Singh and Radio Virsa - 2020-124 (13 May 2021)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Gurpreet Singh
ProgrammeDasam Granth Da Sach
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint about a segment of Punjabi talkback programme Dasam Granth Da Sach. During the programme the host made comments about a well-known female Sikh preacher, including that she should marry a Taksali (traditionally trained Sikh) rather than a Jāgaruka (enlightened Sikh), because she supports the ideology of the former, and because husbands ‘in our society’ resort to beating when offended by their wives. The host also used words that can carry sexual connotations but, in the specific context of the broadcast, were unlikely to do so. The Authority acknowledged the potentially offensive nature of the comments to some people, but found overall the potential harm arising was not at a level justifying regulatory intervention or restriction of the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests, Discrimination and Denigration, Violence, Privacy, Fairness
 During a conversation with a caller on a segment of Punjabi talkback programme Dasam Granth Da Sach, the host made comments about a particular female Sikh preacher, including that she should marry a Taksali rather than a Jāgaruka,1 because she supports the ideology of the former, and because husbands ‘in our society’ resort to beating when offended by their wives. Mr Singh also used the words ‘ਲੰਮੇ’, ‘ਪੈਣਾ’, (‘lamme’, ‘pena’), which can, depending on context, carry sexual connotations:2
I have a piece of advice for [the preacher]… If she is married then it’s well and good, but if she isn’t, we request her to marry a Taksali… We request you Bibi, marry a Taksali, [then] both your tasks will be accomplished… Now if you marry a Jāgaruka, and keep ‘going to’3 the Taksalis again and again…the other viewers will call us/you bad…
…When a woman marries someone and gives hints to someone else…the men in our society don’t have enough guts… However, women also don’t have it… A woman will show anger by getting offended, men will resort to beating if a wife praises someone else in front of her husband… Suppose, a husband follows an ideology…let’s say, Hinduism or Communism or [is] a Jāgaruka…and his wife praises a scholar of different ideology…the man will resort to beating…
Now for [the preacher], it is important for her, that if her husband is a Jāgaruka…and she keeps on talking about how to make the Taksalis happy…he will taunt you by saying go to them and become their mistress… I say if you marry the same person, the entire problem will be solved.
 Mr Gurpreet Singh complained the broadcast breached the following standards:
- Good taste and decency: The host used very offensive language against the preacher, including words that have a sexual meaning.
- Children’s interests: The segment was not suitable for children or young audiences and was not preceded by any warning.
- Discrimination and denigration: The host put women down, undermined gender equality, and discriminated against the preacher for being a woman.
- Violence: The host used verbal violence against the preacher and verbally harassed her.
- Privacy: The host intentionally interfered with the preacher’s personal life and matters without her consent.
- Fairness: The host was unfair to the preacher and wrongfully ascribed negative attributes to her and to women generally.
The broadcaster’s response
 Radio Virsa did not uphold the complaint on the basis the language was not excessive and the comments were satirical and part of a larger political point ‘that [Jāgarukas] have a different ideology but find reasons to defend the much more rigid Taksali philosophy’. The comments were also made in the context of the preacher having recently publicly attacked Radio Virsa. Regarding the standards raised, Radio Virsa responded:
- Good taste and decency: The broadcast was a talkback programme, and is therefore granted some latitude to be provocative in the interests of robust debate. Its audience also well understands its views and style.
- Children’s interests: Radio Virsa has a very limited audience and is very unlikely to be of interest to children. Children were likely to be in school at the time of the broadcast (1pm). There was no reference to sex, and even if there was, it was in such vague terms it would not have adversely affected children.
- Violence: This standard is about the promotion of physical violence against people and rarely applies to radio. The broadcast did not encourage or approve of violence.
- Discrimination and denigration: The threshold for this standard is very high. Criticism of a particular person does not trigger this standard, but is rather a matter of fairness. ‘There was only one comment about women in general. It merely remarked on the possibility that men may punish their wives. It did not approve of this violence; in fact, the aim of the conversation, which was satirical, was to protect [the preacher] from it.’
- Privacy: No private facts were broadcast and the standard does not apply.
- Fairness: Public figures expose themselves to a certain degree of criticism and ridicule, particularly when they have entered the public stage to criticise others. The broadcast did not create an unfair impression of the preacher.
