BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Ministry of Education and Radio Pacific Ltd - 1997-051

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • Ministry of Education
Number
1997-051
Broadcaster
Radio Pacific Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio Pacific # 5


Summary

"Child molesters of the mind" was the description of the staff of the Ministry of

Education used by a talkback host (Lindsay Perigo) on Radio Pacific on 8 December

1996 while talking about a proposed curriculum development. One employee who

had recently appeared on television, and who had participated in a talkback session on

Pacific, was described as a "silly bitch" and a "half-wit from the Ministry".

The Ministry of Education's Director of Communications (Peter Northcote)

complained to Radio Pacific Ltd that the comments breached the standard of good

taste and decency, and did not deal fairly with the person referred to.

Explaining that the host was well-known for his provocative and libertarian views,

Radio Pacific acknowledged that the comments could have been offensive to some.

However, it declined to uphold the complaint as, it argued, the remarks were within

the bounds of acceptability.

Dissatisfied with Radio Pacific's decision, Mr Northcote on behalf of the Ministry

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

Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds an aspect of the complaint and orders

Radio Pacific to broadcast a summary of this decision.


Decision

The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of most of the comments

complained about and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix).

This includes a transcript of the aspects of the talkback programme to which the

complaint refers. As is its practice, the Authority determines the complaint without a

formal hearing.

Lindsay Perigo is the host of the talkback programme broadcast on Radio Pacific

between 10.00am–2.00pm each Sunday. The introduction, repeated on occasions

throughout the broadcast, describes the broadcast as:

The politically incorrect show hosted by that fearless outspoken champion of

liberty, Lindsay Perigo – one man's private war against the guardians.


The host's introductory comment in part states that the broadcast is "the only radio

programme in the world dedicated to telling the thought police to go screw

themselves".

The programme stresses libertarian philosophy and, in referring to opponents,

frequently draws analogies with Nazism and Stalinism. New Zealand, for example, is

described as a "semi-fascist state", and the Human Rights Commission as the "Human

Wrongs Commissariat".

The broadcast on 8 December included a monologue from the host about education

which included the following comments:

Now I've said many times that the poison of political correctness comes

from the schools and universities. ... Now we hear from the Education

Forum that the revised social studies curriculum for schools, revised

because the first one was too politically correct, is just as politically

correct as the first one, with its racist interpretation of the Treaty of

Waitangi, a strong bias towards Maori culture and downplaying about

European heritage. Some silly bitch from the Ministry of Mis-education

fronted up on television to call the forum's claims ethnocentric. Now

there's a politically correct catch phrase if ever there was one. ... But

there's no point in mucking around on this. The Ministry and the NZQA

for that matter, have their agenda. They will not be moved. The only

solution is to remove them. Abolish the ministry, abolish NZQA, close

down the teachers' colleges and privatise education. There's only one

party advocating this, the Libertarianz, and we won't be in the office till

the next election. So in the meantime to the child molesters of the mind,

running the state education system right now, this (sound) "Sieg heil"

(x3)


Later in the programme, during an interview with the principal of Avondale College

(Phil Raffils), the presenter again expressed scathing views about the revised social

studies curriculum. Referring to the spokesperson's television appearance, he

described her as "some halfwit from the Ministry".

The Director of Communications from the Ministry of Education (Peter Northcote)

complained to Radio Pacific about the use of the phrases "silly bitch", "halfwit from

the Ministry", and "child molesters of the mind". Those comments, he wrote,

breached standards R2 and R5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. They

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.

R5   To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any

programme.

In response, Radio Pacific explained the nature of the programme:

Your complaint in essence is against the provocative views held by Lindsay

Perigo. Lindsay is a well known public figure with strong libertarian views

which have been expressed both in the political arena and on radio/print. His

views are strongest on topics such as political correctness, quangos, petty

bureaucracy, the role of the state, compulsion, and indeed any interference by a

public body or its representatives which might impinge upon the freedom of the

individual. Radio Pacific encourages Lindsay Perigo to express these views in

his weekly four hour programme. His views are part of freedom of speech and

are encouraged.


