BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Fisher and The Radio Network Ltd - 2008-114

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Paul Fisher
Newstalk ZB
Newstalk ZB

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
NewstalkZB – during a discussion about the vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party, Sarah Palin, one of the regular commentators stated that Ms Palin's daughter was "the town bike” and that her family was "low-rent" – broadcaster upheld complaint that the comments breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – action taken by broadcaster to rectify breaches allegedly insufficient

Standards 1 (good taste and decency) and 7 (denigration and discrimination) – broadcaster upheld complaint under two standards and counselled host on remark – action taken by broadcaster sufficient – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An item on Newstalk ZB, broadcast at 8.10am on Friday 5 September 2008, involved a host and two regular commentators discussing various topics, one of which included the American vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party, Sarah Palin, a conservative Christian. During the discussion, one of the commentators noted that Ms Palin’s unwed teenage daughter was pregnant and made the following comments:

The thing that annoys me about conservative Christians is they go, "Oh, no sex before marriage and abstinence" and then when it happens in their family, they go, "Oh ups and downs, oh what a pity". You know it’s so hypocritical. She’s anti-abortion, she’s preaching abstinence and she's got a seventeen-year-old. What about the boy? What about his family? You know he, he had sex with the town bike and now suddenly he's in the Republican convention... I can't wait for that boy to tell all and it will happen because they are such a low-rent family...


[2] Paul Fisher made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, alleging that the commentator's remarks about Ms Palin's daughter and family breached broadcasting standards relating to good taste and decency, accuracy and fairness. He also argued that the commentator's comments denigrated and discriminated against Ms Palin, the American Republican Party and pregnant women.


[3] TRN assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 7 and guidelines 1a and 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Guideline 1a

Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. time of day, target audience.

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

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.

Guideline 7a

This standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is:

(i) factual

(ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion; or

(i) legitimate humour, drama or satire

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] TRN said the broadcast was an irreverent and entertaining look at the previous week's issues. While the audience understood the "on the edge" nature of the segment, the reference to "the town bike" went too far, the broadcaster said. It upheld the complaint that the item breached Standards 1 and 7.

[5] The broadcaster stated that "while the [contributor] who delivered this line is currently overseas, we undertake to counsel her on this remark, on her return".

Referral to the Authority

[6] Dissatisfied with the action taken by TRN in upholding his complaint, Mr Fisher referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The complainant stated that he was "dissatisfied with the proposed penalty of counselling".

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[7] TRN provided the Authority with a letter from itself to Mr Fisher dated 17 October 2008 stating that the host concerned had been "clearly told the broadcast was unacceptable" and that it did not "expect any such further transgression".

Authority's Determination

[8] 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.

[9] The Authority notes that, having upheld Mr Fisher’s complaint, the broadcaster spoke to the commentator concerned and made it clear that her comments were "unacceptable". It did not expect her to make any similar transgressions in the future. In light of the relatively minor nature of the breach, the Authority considers that the action taken by TRN was appropriate and sufficient in the circumstances.

[10] Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the action taken complaint.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
3 March 2009


The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1.      Paul Fisher's formal complaint – 5 September 2008
2.     TRN's response to the formal complaint – 26 September 2008
3.     Mr Fisher's referral to the Authority – 9 October 2008
4.     TRN's response to the Authority – 22 December 2008