BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Dick and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-139 (9 March 2021)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Alan Dick QSO
Number
2020-139
Programme
Breakfast
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary  

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about a segment on Breakfast in which co-host John Campbell used the word ‘dick’ three times in reference to Donald Trump Jr. The complaint was that this pejorative use of the term ‘dick’ denigrated those, including vulnerable children, with the surname ‘Dick’, and subjected them to ridicule. The Authority acknowledged people with that surname may be more sensitive to its use in general, in broadcasting. However, it found Mr Campbell was referring specifically to Donald Trump Jr and most viewers would have interpreted it as meaning ‘a stupid or contemptible person’ – a widely understood and generally acceptable use of the term. On this basis, the Authority found the broadcast was unlikely to cause widespread offence to the general audience, or harm to children. The Authority was not persuaded people with the surname ‘Dick’ constitute a recognised section of the community to which the discrimination and denigration standard applies but, in any event, found the broadcast did not encourage discrimination or denigration of those people.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests, Discrimination and Denigration


The broadcast

[1]  During a segment on Breakfast, on 26 August 2020 (TVNZ 1), co-host Melissa Stokes reported on Donald Trump Jr’s speech at the Republican Convention, and co-host John Campbell commented:

Ms Stokes:      Donald Trump Jr has praised his father’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic during his speech at the Republican Convention…

[Footage shown]

Mr Campbell:  That dude, that’s Trump’s son, he’d pumped his eyes so full of something. Hadn’t he? What [was] in his eyes? …It’s important, in the interests of free speech that we comment on his eyes. He’d want us to do this. He’d want us to say this. He’s a firm believer in free speech. He’d want us to say that he’s a bit of a dick… When I say a bit of a dick, he’s a total dick…

The complaint

[2]  Alan Dick QSO complained the broadcast breached the good taste and decency, children’s interests and discrimination and denigration standards on the basis the repeated pejorative use of ‘dick’ denigrated those, including vulnerable children, with the surname ‘Dick’, and subjected them to ridicule. He said:

  • ‘I have no problem with Campbell referring to people as idiots but I strongly object to members of the Dick clan being labelled as idiots, or as penises…’
  • ‘The Dick surname is of Scottish origin and is not uncommon.’
  • ‘People should never be publicly scorned or denigrated because of the accident of their name.’
  • ‘I am aware of [three] vulnerable teenagers who have changed their surnames because of peer pressure and ridicule, to the great distress of their parents.’

[3]  In his referral to the Authority, Mr Dick added:

  • Good taste and decency: ‘The broadcast offends good taste and decency by likening a person to a sexual organ…’
  • Children’s Interests: ‘Apart from decency considerations this presenter’s behaviour normalises the abuse of thousands of people with the Dick surname which from my own experience has resulted in young people being bullied to the point of being compelled to change their names.’
  • Discrimination and denigration: ‘It is most unfair and unethical to abuse people because of their surname which they are entitled to take pride in. It is immature schoolyard behaviour that no one should take pride in.’

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  TVNZ did not uphold Mr Dick’s complaint, saying:

  • Good taste and decency: Breakfast is aimed at adult viewers, it takes a casual and conversational approach to news and current affairs, and its presenters commonly express themselves candidly and with humour, often in colloquial and informal language. The term ‘dick’ was used by Mr Campbell to express his opinion of Mr Trump Jr, and echoed widespread criticism of Mr Trump Jr. The term is a common colloquialism, part of the New Zealand vernacular and at the low end of the offensive language spectrum.
  • Children’s Interests: Breakfast is aimed at adult viewers, and children of a vulnerable age are unlikely to watch the news unattended. As above, the term ‘dick’ is a common colloquialism, part of the New Zealand vernacular and at the low end of the offensive language spectrum.
  • Discrimination and denigration: This standard does not apply to individuals or family groups, as its purpose is to protect recognised sections 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).

The standards

[5]  Good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast.1 This standard protects audience members from viewing broadcasts likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards.2

[6]  The children’s interests standard3 requires broadcasters to ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. It is concerned with material that unduly disturbs children, is harmful, or is likely to impair their physical, mental or social development.4

[7]  Broadcasters should also 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.5

Our decision

[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 content and information and the audience’s right to receive it. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that justifies placing a reasonable limit on the right to freedom of expression. For the reasons below, we have not found such harm in this case.

