Credo Society Inc and 95bFM - 1997-008
- J M Potter (Chair)
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- A Martin
- Credo Society Inc
ProgrammeIn the Pink
A studio guest from the Pride Centre criticised the Mayor and Councillors of Auckland,
describing them as "arseholes" when she was interviewed on In the Pink broadcast on
95 bFM on 18 August 1996 between 8.00–9.00pm.
Mrs Barbara Faithfull, on behalf of the Credo Society Inc, complained to 95 bFM that
the remarks breached the good taste standard and denigrated the Mayor and
When it responded to the complaint, 95 bFM suggested that the word "arsehole" was
not offensive to the target audience of the station and therefore did not breach the
standards. It denied that the word denigrated any local government officials, and
declined to uphold any aspect of the complaint.
Dissatisfied with that decision, the Credo Society referred its complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards 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 and orders 95 bFM to pay to the Crown the sum of $250.00 by way of costs.
It declines to uphold the standard R14 complaint.
The members of the Authority have read the correspondence (summarised in the
Appendix). As is its practice, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal
During an interview on the programme In the Pink broadcast on 95 bFM on 18 August
1996 between 8.00–9.00pm, a guest from the Pride Centre described the Mayor and
Councillors of Auckland as "arseholes" because they did not support the Centre's
initiative to set up a liaison group with the ACC, to deal with homosexual-related
Mrs Barbara Faithfull for the Credo Society complained to 95 bFM that the description
of the Mayor and Councillors as "arseholes" breached the good taste and decency
standard and also denigrated them. The Society noted that the remarks were not
censured by the programme's presenters when the outburst occurred. It contended that
the word was disgusting, repulsive, abominable and highly offensive to masses of
people and was never ordinarily heard or seen in the general media. The Society
complained it breached broadcasting standards.
In its response, 95 bFM assessed the complaint under the nominated standards, which
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, occupation 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
b the expression of serious opinion, or
c in the legitimate use of humour or satire.
Referring first to the alleged good taste breach, 95 bFM argued that the word "arsehole"
was becoming more acceptable in society, and that in its 18–24 year old target audience,
the word was seldom used to cause offence. Bearing in mind that it was a student radio
station, 95 bFM argued that it could not be accused of violating accepted norms,
because it accurately reflected the youth culture it served. The word "arsehole", it
contended, was not one to cause offence in its target audience.
Referring to its responsibility to minimise the possibility of causing offence to those
other than the target audience, 95 bFM explained that it had a policy to keep to a
minimum the use of words such as "arsehole" on air, and that it scheduled programmes
such as In the Pink in late time periods which were unlikely to attract an audience other
than the target group. It concluded that, bearing in mind the context in which the word
was used, there was no breach of the standard.
Turning to the complaint that the word denigrated the Mayor and Councillors, 95 bFM
responded that it could not understand how a word used in that manner could be
construed as denigration. It agreed that it insulted, but did not degrade. Clarifying its
position when it responded to the Authority, it argued that the statement insulted
because it expressed contempt for the Mayor's and Councillors' point of view. It
maintained it did not denigrate them, but was contemptuous of their position on the
When the Credo Society referred the complaint to the Authority, it rejected 95 bFM's
arguments that the word was becoming more acceptable, and that in the youth culture
format, and at the time of broadcast, did not cause offence to the target audience. To
the response that no denigration had occurred, the Society argued that by its dictionary
definition, the offending word had denigrated the Mayor and Councillors. It concluded
that the language used, and the vicious and malicious manner in which it was used,
clearly breached the standards.
The Authority expresses its concern that no tape of the programme was provided by 95
bFM. Standards R35 and R36 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice read:
R35 For a period of 35 days after broadcast, radio stations shall hold a
recording of all talkback and open line programmes and a copy or tape
of news and current affairs items.
R36 When a formal or serious complaint is made about a programme,
stations must ensure as far as practicable that all relevant recordings,
scripts or other programme information are held until the complaint has
been finally dealt with. Such recordings to be made available to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority on written request.
Failure to provide a tape has an impact on the Authority's ability to make its decision on
the complaint. When asked for the reason why no tape was provided, 95 bFM
explained that its resources were limited and it did not have adequate equipment at
present to make tapes. It advised that it was attempting to remedy the problem.
The Authority finds the situation unacceptable, particularly in view of Decision No:
1996-085, dated 1 August 1996, where it is recorded that it received an assurance from
95 bFM management that systems were being implemented to ensure compliance with
standards R35 and R36. The Authority finds a breach of those standards.
Given that no tape was available, the Authority relied on the summary provided by the
Credo Society. It noted that the Society described the exchange as bitter, abusive and
angry. This summary was not disputed by the station and the Authority was thus able
to proceed with its investigation, in spite of not having a tape.
