Hope and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 1995-016
- I W Gallaway (Chair)
- W J Fraser
- L M Loates
- David Hope
ProgrammeNational Radio afternoon programme
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
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.
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
(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
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
6 April 1995
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
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-
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
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
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
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.