 The good taste and decency standard4 protects audience members from listening to broadcasts likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards. In a radio context this standard is usually considered in relation to offensive language, sexual material or, sometimes, violence.
 The children’s interests standard5 enables audiences to protect children from material that unduly disturbs them, is harmful, or is likely to impair their physical, mental or social development. On radio, the standard will generally only apply during times that children are likely to be listening (for example, before and after school and usually up until 8.30pm on weekdays, and on weekends).6
 The violence standard7 protects audiences from unduly disturbing violent content. Broadcasters should ensure violent content is justified by context, and ensure viewers are adequately informed of such content and warned if it is likely to disturb a significant number of viewers.
 The discrimination and denigration standard8 protects sections of the community from verbal and other attacks, and fosters a community commitment to equality. The standard does not apply to individuals or organisations (which are dealt with under the fairness standard) but only to recognised ‘sections of the community’, consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993.
 The privacy standard9 aims to respect, where reasonable, people’s wishes not to have themselves or their affairs broadcast to the public. However, it also allows broadcasters to gather, record and broadcast material where this is in the public interest.
 The fairness standard10 protects the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes. The objective in assessing fairness is to weigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression against the right of individuals and organisations to be treated fairly.
 We have reviewed the broadcast content and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. As this programme was broadcast in Punjabi, we sought an independent translation of the relevant segment, which was provided to the parties for their information and comment. We also sought the assistance of Dr Ashraf Choudhary, who provided external independent cultural and contextual advice about the comments made in the broadcast and the issues raised in the complaint. We are grateful to Dr Choudhary for his assistance in this matter.
 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 ideas and information and the audience’s right to receive those ideas and information. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that outweighs the right to freedom of expression. For the reasons below, we have not found such harm in this case.
Good taste and decency
 Attitudes towards taste and decency differ widely and continue to evolve in a diverse society such as ours.11 The broad limit is that a broadcast must not seriously violate community norms of taste and decency.12 Context is relevant to assessing whether a broadcast has breached this standard, including the nature of the programme and station, the target and likely audience, and audience expectations of the station and programme.13
 Radio Virsa submitted the context included public criticism made by the preacher against it, and its larger political point ‘that [Jāgarukas] have a different ideology but find reasons to defend the much more rigid Taksali philosophy’. Whether or not this reflects the audience’s understanding, the language appears to be in the nature of satirical musings or commentary. Although some of the comments might be considered distasteful, in that they irreverently criticise a religious preacher, in the context they did not reach the point of undermining widely shared community standards or justifying intervention by this Authority.
 While the content included the words ‘ਲੰਮੇ’, ‘ਪੈਣਾ’, (‘lamme’, ‘pena’), which can, depending on context, carry sexual connotations, the cultural advice suggested such connotations were unlikely in this instance as the discussion was about the preacher navigating two ideologies.
 The nature of the programme and station, the target and likely audience, and audience expectations of the station and programme also mitigated any potential harm under this standard. For example, the programme is a talkback show, which is an inherently robust broadcasting environment, and it has a specific focus on the Dasam Granth, which is a controversial religious text. Accordingly, it is reasonable to expect a degree of debate and controversy. This type of discussion and discourse is valued in New Zealand society and protected by the Bill of Rights, so long as standards are maintained.
 For these reasons, we do not uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency standard.
 Although Radio Virsa suggested the broadcast aired during school time, it was on a Saturday before 8.30pm, when children would have been home from school and could have been listening. Therefore, the standard applies.14
 Again, context is important in considering this standard, including the time of broadcast, any pre-broadcast advisories, the nature of the programme, the target audience and its expectations.15
 These factors were such that the content was unlikely to appeal to children and they were unlikely to be listening. Parents and caregivers could reasonably have expected the type of content complained about, and had adequate opportunity to exercise discretion, notwithstanding there was no audience advisory. The nature of the content did not require a specific pre-broadcast warning in light of all the relevant contextual factors described in paragraphs  to .
 Furthermore, while the content included a possible sexual reference, the euphemism for sex was merely one of multiple possible meanings, and the cultural advice suggested this was unlikely to be implied in the context. Therefore, it was unlikely to be inferred by children, or harmful to them.
 For these reasons, we do not uphold the complaint under the children’s interests standard.