It decides that the angry outburst, containing the description of the Mayor and
Councillors as "arseholes", is offensive and breaches standard R2. To 95 bFM's
argument that the word is not offensive, the Authority refers to its research,
commissioned in 1993, Perceptions of Good Taste and Decency in Television and
Radio Broadcasting, in which respondents were asked to rank words in order of their
offensiveness. On a list of 20 words, "arseholes" was ranked 5th most offensive.
Turning to the complaint that the remarks denigrated the Mayor and Councillors, the
Authority refers to a previous decision (Decision No: 86/92, dated 5 November 1992)
where it defined denigration as a "blackening" of a reputation of a group and ruled that a
high level of deprecation is necessary for a programme to encourage denigration. On
this occasion, it does not consider that standard R14 was breached, although it
considers the remarks were insulting and offensive.
By the Broadcasting Amendment Act 1996, the Authority was given the power to order
a broadcaster to pay costs to the Crown of up to $5,000. The Authority regards the
language used, as described by the complainant, as a serious breach of standards. Its
task in assessing the seriousness of the breach was made more difficult because no tape
of the programme was provided by the station, as required under the legislation.
Moreover, the Authority notes with concern that this is the second recent occasion on
which its ability to perform its statutory functions has been impaired because of the
broadcaster's failure to keep tapes.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds the complaint that
remarks made on 95 bFM's programme In the Pink broadcast on 18
August 1996 between 8.00–9.00pm breached standard R2 of the Radio
Code of Broadcasting Practice.
Because 95 bFM was unable to supply a tape of the broadcast
complained about, the Authority concludes that standards R35 and R36
It declines to uphold the standard R14 aspect of the complaint.
Pursuant to s.16(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 (as amended in 1996)
the Authority orders 95 bFM to pay costs of $250.00 to the Crown
within one month of the date of this decision.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
13 February 1997
The Credo Society Inc's Complaint to 95 bFM – 10 September 1996
Mrs Barbara Faithfull, on behalf of the Credo Society Inc, complained about the
programme In the Pink broadcast on 95 bFM on 18 August 1996 between 8.00 -
9.00pm. A studio guest on the programme from the Pride Centre reported on an ACC
meeting where she and another speaker had comprised a delegation from the Centre.
Apparently the Auckland City Council had rebuffed their attempts to set up a liaison
group with ACC to deal with homosexual-related issues. According to the Credo
Society, the guest bitterly criticised the Mayor and the Councillors, reportedly saying:
Basically a lot of them are arseholes and they've made publicly homophobic
statements – it's just bullshit!
The Society noted that the remarks were not commented upon by the interviewers. It
maintained that the language breached standard R2 (observance of good taste and
decency) and R14 (denigration) of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
The Society wrote that it trusted the complaint would be upheld and the appropriate
When the complaint was received, 95 bFM, in a letter dated 18 September, sought
clarification of the reasons why the standards were breached.
In its response dated 27 September, the Society expressed astonishment that 95 bFM
was not aware of the reasons, having assumed that it would have been obvious that the
word was not acceptable for broadcast, particularly as applied to the Mayor, Deputy
Mayor and certain City Councillors.
In a second letter dated 3 October, 95 bFM again sought clarification on how the
statement breached the standards.
In a reply on 4 October, the Society repeated that:
...the particular word [arsehole] is disgusting, repulsive, abominable, and
highly offensive to masses of people; that it is never, ordinarily, heard or seen
in the general media, and therefore that it contravenes the standards requiring
good taste and decency.
95 bFM's Response to the Formal Complaint – 16 October 1996
First, it maintained that in this circumstance, the use of the word "arsehole" did not
violate the standards. To the Society's argument that the word was disgusting,
repulsive and abominable, the station replied that the word was becoming more
acceptable throughout society and that in the 18-24 age group, the station's target
audience, it was seldom used to cause offence.
Recognising that to the Credo Society it was not a trivial matter, 95 bFM argued that to
a large proportion of society, including its own listening audience, the word was not
It argued that it was not appropriate to conclude the station had violated accepted norms
when it had accurately reflected the youth culture in which it was immersed. It noted
that among 18-24 year olds, the word arsehole was used without causing or intending
It also pointed out that the station had been employing the youth-oriented format for 27
years and that during that time it had received relatively few complaints about language
and behaviour. It added that it had never received a complaint about the use of the word
arsehole. Nevertheless it continued, it had a responsibility to recognise that not all of its
listeners held the same views as the target audience, and for that reason it had a policy
to keep such utterances as the word arsehole to an absolute minimum. Furthermore, it
scheduled programmes such as In the Pink in late time periods which were unlikely to
attract an audience other than its target group. It wrote:
Further, 95 bFM is part of youth culture and is a medium that aims to stem the
growing alienation felt by today's youth. It is easy to see that our utilisation of
an idiom that is used by youth, when taken into consideration with many other
aspects of our format, means we provide an essential social service.
