BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hope and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 1995-016

Members
  • I W Gallaway (Chair)
  • W J Fraser
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • David Hope
Number
1995-016
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio


Summary

Instructions on how to make a Christmas Cake were broadcast on National Radio on

the afternoon of 16 December 1994. The recipe included a bottle or two of whisky

and the presenter suggested a taste to test its quality. Eventually a whole bottle was

drunk and the presenter simulated drunkenness.

Mr Hope complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the

impersonation of drunkenness was offensive and breached the standards relating to

good taste, balance and the protection of children.

Maintaining that the balance requirement was inapplicable and that the broadcast did

not occur at a time when children were listening, RNZ argued that the radio version of

an old joke was contrived, unrealistic and unlikely to offend a significant number of

listeners. Dissatisfied with RNZ's decision on the good taste aspect, Mr Hope

referred the matter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989.


For the reasons below, the Authority declined to uphold the complaint.


Decision

The members of the Authority have listened to the item complained about and have

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

Authority has determined the complaint without a formal hearing.

The presenter on National Radio during the afternoon of 16 December broadcast a

Christmas cake recipe. The ingredients included a bottle or two of whisky and the

instructions suggested regular samples of the whisky to ascertain its quality. As the

instructions proceeded, the presenter then impersonated drunkenness.

Mr Hope complained to RNZ that drunkenness was not a funny subject at any time

as it involved violence, death and injury and excessive alcohol consumption at

Christmas time especially was insensitive. He described the "distasteful

impersonation" of drunkenness as a "second-hand crudity".

Although some correspondence from RNZ to Mr Hope dealing with procedural

matters was not delivered, RNZ assessed the complaint under s.4(1)(a) and (d) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989 and standards R2 and R3 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting

Practice. The provisions in the Act require broadcasters to maintain standards

consistent with:

(a) The observance of good taste and decency; and

...

(d) The principle that when controversial issues of public importance are

discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are

given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme

or in other programmes within the period of current interest;


The other two 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.

R3  To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during

their generally accepted listening periods.


On the basis that National Radio was not aimed at children during the afternoons and

that questions of balance were not involved, RNZ declined to uphold the complaint

under s.4(1)(d) or standard R3.

As for the allegation relating to good taste, RNZ described the item as the radio

version of a very old joke which, given the Christmas context of the broadcast, was

unlikely to be offensive to the community. It declined to uphold that aspect as well.

When he referred the matter to the Authority, Mr Hope confined his complaint to the

issue of good taste. He expressed concern not only at the speed the whisky was

drunk - as brain damage could ensue – but asking when if ever was drunkenness funny,

said the matter was an unsubtle "joke".

The Authority initially expresses its increasing concern about the use by announcers

of ad lib comments which refer to alcohol and are intended to be humorous quips.

Because of this concern and after consultation with broadcasters, the Authority added

the following standard to the recently revised Programme Standards for the Promotion

of Liquor:

A5  Broadcasters – including announcers, programme hosts and commentators

– will not make ad lib comments which refer directly or indirectly to the

use or consumption of liquor in any way prohibited by the Advertising

Standards Authority's Code for the Promotion for Advertising Liquor.


The current complaint was not assessed under this provision as it had not been

publicly issued at the time of the broadcast. The Authority would also point out that

it was designed in particular to prevent broadcasters on stations aimed at youthful

male audiences from glamorising alcohol consumption and treating drunkenness as a

matter of humour. While not having the demographics of National Radio's afternoon

audience, the Authority accepted that it was likely to be a mature adult audience

which, while it might be amused by the obviously contrived broadcast, was unlikely

to be offended or influenced in any way by what was clearly a "spoof".

The Authority agreed however with Mr Hope that real or feigned drunkenness should

not be a topic for light-heartedness and that the broadcast on this occasion displayed

some insensitivity and engendered Mr Hope's description that it was a "second-hand

crudity". Nevertheless, for the reasons set out in the preceding paragraph and taking

the context of the festive season into account along with the age and unreality of the

joke (even older than radio according to RNZ), it decided that the item complained

about did not breach the standards requiring good taste and decency.

