BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Chambers and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2021-108 (17 November 2021)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
Dated
Complainant
  • Allen Chambers
Number
2021-108
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an item on Newshub Live at 6pm, which discussed a draft film script for the proposed film They Are Us, based on events surrounding the Christchurch terror attack on 15 March 2019. The complainant considered comments made during the broadcast, such as that the script was ‘a misleading and dishonest Americanisation of what happened in this country’ were derogatory towards Americans, and breached the discrimination and denigration standard. The Authority acknowledged the comments had the potential to cause offence, but found they did not meet the high threshold required to breach the standard and justify restricting the right to freedom of expression.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration


Broadcast

[1]  An item on Newshub Live at 6pm broadcast on Three on 13 July 2021 discussed a leaked draft film script for the proposed film They Are Us, based on events surrounding the Christchurch terror attack on 15 March 2019. The item was introduced as follows:

Presenter 1:    Newshub can tonight reveal the leaked draft script of the movie They Are Us is a Hollywood rewrite of New Zealand history.

Presenter 2:    It's an alternative version of what happened after March 15, told with an American slant that shows the Prime Minister in her sleepwear, and another politician erased altogether. National Correspondent Patrick Gower with this exclusive report.

[2]  As part of his report, Mr Gower speaks with Linda Clark, a lawyer and political commentator who was asked to independently assess excerpts from the script. On the script, she commented:

Linda Clark:    Clearly the script is based on real events, but it's not real and it's not realistic.

                        …

Linda Clark:    They're writing a version of New Zealand history, but they're writing it with an American sensibility.

                        …

Linda Clark:     An American wrote it for an American audience with no understanding of how New Zealand looks at these issues and how our politicians behave.

[3]  Mr Gower also read out a statement from former National Party leader Simon Bridges on the issue which stated: 'The scripting is entirely inaccurate and offensive. We immediately supported the ban [on semi-automatic guns]. This is a misleading and dishonest Americanisation of what happened in this country.'

The complaint

[4]  Allen Chambers complained that the broadcast contained multiple derogatory references toward Americans and breached the discrimination and denigration standard. He stated that:

  • In the context of a discussion about a ‘distorted film script,’ the word ‘Americanisation’ was used multiple times to deride how the events surrounding the Christchurch terror attacks had been dramatized in the script. The implication was that Americans generally employ ‘gross distortions of history’ in writing historical film scripts.
  • ‘I am greatly offended by the apparent ease at which multiple people concur with and parrot this derogatory characterisation. The impression that I went away with is that Americans most commonly distort the truth and take cheap shots at others.’
  • ‘It seems to me that denigration of Americans is generally acceptable in New Zealand.’

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  Discovery NZ Ltd (Discovery) apologised to the complainant for any distress caused to him as a result of the broadcast, but did not uphold his complaint on the basis that:

  • A high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice and nastiness, is necessary to conclude that the discrimination and denigration standard has been breached.
  • It did not accept that the comments in the broadcast reached this threshold.
  • ‘The references to Hollywood and the script being “Americanised” were used to describe a movie script that was written in America – the [Standards] Committee does not agree that these accurate reflections, and in some cases, personal opinions, reach the threshold to be considered hate speech or a sustained attack on all American people.’

The standard

[6]  The discrimination and denigration standard1 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. It protects sections of the community from verbal and other attacks, and fosters a community commitment to equality.

[7]  ‘Denigration’ is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community. ‘Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment.2 

Our analysis

[8]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[9]  We have also considered the important right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point. This includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of ideas, information and opinions and the public’s right to receive those. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that outweighs the right to freedom of expression.

[10]  The discrimination and denigration standard applies only to recognised ‘sections of the community’, which is consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993.3 We are satisfied that Americans constitute a recognised section of the community for the purposes of this standard.

[11]  We acknowledge that Chambers found the comments in the broadcast offensive. However, the Codebook recognises that comments will not breach the discrimination and denigration standard simply because they are critical of another group, because they offend people or because they are rude.4 The importance of freedom of expression means that a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, will usually be necessary to find a breach of the standard.5

[12]  In this case, we do not think the comments carried this high level of condemnation. Further, the relevant segment was a news item constituting serious commentary on a matter of significant public interest – the dramatisation of recent tragic events in New Zealand’s history. The comments made by Ms Clark and Mr Bridges were their genuine expressions of opinion on this matter. The standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is factual, a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or legitimate humour, drama or satire.6

[13]  For these reasons, we consider the broadcast did not reach the high threshold for finding harm at a level that justifies restricting freedom of expression.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Susie Staley
Acting Chair
17 November 2021

 


Appendix

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

1  Allen Chambers’ complaint to Discovery – 14 July 2021

2  Discovery’s response to Mr Chambers – 16 August 2021

3  Mr Chambers’ referral to the Authority – 9 September 2021

4  Discovery’s confirmation of no further comments – 10 September 2021


1 Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Guideline 6a
3 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
4 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
5 Guideline 6b
6 Guideline 6c