 This standard rarely applies to radio (as violent material has more impact visually).16 Typically, we have considered it in relation to, for example, descriptions of violent crime in radio news broadcasts.17
 This broadcast made two references to men beating their wives. While we acknowledge the complainant’s concerns in this respect, in the context of the broader programme the references were not graphic, nor unduly disturbing, and did not actively incite or encourage violence.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold the violence complaint.
Discrimination and denigration
 The complainant argued the host ‘criticised [women]’, ‘targeted [women]’, ‘failed to maintain gender equality’, and ‘tried to put down [women]’. Women are a recognised section of the community to which this standard applies.
 ‘Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment.18 ‘Denigration’ is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community.19
 The importance of freedom of expression means historically we have applied a high threshold for finding a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in contravention of this standard.20 Recent decisions have recognised that a rigid application of the guidelines may miss such prejudice that, though unintentional, has the potential to cause harm by normalising discrimination and denigration in breach of the standard.21
 We disagree with Radio Virsa that the broadcast ‘merely remarked on the possibility that men may punish their wives’. The host was emphatic in delivering his view that ‘men will resort to beating’ if their wives angered them. We understand the complainant’s concerns that this risked normalising violent and discriminatory treatment of women by their husbands. However, applying the relevant factors we concluded, on balance, the comments did not breach the standard:22
- the language used was mild
- the tone of the comments was satirical and not threatening
- the forum in which the comments were made was a talkback radio programme, which is granted some latitude to be provocative in the interests of robust debate
- the comments did not appear intended to be taken seriously
- the comments were repeated once but were brief and not sustained
- the comments did not appear intended to hurt or offend.
 Taken together, these factors mean the broadcast did not reach the high threshold for finding harm at a level that justifies restricting freedom of expression.
 For these reasons, we do not uphold the complaint under the discrimination and denigration standard.
 A consideration of what is fair will depend on the nature of the programme and the context, including the public significance of the broadcast.23 We take into account whether the audience would have been left with an unduly negative impression of the individual, the nature of the individual (for example, whether they were a public figure familiar with the media as opposed to an ordinary person with no media experience), and whether any critical comments were aimed at them in their professional or personal life.24
 In this case, the preacher referred to is a public figure with a media platform – which she has allegedly used to criticise Radio Virsa before, and with which she could respond to the host’s comments in this broadcast. We accept the comments were partly aimed at the preacher’s personal life, however the criticism could also be interpreted as commenting on her ideology as a preacher and on the application of her ideology to marriage. As we have said, the comments were akin to satirical musings and unlikely to be beyond typical expectations of this programme. Nor do we consider it likely that listeners would have been left with an unduly negative impression of the preacher, based on this broadcast.
 We therefore do not uphold the fairness complaint.
 While the preacher was identified by name, the broadcast did not disclose any private information about her – only commentary on how her ideology might apply to marriage and the host’s own views on that topic. We have not found any breach of the privacy standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
13 May 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Mr Gurpreet Singh’s formal complaint – 31 July 2020
2 Radio Virsa’s response to the complaint – 31 August 2020
3 Mr Singh’s referral to the Authority – 20 September 2020
4 Radio Virsa’s response to the referral – 30 September 2020
5 Draft translation by Department of Internal Affairs – 17 November 2020
6 Mr Singh’s objection to draft translation – 22 November 2020
7 Final translation by Department of Internal Affairs – 30 November 2020
1 A Taksali is someone who associates with a particular school of Sikh thought and education (damdami Taksal); a Jāgaruka is someone who is ‘aware’ or ‘enlightened’ and notices events that are happening around them.
2 The following transcript relies on an independent translation by Internal Affairs Translation Service, dated 30 November 2020.
3 The words ‘ਲੰਮੇ’, ‘ਪੈਣਾ’, (‘lamme’, ‘pena’) have several possible meanings, including: to give into, lying down/resting, bowing in front of, stretching out, and can be a euphemism for sex.
4 Standard 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
5 Standard 3 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
6 Commentary, Children’s Interests, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 14
7 Standard 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
8 Standard 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
9 Standard 10 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
10 Standard 11 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
11 Commentary: Good taste and decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
12 As above
13 As above
14 Guideline 3a
15 Guideline 3c
16 Guideline 4a
17 See, for example: Cochran and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2017-032
18 Guideline 6a
19 Guideline 6a
20 Guideline 6b
21 Waxman and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2020-042 at ; Cant and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2020-071 at 
22 Commentary: Discrimination and denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
23 Guideline 11a
24 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21