Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Newstalk ZB – The Justin du Fresne Show – host terminated a call saying “why don’t you just bugger off, you bigoted old silly man” – allegedly unfair
Principle 5 (fairness) – robust environment of talkback radio – comments not unfair – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 On The Justin du Fresne Show, broadcast on Newstalk ZB on the morning of 18 April 2005, a caller expressed the view that there was one law for Māori and another law for everybody else with regard to carrying weapons in public. Following a brief exchange, the host terminated the call saying “why don’t you just bugger off, you bigoted old silly man”.
 K O Rigarlsford complained to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, stating that he was disgusted and incensed at the way the host had spoken to the caller. He objected to the fact that the caller was not given a chance to reply, and believed that the caller deserved more respect from the talkback host.
 TRN considered the complaint under Principle 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.
 TRN noted that, while the host had used relatively strong language, he had previously been patient and understanding in trying to extract the caller’s point of view. The host had eventually concluded that the caller was being racist towards Māori, it said, and had therefore reacted strongly in truncating the call and letting the caller know his views were unacceptable.
 TRN asserted that the caller was taking a very hard line but seemed to know that he was in a robust arena, and therefore could be dealt with severely as sometimes happened on talkback. The broadcaster considered the host was justified in his reaction and declined to uphold the complaint.
 In his referral to the Authority, the complainant reiterated his view that the host had displayed a lack of professionalism and had been “downright rude” to the caller. Even if the host believed the caller was being racist, he said, that did not give the host the right to swear and be abusive.
 The complainant asked whether elderly people were to be stereotyped and not respected, and contended that the host should apologise on the air.
 The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 The Authority considers that while the host’s tone was initially polite, he became rude and aggressive in terminating the call. It does not doubt that he could have terminated the call in a more civil and professional manner. There are, however, contextual factors that bring the broadcast just inside the boundaries of the fairness standard.
 The Authority has often recognised talkback radio as a robust environment, in which hosts will sometimes behave rudely. Rudeness is not in itself a breach of broadcasting standards, but where hosts cross the line and abuse a caller, their manner and language needs to be considered as a potential breach of the fairness standard.
 In the present case, the Authority considers that while the comments made were on the fringe of acceptability, they were not unfair. The caller had been given a fair opportunity to outline his views, and the host’s comments, while derogatory, did not amount to the level of abuse that in the robust context of talkback radio constitutes a breach of the fairness standard. In particular, the words “old silly man” were more a figure of speech than an attempt to denigrate the caller on account of his age, and the rest of the language, while strong, was not highly offensive.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
18 August 2005
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: