Beach and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2020-048 (14 September 2020)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Josiah Beach
ProgrammeNine to Noon
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint that the reading of an adaptation of the novel My Name Was Judas by author C.K. Stead was offensive to Christians in breach of the good taste and decency, and discrimination and denigration standards. The Authority did not consider that the broadcast’s content was likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards and it did not reach the high threshold necessary for finding that it encouraged the denigration of, or discrimination against, Christians as a section of the community. The Authority also found that the balance standard did not apply as the programme was not a news, current affairs or factual programme.
Not upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration, Balance.
 A reading of an adaptation of author C.K. Stead’s novel, My Name Was Judas, was broadcast on the programme Nine to Noon on Radio New Zealand (RNZ) on 11 May 2020.
 The broadcast was introduced as follows:
Today in The Reading, we begin an adaptation of C.K. Stead’s controversial novel My Name Was Judas. The novel is an account of the life and death of Jesus by Judas who in this imagined tale has survived long after Jesus’ death.
 It included the following statements:
- It was ‘the charm and the good looks as much as the scholarly promise that had won [Jesus] his place with us.’
- Jesus laughed at a joke ‘like a peasant’, his eyes shone ‘with a strange crazed light.’
- There was something ‘intransigent and self-satisfied’ in a comment Jesus made.
- To Jesus the language of the scriptures ‘became a sense of power’ (when for Judas they were ‘a source of beauty and comfort’).
- Jesus’ father Joseph was ‘uncomplainingly dominated by his wife.’
- Jesus’ mother, Mary, was ‘a skinny intense woman who concealed a steely quality under appropriate appearances of meekness and submission’ and ‘in her slightly crazed way she was the ruler of the roost.’
- Jesus told his mother to ‘please shut up’ many times.
- The children at Jesus’ house ‘rolled about together and quarrelled and made rude jokes and laughed when someone farted, everyone pleading not guilty and pretending to be dying of the smell.’
- ‘If Jesus was more seriously spiritual than the rest of us I didn’t notice.’
 In considering this complaint, we have listened to a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 Josiah Beach complained that the reading was offensive to Christians and breached the good taste and decency, discrimination and denigration and balance standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. He submitted:
- The reading contained fictional and vulgar material about people revered by Christians.
- The reading was another example of RNZ’s bias against Christianity and willingness to mock and offend people of a particular faith.
- If fictional and vulgar material relating to any other religion was broadcast it would likely be considered hate speech.
The broadcaster’s response
 RNZ did not uphold the complaint, noting the requirement to balance the potential offence to some listeners against the right of other listeners who expect RNZ to be reflecting material that is ‘an honest portrayal of the work of writers such as C.K. Stead’.
 RNZ stated the taking of offence at something, in itself, is insufficient to find that a breach of the standards has occurred. There is a high threshold to be met before a breach of the standards occurs.
 RNZ also noted that the reading was preceded with the clear description that this was the first episode of C.K. Stead’s ‘controversial novel’.
The relevant standards
 The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) states that current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme. The Authority will consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress.1
 The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.
 The balance standard (Standard 8) states that in the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
 When we consider any complaint that broadcasting standards have been breached, we start by recognising the important right to freedom of expression that is protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Against this value we weigh the potential harm caused by the broadcast. We may only interfere and uphold complaints where the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.
 As further explained below, in this case we have not found actual or potential harm arising from the segment which justifies limiting the broadcaster’s freedom of expression.
Good Taste and Decency
 The broadcast was a reading from a fictional novel by an accomplished New Zealand writer, on a current affairs and lifestyle programme targeted at adults who are familiar with and expect a broad range of content which is sometimes challenging. While we acknowledge that the complainant found the reading offensive we do not consider that the content of the novel, in this context, was likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards.
 The novel was intended to be thought-provoking (depicting characters from the Bible, from the perspective of Judas, as flawed individuals). Listeners were also advised at the outset of the nature of the broadcast and of its ‘controversial’ nature, mitigating any potential for harm by giving them the opportunity to choose whether or not to listen.2
 The complainant has suggested the programme demonstrates a bias against Christianity, and that such content would be considered ‘hate speech’ if linked to ‘any other religion’. However, the Authority’s role is to consider the complaint before it and the potential harms arising from the specific programme. In this context, we find that any potential harm arising from the broadcast is insufficient to justify our intervention.
 We therefore found no breach of the good taste and decency standard.
Discrimination and Denigration
 Literature based on religion or religious figures is protected by the right to freedom of expression provided it is not likely to cause harm to individuals or groups. There is a long history of literature and art depicting and interpreting Christianity.
 The importance of freedom of expression also means that a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, is necessary to conclude that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in breach of the standard.3 We did not identify any condemnation, malice or nastiness towards Christians in the broadcast extracts from this fictional work.
 We therefore found no breach of the discrimination and denigration standard.
 The balance standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes. As this part of the broadcast was fictional, this standard does not apply.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
14 September 2020
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Josiah Beach’s complaint to RNZ – 11 May 2020
2 RNZ’s response to Mr Beach – 2 June 2020
3 Mr Beach’s referral to the BSA – 3 June 2020
4 RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 3 July 2020
1 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
2 Guideline 1b
3 Guideline 6b