Reekie and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2019-017 (18 July 2019)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Paula Rose QSO
- Wendy Palmer
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Nicholas Reekie
ProgrammeThe AM Show
BroadcasterMediaWorks TV Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
During a segment on The AM Show, host Duncan Garner referred to an individual as a ‘woolly woofter’. A complaint that the use of this term breached broadcasting standards, as it was homophobic and offensive, was not upheld. The Authority found that, while some viewers may have found the term inappropriate or offensive, the use of the term was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or seriously violate community norms. In the context of the programme, upholding the complaint would unreasonably restrict the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration, Law and Order
 During an episode of The AM Show, broadcast on 3 December 2018 on Three, Duncan Garner, in response to a viewer’s comment that a Māori Santa was ‘a totally insane idea’, said:
Did any – who’s the woolly woofter that honestly made – who’s the woolly woofter in Nelson that decided that was the right thing to do.
 In considering this complaint, we have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 Mr Reekie submitted that Mr Garner’s use of the term ‘woolly woofter’ breached the good taste and decency, law and order and discrimination and denigration standards because:
- A woolly woofter is rhyming slang for the word ‘poofter’, a homophobic term, and using this term on mainstream television promotes serious anti-social activity by encouraging viewers, who may not know the meaning of the term, to use it.
- To call someone gay (or equivalent) as an insult is offensive (as it implies there is something wrong with being gay).
- The term was ‘shamefully offensive’ and intended to insult.
- The comment was discriminatory on the grounds of sexual orientation. The term cannot be dissociated from its homophobic origins and MediaWorks’ interpretation was ‘made up’ to downplay Mr Garner’s conduct and the use of the term.
- Duncan Garner knew he was using offensive terminology as he caught himself saying it, paused, and still deliberately used the term.
- Mr Garner often sets out to offend people, ‘skates around the fringes of hate speech’ and regularly attacks vulnerable sections of society.
 MediaWorks responded that:
- ‘Woolly woofter’ is a term typically used colloquially in New Zealand as a mild and light-hearted insult for a cowardly or simpering person.
- The term’s arcane, veiled meaning (rhyming slang for poofter) is not widely recognised and is not generally used with that in mind.
- There was no suggestion that Mr Garner intended to convey the veiled meaning; it was apparent from the context that the term was used as a light-hearted criticism and not expressed with homophobic connotations.
- Mr Garner was not using the term ‘woolly woofter’ to express malice towards homosexual people and the broadcast did not reach the threshold necessary to conclude that it encouraged discrimination against, or denigration of, a section of the community.
- The broadcast did not encourage serious antisocial or illegal behaviour, therefore did not breach the law and order standard.
 The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect the audience from material that is likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.
 The intent behind the law and order standard (Standard 5) is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity.
 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.
 When determining a complaint we first recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression, which includes both the broadcaster’s freedom to present information and ideas to the public, and the audience’s right to receive that information. We 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.
Good Taste and Decency
 The complainant submitted that the term ‘woolly woofter’, was a homophobic insult that breached current societal norms, as it is rhyming slang for ‘poofter’, a known homophobic slur.
 The terms ‘woolly woofter’ and ‘poofter’ were not tested in our 2018 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research,1 although ‘poofter’ was mentioned by 13 respondents as an expression they may find unacceptable from a gender or sexual orientation perspective.2 However, the term ‘woolly woofter’ is not particularly explicit (in comparison to many of the other terms considered in our research).3 Other definitions of the term include someone who is ‘afraid or scared to do something’ or an idiot.4 Having regard to this research we consider, while the use of the word may offend some people, it is unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress.
 Under the good taste and decency standard, current norms of good taste and decency, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast, must be maintained. Context is crucial when determining a complaint under this standard.5 We found the following contextual factors important in our determination:
- In the context of the statement made by Mr Garner, it appears the intended meaning of the term was to suggest the person it was directed at was silly or an idiot.
- The homophobic connotations of the term is one of a number of definitions. As noted above, other definitions include someone who is ‘afraid or scared to do something’.
- The term was used only briefly during the show and was part of a series of exasperated statements by Mr Garner responding to audience feedback on separate issues.
- Mr Garner’s tone did not contain malice or hate.
 While some viewers may have found Mr Garner’s comment inappropriate or offensive, considering the recent research and contextual factors discussed above, we find it was not likely to cause widespread undue offence or seriously violate community norms.
 We therefore do not uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency standard.
 We find Mr Garner’s use of the term ‘woolly woofter’ did not breach the remaining standards raised for the following reasons:
- Law and Order: Use of this term did not encourage criminal behaviour or undermine law and order.
- Discrimination and Denigration: A high level of condemnation, usually with an element of malice or nastiness, is necessary to find a breach of this standard.6 Taking into account the factors discussed above, we do not consider the term contained the level of condemnation required under this standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
18 July 2019
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Mr Reekie’s formal complaint – 5 December 2018
2 MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 12 March 2019
3 Mr Reekie’s referral to the Authority – 29 March 2019
4 MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 29 May 2019
1 See Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018)
2 As above, page 11
3 As above, page 9
5 Guideline 1a
6 Guideline 6b