BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Nixey and NZME Radio Ltd - 2020-037 (24 August 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Kelly Nixey
Number
2020-037
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB # 2

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a satirical segment would have been offensive to Christians. The segment was an imagined promo for reality show The Block, set in Jerusalem and featured contestants who shared the names of biblical figures, including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Thomas and Judas. The promo was broadcast on Good Friday. The Authority did not consider the broadcast’s content would have unduly offended or distressed the general audience, and it did not reach the high threshold necessary for finding it encouraged the denigration of, or discrimination against, Christians as a section of the community. The broadcast did not cause actual or potential harm at a level which justified limiting the right to freedom of expression.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration


The broadcast

[1]  A satirical segment purported to promote a series of the reality show The Block taking place in Jerusalem, and featuring contestants who were named after biblical figures including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Thomas and Judas. The segment referred to the show having themes of doubt, denial, and betrayal. It introduced the biblical figures and included comments such as ‘Judas is bribing the judges’ and ‘Jesus is making some big claims, the judges are going to crucify him for that’.

[2]  The segment was broadcast on Good Friday, 10 April 2020 at 7.30am during Mike Hosking Breakfast, on Newstalk ZB.

[3]  The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the segment and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[4]  Kelly Nixey complained that the segment was offensive to her as a Christian, as it was insensitive and mocked Christianity on an important Christian holiday. Ms Nixey considered the segment breached the good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  NZME did not uphold the complaint, for the following reasons:

  • Newstalk ZB is an adult targeted radio station and talkback radio is a robust and opinionated environment where hosts are known for making provocative statements.
  • The segment was produced for Newstalk ZB by the Christian Broadcasting Association (CBA) and was hosted by two CBA presenters.
  • The broadcast was not likely to cause offence or distress as it did not contain offensive language, sexual themes or violence.
  • The segment was humorous, and playfully juxtaposed biblical characters featured against the conventions of a well-known reality show. It did not encourage discrimination or denigration against the Christian community.

The relevant standards

[6]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) states that current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme. The Authority will consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress.1

[7]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) protects audiences against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, 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.

Our decision

[8]  When we consider any complaint that broadcasting standards have been breached, we start by recognising the important right to freedom of expression that is protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. It has long been established in Authority decisions that this right includes the freedom to comment on, and apply humour and satire to, religion and religious beliefs, and that humour and satire are forms of expression which the public values highly.2

[9]  Against this value we weigh the potential harm 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.

[10]  In this case we have not found actual or potential harm arising from the segment which amounted to a breach of standards or which justifies limiting the broadcaster’s freedom of expression.

Good taste and decency

[11]  We acknowledge that the complainant found the content of the segment offensive. However, in the context,3 we do not consider that it threatened community standards of good taste and decency, or that it was likely to cause widespread undue offence among the general audience. This is in particular due to audience expectations of Newstalk ZB (which, as stated by the broadcaster, is an adult targeted talk radio station) and due to the light-hearted, satirical nature of the segment, which was framed as a parody of the popular reality television show The Block. The humour played on well-known themes found in the Bible and was not disparaging or derogatory towards those ideas. We are satisfied the segment was intended to be humorous and satirical, rather than intending to offend people or to make any comment on Christianity or Christian beliefs.

[12]  We therefore found no breach of the good taste and decency standard.

Discrimination and denigration

[13]  For the same reasons, we do not consider the segment breached the discrimination and denigration standard. While we acknowledge the broadcast caused offence to the complainant, we do not consider that the segment encouraged discrimination against, or denigration of, Christians as a section of our community.

[14]  The importance of freedom of expression means that a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, is necessary to conclude that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in breach of the standard.4 Additionally, the standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is legitimate humour or satire.5

[15]  Satirising and commenting on religion is a feature of free expression, provided it is not likely to cause harm to individuals or groups. As we have said, the segment was clearly intended to be light-hearted and humorous. It did not carry malice or nastiness towards Christians as a section of the community, nor towards their religious beliefs, such that it had the potential to cause harm. Therefore, it did not reach the high threshold required for finding a breach of this standard.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

24 August 2020

 


Appendix

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

1  Kelly Nixey’s complaint to NZME – 13 May 2020

2  NZME’s response to Ms Nixey – 12 May 2020

3  Ms Nixey’s referral to the BSA – 3 June 2020

4  NZME’s further comments - 3 June 2020

5  Ms Nixey’s final comments - 11 June 2020


1 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
2 See for example, McArthur and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2007-069
3 Guideline 1a
4 Guideline 6b
5 Guideline 6c