Kelleher and MediaWorks Radio Ltd - 2018-056 (19 September 2018)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Paula Rose
- Wendy Palmer
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Andrea Kelleher
ProgrammeThe Long Lunch
BroadcasterMediaWorks Radio Ltd
Channel/StationRadio Live # 3
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
A complaint regarding a comment made by radio host Wendyl Nissen about US President Donald Trump has not been upheld. During the segment, which reviewed the book, ‘The President is Missing’, Ms Nissen commented, ‘Wouldn’t that be great if [US President Donald] Trump just went missing? Like we just never heard from him again because someone killed him and put him at the bottom of the ocean…?’ The Authority found the comment did not breach broadcasting standards. This was a flippant comment that was intended to be humorous and was in line with audience expectations for the programme, particularly considering the robust talkback radio environment. The Authority emphasised that humour is an important aspect of freedom of expression and found that limiting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion would be unjustified.
Not Upheld: Violence, Law and Order
 During a segment on The Long Lunch, host Wendyl Nissen interviewed a book reviewer about ‘The President is Missing’, a recently released novel co-written by popular crime-fiction author James Patterson and former US President Bill Clinton. The novel is a political thriller detailing the disappearance of a fictional US President. During the segment, Ms Nissen said, ‘Wouldn’t that be great, if [US President Donald] Trump just went missing? Like we just never heard from him again because someone killed him and put him at the bottom of the ocean? Yay…’ The segment was broadcast on 11 June 2018 on RadioLIVE.
 Andrea Kelleher complained the host’s comment was unacceptable as it promoted the idea of current US President Donald Trump being killed. Ms Kelleher considered such comments were no longer appropriate in society and this was an example of the media’s double standards when it came to public discussion of President Trump. Ms Kelleher believed the host would not make the same comment in relation to other world leaders.
 Ms Kelleher submitted the comment breached the violence and law and order standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
The broadcaster’s response
 In response to Ms Kelleher’s complaint MediaWorks said Ms Nissen’s reference to President Trump was clearly intended to be humorous. It said the comment was not accompanied by unacceptably graphic detail and therefore it was highly unlikely to have incited violence or actively encouraged listeners to break the law.
 The violence standard (Standard 4) states that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. This standard will rarely apply to radio (as violent material has more impact visually).1
 The intent behind the law and order standard (Standard 5) 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. The standard does not stop broadcasters from discussing or depicting criminal behaviour.2
 In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. So when we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we first look at the right to freedom of expression. We weigh the value of the programme, and the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. This could be harm to an individual, or, as alleged in this case, harm to society or the audience generally.
 As mentioned in paragraph , the violence standard will rarely apply to radio broadcasts. Context is important when we consider whether a broadcaster exercised adequate care when dealing with violent material, which in this case includes Ms Nissen’s reputation as an edgy host and the robust nature of talkback radio. Considering these factors, along with the fact the comment was made in passing, it was not referring to any actual act of violence, and did not include any graphic detail, we do not believe it amounted to ‘unduly disturbing violent content’ as envisaged by the standard.3
 We also do not consider the host’s comment actively encouraged listeners to break the law or promoted criminal behaviour. Ms Nissen’s comment, while provocative, was light-hearted and we consider that the audience would have been aware of this. It was prompted by the discussion of a fictional book about a missing president. Taking into account the comedic nature of the comment, we find it unlikely listeners would have understood it to seriously encourage, promote or condone criminal activity.
 While we acknowledge that Ms Kelleher was concerned by the host’s comment, humour, and particularly political humour, is an important and valued part of freedom of expression. We also note that audiences expect talkback radio will sometimes include provocative or controversial commentary, such as that expressed by Ms Nissen in this broadcast.
 Ultimately we have found the risk of harm arising from Ms Nissen’s comment was low, considering its light-hearted nature and the established audience expectations of Ms Nissen and talkback radio generally. Accordingly, any limitations on the broadcaster’s freedom of expression on this occasion would be unjustified.
 For these reasons we do not uphold the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
19 September 2018
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Andrea Kelleher’s formal complaint – 11 June 2018
2 MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 9 July 2018
3 Ms Kelleher’s referral to the Authority – 9 July 2018
4 MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 24 July 2018
1 Guideline 4a
2 Commentary: Law and Order, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 15
3 Commentary: Violence, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 14