BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Yukich and Mediaworks TV Ltd - 2019-080 (4 February 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainant
  • Diana Yukich
Number
2019-080
Programme
The Project
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a joke on The Project referring to Mark Lundy breached the good taste and decency standard. After an introductory remark referring to Mr Lundy’s latest appeal, a photo was shown of a car number plate reading ‘I DID IT’, and presenter Jesse Mulligan joked that Mr Lundy ‘may want to re-think the car he’s using to get to and from court’ and referred to the car ‘travelling at a very high speed’. Diana Yukich complained that the joke was in poor taste as it made light of domestic violence by alluding to Mr Lundy’s crimes, and undermined the work being done to counter violence against women. The Authority found that while the segment might be considered insensitive by some, taking into account relevant contextual factors and the satirical nature of the comments, as well as the fact the joke did not refer specifically to Mr Lundy’s crimes, the broadcast did not threaten standards of good taste and decency and was unlikely to cause widespread offence or undue distress.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency


The broadcast

[1]  A segment on The Project called ‘Scenes from New Zealand’ featured funny personalised car number plates sent in by viewers. The first number plate shown read ‘I DID IT’. Presenter Jesse Mulligan read two alternative introductions for the photo, the second of which referred to Mark Lundy’s appeal of his conviction for murdering his wife and daughter:

The Mark Lundy trial has been back in the media this week as he launches a final appeal. Observers say that while he’s mounting a pretty strong legal defence, he may want to re-think the car he’s using to get to and from court. Yes it was hard to get a shot of that car – it was travelling at a very high speed.

[2]  The programme was broadcast at 7pm on 30 August 2019 on channel Three. The members of the Authority have watched the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[3]  Diana Yukich complained that the item breached the good taste and decency standard (standard 1) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Standards for the following reasons:

  • ‘Violence against women and children in NZ is at epidemic proportions’ and at the time of Mr Lundy’s appeal ‘with the family in distress and thousands of NZ women suffering violence every day, this wasn’t funny’.
  • Mr Lundy was convicted of murdering his wife and child, and joking about Mr Lundy’s appeal was not ‘suitable material at a time when the family [of the victims] is going through a harrowing time’.
  • The comment ‘undermines all the work being done to treat violence against women seriously’, especially in the context of New Zealand’s ‘shocking’ domestic violence statistics.
  • The comment was not funny or satirical. ‘I don’t believe we have reached a state of safety for women in NZ where jokes that reference the killing of women and children is funny.’
  • The segment was shown at a time when children might be watching.

[4]   MediaWorks did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • The references to Mr Lundy were ‘recognisable as satire’, although some viewers may have found them ‘in poor taste’.
  • The comments were ‘drawing humour from Lundy’s improbable and infamous defence rather than targeting his victims or the victims of domestic violence more broadly.’
  • The executive producer of The Project commented, ‘I don’t believe a joke like this undermines our seriousness about domestic abuse.’
  • The executive producer also explained that ‘[j]oking and humour can be a way of helping the community to cope with confronting topics, in this case the joke was about the well-known difficulty with some of the evidence against Lundy, rather than referring to his crimes at all.’

The relevant standard

[5]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.1 When we consider a complaint under this standard, the context of the broadcast is crucial, including 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.2

Our findings

[6]  Our starting point when we consider a complaint is that we recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression, which includes both the broadcaster’s right to present information and ideas to the public, and the audience’s right to receive that information. Our task is to weigh the value of the broadcast item, as well as the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast, either to an individual or to society or the audience generally.

[7]  In her complaint, Ms Yukich has identified potential harm that comes from making light of domestic violence. She is concerned that a joke which referenced the murder of a woman and her child has the effect of undermining the work being done in New Zealand to treat violence against women seriously and to protect the victims of domestic violence.

[8]  We agree that domestic violence is not an issue to be taken lightly, particularly in New Zealand, and we acknowledge the complainant’s concerns in this respect. However we also agree with the broadcaster that this segment was not making specific reference to, or trivialising, the murder of Mr Lundy’s wife and child. While some viewers may have considered the joke insensitive, upon viewing the broadcast, we did not find it undermined the seriousness of Mr Lundy’s crimes. Rather the segment was clearly satirical, by suggesting he drives a car with the number plate ‘I DID IT’ and mocking well-known aspects of his defence against the crimes.

[9]  In addition, context is an important consideration when assessing complaints under the good taste and decency standard.3 Relevant contextual factors in this case support our view of the nature of the segment and our view that it had limited potential to cause undue offence or distress. Primarily, The Project is an unclassified news and current affairs programme with an adult target audience, and there is an established audience expectation that The Project will draw comedy from recent news stories. This segment was consistent with that expectation and the usual tone and approach of the programme, meaning it was less likely to offend viewers.

[10]  Satire and humour are important elements of the right to freedom of expression. We do not consider that in this case the potential harm from the broadcast as identified in the complaint was at a level which justifies regulatory intervention or limiting this fundamental right. We also note that MediaWorks in its response to Ms Yukich apologised for the offence caused.

[11]  In these circumstances, 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

4 February 2020   

 

 

 
Appendix

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

1  Diana Yukich’s complaint to MediaWorks – 30 August 2019

2  MediaWorks’ response – 26 September 2019

3  Ms Yukich’s referral to the Authority – 26 September 2019

4  MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 11 October 2019


1 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
2 As above
3 Guideline 1a