The station concluded that bearing in mind the time of the broadcast and the norms
associated with the youth culture, it had taken into consideration currently accepted
norms of decency and taste and acted responsibly.
To the Society's argument that the word was never ordinarily heard or seen in the
general media, the station responded that was a fallacy. It maintained that it did not
follow the rules of logic to suggest that a word contravened the codes simply because it
was rarely used. It noted that words such as "prattle" and "homophobia" did not appear
often in the media, but that did not mean they were offensive.
With respect to standard R14, the station responded that since the Society had not
clarified how the standard was breached, it offered no argument. In its view the word
insulted, but did not degrade.
The Credo Society Inc's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards
Authority – 20 November 1996
Dissatisfied with 95 bFM's decision not to uphold the complaint, the Credo Society
referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989.
The Society responded to 95 bFM's arguments as follows.
First, to the argument that the station reflected the youth culture, and that it had been
using a youth-oriented format for 27 years, the Society responded that it was fallacious
and less than honest to suggest the format had been used for 27 years, because up until
five years ago there were far stricter rules regarding language.
Secondly, the Society submitted that it was arrogant to assume that the audience
normally associated with the station did not find the word offensive. It pointed out that
it was impossible to know who the audience was and what their views were and also
noted that the station was aired to all ages, including the very young.
Thirdly, the Society was critical of the claim that the station provided an essential
service to the youth.
Regarding the defence that the word seldom caused offence, the Society maintained that
the word had obviously been used to cause offence. It suggested the description of the
time slot (8.00-9.00pm) as a late time slot unlikely to attract other than the target group
as "contrived hokum".
The Society then criticised 95 bFM's analysis of its complaint which, it maintained,
selectively quoted and distorted its argument.
With respect to the standard R14 complaint, the Society responded that it did not spell
the matter out in detail because it believed the evidence of the use of such appalling
language to vilify some of the city's leading citizens should have been sufficient in
itself. Noting that 95 bFM agreed that the words insulted, the Society turned to its
dictionary definition of denigrate, which supported its argument that the word breached
the standard, and that denigrate had a similar meaning to insult.
The Credo Society concluded by submitting that the words breached standards R2 and
R14. It suggested the station should be more accountable and not be absolved from
observing broadcasting standards because it was a special case with a special audience.
95 bFM's Response to the Authority – 5 December 1996
The station responded to some of the points in the Credo Society's referral. First it
noted that it was reasonable to conclude that an organisation which had a 27 year
history with its audience knew that audience. It suggested that the policies of former
station managers had little to do with whether a phrase was offensive.
Secondly, it argued that it was not arrogant to assume it knew its audience and its
idiom. It added that its staff were all aged between 18 and 28 and they understood the
attitudes and opinions of the audience because they were that audience and interacted
with the audience on a daily basis.
95 bFM added that it was its business to know the market. It contended that it had a
legitimate claim to state that it knew its audience.
From that stance, it repeated, the word arsehole was not offensive to its normal
Thirdly, 95 bFM argued that it was not "weaselly talk" to claim it provided an essential
service. It was one of the few mediums in New Zealand which addressed youth issues.
Regarding the argument that the programme was in a time slot to target a particular
group, the station responded that this contention was in line with programming
strategies employed throughout the industry.
To the contention that the remarks insulted, the station responded that it was insulting
because it expressed contempt for the mayor and the council for their point of view.
However, it continued, it did not denigrate the people.
95 bFM maintained that it had acted responsibly and had not violated the Codes of
In response to an inquiry from the Authority as to why there was no tape provided, 95
bFM, in a letter dated 10 December, explained that its aircheck equipment was outdated
and inadequate. As a student radio station, it argued it could not afford to purchase the
necessary equipment, although it was seeking to purchase a second hand system. It
anticipated it would not take long to acquire one, and in the meantime offered apologies
for having an inadequate system.
The Credo Society's Final Comment – 18 December 1996
In its final comment, the Society criticised the Station's excuse that it was permissible to
use such language when the station was targeted to the youth culture and the
programme was broadcast late at night. It referred to a recent decision of the Authority
where it stated that it did not accept such a defence.
To the Station's argument that the comments did not denigrate the Mayor or Council but
simply showed contempt for their position, the Society suggested this argument was
simply a splitting of hairs and a denial of the facts of the matter. It suggested that the
Mayor and Councillors were simply exercising their right to legitimate expression of
their view on the matters relating to the homosexual centre.