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Brice and The Radio Network Ltd - 2004-187

Members

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

Complainant

  • Lynn Brice of Christchurch

Dated

21st December 2004

Number

2004-187

Programme

Radio Hauraki skit

Channel/Station

Radio Hauraki

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Radio Hauraki – skit implying that Polynesian women suffer significantly less post natal depression than other ethnic groups because additional children result in increased welfare benefits – allegedly encouraged denigration or discrimination

Findings
Principle 7 and Guideline 7a (denigration and discrimination) – skit was obvious attempt at humour – falls within exception in Guideline 7(a)(iii) – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcasts

[1] On Radio Hauraki at around 7.05am on Monday 20 September 2004, one of the presenters announced recent findings by the Auckland University of Technology that Samoan women have one of the lowest rates of post natal depression in the world. He said that researchers wanted to find out “why Samoan women escaped the baby blues” so that they could help other women.

[2] The second presenter then said “well it’s not that hard to find out how” and began a skit at a doctor’s office. The doctor asked “Mrs Afisi” for the names of her three children, and she replied “Guaranteed Benefit”, “$160 a week”, and “Pays Off My Car”.

[3] The following exchange then took place between the mother and the doctor:

“You see they are very precious to me, I don’t want anything to happen to them.”

“Because they’re your progeny and you couldn’t bear the thought of living without them?”

“No, we just bought a plasma TV – got to pay it off”.

Complaint

[4] Lynn Brice complained to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, that she found the skit “racist and offensive”. She said the skit was to the effect that Polynesian women would naturally be less depressed because “every additional child results in an increased welfare benefit”.

[5] The complainant added that she could not envisage how the presenters “could have imagined this to be funny”. She commented that the presenters often “laugh hysterically at their own jokes which sometimes lean towards racism”.

Principles

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

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

[7] In its response to Ms Brice, TRN noted that the Breakfast show was “edgy, full of satire and broadcast to an adult audience”. It described the skit as:

…a satirical look at welfare beneficiaries with marked similarities to ‘The Naked Samoans’ (regularly featured on TV) and historically Billy T James and Pio.

[8] The broadcaster advised the complainant that the skit had been replayed to two Māori and one Polynesian staff member, who had taken “no offence to the piece and found it humorous”.

[9] While acknowledging the possibility that not all listeners may have viewed the skit in that light, TRN found there to be “acceptability based on 7(a)(iii)”. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint.

[10] Dissatisfied with TRN’s response, Ms Brice referred her complaint to the Authority. In addition to matters raised in her initial complaint, she refuted the broadcaster’s assertion that the skit was “legitimate humour and satire”.

[11] The complainant was of the view that the “listed precedents” the broadcaster cited, such as Billy T James and Pio, did not make this skit any more acceptable, “partly due to the age of some of the programmes they list as similar”. Ms Brice also said the broadcaster’s statement that some Māori and Polynesian staff members had found the skit to be humorous “does not legitimize this racism”.

Authority's Determination

[12] 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.

[13] The complainant was concerned that this item was “racist and offensive” and the question for the Authority is whether the item discriminated against or was denigratory of Samoan women.

[14] Certainly the item did involve a stereotypically negative portrayal of Samoans. The Authority notes, however, that the item was intended to be a humorous response to a newsworthy current issue, and purported to explain the reasons behind the results of the recent research indicating a lower incidence of post-natal depression among Samoan women. It was clear that the skit did not intend to offer a serious view on the issue; the tone of the presenters in introducing the item, the musical introduction, the voices adopted by the participants, and the content of the skit made the comedic intent apparent.

[15] The use of humour in a legitimate context is a defence to an allegation that a broadcast appears to denigrate or discriminate. In the present case, while the Authority considers that the item was potentially widely offensive, it was nevertheless an overt attempt at a humorous take on an issue of current interest.

[16] The Authority has in the past noted the international debate about the use of racist stereotypes in humour and the division of opinion between those who believe such deliberate humour perpetrates and reinforces racist thinking and those who believe it exposes societal problems in a legitimate manner.

[17] While such humour may sometimes overstep the mark, and cross the line from what might be considered legitimate humour into racist or denigratory abuse, the Authority finds that in this case that line was not crossed. Accordingly, the Authority considers that the item comes within the exception noted in Guideline 7(a)(iii) in that it was humour used in a legitimate context.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
21 December 2004

Appendix

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

  1. Lynn Brice’s formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd – 24 September 2004
  2. TRN’s decision on the formal complaint – 13 October 2004
  3. Ms Brice’s referral to the Authority – received on 1 November 2004
  4. TRN’s response to the Authority – 5 November 2004