Radio Pacific – talkback host described Minister of Health as a chicken and derelict in her duty – offensive and denigrating
Principle 1a – contextual matters – no uphold
Principle 7a – comments acceptable on talkback – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 The Minister of Health was criticised for not going to Christchurch to try to settle a threatened nurses strike there. The comments were made by the host (Bill Ralston) on the talkback station, Radio Pacific, between 11.00am–2.00pm on 30 November 2001.
 David Stott complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the comments, which included a description of the Minister as a "woof" and "chicken", were insulting, denigrating and in poor taste.
 As Mr Stott did not receive a response to his complaint, he referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 In its response to the Authority, The RadioWorks said it had responded to the complaint by seeking clarification on some aspects. However, it had not received a reply. Then dealing with the substance of the complaint, The RadioWorks said that the comments amounted to the expression of general opinions using everyday language, and it declined to uphold the complaint.
For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
 The members of the Authority have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. A tape of the item was not available. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing. Member Professor McGregor declared an interest in the subject and declined to take part in the determination of the complaint.
 Radio Pacific is a talkback station and a labour dispute at the Canterbury District Health Board was one of the topics discussed between 11.00am–2.00pm on 30 November 2001. The host was Bill Ralston.
 David Stott complained about the host’s comments when he referred to the Minister of Health. Apparently, the host considered that the Minister should have been in Christchurch, rather than attending a Labour Party Conference. Mr Stott said that the host described the Minister as a "woof", a "chicken", and "derelict in her duty". Moreover, he wrote, the host repeated those remarks and "even made chicken noises".
 Mr Stott maintained that these comments were insulting, denigrating and in "very poor taste". They were not, he continued, satirical or humorous.
 Mr Stott did not receive a reply within 20 working days. Accordingly, he referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 The RadioWorks noted that Mr Stott had complained that the comments breached all the principles in the Radio Code, but had focused on the requirements in Principles 1 and 7 and guideline 7a.
 The Principles require radio broadcasters, in the preparation and presentation of programmes:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.
7a Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:
i) factual; or
ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or
iii) is by of legitimate humour or satire.
 The RadioWorks reported that it had responded to Mr Stott when he lodged the complaint, seeking clarification from him about the time of the broadcast, as the named host did not broadcast at the time noted. It enclosed a copy of its letter to Mr Stott dated 6 December 2001.
 As it had not received a response from Mr Stott, The RadioWorks reported, it had considered the matter closed and had not retained a copy of the tape.
 The RadioWorks maintained, even if Mr Stott’s recollection was correct, that the broadcast had not breached any of the standards. It wrote:
We reject Mr Stott’s interpretation of the words used and maintain that the expressions used are legitimate expressions used in everyday language. The slant Mr Stott has attempted to place on the expression is far-fetched. The tone of Mr Stott’s correspondence would suggest this is more of a personal attack on Mr Ralston.
 In addition, The RadioWorks pointed out that Guideline 7a allowed the expression of genuine opinion. That, it wrote, had occurred on this occasion.
 Mr Stott stated that he had never received The RadioWorks letter dated 6 December, and he maintained that a broadcaster should have retained a copy of the tape. He acknowledged that the time of the broadcast should be corrected to between 11.00am–2.00pm on 30 November.
 Mr Stott repeated his complaint that the host had used the words and expressions complained about, and:
I have never in my life heard a radio announcer refer to a lady as a woof, claim a Minister of the Crown was derelict in his/her duty or sing like a "clucky" hen in a manner mocking a particular person.
 Disputing The RadioWorks claim that it was everyday language or the expression of genuine opinion, Mr Stott contended that the "personal attack" was a breach of the Principles in the Radio Code and, in particular, Principle 1 and Guideline 7a.
 When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Principle 1 of the Radio Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breached currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but not determinative of whether the programme breached the Principle. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context of the comments complained about.
 The Authority considers that relevant contextual matters include the points that the broadcast took place on talkback radio, which the Authority accepts is a robust environment. The Authority also considers it relevant that the comments were made about a Cabinet Minister, and her response to a political issue. The Authority accepts that criticism about a Cabinet Minister’s handling of a political issue may be put somewhat bluntly, especially when discussed on talkback radio.
 Having considered the contextual matters referred to above, the Authority concludes that the material Mr Stott complained about did not breach Principle 1.
 In relation to guideline a of Principle 7, the Authority notes it has stated previously that there is a high threshold to be reached before it accepts that a broadcast encourages denigration of a community group. As it does not regard the host’s comments on this occasion to be outside the range of acceptable comments about a politician, it does not accept that the threshold has been breached. Accordingly, it finds that Guideline 7a was not breached.
 The Authority notes that Mr Stott argued that the host’s comments breached "Principles 1–8" of the Radio Code. He then referred specifically to Principle 1 and Guideline 7a, and the Authority’s response is restricted to these matters only.
 Mr Stott also argued that the host’s comments breached privacy principle (iv) of the Authority’s privacy Principles, which is concerned with the disclosure of private facts to ridicule or denigrate an identifiable person. As the broadcast did not involve the disclosure of any facts which could be considered to be private facts, the Authority has not assessed the complaint under this heading.
 Further, as there is no indication in the letter of complaint as to how the broadcast was considered to have breached the other Principles in the Radio Code, the Authority has focused on the specific principles to which Mr Stott referred.
 The broadcaster’s failure to provide the Authority with a tape of the item complained about on this occasion is not an isolated incident. The Authority has recorded its concern in earlier decisions when its consideration of a complaint has been compromised by the lack of a tape The Authority has been in discussion with the Radio Broadcasters Association (RBA) about the issue of tape retention, and it has indicated to the RBA that the continuing failure by broadcasters to provide tapes may lead the Authority to promulgate Rules under s.30 of the Broadcasting Act relating to the retention of tapes. Such a step would not be taken without further consultation with all radio broadcasters.
 Finally, the Authority observes that to find a breach of Principles 1 and 7 would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit the broadcaster’s statutory freedom of expression in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 in a manner which is not demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the Bill of Rights). As required by s.6 of the Bill of Rights, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with the Bill of Rights.
For the reasons given above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
9 May 2002
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: