Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Talkback with Michael Laws – discussed government’s Te Reo Māori initiatives – host read out email from listener who said that their grandmother had been beaten at school for speaking Te Reo – host stated, “I think this is a myth, to be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know of anywhere this happened. It’s become a myth, a Māori myth this one” – allegedly in breach of standards relating to accuracy and discrimination and denigration
Standard 5 (accuracy) – comment was Mr Laws’ personal opinion (guideline 5a) – formed part of discussion on talkback programme and did not amount to an unqualified statement of fact (guideline 5b) – not upheld
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – comment conveyed host’s personal opinion – no invective – broadcaster did not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, Māori people as a section of the community – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 During Talkback with Michael Laws, broadcast on Radio Live between 9am and 12pm on Thursday 14 April 2011, one of the topics discussed by the host was government funding for Te Reo Māori initiatives. During the discussion, the host read out an email from a listener, which included the following statement:
... Have you ever considered why the [Māori] language is dying? It’s so ignorant to say that it’s because Māori people are lazy. My grandmother was beaten at school for speaking Māori.
 Mr Laws responded, “I think this is a myth, to be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know of anywhere this happened. It’s become a myth, a Māori myth, this one.”
 Andrew Crozier made a formal complaint to RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the broadcast breached standards relating to accuracy and discrimination and denigration. He referred to Mr Laws’ comment, “I think this is a myth... a Māori myth, this one,” and said that, as a Māori man whose mother recounted a similar experience to that described in the email, he considered Mr Laws’ dismissive attitude to be both “deeply insulting and blatantly arrogant”.
 The complainant nominated Standards 5 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. Guidelines 5a and 5b are also relevant. These provide:
Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:
5a The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.
5b Talkback radio will not usually be subject to the accuracy standard, except where the presenter makes an unqualified statement of fact.
Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.
 Looking first at accuracy, RadioWorks noted that Mr Laws’ comment was preceded by the words “I think”, which made it clear that it was his opinion and not a statement of fact. It therefore considered that it was exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a.
 Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the accuracy complaint.
 Turning to consider Standard 7, RadioWorks noted that the term “denigration” had consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people.1 While it acknowledged that the complainant felt insulted by Mr Laws’ comment, it did not consider that the remark blackened the reputation of Māori, or sections of the Māori community. It argued that Mr Laws was entitled to express his opinion on the validity of claims that Māori were beaten in school for speaking their own language.
 The broadcaster did not consider that Mr Laws’ comment crossed the high threshold necessary, in light of the right to freedom of expression, to encourage denigration or discrimination against Māori, in breach of Standard 7. It therefore declined to uphold this part of the complaint.
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Crozier referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 With regard to the broadcaster’s contention that Mr Laws’ comment was qualified by his use of the words “I think”, the complainant stated that this was “at best a tenuous argument and at worst a spurious defence given that talkback radio is all about opinion”. He maintained that the comment attacked the credibility of the allegations contained in the email, as well as the integrity of Māori by referring to the alleged beatings for speaking Māori language at school as a “Māori myth”. The complainant reiterated his view that the broadcast breached Standards 5 and 7.
 Mr Crozier asserted that it was a “historical fact” that Māori were beaten for speaking Te Reo in school. In his view, the right to freedom of speech should not permit the broadcasting of “downright lies just to be sensational and controversial”. He maintained that the broadcast was inaccurate and denigrated Māori.
 The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 Standard 5 states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.
 We note that the comment subject to complaint formed part of a talkback discussion about government funding for Te Reo Māori initiatives. Guideline 5b to Standard 5 states that talkback radio will not usually be subject to the accuracy standard, except where the presenter makes an unqualified statement of fact. On this occasion, Mr Laws preceded his statement with the words “I think”, making it clear that he was offering his personal opinion on the validity of claims that Māori were beaten in school for speaking Te Reo. The comment was clearly distinguishable as Mr Laws’ personal opinion (guideline 5a), and did not amount to an unqualified statement of fact.
 Accordingly, we find that his comment was exempt from standards of accuracy under guidelines 5a and 5b, and we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 5.
 Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.
 The Authority has consistently defined “denigration” as blackening the reputation of a class of people (see, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks2), and “discrimination” as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment (for example, see Teoh and TVNZ3).
 It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard (see, for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network4).
 In our view, the host was clearly offering his personal opinion and response to the listener’s email, rather than making a comment on Māori people. It was clearly not intended to denigrate Māori people on the basis of some perceived group characteristic. Nor could it be said to have encouraged the different treatment of Māori people to their detriment. The presenter’s comment clearly did not carry the invective necessary to encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Māori people as a section of the community.
 Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 7 was breached.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
9 August 2011
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Andrew Crozier’s formal complaint – 16 April 2011
2 RadioWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 17 May 2011
3 Mr Crozier’s referral to the Authority – 21 May 2011
4 RadioWorks’ response to the Authority – 8 June 2011
5 Mr Crozier’s final comment – 16 June 2011
1For example, New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-112
2Decision No. 2006-030
3Decision No. 2008-091
4Decision No. 2002-152