Good taste and decency

[10]  Context is crucial to assessing whether a programme has breached the good taste and decency standard, including the context in which the material complained about occurred, and the wider context of the broadcast.6 In this case, the key contextual factors relevant to our determination were:

  • The broadcast was an unclassified news and current affairs programme.
  • The programme aired between 6am and 9am on a weekday (Wednesday) and the relevant segment aired at 6.05am.
  • The programme was intended for a mature audience, although children may have been watching in this timeslot, before school.
  • There is an established audience expectation that in between news and current affairs segments, there is frequent banter, humour and opinions offered by the hosts.
  • Mr Campbell is known for his candid and irreverent remarks.
  • The word ‘dick’ was used three times by Mr Campbell in reference to Donald Trump Jr.
  • Mr Campbell used the word ‘dick’ in the context of criticism of Mr Trump Jr. This was in reaction to his comments, and a satirical defence of free speech, claiming Mr Trump Jr ‘would want us to say that he’s a bit of a dick’. He and his co-hosts were laughing as he made these comments. The use of ‘dick’ in this instance was clearly light-hearted and facetious.
  • The broadcast did not make any mention of people with the surname Dick or actively encourage ridicule of those people. In the Authority’s 2018 research, Language That May Offend in Broadcasting, 75% of those surveyed said acceptability of this particular word ’depends on the context’.7 However, overall, the word ‘dick’ ranked 26th out of 31 words tested for their level of offensiveness.8

[11]  We note Mr Dick’s submission that ‘Dick’ is a common surname of Scottish origin. However ‘dick’ is also a common noun with well-established meanings. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘dick’ as follows:9

Dick1 n. 1 a man’s penis. 2 a stupid or contemptible person. 3 anything at all: you don’t know dick about it!

[12]  We acknowledge the complainant’s concerns and recognise the distress and upset that the ridiculing of an individual’s name or other personal attributes can cause. In this sense, people who have the surname Dick may have responded differently or more acutely to this segment. However, we think most audience members would have taken it in the sense it was used and is commonly understood, ie referring specifically to Mr Trump Jr as an idiot, or ‘a stupid or contemptible person’, in reaction to his comments. The broadcast did not mention, or actively encourage ridicule of, people with the surname Dick. On that basis, we find the potential harm did not outweigh the right to freedom of expression.

[13]  Accordingly, we do not uphold this complaint under the good taste and decency standard.

Children’s interests

[14]  Mr Dick’s complaint concerns the potential harm to children with the surname ‘Dick’, who may have felt ridiculed by the segment, or may have been subjected to ridicule by others because of it.

[15]  We acknowledge the complainant’s concerns that children or young people with the surname Dick may react more sensitively to the use of this word in any context. However, this standard is concerned with material that is outside audience expectations of the programme, in relation to child audience members generally.10 Given the contextual factors outlined above, we do not consider this content went beyond what is typically expected of the Breakfast programme. Mr Campbell’s use of the word ‘dick’, in the context of reacting to Donald Trump Jr’s speech and referring specifically to him, was unlikely to adversely affect children who happened to be watching. Mr Campbell’s comments were focused squarely on the actions of one high-profile public figure. He was not commenting on Dick as a surname, or ridiculing or encouraging ridicule of people with that surname.

[16]  Additionally, previous Authority decisions recognise, with respect to unclassified news and current affairs programmes, there is an expectation of adult supervision of child viewers so they can give guidance as appropriate.

[17]  For these reasons, we do not uphold this complaint under the children’s interests standard.

Discrimination and denigration

[18]  This standard protects recognised sections of the community, consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993, from verbal and other attacks, on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief. Discrimination is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a section of the community, to their detriment, and denigration as devaluing their reputation.11 The importance of freedom of expression means there is usually a high threshold for finding a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in contravention of the standard.12

[19]  We are not persuaded all people bearing the surname ‘Dick’ constitute a recognised section of the community as envisaged by the Human Rights Act. In any event, for the reasons already outlined we are satisfied Mr Campbell’s use of the word ‘dick’ as a noun in this broadcast, in the context of criticising Mr Trump Jr specifically, did not encourage discrimination against or denigration of those people.

[20]  Accordingly, we do not uphold this complaint under the discrimination and denigration standard.

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

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

9 March 2021

 

   
Appendix

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

1  Alan Dick’s formal complaint – 7 September 2020

2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 2 October 2020

3  Mr Dick’s referral to the Authority – 14 October 2020

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 4 November 2020


1 Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
3 Standard 3 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Commentary: Children’s Interests, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 13
5 Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
6 Guideline 1a
7 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting, (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018), page 6
8 As above, page 22
9 Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson (eds) Concise Oxford English Dictionary (11th ed, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008)
10 Guideline 3d
11 Guideline 6a
12 Guideline 6b