While acknowledging that some of his views could be offensive – such as the reference

to "child molesters of the mind" – Radio Pacific argued that they were acceptable in

context and not in breach of standard R2 as they were directed at policy, rather than at

an individual.

Radio Pacific did not uphold the complaint which alleged a breach of standard R5 as, it

wrote, the Ministry spokesperson had not been named. It concluded:

While it is understandable that the Ministry is concerned over the comments,

this has to be considered in light of the other factors such as the expression of

opinion and the provocation of open debate.


In its reference of the complaint to the Authority, the Ministry commented that it did

not object to the host's contribution to the debate about the curriculum, but to the

specific phrases noted. It explained that to accuse educators of child abuse was "to

make the most monstrous personal and professional attack possible". Dictionary

definitions of "halfwit" and "bitch" were given to highlight the offensiveness of the

phrases.


Radio Pacific explained in its report to the Authority that the phrase "child molesters

of the mind" had been used in print without apparent complaint when an editorial in

the "Free Radical", written by Lindsay Perigo, had been reprinted in full in the "NZ

Herald". Radio Pacific considered that the issue was essentially one of freedom of

speech, and that the broadcast to which objection had been taken was an attack on a

policy and not an individual.

In its final comment, the Ministry repeated its complaint that the phrase "child

molesters" was aimed at educators, not at policy. It also argued that its previous use

in another media was irrelevant, and added that the editorial, unlike the broadcast

comment, had been part of an indepth discussion about policy rather than an attack on

individuals.

In its report to the Authority, Radio Pacific referred to Decision No: 140/95, dated 14

December 1995. The decision related to comments made on the Freespeak segment on

Radio Liberty in which Lindsay Perigo's then colleague (and regular guest on the Radio

Pacific broadcast), Deborah Coddington, referred to the agency NZ On Air as "Nazis

on Air". Furthermore, the broadcast on Freespeak described NZ On Air's then

director as "the commissar of culture". Listeners were urged not to pay the

broadcasting fee and the presenter said that NZ On Air, when it used debt collectors

and had people imprisoned, would claim that it was following orders just as had the

guards at Auschwitz.

Decision 140/95 included the following observations:

In its assessment of the complaint, the Authority focussed on the item's

opening comments which stated:


Good morning and welcome to "Freespeak", a programme which attacks

bureaucracy, political correctness, fascism from the right or the left and

anything else which endangers the freedom of New Zealand citizens.


From the start it was made clear that the remarks which followed were

comments made from a strong libertarian perspective and, indeed, could be fairly

extreme. Having explicitly outlined the perspective for comment, the Authority

accepted that the presenter's editorial observations on current affairs need not be

balanced. In addition, they could well be contentious and unfair and, possibly,

they might deliberately take an approach that would be regarded as an extreme

line in order to provoke debate.


Nevertheless, the broadcaster retained the obligation that the comments comply

with and observe the standards of good taste and decency, that they respect the

principles of law and, because they covered current affairs, that they be factually

accurate.


The Authority reached the following conclusions in that decision:

In view of the acknowledged bias, the Authority did not consider the item

unbalanced. It was of the opinion that the call for listeners not to pay the fee

was at the borderline of acceptability, but considered that in its context it could

be seen as the expression of an extreme opinion rather than a rallying cry for

widespread civil disobedience.


Because of the context, the Authority did not accept that most of the critical and

unpleasant comments about the organisation, its staff or the applicants for

funding were in breach of the good taste standard.


There was one comment, however, which the Authority unhesitatingly decided

was a clear breach of the standard. It regarded the analogy drawn to Auschwitz

as highly offensive, not only in itself but because it detracted from and

cheapened a major crime against humanity. It was a comment for which there

was no justification.


The Authority intends to apply similar considerations in its determination of the

current complaint.


It acknowledges that the introduction to the broadcast, which was repeated on a

number of occasions, made explicit the presenter's approach in his editorial comments.

The Authority accepts that criticism and abuse directed at an institution and/or policy

may include a scurrilous element which would be unacceptable if directed at an

individual. Moreover, the Authority acknowledges that the presenter makes frequent

use of hyperbole as a way of increasing the impact of his comments. This method

however, it observes, can sometimes have the effect of distorting the content of the

comment.


