BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Waxman and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-042 (16 November 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Deborah Waxman
Number
2020-042
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

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

The Authority has upheld a complaint about a broadcast which referred to the owners of the road cycling team ‘Israel Start-up Nation’ as ‘Jewish billionaires’. The complainant submitted the broadcast was offensive and racist as it made an unnecessary connection between money and Jewish people. The Authority found the effect of the broadcast was to embed and reflect harmful stereotypes, albeit unintended. The harm in this instance outweighed the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and therefore the Authority upheld the complaint.

Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration

No order


Introduction

[1]  A segment on 1 News on 1 May 2020 reported on the increase of the use of smart trainers for cyclists during the COVID-19 pandemic. It discussed the use of them by New Zealander Greg Henderson, who coaches the road cycling team ‘Israel Start-up Nation’. The reporter referred to ‘Israel Start-up Nation’ being ‘backed by Jewish billionaires’.

[2]  In considering the complaint, the Authority’s members have viewed a recording of the piece and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[3]  We have also been aided in our determination by the engagement of an independent cultural advisor, Emeritus Professor Paul Morris,1 to provide a Jewish perspective on the issues raised. We co-opted him under section 26(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

The complaint

[4]  Dr Deborah Waxman complained the item breached the discrimination and denigration standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. She considered the reference to the owners of the road cycling team ‘Israel Start-Up Nation’ as ‘Jewish billionaires’ was racist as it made an unnecessary connection between money and Jewish people, and was irrelevant.

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

  • The comments were ‘clumsy’ but there was ‘no negative inference’.
  • The ‘reference suffered due to the script’s brevity’ but ‘it was simply background to the team’s backers’.
  • There was no level of condemnation or hate speech which could lead to denigration or discrimination of any section in the community.

[6]  In her referral to the Authority, Dr Waxman also identified the balance standard as having been breached. Under section 8(1B) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, we are only able to consider the complaint under the standard(s) raised, either explicitly or implicitly, in the original complaint to the broadcaster.2 In our view the balance standard cannot be reasonably implied into the wording of the original complaint, which was clearly directed at concerns about discrimination and denigration with respect to Jewish people. Therefore our decision is limited to the discrimination and denigration standard.

The relevant standard

[7]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) protects 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]  Freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, is our starting point. We may only uphold complaints where the limitation on the right is reasonable, prescribed by law and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

[9]  In making our decision, we drew on a number of factors including our own past decisions, independent cultural advice and our understanding of increased awareness and intolerance of racism. As a regulatory body which has to reflect community standards and values, we recognise that each complaint we determine must be considered with the knowledge and understanding we hold in that given moment; and it must be considered within its context.

[10]  The harm alleged in this case is that the news item unnecessarily connected Jewish people with money, which was racist and offensive to Jewish people. We have previously considered the use of ‘Jew’ as a slur in reference to a person who is being frugal. We agreed that it perpetuated stereotypes about Jewish frugality and that this would have been offensive to some people.3 Last year, in the Greetham and Sky Network Television decision, we expressed concern about casual anti-Semitism and highlighted the importance of moving away from this type of language.4 However, we did not uphold that complaint which resulted in public criticism. As a body which regulates according to community standards, we are mindful of public responses to our decisions. This was one factor contributing to our decision to engage a cultural advisor in this case.

[11]  Our advisor in the current case commented:

‘Jewish billionaires’ and the extent of their influence is one of the leading and most frequently repeated of antisemitic tropes. Very often mention of ‘Jewish billionaires’ – as if they are a discernible, connected and coherent collective – suggests the exercise of dominating and controlling power, both in the specified arenas and beyond to society at large. Such tropes are integral to modern and contemporary forms of antisemitism.

[12]  Our key concern with this item was, rather than expressing malice or hatred, that the phrasing evoked prejudicial ideas about the Jewish community. We have previously considered complaints about antisemitism in broadcasts through the narrow lens of the guidelines to the standard.5 However, with this complaint we have adjusted our approach. In some instances the guidelines, when applied rigidly, can miss underlying prejudice. While we consider there was a lack of intent on the part of the broadcaster, this has had the effect of embedding the trope and is insufficient to justify the comment. We do not consider in this instance the right to freedom of expression warrants the use of a harmful phrase that embeds existing negative stereotypes.  We therefore found this broadcast to be in breach of the discrimination and denigration standard.

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand of 1 News on TVNZ 1 on 1 May 2020 breached Standard 6 (Discrimination and Denigration) of the Free-to-air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[13]  Having upheld part of the complaint, we may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. We have concluded no order is warranted in this case. This is on the basis that publication of our decision is sufficient to: publicly notify the breach of the discrimination and denigration standard and censure the broadcaster; and to provide guidance to TVNZ and other broadcasters regarding the need for consideration and care to be taken so as to avoid unintended harm.

 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

16 November 2020    


Appendix

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

1  Dr Waxman’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 1 May 2020

2  TVNZ’s decision on the complaint – 28 May 2020

3  Dr Waxman’s referral to the Authority – 2 June 2020

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 10 July 2020

5  Emeritus Professor Paul Morris’s views on the broadcast and complaint – 19 October 2020


1 Paul Morris is an Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at Victoria University of Wellington and a Jewish member of the Wellington Abrahamic Council.
2 This has been confirmed in the High Court: Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110
3 Kirk and the Radio Network Ltd, Decision No. 2012-134
4 Greetham and Sky Network Television, Decision No. 2019-059 at [12]
5 Guideline 6b states, ‘The importance of freedom of expression means that a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, will be necessary to conclude that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in contravention of the standard.’