BRUCE ROSCOE AGAINST NZPA

Case Number: 2176

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2011

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: NZPA

Ruling Categories: Discrimination

Introduction
Bruce Roscoe’s complaint relates to an article published by the New Zealand Press Association (NZPA), Thursday 18 November 2010. Mr Roscoe believes a comment in the article is racist.

Mr Roscoe’s complaint is not upheld.

Background
The article contains the comment “New Zealand’s cricketers may have to call on pest control to rid them of an unwanted irritant they have inadvertently stumbled over in India”.

The article commented on the cricketing prowess of Harbhajan Singh and his impact on the test series between New Zealand and India.

All comments regarding Mr Singh were of a positive and complimentary nature.

Complaint
Mr Roscoe believes that the comment in the article relating to pest control is “racially offensive”.

Mr Roscoe goes on to say that “Pest control clearly first implies an eradication of vermin or rodents”. He goes on to state that “I believe that an NZPA journalist or editor has consciously applied this term to the Indian cricketer in question”.

Mr Roscoe states that “I do not believe that NZPA would ever liken white European cricketers to vermin or rodents”.

In a further letter dated 18 January 2011, Mr Roscoe states that “At issue is use of the term [pest control], which is pernicious and racially baiting. It badly jarred as soon as I read it. I envisaged schoolroom taunts against south Asians – ‘Well call in pest control for you!’ ‘Well he looks like a rat’ ‘Well that’s what the newspaper said’.”

Mr Roscoe went on to state that “One has only to google the term to see the first several hundred references are to the extermination of vermin and rodents and insects that are injurious to human health or the environment” and provided sample copies of his google search.

Specifically, Mr Roscoe states “The description in my view breaches principles of fairness and balance and discrimination and diversity. It creates a precedent in or reinforces a standard of what is permissible”.

Response from the NZPA.
In reply the editor stated that “In its use of “pest control”, NZPA did not liken Indian cricketer Harbhajan Singh to “vermin or rodents”, or call on him to be eradicated, as suggested by Bruce Roscoe”.

The editor went on to state “By definition the Oxford Dictionary describes a pest as “a troublesome person” who annoys continually with “requests or questions”, in this sense by batting and bowling well”.

He goes on to state that “The point the author was trying to make was Harbhajan’s unexpected good form with the bat was a constant thorn in the side of the New Zealand cricket team, whose job would be easier without him”.

He goes further to state that “A full reading of the story reveals the exact opposite meaning to the one Mr Roscoe took, painting a very positive picture of Harbhajan, and admiring his cricketing feats”.

The editor goes on to say that the story is about a cricket player who is much admired and there was no intention to liken him to vermin in a “racially offensive” fashion.

The editor provided a selection of examples where the term “pest” has been used in sports journalism in what he describes as a term of endearment and/or admiration.

Discussion and conclusion
Mr Roscoe and the editor both provided examples that they believed supported their case.

It is clear to anyone reading the article that it is both positive and complimentary to the Indian cricketer Harbhajan Singh and is in no way derogatory or insulting. The article outlines Mr Singh’s prowess as a cricketer. The words “vermin or rodent” do not feature in the article and the article clearly uses the word “pest” as pertaining to Mr Singh’s successful impact in the arena of cricket.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.