Waitangi Day, I remember it well this year because I was due to have three wisdom teeth pulled the following day (I had been pretty put out when my normal dentist took one look at my x-ray and burst out laughing). So for Waitangi Day, I put on my dancin’ shoes and headed on down to Groove in the Park. It was a great party and once you got over the white pants and the smelly bogans in the crowd, it was a fantastic spot for a boogie in the glorious sunshine. Those unfortunate Aucklanders who weren’t there could see footage of the event via Alt TV’s broadcast.
Alt TV is a small TV channel that used to broadcast on UHF in the Auckland region (at the time of Groove in the Park), and now broadcasts on pay TV and the internet. During its Groove in the Park coverage, viewers could send text messages to the station, which would then be displayed in scrolling text across the screen.
It arranged for somebody to check the texts before they were broadcast and to delete offensive text messages. Sadly, the censor “became intoxicated” on the day and did not adequately perform his duties. Several texts with graphic language, sexist and sexually explicit messages and racist slurs scrolled across Alt TV’s broadcast (one report of the Authority’s decision showed the actual messages, but with **** to cover the bad words. I saw more **** than words).
A member of the public complained to Alt TV and it didn’t respond to her, so she complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. As if that wasn’t problem enough, Alt TV didn’t help its cause by failing to keep a record of the Waitangi Day broadcast – it had to accept the complainant’s notes of what had been broadcast.
The complaint was that the Waitangi Day broadcast breached broadcasting standards because the messages on-screen used racist and graphic language that offended against good taste and decency, and encouraged racial denigration. Also, because the broadcast was G-rated and shown during the day, the messages offended against children’s interests. The complaint was upheld.
Well, it is now November, and the scars from my wisdom teeth removal have healed up. However, Alt TV just copped the most severe penalty ever handed down by the Broadcasting Standards Authority. It ordered Alt TV to refrain from broadcasting between noon and 5pm on Labour Day. During that time, Alt TV had to broadcast a written statement summarising the authority’s decision and apologising to viewers. Alt TV must also pay the Crown costs of $5000.
It could have been worse: the original complaint also included problems about the portrayal of alcohol on the programme (I was at the gig, I can see how this would have been a problem). However, because the tape had gone missing, the authority declined to decide on that point. Still, copping the worst BSA penalty on record makes for a pretty lousy Waitangi Day for anyone.
And to think, the fixes would have been easy: If the Alt TV censor had stayed sober, and if Alt TV had kept a record of its broadcast, it would have ended up a whole lot better off. Those standards have real teeth when needed.
Richard Anstice is a staff solicitor with Rae Nield, the regular writer of this column. She will return to these pages in the next issue.
This article is intended for general information, and should not be relied on as specific legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for advice relating to your own specific legal problems. Rae Nield can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.