BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Paton and 95bFM - 1996-068

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • Helen Paton
Number
1996-068
Broadcaster
95bFM
Channel/Station
95bFM

Summary

A song by Iggy Pop entitled "Pussy Walk" was played on the University of Auckland's

student radio station, 95 bFM, on 13 March 1996 at about 6.00pm.

After a formal complaint by Helen Paton, the station advised her that it had removed the

song from the station's playlist. However on 25 March the song was heard again and,

when questioned by Ms Paton, 95 bFM explained that the song was still being played at

the discretion of each announcer. In Ms Paton's view the song violated the norms of

decency and encouraged the denigration of girls and women and should not be played.

In its response to the complaint, 95 bFM advised that it did not believe the song should

be totally banned, especially considering Iggy Pop's enormous global profile. It noted

that to ban the song would entail banning the whole album and it was not inclined to do

so. However, it had asked the DJs to play it only after 8.00pm. Dissatisfied with 95

bFM's decision not to uphold her complaint, Ms Paton referred it to the Authority under

s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority upholds the complaint that standard R2 was

breached.

Decision

The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the song complained about and

have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice, the

Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The song "Pussy Walk" was played on 95 bFM at 6.00pm on 13 March 1996. Helen

Paton complained to the station that many people, especially women, were offended by

the song and that it breached the standards of good taste and decency, and the standard

regarding the portrayal of women. She asked that the song be deleted from the station's

playlist.

95 bFM responded by advising that the song had been removed from its playlist.

However, Ms Paton learned that it was still being played, apparently at the discretion of

the DJs. She complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority that she was

dissatisfied because the station had assured her the song would no longer be played.

She repeated that the song encouraged the denigration of girls and women.

In its response to Ms Paton, 95 bFM apologised for stating that the song had been

totally removed, explaining that it had asked DJs to play it only after 8.00 pm.

However, it advised that it did not consider the song offensive in the manner which Ms

Paton claimed.

To the Authority 95 bFM maintained that the song violated neither the norms of decency

nor did it denigrate girls and women. It repeated that the song was taken off its playlist,

explaining that nevertheless DJs were entitled to include it in that portion of their

programme which permitted free choice. In addition DJs were directed that the song

could only be played at night. Pointing out that the song was frequently requested by

its listeners 95 bFM argued that its normal audience did not find the song offensive and

requested that the Authority bear that fact in mind. It reiterated that by removing the

song from the playlist it had not admitted culpability but had responded in an

appropriate way to a formal complaint. By doing so it had minimised its chance of

being played and, it considered, it had responded in a reasonable manner to the

complaint. 95 bFM denied that the song could be considered a form of "child sexual

abuse", arguing that it was unreasonable to interpret the lyrics as Ms Paton had done. It

concluded that in the context of the norms associated with the youth culture and taking

into account the steps taken to minimise airplay, the station had responded

appropriately.

The Authority examined the complaint under the standards nominated by Ms Paton.

Those standards require broadcasters:

            R2        To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and   

                        good taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in

                        which any language or behaviour occurs.

            R14      To avoid portraying people in a manner that 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 is not intended to prevent the                      

                        broadcast of material which is

                                    i)          factual, or

                                    ii)         the expression of serious opinion, or

                                    iii)         in the legitimate use of humour or satire.

Within the context of a student radio station the Authority acknowledges that the

boundaries of acceptability will be tested. It is therefore required to decide whether the

song breached accepted standards in that context. It refers to its decision No: 95/66

dated 27 July 1995 in which it decided that the language in the songs complained about

on that occasion – "Oh Shit" and "Body Count" was not acceptable when played in the

early evening. It upheld the complaint and, in making its decision not to impose an

order, it wrote:

            The Authority regards its task on this occasion as being of an advisory nature

            as to the type of songs which student radio stations may play – especially in the

            early evening.

In light of that warning the Authority believes that it is clear that it does not consider

lyrics containing sexual innuendo are suitable for broadcast at 6.00pm. It decides that

airplay should be restricted to times after 8.00pm and upholds the complaint the

broadcast of "Pussy Walk" at 6.00pm on 13 March breaches standard R2.

Turning to the standard R14 complaint, the Authority concludes that the words of the

song come close to denigrating women because it reduced them to body parts.

However, it decides that standard R14 was not breached because, as it has interpreted

the term, denigration requires a "blackening" of the reputation of the group referred to.

Although the comments were sexist and, indeed, offensive to some, the Authority

concludes that they did not amount to denigration.

Finally, it examines Ms Paton's complaint about the action taken by 95 bFM. It notes

that she was assured that the song was taken from the playlist, and when that assurance

proved false she was later advised that the DJs were permitted to play it at their

discretion. The Authority considers that 95 bFM's policy should have been made clear

to Ms Paton at the outset.

It regards the station's decision to restrict the playing of "Pussy Walk" to after 8.00pm

as appropriate and expects that assurance to be observed.

For the reasons set forth above the Authority upholds the complaint that

the broadcast of the song "Pussy Walk" by 95 bFM on 13 March 1996 at

6.00pm breached standard R2 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting

Practice.


It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.


Having upheld a complaint the Authority may make an order under s.13 (1) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989. It does not intend to do so on this occasion as the station agreed

that the song should only be broadcast after 8.00pm.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
27 June 1996

Appendix


Helen Paton's Complaint to 95 bFM – 13 March 1996

Ms Paton of Auckland complained to 95 b FM, the University of Auckland student

radio station, that its broadcast of a song by Iggy Pop at about 6.00pm on Wednesday

13 March breached broadcasting standards. She noted that the station received calls

from other people who were clearly offended, especially women.

