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Cokanasiga and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-113

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Leigh Pearson
Dated
Complainant
  • Timoci Cokanasiga
Number
2010-113
Programme
Breakfast
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast
– host read out viewer feedback regarding Fiji’s involvement in Pacific Islands Forum – made comment “you ungrateful swine” – allegedly in breach of discrimination and denigration standard


Findings

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – host’s comment directed at Fijian leaders – not a section of the community to which standard applied – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   During an episode of Breakfast, broadcast on TV One on the morning of 5 August 2010, two MPs were invited onto the programme to discuss New Zealand’s involvement in the Pacific Islands Forum; a topical issue because the 41st leaders meeting was at that time being held in Vanuatu.

[2]   The interview followed a segment on New Zealand’s involvement in Afghanistan, and was introduced with the following exchange between host, Paul Henry, and one of the MPs:

Henry:
I am going to ask you exactly the same question about the Pacific Islands Forum – why are we there?

MP:
Well you know, this is I think a pretty fractured time for the Pacific Island Forum, and I think it would be naive of us to think that everyone would be sitting alongside Australia and New Zealand on our strong stance on Fiji. There are different views in that Forum and I think we’re hearing some of them. But I still think it’s incredibly important we’re at the table. We have a strong voice in the Pacific ...

Henry:   And let’s face it, we paid for the damn table, didn’t we. It’s our table.

[3]   With regard to Fiji’s involvement in the Forum, Mr Henry asked the other MP how he responded to people who said, “look we should stop giving these people money, they’re just not grateful for the money we give them, let’s just pull out, leave them alone”.

[4]   Following the interview, in the viewer feedback segment at 7.40am, Mr Henry read out a range of viewers’ comments, including an email which said, “Agree with Paul, stop handouts and view it case by case.” Immediately following this, Mr Henry stated:

That’s what I would do, I would say right, as of today, you ungrateful swine, as of today, we’re giving you zip. Come to us and present your case. That’ll be interesting to see how long before Frank comes knocking on the door.

[5]   Later in the programme the presenters discussed the pros and cons of Fiji and Rarotonga. Mr Henry said that Fiji was more like “paradise” than Rarotonga, and went on to explain his opinion of the differences between the two destinations.

Complaint

[6]   Timoci Cokanasiga made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the host’s remarks “against Fiji” as an “ungrateful swine” breached broadcasting standards relating to discrimination and denigration.

[7]   The complainant said that, although he had nothing against Fiji being labelled ungrateful, he considered the use of the term swine was “despicable”, and called for the host to apologise.

Standards

[8]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 7, and guideline 7a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, 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.

Guideline 7a

This standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is:

• factual

• the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual
  programmes, or

• legitimate humour, drama or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   TVNZ stated that Breakfast was “a mixture of news, serious interviews, magazine segments, reviews and often frequent good-natured ribbing at the expense of almost anyone in the headlines or visiting the set”. It said that participants and viewers appreciated this, and in particular the host's “’shoot from the lip' hyperbolic comments [were] an accepted style and integral part of the daily morning fare for the programme's growing audience”.

[10]   The broadcaster maintained that, on this occasion, the comment subject to complaint was made in response to viewer feedback, and that “Mr Henry routinely offers his personal opinions in response to comments received by viewers in this segment of Breakfast”. TVNZ argued that Mr Henry’s comment was in accordance with his style, which was characterised by “exaggerated hyperbole”, and was therefore in accordance with audience expectations. The comment was “clearly pointed at the leaders of Fiji” and was not aimed at the Fijian people, it said.

[11]   TVNZ maintained that throughout the item, Mr Henry “spoke repeatedly, with great affection, in complimentary terms about Fiji”. It did not consider the item reached the high threshold necessary to find a breach of Standard 7 and it therefore declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Cokanasiga referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[13]   The complainant contended that, “In Fiji, pigs or swine are the most filthy of all domesticated animals”, and argued that, “to label a person or group of leaders as a bunch of swine [was] very degrading especially in the Fijian culture”.

[14]   With regard to TVNZ’s contention that Mr Henry “spoke repeatedly, with great affection, in complimentary terms about Fiji”, the complainant argued that this was “totally irrelevant to the issue”.

Authority's Determination

[15]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[16]   Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage 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.

[17]   To determine an alleged breach of Standard 7, we must first consider whether Mr Henry’s comment, “ungrateful swine”, was directed at a section of the community to which the standard applied. In our view, the comment was made in the context of a discussion that focused on New Zealand’s involvement in the 41st leaders meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum, and in particular on the strong stance taken by the New Zealand and Australian governments towards Fiji – a position not supported by some other member nations.

[18]   Bearing in mind the context, we consider that Mr Henry’s comment was a hyperbolic statement directed at the leaders of Fiji, in particular at the interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, and not at the Fijian people. This was reinforced by the last sentence of his statement where he specifically referred to the Commodore, stating, “That’ll be interesting to see how long before Frank comes knocking on the door”.

[19]   Having found that the comment was directed at Fijian leaders and not at the Fijian people, we also find that Fijian leaders are not a “section of the community” to which Standard 7 applies. Even if they were, we consider that it was legitimate, in light of the right to freedom of expression, for the host to direct opinionated criticism at the leaders of a foreign country in a news and current affairs programme.

[20]   Accordingly, we consider that Mr Henry’s comment did not encourage denigration of, or discrimination against Fijian people in general, and we therefore decline to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
23 November 2010

Appendix

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

1.           Timoci Cokanasiga’s formal complaint – 5 August 2010

2.          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 2 September 2010

3.          Mr Cokanasiga’s referral to the Authority – 6 September 2010

4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 11 October 2010