Nova’s Auschwitz Dilemma in breach of decency codes

Nova’s Double Dilemma about the gas chambers at Auschwitz has been found to be in breach of Subclause 1.5(a) of the Commercial Radio Code of Practice. The ABA issued the breach finding against the station earlier this month, but will take no further action against the licensee because Nova issued appropriate apologies for the segment at the time.

The radio competition, “Double Dilemma”, was broadcast during Nova 100’s breakfast
programs between 31 March 2003 and 8 May 2003.

The ‘dilemma’ posed on 2 April 2003 presented the following scenario to Amanda, who
was that day’s contestant:

It’s 1942. You, your mother and your very sick four year old daughter are
ordered off the train in Auschwitz. The guard says to you, “Choose who gets sent
to the gas chamber: your mother who is fighting fit, or your very sick daughter.”

What would you do – save your mother or save your daughter?

The contestant was asked if she had a young child, and at least four times she declined to
choose before offering a decision.

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria took issue with the segment and made an official complaint saying the dilemma “was offensive, demeaning and trivialised the

It was argued that, as a consequence of the broadcast, significant offence was
caused to the Jewish community, particularly to those who were the subject of the very real dilemma under the Nazis. Melbourne is home to the largest population, proportionally, of Holocaust survivors in the world.

The complaint, as required by the ABA codes, went first to Nova and then, when the complainant was dissatisfied with the licensee’s response, the complainant was forwarded to the ABA for investigation.

The ABA judged the complaint under Subclause 1.5(a) of the Commercial Radio Code which states:

All program content must meet contemporary standards of decency, having
regard to the likely characteristics of the audience of the licensee’s service.

The Code requires the ABA to have regard to the likely characteristics of the licensee’s
audience, but this does not prevent the ABA also considering other relevant matters as well.

The ABA found that the program “did not meet contemporary standards of decency, having regard to the likely characteristics of the audience of the licensee’s service.”

The ABA bases this finding upon the reaction of the contestant and the presenters to the
dilemma, a comparison between this dilemma and examples of other dilemmas that were
broadcast provided by the licensee and upon the general nature of the program.

The ABA found that the majority of the licensee’s audience are under 40 years of age and that a likely characteristic of the licensee’s audience is that they would have at least sufficient knowledge of “Auschwitz” to appreciate that it is a historical fact that large numbers of ordinary people died there by way of the gas chamber.

The ABA found that the broadcast “did not meet the audience expectations, and thereby the contemporary standards, of the licensee’s audience.” The finding is based on the fact that the dilemma scenario was not hypothetical, and upon the reactions of the contestant and presenters.

The ABA did not accept the licensee’s view that the scenario used for this dilemma could
be divorced from its historical setting – it is the setting itself that underpins the inherent
difficulties in being forced to decide on the choices presented.

The ABA also did not accept the licensee’s view that only people with a direct link
either by virtue of religion or family history would have been offended by broadcast.

In a significant finding for all radio stations the ABA found:

“In respect of the licensee’s submission that many of the complainants to the station were
not actual listeners but persons who had heard about the segment second-hand, it should be noted that there is no requirement that a complainant must have heard a broadcast to
complain about it.

“While it was submitted that the most vociferous complainants were not
members of the usual listening audience, the licensee acknowledged that at least some
complainants were members of the licensee’s audience.”

In arriving at its view, the ABA emphasised that program content broadcast
must meet contemporary standards of decency of the likely audience of the licensee’s
service. The view is that the dilemma posed was offensive not only to the Jewish
community in Melbourne, but to the audience of the licensee’s service. The ABA
acknowledges the right of people to discuss tragic events of both current or historical
significance… but these sorts of discussions should be conducted in a sensitive and
appropriate context. “In this particular case the placement of the discussion was neither
appropriate nor sensitive,” says the ABA.

Nova now intends to formalise an approval process for all future
dilemma type promotions. The programming and promotions departments will have
to gain prior approval from the General Manager before putting them to air. The General Manager will also consult with the Group Program Director on any
potentially sensitive dilemma type promotions to “obtain an off station perspective to ensure the likelihood of offending sections of the community is minimised.”

The ABA “notes and commends” the licensee’s prompt actions’ following receipt of
the complaints. Nova issued an on-air apology on the day of
the broadcast and then again during the breakfast show the following day.

The ABA noted that in its response Nova accepted that the dilemma caused offence to a section of the community and that it
regretted the Auschwitz setting. The ABA proposes no further action against the licensee.