BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Kauie and MediaWorks Radio Ltd - 2019-085 (25 March 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainant
  • Monique Kauie
Number
2019-085
Programme
The Breakfast Club
Broadcaster
MediaWorks Radio Ltd
Channel/Station
MORE FM

Summary

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

A complaint that a segment on The Breakfast Club, on More FM, where the hosts made jokes and puns about a woman who died after being pecked by a rooster, breached the good taste and decency standard has not been upheld. The Authority found that, while the comments were insensitive and had the potential to cause offence to family of the deceased, the programme as a whole did not reach the threshold required to justify a restriction on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. The Authority found that, considering the context of the item (including the target audience of More FM and the audience expectations surrounding The Breakfast Club and its hosts) and the tone of the item, the item did not undermine widely shared community standards and was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress.

Not upheld: Good taste and decency


The broadcast

[1]  A segment on The Breakfast Club reported on an Australian women who died after being pecked by a rooster on her lower leg where she had a varicose vein. The host explained that she had been pecked and then collapsed.

[2]  During the segment the hosts made several chicken-related jokes and puns including:

  • ‘So the lady’s not a spring chicken. Is that what you’re trying to say?’ (in reference to her age)
  • ‘Quite a cocky thing for that rooster to do.’
  • ‘What’s the pecking order of instructions?’
  • ‘Maybe [the rooster] was just unhappy because he’d been cooped up?’
  • ‘Maybe he was just feeling peckish.’
  • ‘I just hope [the woman’s] been laid to rest.’

[3]  The item was broadcast on More FM on 4 September 2019 at 8:30am. In considering this complaint, we have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[4]  Monique Kauie submitted the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:

  • The hosts made ‘crude jokes’ and puns about the woman’s death.
  • The segment was ‘disgusting to listen to’ and Ms Kauie ‘couldn't believe that it was allowed to go on for several minutes ending with all the hosts laughing and making jokes about this woman's death.’
  • The jokes were ‘completely unprofessional and inhumane’.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  MediaWorks submitted the broadcast did not breach the good taste and decency standard. MediaWorks said that despite the ‘macabre subject matter, the tone of the segment was light-hearted’ and ‘it was unlikely to have caused widespread undue offence to The Breakfast Club’s target audience.’

[6]  MediaWorks apologised for the offence caused to the complainant. MediaWorks also discussed the complaint with More FM’s Content Director, who has advised them that he raised the complainant’s concerns with the announcers.

The relevant standard

[7]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.1

Our analysis           

[8]  Our determination of this complaint starts with consideration of the right to freedom of expression and the important role it plays in a liberal democratic society. The right to freedom of expression includes the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information. This includes the provision and receipt of content that entertains, even if it is not to everyone’s liking. Equally important is our consideration of the level of actual or potential harm that may be caused by the broadcast. We may only interfere and uphold complaints where the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

[9]  We recognise that attitudes towards good taste and decency differ widely. Audiences should have the freedom and capacity to make viewing choices, and, in our diverse society, we must be cautious when considering matters of taste.2  However, there are limits, and the broad limit is that the broadcast must not seriously violate community norms of taste and decency. The threshold for our intervention is high.

[10]  When we consider a complaint under this standard, the context of the broadcast is crucial in determining whether current norms of good taste and decency have been maintained.3 Factors include the nature of the programme, the target and likely audience, and audience expectations of the programme’s content. Audiences who know what to expect from the programme can usually avoid material or supervise their children’s exposure to it, meaning the good taste and decency standard is less likely to be breached.4

[11]  The relevant contextual factors we have considered in this case include:

  • More FM is described by MediaWorks as ‘an entertainment hub living in the now for kiwi mums & their families’. However, The Breakfast Club has an adult target audience.
  • The segment was broadcast at 8:30am on a Wednesday when children may be listening in the car on the way to school.
  • Morning radio shows like The Breakfast Club will often have humorous and light-hearted segments.
  • The hosts of this programme are known for, at times, using provocative and edgy humour.
  • The segment focussed on word play and puns.
  • The segment did not feature any graphic or explicit language.
  • One of the hosts recognised and vocalised that the jokes were in ‘bad taste’.
  • The segment lasted for 3 minutes.
  • The victim was not identified in the broadcast.
  • There is relatively low public interest in the featured story (outside of its unusual nature).

[12]  We have previously found radio hosts’ conduct to be an important factor in similar situations (for example where the host clearly signals that a joke was unacceptable, confronted what they considered to be offensive content and signalled its unacceptability to the audience).5 In the current case, the hosts did, at times during the segment acknowledge that the jokes were in bad taste. We also note the hosts did not identify the victim during the broadcast and that the purpose of the segment shifted quickly from the incident to chicken puns as the tone of the hosts lightened. Therefore, we do not consider these comments undermined widely shared community standards.

[13]  When considering potentially offensive content, audience expectations are crucial.6 The Breakfast Club and its hosts have an established target audience and a clear audience expectation that they will often use provocative and edgy humour or satire which are features of radio broadcasting. These jokes, while potentially offensive to some people, did not go beyond these expectations.  

[14]  We have given careful consideration to the context of the broadcast itself. We appreciate that some of the comments were insensitive and had the potential to cause offence to some listeners or relatives of the deceased individual and that not all listeners would have found the comments amusing. However, overall we find the segment was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence and distress or undermine widely shared community standards. We do not consider that the potential for harm outweighed the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression or that the threshold required to justify a restriction on the exercise of this right was reached.

[15]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint.

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

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair
25 March 2020

 

 

 


 

Appendix

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

1  Monique Kauie’s complaint to MediaWorks – 5 September 2019

2  MediaWorks’ decision – 1 October 2019

3  Ms Kauie’s referral to the BSA – 4 October 2019

4  MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment 14 October 2019


1 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
2 As above
3 Guidelines 1a and 1b
4 Guideline 1b
5 See for example Lee and MediaWorks Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2017-030 at [20]
6 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12