Ms Paton maintained that the song breached standards R2 (good taste and decency) and

R14 (regarding the portrayal of women). She asked if the station would reconsider

having the song on the play list.

95 bFM's Response to the Formal Complaint – 21 March 1996

In a brief letter, 95 bFM advised that it had removed the song "Pussy Walk" by Iggy

Pop from its playlist.

Ms Paton's Referral to the Authority – 1 April 1996

Dissatisfied with 95 bFM's failure to remove the song from its playlist as promised, Ms

Paton referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of

the Broadcasting Act 1989.

She enclosed a copy of a letter verifying that the song had been aired on other occasions

since she was advised that it was no longer on the playlist. When one of those who

heard the song contacted the station, they were advised that it could still be played at the

discretion of the announcer. Ms Paton added:

An advertisement is now being run by the station which promotes the album

from which the song comes. An excerpt of the song is played and it is

described as a "dirty little ditty."

In Ms Paton's view, the song violated the norms of decency and encouraged

denigration of young girls and women. She wrote:

The song has a man singing about the genitalia of girls and women that he sees

in public. They do not give their consent to be viewed in that way. The girls he

refers to at junior high schools are aged from 12 years. To refer to the genitalia

of those under the age of consent may be viewed as child sexual abuse.


Ms Paton did not consider it acceptable that the song was still played and asked the

Authority to remove it from the airwaves.

95 bFM's Response to the Authority – 18 April 1996

The station apologised for stating that the song had been totally removed from its

playlist, advising that in fact it had been removed from high rotate. It did not consider

the song deserved to be totally banned, especially since Iggy Pop has such an enormous

global profile. It noted that in order to remove the song, the entire album would need to

be removed and it was not inclined to do that.

95 bFM advised that it had asked its DJs to play the song only after 8.00pm. It added

that that was difficult, since it received dozens of requests from both men and women

for the song.

The station responded that it had taken the complaint very seriously but suggested that

the offence rated alongside the 60s hit from the Rolling Stones "I can't get no

satisfaction".

According to the station, Iggy Pop said in a recent interview that "Pussy Walk" does not

mean anything at all. It suggested that the song painted an accurate picture of middle

age male frustration.

Ms Paton's Final Comment – 7 May 1996

In her final comment, Ms Paton noted that at least two other people she knew of had

complained about the song and neither had received responses to their letters.

She enclosed copies of their letters.

95 bFM's Second Response to the Authority – 29 May 1996

First, 95 bFM stated that it did take the song off the playlist in response to Ms Paton's

original complaint.

It maintained that the song "Pussy Walk" did not violate the norms of decency or

denigrate girls and women. It argued:

            The song is not reinforcing the beliefs of all actual and potential chauvinists

            nor does it portray women in such a manner that any reasonable person would

            be encouraged to assimilate. The song is not suggestive of anything other than

            a jaundiced and humorous interpretation of middle Americas frustrated male

            libido.

Secondly, the station noted that the album had been released in many countries and

expressed its doubt that it would have had commercial success if it was in breach of

accepted norms of decency and taste. It noted that although the song had not been

released commercially in New Zealand, it had been in Australia, a country arguably

similar to New Zealand in its accepted norms of decency.

95 bFM stressed that after the complaint from Ms Paton, "Pussy Walk" was removed

from the playlist, but not totally banned from the station. Playlist, it explained,

comprised 60% of each hour. DJs had free choice for the other 40% and, the station

argued, the possibility of "Pussy Walk" being played during that time was very small

since they could choose from the entire repertoire of recorded music, so long as the

selection was broad and varied. Further, the station pointed out, DJs were only

permitted to play the song at night.

The station noted that the song was played on occasions in response to requests which,

it suggested, proved that its normal listening audience did not find the song offensive.

95 bFM emphasised that it did not find the song offensive and that by removing it from

playlist it was not admitting culpability, but had simply responded reasonably to the

complaint and minimised the chance of it being played.

It denied that the song could be considered a form of "child sexual abuse" as Ms Paton

claimed, arguing that it was an unreasonable interpretation of the lyrics to suggest that

Iggy Pop was singing about the genitalia of children from the statement that he visits

schools. It wrote:

Not only is this an indefensible slight on Mr Pop's character but it is an

unreasonable interpretation of the lyrics.

The station concluded that the song did not breach standard R14 nor did it breach

standard R2. It reminded the Authority that in the context in which the language

occurred and the steps taken to minimise airplay, it had taken into consideration

currently accepted norms of decency and good taste and acted responsibly.

A transcript of the song was appended.

Ms Paton's Final Comment – 12 June 1996

Ms Paton drew attention to the fact that her complaint was not an isolated one, pointing

out that both verbal (on-air) complaints and written complaints had been made about the

song.

She also provided an addition to the biographical notes that 95 bFM supplied about Iggy

Pop, noting that he had twice attempted to kill himself by overdosing on drugs.

Finally she wrote:

            Mr Hyde (the station manager) appears to agree that singing about the genitalia

            of children is unacceptable. Reading the words of the song can only indicate

            that the singer is thinking inside about the "puss(ies)" of "young girls" aged 12

            years and upwards wearing their "young girl clothes" who attend junior high

            schools in the USA. This is a form of child sexual abuse.