BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hibbs and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2022-074 (23 August 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
Dated
Complainant
  • Elizabeth Hibbs
Number
2022-074
Programme
The Project
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary  

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

A segment on The Project reported on the discovery of the Smeagol slug in South Westland. The hosts took the opportunity to tease their co-host, Kanoa Lloyd, during the segment as they knew she had a phobia of slugs. The complainant stated the segment breached the good taste and decency standard as it normalised bullying behaviour and harassing someone due to their phobias. The Authority did not uphold the complaint, finding the segment amounted to friendly banter without any offensive intent. Accordingly, it did not reach the threshold for regulatory intervention.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency


The broadcast

[1]  On 16 May 2022, The Project reported on the discovery of a rare slug, the Smeagol slug, in South Westland. Previously, the slug has only been found in beaches off Wellington and Kaikōura.

[2]  In doing so, the programme had presenter Kanoa Lloyd introduce the segment without her knowing what would be reported. She said, ‘I’m reading something I haven’t read before…these guys have snuck something into the show that I didn't want to be in there. In fact, I said, if you put this in the show, I'm not coming to work. So you read it.’ Presenter Jesse Mulligan took over, saying ‘You just, you just check out the footage Kanoa. The very rare Smeagol slug seen in South Westland. She's got a phobia of slugs.’

[3]  The segment then showed various pictures of the slug, as well as footage of the Lord of the Rings character after which the slug is named, with taglines reading ‘Kanoa had no idea we were doing this story’; and ‘Kanoa is afraid of slugs’.

[4]  While the footage was playing, the presenters reported on the finding and Lloyd could be heard reacting to the photos, with repulsion and exasperation. A small window then appeared showing Lloyd’s repulsed reaction to the footage. She seemed to be laughing and crying. She then said ‘this is actually bullying… That’s it, I’m out’ and removed her earpiece and left the set.

[5]  The remaining presenters then had the following exchange:

Jeremy Corbett: This is a thing of beauty. This is actually the second rarest slug next to the fully grown moustache on a high school student. So, we should be celebrating.

Patrick Gower:     You know, with her out of the room, I mean, I think it is, we can talk openly about it, it is quite a sexy beast of a slug.

Mulligan:              Don't worry, we've put posters up in the makeup room as well.

Corbett:                And if you think it's cruel to tease someone about their phobia, well, it was, but it was fun.

Mulligan:              Okay. While we go and rescue Kanoa, we're going to take you behind the scenes now.

The complaint

[6]  Elizabeth Hibbs complained the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard as:

  • ‘The rest of the panel on this show bullied panel member Kanoa Lloyd, focusing on her phobia about slugs and harassing her with photos and information that clearly triggered her, until she got up and left the set.’
  • ‘Whether or not she was in on the “joke”, this is unacceptable and sends a message to viewers that such bullying is not only normal and acceptable, but amusing - to anyone not on the receiving end of it… Many viewers who have been on the receiving end of bullying will be familiar with this justification. Children and adults alike should not have to see highly paid adults bully each other on mainstream primetime TV.’
  • ‘I think it's reasonable to expect that a TV presenter, like any other employee, will not be bullied at work, publicly or in private.’ The conduct was particularly unacceptable as it was broadcast on ‘Monday 16 May, the first day of Bullying Free NZ Week.’

The broadcaster’s response

[7]  Discovery did not uphold the complaint, finding the broadcast did not exceed regular viewers’ expectations of The Project and would not have caused widespread offence in light of the following factors:

  • The Project is a news and current affairs programme that screens at a scheduled time each day and has an adult target audience.’
  • ‘The Broadcast did not contain any sexual material, graphic violence or coarse language.’
  • ‘Kanoa's fear of slugs is a running joke on the show and she played up to it when she was shown the slugs on TV, leaving the set more to make the moment more dramatic and fun than because she was truly uncomfortable.’
  • While appreciating the complainant’s point, ‘the incident was fun teasing amongst friends rather than bullying, which is a much more malicious thing. We can confirm that there was no malicious intent toward Kanoa on the programme that day.’
  • The Project's style is well-established, the tag line for the show is “News done differently”. The programme routinely features commentary and banter amongst the presenters.’

The standard

[8]  The good taste and decency standard1 states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme. The standard is intended to protect audiences from content likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.2

Our analysis

[9]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[10]  As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh up the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.3

[11]  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.4 In this case, we identified the following key contextual factors:

  • The Project is an unclassified news and current affairs programme (it is not required to carry a rating) and is targeted at an adult audience.5
  • The Project’s presentation and humour style are both well-established. It includes a mixture of news and entertainment, and frequent comedy and banter among the hosts (some of whom are well-known comedians, including Jeremy Corbett).6
  • Lloyd stated she told her co-hosts if the news item was included she was ‘not coming to work’ and let her co-hosts read the item.
  • Lloyd was smiling and laughing, while also apparently crying or otherwise reacting negatively to the footage.
  • Lloyd left the set.
  • Corbett acknowledged it was ‘cruel to tease someone about their phobia’ and that viewers may have perceived the segment as such.
  • Some laughter can be heard from the studio during the segment.
  • The segment reported on the discovery of the rare Smeagol slug in South Westland; it was a notable current affair at the time.

[12]  We acknowledge the complainant’s suggestion that the segment normalised ‘bullying behaviour’. We also appreciate our previous finding that presenting behaviour as positive or humorous can incite people to copy this behaviour.7 However, we consider the segment was within audience expectations and unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or otherwise undermine widely shared community standards in this instance.

[13]  Although the segment may not have been to everyone’s taste, it was clearly intended to be both humorous and informative (as it was a report on a news item). Discovery submitted, and we accept, the incident was more akin to teasing amongst friends rather than bullying; it was consistent with the audience’s expectation of friendly banter without any offensive intent.8

[14]  We also accept Lloyd’s fear of slugs is a running joke on the programme and, although the teasing was at Lloyd’s expense, she contributed to the humour by remaining on set once she realised the item would be played, and leaving in the somewhat theatrical (rather than truly uncomfortable) manner she did, with her head, and hands, held high.

[15]  In these circumstances, we do not uphold the complaint, on the basis we have not found actual or potential harm at a level which warrants limiting the right to freedom of expression. We wish to acknowledge that, although it did not reach the threshold for finding a breach of standards, the broadcaster has nevertheless apologised to the complainant for the offence caused by the item.

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

 

Susie Staley
Chair
23 August 2022    

 

 

Appendix

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

1  Elizabeth Hibbs’s formal complaint to Discovery – 31 May 2022

2  Discovery’s response to the complaint – 23 June 2022

3  Hibbs’s referral to the Authority – 1 July 2022

4  Discovery’s confirmation of no further comment – 4 July 2022


1 Standard 1, Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 35
3 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
4 Guideline 1a
5 Mould and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2020-017 at [9]
6 As above
7 Black and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2021-162 at [14]
8 See Solanki and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2015-069 at [13] for a similar finding regarding teasing