Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Radio Sport – Mystery and the Mouth – talkback discussion about former All Black captain – caller abused – allegedly offensive, unbalanced and unfair
Principle 1 (good taste and decency) – context – borderline – not upheld
Principle 4 (balance) – style and manner of comment complained about, not substance – not upheld
Principle 5 (fairness) – host’s response unprofessional given other options available – nevertheless responded to provocation – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 Mystery and the Mouth is the name of the talkback programme broadcast on Radio Sport between 10am to 12 noon on Sunday mornings. The programme hosts are John Morrison – “Mystery”, and Miles Davis – “The Mouth”. During the programme broadcast on 25 April 2004, an exchange arose about the abilities of a former captain of the All Blacks. The host, who is known as “the mouth”, was critical of the caller who responded by describing the host and his son as “overstayers”. The host’s reply was abusive and crude, and it included several references to the caller as a “soft cock”.
 Greg Clydesdale complained to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, about the way in which the host responded to the caller. While he accepted that the caller’s comments were provocative, Mr Clydesdale considered Mr Davis’s response to be offensive, unbalanced and unfair. Mr Clydesdale observed that Mr Davis clearly did not have a rugby background or the ability to analyse the finer points of the game.
 In view of the matters raised by the complainant, TRN assessed the complaint under the following standards in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
1a Broadcasters will take into consideration current norms of decency and good taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast eg time of day, target audience.
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.
 TRN explained that Mystery and the Mouth was a “fun, sometimes hard hitting and wide ranging discussion of sports issues.” It acknowledged that the debate about the merits or otherwise of the former All Black captain had been heated at times. However, it added, the discussion “degenerated” when a caller accused Mr Davis and his son of being unwelcome overstayers.
 As for Principle 1, TRN contended the language used in the exchange was acceptable given the nature of the call and the nature of robust talkback. It declined to uphold that aspect.
 It also did not uphold the balance aspect, pointing out that callers to talkback were aware of the type of programme in which they were participating and it was not the host’s job necessarily to respect a caller’s point of view.
 The fairness aspect was also not upheld. TRN pointed out that the hosts and caller held opposing views and the caller resorted to personal abuse when one of the hosts disagreed with him.
 Mr Clydesdale disputed TRN’s contention that the call degenerated when the caller made his comment that the host and his son were overstayers. He maintained that the host had made the first offensive comment, and the co-host’s response was to laugh which belittled the caller.
 Mr Clydesdale accepted that the caller’s comments were “over the top”, but argued that they arose in response to the comments and reactions from the hosts. The broadcaster, he wrote, had taken no responsibility for the actions of the hosts. Mr Clydesdale also expressed concern at the time the exchange had occurred – about 11.00am – when children might be listening. The behaviour and level of aggression, he continued, “was totally inappropriate for this time of day”.
 Turning to Principles 4 and 5 (balance and fairness), Mr Clydesdale noted that a caller to another host who worked for Radio Sport had said that he felt he had not been able to raise the issue – the merits of the former All Black captain – on the Mystery and the Mouth show in view of the hosts’ attitudes. The other Radio Sport host, Mr Clydesdale added, had encouraged positive debate on the issue.
 Arguing that the caller to Mystery and the Mouth was ridiculed as soon as he expressed an opinion, Mr Clydesdale said that sports talkback should promote the positive attributes of sportsmanship. If it was intended to be a “gutter-sports show”, it should be rescheduled.
 In its response, TRN said that:
 Radio Sport, it wrote, was targeted at a mainly male audience aged 18 to 59.
 Before the complainant submitted a final comment, the Authority confirmed with TRN that the tape provided - which did not include any laughter from the co-host during the exchange complained about – was a tape of the broadcast of the hosts who had been in studios in Auckland and Wellington. In view of that assurance, Mr Clydesdale accepted that the Authority would not consider the matter of the alleged laughter when it assessed the complaint.
 Mr Clydesdale asked nevertheless, if the hosts did not encourage the positive attributes of sportsmanship, what attitudes were encouraged? He reiterated his contention that programmes containing such aggression should be broadcast after 9.00pm. Mr Clydesdale also expressed the opinion that the hosts made sexual allusions as well which were also inappropriate at that hour.
 Although the programme was targeted at male listeners aged 18 to 59, Mr Clydesdale mentioned that children were often around when their parents were listening to the station.
 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.
 Mr Clydesdale contended that the host’s reaction breached the standards relating to good taste and decency, balance and fairness.
 When the Authority determines a complaint which argues that a radio broadcast has contravened the good taste and decency standard, it is required to take into account the context of the comments complained about.
 A number of contextual matters suggested that the complaint should be upheld, including:
 On the other hand, some contextual matters supported the other point of view, including:
 After weighing these considerations, the Authority considers that while the terminology used was relatively low on the scale of offensiveness, the abusive tone and manner in which it was used pushed the comments to the limit of acceptability. Nevertheless, it concludes that the comments on this occasion did not amount to a breach of the requirements for good taste and decency.
 The Authority considers that the balance standard is not applicable to this complaint. The standard applies mainly to news and current affairs, and to controversial issues of public importance. The Authority considers that the nature and format of this exchange and the matter discussed did not meet these criteria.
 In determining the fairness aspect of the complaint, the Authority has taken into account the contextual matters referred to above. It pays particular attention to the talkback environment in which the exchange took place. While it questions the need for the host’s response to have been as aggressive as it was, it accepts that in view of the caller’s provocative comment, the broadcast did not breach the fairness requirement.
 The Authority does not uphold the complaint. It is of the view that the comments complained about were at the limits of what is acceptable on talkback radio, regardless of the robustness of the talkback environment or the issues involved. Moreover, the Authority is surprised by the lack of professionalism shown by the host. It accepts that the host was provoked but it considers that terminating the call would have been the more appropriate action.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
2 September 2004
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: