BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hawthorne and MediaWorks Radio Ltd - 2014-096

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • James Hawthorne
MediaWorks Radio Ltd
Radio Live # 3

Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

During Talkback with Karyn Hay and Andrew Fagan, the host Mr Fagan made comments about a regular caller, the complainant, who went by the name of ‘Alex’. He said ‘back in 17-something… I’d meet him on the beach as the sun came up and I’d potentially kill him or let him kill me in a duel’. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the host had made a ‘veiled death threat’ against the complainant. It was clear the host was not making a serious death threat, but was using provocative, metaphorical language to express his strong views about the complainant.

Not Upheld: Law and Order, Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration


[1]  During Talkback with Karyn Hay and Andrew Fagan, Mr Fagan made comments about a regular caller who went by the name of ‘Alex’. The comments were broadcast on Radio Live on 2 July 2014.

[2]  James Hawthorne, the caller referred to as ‘Alex’, complained that Mr Fagan’s comments amounted to ‘a veiled death threat’, which breached standards of law and order, violence, good taste and decency, and discrimination and denigration.

[3]  The discrimination and denigration standard applies only to sections of the community, not individuals, so it does not apply to the complainant. There is no violence standard in the radio code.

[4]  The issue therefore is whether the broadcast breached the law and order, and good taste and decency standards, as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the broadcast promote or condone criminal activity?

[6]  The intent behind the law and order standard is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity.The standard exists to ensure that broadcasters refrain from broadcasting material which does not respect the laws which sustain our society.2

[7]  In response to a listener asking why the hosts ‘called people names like “muppet”’, the hosts had the following exchange:

Fagan:             I’ve actually never used the word ‘muppet’ myself, ever…

Hay:                No, I haven’t either but you did say that he [‘Alex’] had a negative poisonous mind.

Fagan:             That’s correct. And I’ll stand by that, with Alex. [I have] listened over the years to many conversations and I’ve listened to things he said about me, and back in 17-something, I’d say he offended my honour and I’d meet him on the beach as the sun came up and I’d potentially kill him or let him kill me in a duel. That’s how strongly I feel about Alex. [our emphasis]

[8]  The broadcaster argued that it was obvious the presenter was being ‘facetious’ and did not actually make a death threat against the complainant.

[9]  We are satisfied that the host’s comments did not encourage listeners to break the law or otherwise promote or condone criminal activity. The Authority has consistently recognised that talkback is a robust environment in which hosts and callers often express strong views in a hyperbolic or provocative manner.Here, Mr Fagan was not making a ‘death threat’ as alleged by the complainant. Rather, it was clear he was using provocative, metaphorical language to express his strong views about the complainant, having conversed with him over a number of years. He contextualised his views by placing them in a historical setting, saying that ‘back in 17-something’ the appropriate way to settle their differences would have been in a duel, in which he would ‘potentially kill’ the complainant or ‘let him kill me’. It was clearly not intended as a serious death threat.

[10]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 2.

Did the broadcast threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[11]  The good taste and decency standard is primarily aimed at broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.The Authority will also consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.5

[12]  The standard is concerned with the general audience, and not with offence caused to the complainant or one particular individual. Regular listeners of this talkback radio programme would not have been offended or distressed by the presenter’s comments in the context they were made. As we have said, talkback is a robust environment, and listeners would not have taken the host’s comments as a serious threat to kill the complainant.

[13]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

Peter Radich

10 October 2014


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

1                 James Hawthorne’s formal complaint – 3 July 2014

2                 MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 31 July 2014

3                 Mr Hawthorne’s referral to the Authority – 1 August 2014

4                 MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 3 September 2014

1See, for example, Keane and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-082
2Hunt and Māori Television, Decision No. 2009-010
3See, for example, Mazer and RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2010-021
4Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112
5Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)