Thanks very much to reader Ms Giraffe for emailing this to me for publication. My own complaint was quite short and less comprehensive, so it's great to have an example to put up that is so thorough!
Thursday 2 April 2009
PO Box 3819
FORMAL COMPLAINT regarding Paul Henry’s treatment of an interviewee on Wednesday 25th March 2009 on the Breakfast show on TV One.
Dear Complaints Committee,
I was horrified to see Paul Henry’s treatment of Stephanie Mills from Greenpeace after her interview on Breakfast. Paul Henry being horrible to interviewees is nothing new to me - his pompous, arrogant and rude behaviour is the very reason I have already switched to Sunrise on TV3. Instead I watched this disaster pan out on YouTube and on various blogs and I got incensed to the point where I thought I should put a formal complaint in to you.
I believe that Paul Henry has breached a number of code requirements and standards within the Broadcasting Act 1989 and indeed your own TVNZ Charter.
Background – Stephanie Mills from Greenpeace, was interviewed on Breakfast about nuclear testing. After her appearance Henry took great delight in reading out comments (texts and emails) from viewers regarding Mills’ facial hair. Alison Mau asked Henry (in fact used the words ‘please’ and ‘beg’) not to voice the comments. Henry mentioned that the producer asked him not to bring up the comments and yet he did. Henry smiled, giggled and emphasised derogatory words – this is why I say he delighted in bringing it up.
1. Code requirements – s 21(1)(e) – “fair and accurate programmes and procedures for correcting factual errors and redressing unfairness”
I don’t believe that Breakfast effectively redressed the concerns of viewers who were upset with Henry’s treatment of Ms Mills. Reading out two emails from concerned viewers didn’t mitigate the damage done by Henry. Henry did not express any remorse for his actions, he barely bothered to look at the camera and looked like he was seeking support from the sidelines while Alison Mau expressed views from upset viewers. This segment was captioned “Paul’s Hate Mail”.
2. Code requirements – s 21(1)(e) – “safeguards against the portrayal of persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, race, age, disability, or occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs”
I believe that Henry picked viewer comments out that portrayed Greenpeace and those who work for the organisation in a negative manner. This made negative and discriminatory views over-shadow the point of Mills appearing on Breakfast and was an attack on the status of Greenpeace.
Allowing debate to be focussed on an interviewee’s physical appearance was particularly unprofessional. My belief is that this led to a series of discriminatory comments to be made about woman and was sexist.
3. Standard 1 – Good taste and decency “Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour”
I do not believe that Henry treated Mills in a decent manner. The comments were in bad taste and were completely off topic. Henry’s behaviour in bringing up the negative viewer comments were also in bad taste and allowed them a hearing they would not have had otherwise.
4. Standard 6 b – Fairness “Contributors and participants in any programme should be dealt with fairly”
Henry treated Mills with contempt and disrespect which was far from fair, balanced and professional.
5. Standard 6 f – Fairness “Broadcasters should recognise the rights of individuals … not to be exploited, humiliated or unnecessarily identified”
It was clearly Henry’s choice and Henry’s choice alone to voice the negative opinions of a few viewers which I believe could only have caused Mills some humiliation. I cringed at the comments made and can only imagine how this would make Mills, her family and her friends feel. In voicing these comments I also believe Henry set a dangerous precedent of airing personal opinions that have nothing to do with the topic that interviewees appear on Breakfast to highlight.
6. TVNZ Charter – “highest standards of programme quality and editorial integrity”
The treatment of Mills was of the lowest quality and completely lacked editorial integrity. While viewers are entitled to their opinion, they had nothing to do with the purpose of Mills interview (nuclear testing). I would have expected that the honourable course of action would have been to stay silent on the personal attack issue and only read comments that related to the issue of the interview.
7. TVNZ Charter – “contribute to a sense of citizenship and national identity”
Greenpeace is a group that adds value to the citizenship and identity debates that New Zealanders have about environmental issues. Henry’s disregard of their message by allowing personal attacks on their spokesperson to be aired meant that the nuclear testing message and debate of such was lost.
8. TVNZ Charter – “promotes informed and many-sided debate and stimulates critical thought”
The types of debate that Breakfast should have been promoting around the Greenpeace interview were viewer’s thoughts on nuclear testing, with an attempt to balance agreement and disagreement with Greenpeace’s message. What Henry did was to encourage debate focussed on Mills’s physical appearance. Making jokes about facial hair is not stimulating critical thought or many-sided debate, it was puerile, disrespectful and sexist.
What dismays me more is that many comments on the blogs that have been written as a consequence of this display show that Henry allowed people to feel that it is acceptable to poke fun at people, and that Henry is some sort of champion of un-PC-ness. Not allowing public humiliation of people is far from political correctness gone mad, it is simply showing respect for another human being.
If TVNZ allows Henry to continue such vitriolic attacks on guests to the Breakfast show then they are implicitly agreeing to his methods and behaviour, and supporting his view that it is ok to humiliate people, to treat them with disregard, contempt and arrogance.
I look forward to your feedback on my formal complaint. I will not be watching Breakfast to see if Henry apologises or to see if he does or does not repeat such behaviour again. I’ve switched off already, and this incident confirms for me that I made the right decision not to allow myself to be angered and disgusted by Paul Henry and his behaviour ever again. I will not support such behaviour by watching Breakfast so I would appreciate you letting me know of the outcome as I will not watch it play out on air.
If you do make a complaint you will need to put your name on it, and also your postal address, even if making the complaint by email. More details about making a complaint can be found here (scroll down). Please note that you are obliged to complain to the broadcaster first, before making a complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.