NEW ZEALAND: Holmes 'cheeky darkie' complaints dismissed

New Zealand's Broadcasting Standards Authority has refused to uphold 10 complaints over radio and television broadcaster Paul Holmes' "cheeky darkie" comments on Newstalk ZB

Pacific Media Watch
Monday, December 22, 2003

By Rebecca Walsh

AUCKLAND (NZ Herald Online/Pacific Media Watch): New Zealand's Broadcasting Standards Authority has refused to uphold 10 complaints over radio and television broadcaster Paul Holmes' "cheeky darkie" comments on Newstalk ZB.

In a just-released decision, the authority said the comments went well beyond the limits of acceptability and were a serious breach of broadcast standards, but it found the actions already taken by broadcaster The Radio Network were sufficient.

At least one of the complainants now plans to take the matter to the High Court.

Holmes - reputedly New Zealand's highest paid media personality - sparked a public outcry in September after he referred to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a "cheeky darkie".

The comments triggered a flurry of publicity in New Zealand and overseas describing the broadcaster as racist and calling for his resignation.

The authority said the comments had been made by one of New Zealand's leading broadcasters during a news and current affairs programme, which had compounded the damage.

But The Radio Network had accepted that the comments were racist and a breach of good taste. It had upheld all the complaints it received.

The authority said Holmes had subsequently broadcast two nationwide apologies, and both he and the network had sent letters of apology to Annan.

Internal disciplinary action had been taken against Holmes, who had offered to resign. He had met members of the Ghanaian community in New Zealand and Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres.

Staff at the network had attended a training seminar on racism run by de Bres.

A "substantial" donation - understood to be $10,000 - had also been made to Save the Children.

"TRN's actions were swift, comprehensive and reflected the seriousness of the complaints," the authority said.

While many of the complainants had wanted Holmes dismissed, or disciplinary action against him, the authority said its powers were limited to the broadcaster. It added that imposing costs or other financial penalties would be "unnecessarily punitive".

"In the authority's view, the broadcaster has treated these complaints as a serious breach of the standards, has acted responsibly by taking a range of relevant actions, and has shown genuine remorse and awareness.

"The authority accepts that TRN has undertaken to effect the kind of systemic change that addresses the concerns of the complainants and the authority."

Yesterday, complainant Terry Evans said he planned to appeal against it in the High Court.

"I don't want to see it fizzle out. I want to see it stay in people's minds so that he and the broadcaster realise it's not something we are going to tolerate."

Evans believed Holmes' should have been taken off air or advertising revenue withdrawn. He disputed the broadcaster's argument that it was an issue of tall poppy syndrome or that the story had been hyped up.

Auckland University English professor Michael Neill, one of more than 50 people to sign an open letter to TVNZ and Newstalk ZB calling for Holmes to be sacked, believed the issue had received enough publicity and that "some lessons had been learned from it".

"Speaking only for myself, I think their decision is probably understandable ... I rather hope it will be the end of it."

The authority did not uphold complaints about Holmes' comments on female journalists. Holmes had asked whether the number of female journalists was making journalism "ignorant and bitchy" and if newspapers were particularly judgmental at certain times of the month.

While the comments were "insulting and inappropriate", the authority said, they did not amount to an encouragement to denigrate or discriminate against female journalists.

Holmes did not return Herald calls yesterday.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby. (c)1996-2001 Copyright - All rights reserved.

Items are provided solely for review purposes as a non-profit educational service. Copyright remains the property of the original producers as indicated. Recipients should seek permission from the copyright owner for any publishing. Copyright owners not wishing their materials to be posted by PMW please contact us. The views expressed in material listed by PMW are not necessarily the views of PMW or its members. 

Recipients should rely on their own inquiries before making decisions based on material listed in PMW. Please copy appeals to PMW and acknowledge source.

For further information, inquiries about joining the Pacific Media Watch listserve, articles for publication, and giving feedback contact Pacific Media Watch at: E-mail: delaro@clear.net.nz