BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hewens and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2006-114

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Colin Hewens
Nine to Noon
Radio New Zealand Ltd
National Radio

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Nine to Noon – media commentator referred to article in Investigate magazine which raised questions about the sexuality of a public figure – commentator said the named public figure was not a “poof” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and denigrated homosexuals

Principle 1 (good taste and decency) – subsumed under Principle 7 – denigration of homosexuals was essence of the complaint – not upheld

Principle 7 and guideline 7a (denigration) – high threshold for denigration not met – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] Media commentator Phil Wallington reviewed the media on National Radio’s Nine to Noon each week during 2006. On 19 September 2006, he was highly critical of the manner in which the magazine Investigate had raised the issue of the sexuality of a public figure. He also considered the way the Sunday Star Times had dealt with this matter.

[2] As part of his observations, the commentator said:

… it is absolutely absurd, the fact is [this man] is not a poof…OK… let’s get this absolutely out in the open, [this man] is a normal heterosexual man.


[3] Colin Hewens complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the use of the term “poof” was offensive and derogatory to many homosexuals. He sought an apology to the gay community.


[4] RNZ assessed the complaint under Principles 1 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

Principle 1

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.


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)    by way of legitimate humour or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] RNZ noted that the complaint focused only on one word used in the commentary.  It also pointed out that the commentator had supported the person named. While it acknowledged that the word “poof” would not be used by all sections of the community, RNZ contended that it was acceptable in context when used by a commentator with strong opinions.

[6] As for the complaint that it was derogatory of homosexuals, RNZ argued that the use of the term was justified given the right to freedom of expression. Moreover, RNZ added, the word had not been used in conjunction with any other comment that reflected adversely on homosexuals.

[7] RNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[8] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr Hewens referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[9] Mr Hewens maintained that the use of the word “poof” was highly offensive. He considered that an apology was appropriate as its use offended the sensibilities of the gay community.

Authority's Determination

[10] 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.

Principle 7 and Guideline 7a (denigration)

[11] Mr Hewens argued that the commentator’s use of the word “poof” was derogatory to homosexuals. The Authority accepts that the word “poof” has pejorative connotations.  However, “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as meaning the blackening of the reputation of a class of people (see example Decision Nos. 1994-062 and 2004-129). In light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration in contravention of the standards (see example Decision No. 2002-152).

[12] In this case, the Authority finds that the threshold for encouraging denigration was not met by the isolated use of the word. Indeed it considers that the commentator’s use of the word was intended to mock what he regarded as the magazine article’s serious shortcomings. Rather than reflect adversely on homosexuals, the Authority considers that the use of the word on this occasion was intended to bring contempt on the magazine.  Accordingly, the Authority does not uphold the Principle 7 complaint.

Principle 1 (good taste and decency)

[13] In addition to complaining that the use of the word denigrated homosexuals, Mr Hewens also argued that it was an offensive way to refer to homosexuals.  The Authority considers that this concern has already been addressed in its consideration of whether the remark denigrated homosexuals.  Accordingly, it subsumes this part of the complaint into its consideration of Principle 7.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
20 December 2006


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

1    Colin Hewens’ complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 21 September 2006

2    RNZ’s response to the complainant – 9 October 2006

3    Mr Hewens’ referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 24 October 2006

4    RNZ’s response to the Authority – 31 October 2006