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An Open Letter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

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Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

I am writing to you because something happened this week that didn’t sit well with me.

Sean Plunket resigned this week from the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Likely, this is because of his tweet, “Anyone else feeling for Harvey Weinstein?”

Likely, due to the sheer amount of public backlash from participants in his “little social experiment” Sean Plunket was asked to resign, and those who asked him hoped that would make the backlash go away.

I would like to register my backlash, please.

I’m very concerned that Sean Plunket was representing the Broadcasting Standards Authority when he tweeted that question.

 I’m very concerned has been no apology (to the public in general and to anyone who has been assaulted in particular) for this tweet while Sean Plunket was representing the Broadcasting Standards Authority (I checked the Latest News section of the Broadcasting Standards Authority site today – still nothing.)

In fact, there has been no acknowledgement of his tweet from the BSA at all, aside from a “We’re very well aware of it,” from Peter Radich.

Please, correct me if I’m wrong here, because believe me I’d rather not need to write this.

Let me tell you why I’m concerned.

The Broadcasting Authority, “as a key part of its core functions…collaborated with broadcasters to develop codes of broadcasting practice that apply to all television and radio broadcasters in New Zealand.”

The standards that went into place on April 1, 2016 were reviewed by the National Council of Women of New Zealand, who had the following comment: “One of the affiliated organisations considered that insufficient attention was given to the ways in which denigration of women, even if they are not overtly physically abused in programmes included in Free to Air TV broadcasts, could have negative social effects.”

One of the sections of the new standards that reflects this concern is as follows:

“Broadcasters should exercise caution with content likely to incite or encourage violence or brutality.”

We have seen in recent days Jason Momoa’s comments about working on Game of Thrones “There’s so many things you can do, like rip someone’s tongue out of their throat and get away with it…rape a beautiful woman, you know?”

We have seen Ben Affleck’s casual grabbing of the breast of an actress during a television interview.

Broadcasting culture, because of content and because of the people who represent that content, is synonymous with rape culture in many ways, and rape culture is synonymous with sexism.

Publicly “feeling” for Harvey Weinstein amounts to a tacit approval of a man who has now been accused of sexual harassment by at least 34 women to date, and accused of rape by Rose McGowan.

Tacit and overt approval of rape culture leads to continued rape culture.

Rape culture exists in New Zealand as one of the underlying factors to daily life for women.

I was 10 years old when I was first inappropriately touched by a man.

I was 12 years old when men first started shouting sexualised comments out of their car windows as they passed.

I was 16 years old when I was followed home the first time, walking home from the fish and chip shop where I worked.

I was 17 years old when I took a bus, and a strange man sat down next to me, took my hand, and placed it on his crotch.

I was 20 years old when a male colleague told the rest of my work colleagues that I’d slept with him, and when I complained to my boss, he told me that it was “just something men say.”

When I was 24 years old, a man from a neighbouring workplace would corner me in a shared corridor to repeatedly ask me out. When I declined, firmly, repeatedly, I thought he’d received the message, until he showed up at my next place of work.

When I was 25 and at a club, a man called me a “frigid bitch” because I declined to dance with him.

When I was 26, a man on a crowded Tube train stood behind me and put his hand between my legs. I was the only person on that crowded train that yelled at him. He smirked at me as he got off at the next stop.

When I was 31 years old, a man that I’d spoken to briefly, who works at local supermarket where I work saw me leaving my place of employment. He waited outside my work every day for 2 weeks to try to talk to me.

Last year, I was hosting a supplier at a work event and he made unsolicited comments about my ass.

I did not seek any of these encounters, and they are purely a cliffnotes version of what most women go through daily, weekly, monthly.

I carry my keys at night in my hand, because of who might be waiting to follow me to my car. I think about what I wear every day, in case it might “draw the wrong attention.”

The media I consume normalises rape, normalises women being assaulted physically, sexually and emotionally.

I am told, repeatedly, to harden up, get over it, that I’ve led men on, or that “I’ve never seen it happen, so your experience can’t be true.”

I see, daily, comments that false accusations of rape mean that men have it equally as bad as women, and to quote Natalie Degraffinried, “how terrible to have to be hypervigilant and live your life in fear that actions not under your control could ruin or end your life.”

I see men who appear to be from New Zealand consistently abuse women in online spaces to the point where, if the same conversation was happening on the street, the police would be called.

It is very clear from the comments that these men make that they do not see women as human beings. To quote Anne Thériault “Men accuse feminist(s) of being angry all the time yet I’ve never seen anyone more infuriated than men reacting to feminism.”

There is no legal protection in New Zealand from harrassment in online spaces.

Tacit and overt approval of rape culture leads to continued rape culture. Defence of rape culture leads to continued rape culture. Denial of rape culture leads to continued rape culture. Shifting the blame, refusing to talk about the issue, moving the goal posts, the inability to accept experiences that are different from one’s own, or even the inability to accept plain facts and figures leads to continued rape culture.

To quote Kirsty Major “If you’re not prepared to listen, you’re not a feminist man, you’re a woke misogynist.” I would also say that if you're not prepared to publicly call out behaviour that furthers a culture which already has had a quantifiable impact on the physical and mental health of New Zealand women, then you're also a woke misogynist.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority didn’t see fit to acknowledge publicly that Sean Plunket’s tweet was furthering rape culture, and in breach of the very standards that the authority is trying to maintain. A government body of authority such as the Broadcasting Standards Authority that does not publicly speak to the link here, chiefly given New Zealand’s appalling sexual and domestic violence statistics, is one that scares me.

It also scares me that Sean Plunket’s history of publicly denigrating women, and attacking them online and in the radio space, was not taken into account before his appointment.

The fears of the National Council of Women of New Zealand have come true, in that insufficient attention to the ways in which denigration of women has negative social effects – just not in the Free to Air space.

The harm that Sean Plunket did by casually dismissing the experience of those women – and therefore my experiences with rape culture in New Zealand, has been just as casually dismissed by the Broadcasting Standards Authority, who act on behalf of my government.

So, I am left to surmise that an organisation that is in place to ensure standards of behaviour, cannot abide by its own thinking. I am left to surmise, that “at least he’s gone,” is good enough.

This letter is not an attack on Sean Plunket. This is a questioning of the processes in place that lead to his being in a position of power - the same processes throughout the country that give a platform to those that further a culture of denigrating women.

There has been no pledge to do better in future or public measures put in place to prevent this reoccurring, from anyone involved in this sorry debacle.

Standard 1 of the Broadcasting Standards codebook is “current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained.”

If future potential members of the Broadcasting Standards Authority are unable to maintain these norms in their professional lives, this should preclude them from a position with the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

A public persona bleeds into a private one. When people show you who they are, believe them.

My plea to the Broadcasting Standards Authority is, while you are maintaining good taste and decency for the rest of New Zealand, could you please ensure, for your next appointment, to maintain some for the Authority?

Thank you for your time.


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