Further by way of general comment, the Authority records that it takes into account

when determining complaints such as the current one, that broadcasters should not use

their privileged position to denigrate or abuse people who are not in a position to

defend themselves. To do so, the Authority considers, is a form of bullying which can

be unjust and unfair. It is a situation in which the broadcasters may not only cheapen

themselves, but also one which may threaten their obligation to comply with the

standards of good taste and decency.


With these points in mind, the Authority reaches the following conclusions on the

complaint from the Ministry of Education. First, it acknowledges that the staff

member described as a "bitch" and "half-wit" was not named. While the use of such

terms is of questionable taste, the Authority does not accept that the words, in the

context in which they were used, were a breach of either standard R2 or R5. It accepts

that the element of hyperbole inherent in the presenter's comments, accompanied at

least by an intention to be satirical, did not result, in that context, in a broadcast which

contravened the nominated standards.


Although sympathetic to the argument for free speech advanced by the broadcaster,

the Authority repeats the point that all broadcasts must maintain standards of good

taste and decency. The Authority accepts that the presenter may well have used the

phrase "child molesters of the mind" to ensure maximum impact. However, in view of

the image of sexual violation commonly connoted by the phrase, the Authority is in no

doubt that the repellent concept contained in the phrase breaches the broadcasting

standard requiring good taste and decency. As it was neither a superficial nor throw-

away jibe such as "half-wit", it cannot be accepted as humour or as a harmless

exaggeration. Rather, it cruelly denigrates persons who are unable to defend

themselves.

 

For the reasons given above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the use

of phrase "child molesters of the mind", during a broadcast by Radio Pacific Ltd

on 8 December 1996, breached standard R2 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting

Practice.


It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.


Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make an order under s.13(1) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989. Although some of the critical, indeed abusive comment

broadcast was acceptable given the extreme context in which it was placed, the

Authority considers that the specific reference to child molesters of the mind is a

serious breach of the good taste standard. It is a statement, it decides, for which a

broadcast apology is appropriate.

Order

Pursuant to s.13(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders Radio

Pacific Ltd to broadcast a brief summary of this decision, approved by the

Authority, arising from the talkback programme broadcast between 

10.00am–2.00pm on 8 December 1996. The broadcast shall be made on a talkback

programme broadcast between 10.00am–2.00pm on a Sunday within 20

working days of the date of this decision, or at such other time as approved by

the Authority.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith M Potter
Chairperson
21 April 1997

Appendix


The Ministry of Education's Complaint to Radio Pacific Ltd – 24 December 1996

The Director of Communications with the Ministry of Education (Peter Northcote)

complained to Radio Pacific Ltd about some comments made by the host (Lindsay

Perigo) on the talkback programme broadcast between 10.00am–2.00pm on Sunday 8

December 1996.

By way of background, the Director explained that the Ministry's Senior Manager of

Curriculum Implementation had earlier participated, as part of the public debate on

curriculum development, in a talkback session on Radio Pacific hosted by Jenny

Anderson. While the Ministry welcomed comments from various perspectives, the

Director said it objected to the personal abuse of Ministry staff. In particular, he

added, it objected to the description of the Curriculum Development Senior Manager

as a "silly bitch" and as "some half-wit from the Ministry", and to the description of

Ministry staff as "child molesters of the mind".

The Director said that the comments breached standards R2 and R5 of the Radio Code

of Broadcasting Practice. An apology and a brief statement outlining the process of

curriculum development were proposed.

Radio Pacific's Response to the Formal Complaint – 30 January 1997

Radio Pacific began its reply:

Your complaint in essence is against the provocative views held by Lindsay

Perigo. Lindsay is a well known public figure with strong libertarian views

which have been expressed both in the political arena and on radio/print. His

views are strongest on topics such as political correctness, quangos, petty

bureaucracy, the role of the state, compulsion, and indeed any interference by a

public body or its representatives which might impinge upon the freedom of the

individual. Radio Pacific encourages Lindsay Perigo to express these views in

his weekly four hour programme. His views are part of freedom of speech

debates and are encouraged.