 

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Iain Gallaway
Chairperson
6 April 1995


Appendix

Mr Hope's Formal Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd - 4 January 1995

Mr David Hope of Auckland wrote to the programming head of Radio New Zealand

Ltd on 16 December 1994 to complain about an item broadcast on National Radio that

afternoon.

He pointed out that drunkenness was not a funny subject at any time and especially

at Christmas, excessive alcohol consumption was involved with violence, death and

injury. "One would expect" he wrote "a certain amount of sensitivity regarding the

topic on National Radio".

However, the afternoon presenter had pretended to drink a bottle of whisky and had

given a distasteful impersonation of drunkenness. He described the item as a "second-

hand crudity".

Mr Hope repeated his concern in his formal complaint. He recalled that the item

involved the broadcast of a Christmas cake recipe which included a bottle of whisky

among the ingredients. During the description of the cake making process, the

presenter ostensibly tasted the whisky in order to test its quality. He eventually

consumed the whole bottle and the broadcast "culminated in a simulation of complete

and foolish drunkenness". Again expressing his concern as to the quantity of alcohol

consumed in a short period of time, Mr Hope said he expected more sensitivity from

National Radio.

Complaining in addition that the broadcast breached the rules relating to the protection

of children, alcohol promotion and balance, Mr Hope said that broadcast of such

material contravened the requirement for good taste and decency.

RNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 2 February 1995

Reporting that the complaint had been assessed under s.4(1)(a) and (d) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989 and standards R2 and R3 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting

Practice, RNZ maintained the item was not the type of programme to which the

balance requirement applied. It continued:

The item concerned was a radio version of a very old joke, was obviously

contrived and not a representation of reality, and was broadcast at a time when

National Radio's programme is neither aimed at nor listened to by children who,

except for those turning to National Radio specifically for the "EARS"

programme at about 6:30pm, listen to the contemporary music stations, the

ZBNewstalk stations or the independents.

Declining to uphold the complaint, RNZ's chief executive observed:

Finally, I do not believe that the item can be considered to be likely to cause

offence to a significant number of the average community, and therefore indecent

or in bad taste, given the Christmas context it was broadcast within, and the

entirely unreal scenario it briefly presented.

Mr Hope's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 27 February

1995

Dissatisfied with RNZ's decision, Mr Hope referred his complaint to the

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

Referring to the broadcast, Mr Hope pointed to the damage that drinking a bottle of

whisky in such a short time would cause and said that the timing of the unsubtle joke -

nine days before Christmas - was a gross breach of good taste.

Mr Hope accepted RNZ's explanation about the complaint, other than on the

question of taste and, on that point, maintained that many listeners would find the

item offensive. He observed:

It was certainly not an unreal scenario, but was very well acted and similar

incidents must surely have occurred in many families. Perhaps [RNZ] could

explain why drunkenness is funny. (A rhetorical suggestion, of course, Freud

couldn't do it. I don't think it is humorous in any context, and I am a little sad

that National Radio should condone such a concept).

In concluding, he expressed his satisfaction with the "excellent" standard of National

Radio but hoped that the items like the one in question - which he thought involved a

gross lapse of taste - would not be broadcast in future.

RNZ's Response to the Authority - 3 March 1995

With regard to the substance of the complaint, RNZ wrote:

The Company has little more to add, except to emphasise its belief that listeners

could not take seriously this tongue-in-cheek recounting of a joke older than

radio itself.

It enclosed a copy of its letter to Mr Hope of 9 January 1995 which Mr Hope had

noted in his referral that he had not received. It had been written in response to his

letters of 16.12.94 and 4.1.95 explaining how the formal complaint process worked

and under what standards his complaint would be assessed.

Mr Hope's Final Comment to the Authority - 13 March 1995

After noting the vagaries of New Zealand Post, Mr Hope commented on the

"extraordinary procedure" it had been necessary to follow to point out what he

thought would have obviously been a "gross breach of good taste". He observed:

Perhaps the fact that alcoholic stupor is tolerated and even encouraged in some

sectors of New Zealand society is a reflection on the national mores, but I am

saddened that National Radio should take part in this shabby charade.

He concluded by repeating the question in his first letter as to whether the idea for the

item was the presenter's or the programming department's.