You might remember I complained to Mediaworks regarding this Sean Plunket interview, in which he basically eviscerated a person with disabilities for a laugh. Unsurprisingly, they are not upholding my complaint. They say Plunket is simply “cheeky” and he deserves free speech.
This was my complaint:
Standards Breached: Discrimination & Denigration
Reasons for Breach:
On Friday, Louise Carroll, Chief Executive Officer of the National Foundation for the Deaf, called Sean Plunket on Radio Live to discuss closed captioning. Specifically, she wanted to raise the issue that the Rugby World Cup games are not captioned. His tone and his words were patronising, disparaging, dismissive, and offensive to people with disabilities.
He invoked her disability as a reason for their disagreement, and a reason to hang up on her. “You do have a hearing problem-” which is discrimination. He speaks over and interrupts her throughout the conversation.
Following hanging up on her, he continues to argue his own point and denigrate her intelligence by suggesting she should just learn the rules of rugby. “I’m also saying it is pretty simple to watch rugby with the sound turned off and know what’s going on. Big letters on the back of those jerseys, big letters.” He then says: “Why not turn on the radio? I’m sure there are radio commentaries somewhere and- oh, no, that doesn’t work does it, bugger” which is offensive. He is making fun of deafness. That is denigration.
He then asks if he is “being mean” which belittles Louise and the importance of the conversation around accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people. It is not about meanness or niceness. She was not asking for him to be nice, and neither am I. I am expecting public broadcasters to be respectful and not discriminate against or denigrate people who call them.
This is the response:
Standard 7: Discrimination and Denigration
Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, 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.
7a This standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is:
(ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion; or
(iii) legitimate humour, drama or satire.
When considering complaints about denigration the Committee must consider whether the comments devalued the reputation of a class of people. The Broadcasting Standards Authority has stated on a number of occasions that this is the definition of denigration for the purpose of the code (Decision 2005- 112). “Discrimination” has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group to their detriment (e.g. Teoh and TVNZ). It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard (for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network). Further, comments will not breach the standard simply because they offend people or are rude, unless they amount to hate speech or a sustained attack on a particular group.
Plunket’s “you do have a hearing problem” remark and the other comments you have identified were directed at a specific individual in relation to (the host’s perception of) her conduct in a talkback radio discussion. An individual cannot be considered a “section of the community” for the purpose of this standard.
Further, the comments did not amount to “hate speech” and did not devalue the reputation of a class of people. We do not accept that the broadcast encouraged “the different treatment of the members of a particular group to their detriment”. The “you do have a hearing problem” remark in particular was a cheeky argumentative flourish by Plunket which, when considered in the context of the entire discussion with Carroll, expressed his frustration at her refusal to accept his argument rather than a negative opinion of her disability. (my inclusion of colour – WH)
Above all we believe it is clear that the comments you have identified were not delivered with a high level of invective.
We are satisfied that this broadcast did not breach standard 7.
The Radio Standards Committee has not identified a breach of the relevant standard and accordingly declines to uphold your complaint.
New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990
Section 14 of this Act provides for a statutory right to “freedom of expression” it states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form. This important right to “free speech” (as it is sometimes called) can only be limited if it is considered reasonable and justifiable in a free and democratic society to do so (s5 of the Act). The Radio Standards Committee has considered your complaint weighed against the right to freedom of expression and considers that to uphold your complaint would unreasonably and unjustifiably restrict the public’s right to receive information and opinions of any kind in any form.
So, back to me
The thing that really, really gets me about this response is not that they didn’t uphold the complaint – I didn’t think they would. It’s the defense of Plunket as being “cheeky.”
I’m sorry, but what. the. actual. fuck. He is a grown ass man, not a child. It is not cute. It is not “a flourish.” It is a deliberate attack and undermining of someone’s disability. It’s like if I was talking to someone about walking, and they said “yeah, but you’re lame aren’t you?” because sometimes my arthritis means I can’t walk very well – and then they walked away from me and I couldn’t follow, just like he hung up on her.
It is utterly disgusting.
I feel defeated.