While acknowledging that the reference to "child molesters of the mind" might be

offensive to some people, Radio Pacific maintained that it was within the bounds of

acceptability given the provocative nature of the programme. As the comment was

not directed towards an individual, Radio Pacific considered that standard R2 had not

been contravened.

As for the standard R5 aspect, Radio Pacific pointed out that the Curriculum

Development senior manager had appeared on another programme and had been given

an opportunity to explain the curriculum. While the comments complained about

could be personally offensive, Radio Pacific explained that she was not referred to by

name in the broadcast complained about. Taking the nature of the programme into

account, Radio Pacific concluded:

It follows that Radio Pacific will not uphold the complaint. While it is

understandable that the Ministry is concerned over the comments, this has to be

considered in light of the other factors such as the expression of extreme opinion

and the provocation of open debate.


The Ministry's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 7 February
1997

Dissatisfied with Radio Pacific's response, the Ministry's Director of

Communications referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He enclosed a transcript of the

broadcast complained about and a report from a registered psychologist (Lewis

Rivers) with the Special Education Service.

As it welcomed contributions to the debate about curriculum development, the

Ministry considered that the broadcaster had misunderstood the nature of the

complaint. The Ministry also explained that, contrary to the broadcaster's approach,

the standards cited applied to each aspect of the complaint.

Referring to the strength of community feeling about child abuse, the Director wrote:


To accuse educators of child abuse is to make the most monstrous personal and

professional attack possible. At the same time, the context trivialises the

experiences of survivors of child molestation.


These matters, it was stated, were discussed further in the attached report from the

psychologist with the Special Education Service.

The Director then provided the dictionary definition of "half-wit" and "bitch". He

maintained that the broadcaster's reference to Curriculum Development senior

Manager's appearance on another programme was irrelevant as the complaint did not

refer to the requirement for balance. He concluded:

Radio Pacific also suggests that Perigo's opinions "are targeted at the policy and

not any individual in a personal sense". We accept this argument for words of

which we have not complained, eg "Ministry of Mis-Education" or the receipt

of a Nazi salute, however is not acceptable for the words which are the subject

of this complaint.


Perigo had available to him and used strong and provocative language to address

the policy. These attacks on Ministry staff and an identifiable individual were

personal, offensive, defamatory and gratuitous. Broadcasting standards have

been breached.


Radio Pacific's Response to the Authority – 6 March 1997

With reference to the presenter's use of the phrase "child molesters of the mind",

Radio Pacific said that it had been used earlier by the presenter in January 1995 in his

role as editor of the magazine "Free Radical". Moreover, it continued, that editorial,

entitled "Turning Minds to Mush", had been reproduced at the time in full in the "NZ

Herald". Radio Pacific was not aware whether the phrase had evoked any complaints.

Radio Pacific also reported that the presenter's views of education had earlier been

contained in an editorial in the August/September 1996 copy of the "Free Radical".

Both editorials were attached.

Radio Pacific maintained:


This is essentially a freedom of speech issue. Radio Pacific engages Lindsay

Perigo as an opinionated and controversial talkback host with extreme opinions.

This type of controversial talkback has been considered previously by the BSA

and reference to Decision 140/95 is relevant.


The point is that it is the policy that is the subject of the strong attack, not the

individual. It is the individual's thinking that Lindsay Perigo attacks, not the

individual herself. Radio Pacific also does not consider that [the Curriculum

Development Senior Manager] was dealt with unfairly and unjustly as claimed

under Rule 5.


Ministry of Education's Final Comment – 24 March 1997

In response to Radio Pacific's suggestion that the use of the phrase "child molesters"

was directed at policy rather than educators, the Ministry of Education's Mr

Northcote maintained that the context implied otherwise. Moreover, he described the

previous use of the words in the media as irrelevant. It was necessary to consider

them in context on each occasion. Further, the editorial referred to could be seen as

preceding an in-depth discussion of educational policy. The comment during the

broadcast, Mr Northcote wrote, occurred among other comments about a number of

individuals and was neither reasoned nor focussed.

Mr Northcote concluded:

The strength and nature of Mr Perigo's beliefs are not in dispute; nor is his right

to express them in a way which does not breach accepted standards.