a yard glass amounted to excessive consumption of alcohol, and that the practice was “normalised” when performed by a “radio celebrity”.

[9]   Mr Towl also noted that the listeners targeted by the broadcaster were likely to be the mothers of young children.  The only reason the practice could be described as a bit of fun, he wrote, was because of New Zealand’s binge drinking culture.

Authority's Determination

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

Principle 8 (liquor promotion)

[11]   The first issue the Authority must determine is whether the broadcast was “liquor promotion” as defined in Principle 8 of the Code.  Principle 8 defines liquor promotion as:

  • promotion of a liquor product, brand or outlet
  • liquor sponsorship of a programme
  • advocacy of liquor consumption

[12]   As the first two limbs of the definition clearly do not apply, the question becomes whether the broadcast advocated liquor consumption. 

[13]   The Authority concludes that the broadcast did advocate liquor consumption.  First, by virtue of its inclusion in the programme, and second, by the way in which the hosts treated the presenter’s actions as humorous and “cool”, the broadcaster not only implicitly condoned the behaviour, but in fact presented it in a positive light.  This, in the view of the Authority, amounted to advocacy for the purposes of the principle.

[14]   Having concluded that the programme advocated liquor consumption, the Authority must then determine whether this advocacy was socially responsible.  In assessing this question, the Authority identified two concerning factors:

  • the amount of alcohol being consumed (the contents of a yard glass being around two litres) was clearly excessive, and was acknowledged by one presenter as being likely to cause vomiting
  • this excessive consumption was treated as humorous and desirable behaviour.

[15]   There is wide concern in New Zealand about a perceived culture of binge drinking among young people, and according to health agencies such behaviour poses a serious health risk. In light of this, the Authority considers that the consumption of two litres of beer at one time by a 21-year-old male is exactly the sort of behaviour in respect of which broadcasters are expected to exercise extreme caution.

[16]   That caution was not exercised in the present case.  Not only was the behaviour shown in a positive light, but the situation was aggravated by the fact that the person drinking the alcohol was a young male host of a popular breakfast radio show that targets an 18–34 year old audience.

[17]   For these reasons, the Authority concludes that the liquor promotion in the broadcast was socially irresponsible and in breach of Principle 8.

Principle 7 (Social responsibility – effect on children)

[18]   The complainant was also concerned that the broadcaster breached Principle 7 of the Code as it neglected to consider its effect on children who may have been listening. In defence of this complaint, TRN argued that children would have been unlikely to hear the broadcast, as children are not ZM’s target audience.

[19]   The Authority does not accept this argument.  The broadcast was before school at 8:20am, a time when children – even if they were not listening by choice – would have been among the audience at home or in the car on the way to school. 

[20]   While the broadcast may have gone over the heads of most young children, the Authority considers that many older children, especially 12 and 13-year-olds, would have understood what was taking place.  The broadcast was two and a half minutes long and the comments of the hosts – including that the presenter “is going to throw up”, “doesn’t hold his liquor well”, “needs to drink quickly”, and “if he throws up on my shoes I am going to be so pissed” – made it clear what was happening. 

[21]   The Authority considers that this explicit coverage of excessive alcohol consumption, portrayed in a positive and humorous light to an audience that included children, was socially irresponsible, and in breach of Principle 7. 

Bill of Rights

[22]   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 thebroadcast by The Radio Network Ltd on ZMon 13 February 2007 breached Principles 7 and 8 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[23]   Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act.  It invited submissions on orders from the parties.

[24]   On behalf of Regional Public Health, Mr Towl submitted that the Authority should consider an order under section 13(1)(a) of the Act referring the complaint back to the broadcaster. He said the order should direct TRN to develop a responsible use of alcohol policy, and to undertake workforce development for its management and staff to address the issue of binge drinking in New Zealand.

[25]   Mr Towl asked that, if the Authority ordered a broadcast statement, it should make careful directions around the manner the statement would be presented.

[26]   TRN said that it had already reinforced to staff the “important message contained within the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice as it relates to alcohol”. It also offered a “practical solution” of running $5,000 worth of free advertising on ZM promoting a responsible alcohol message.

[27]   The Authority has considered the submissions from both parties. It finds it appropriate to order TRN to broadcast a statement containing a comprehensive summary of its decision.

[28]   The Authority acknowledges that TRN has reinforced to its staff their responsibilities in respect of alcohol and the Radio Code. In these circumstances it declines to make an order under section 13(1)(c) referring the complaint back to TRN as suggested by the complainant.

Order

Pursuant to section 13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders The Radio Network Ltd to broadcast, within one month of the date of this decision, a statement approved by the Authority containing a comprehensive summary of its decision. The statement shall be broadcast during the ZM breakfast show on a date to be approved by the Authority.

The Authority draws the broadcaster’s attention to the requirement in section 13(1)(b) of the Act for the broadcaster to give notice to the Authority of the manner in which the above order has been complied with.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
14 August 2007

Appendix

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

1            Regional Public Health of the Hutt Valley DHB’s complaint to The Radio Network Ltd –
              14 February 2007
2            The Radio Network Ltd’s response to the complainant – 6 March 2007
3            Regional Public Health’s referral to the Authority – 23 March 2007
4            The Radio Network Ltd’s response to the Authority – 28 March 2007
5            Regional Public Health’s submissions on orders – 21 June 2007
6            The Radio Network Ltd’s submissions on orders – 2 July 2007
7            Further submissions from Regional Public Health – 16 July 2007