BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Credo Society Inc and 95bFM - 1997-008

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • Credo Society Inc
Number
1997-008
Programme
In the Pink
Broadcaster
95bFM
Channel/Station
95bFM

Summary

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

Councillors.

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.

Decision

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

hearing.

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

issues.

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

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, 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

                                    a          factual

                                    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

issue.

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

were breached.

It declines to uphold the standard R14 aspect of the complaint.

Order


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

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
13 February 1997

Appendix

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

action taken.

Further Correspondence

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

offensive.

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

offence.

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

audience.

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

Practice.

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.