BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Kilpatrick and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2014-105

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Mike Kilpatrick
MediaWorks TV Ltd
TV3 # 4

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

At the conclusion of an interview with a scientist on The Paul Henry Show, Mr Henry asked her, ‘Did you have sex with Richard Branson?’ The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the question was inappropriate and discriminated against women. It was a provocative remark that was not unduly surprising given Mr Henry’s well-known style. It was also relevant that the scientist herself was apparently not offended and was aware she might be questioned about Mr Branson.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration


[1]  During The Paul Henry Show, Mr Henry interviewed a scientist, Dr Michelle Dickinson, about her research. At the end of the interview he asked about her recent experience staying with Richard Branson, a well-known businessman. In reference to a photograph of Ms Dickinson and Mr Branson with his arms around her, Mr Henry stated:

Now when I see this – and you’ve got to realise I am something of a sceptic, you know, I look at things and I read things into them – I’m looking at that [photo] and I’m thinking, did you have sex with Richard Branson?

[2]  Ms Dickinson responded in a sarcastic tone, ‘Paul, a woman never tells. But no, [laughter] his wife was there. No, he’s a married man’. Mr Henry responded with equal sarcasm, ‘Please, oh god, I had no idea he was a married man, you couldn’t possibly have had sex with him’. He showed the photograph again, saying, ‘pictures paint a thousand words’, and Ms Dickinson commented, while laughing, ‘Notice I am not touching here’.

[3]  Mike Kilpatrick complained that Mr Henry’s questioning Ms Dickinson about whether she had sex with Mr Branson, when she was on the programme to discuss science, was ‘inappropriate and sexist’.

[4]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The programme was broadcast on TV3 on 15 July 2014. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

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

[6  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 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.2

[7]  Mr Kilpatrick described Mr Henry’s question as ‘inappropriate’, ‘sexist’ and ‘puerile’. He stated, ‘you may consider Paul Henry to be edgy and acceptable – but this is a pattern of behaviour that has been around for a number of years’. He considered that Mr Henry should be stood down for a time and that MediaWorks should broadcast an apology to Dr Dickinson.

[8]  MediaWorks responded that Dr Dickinson was not offended by the question or ‘completely unprepared’ for it, and maintained that the audience expect ‘slightly provocative material’ in this programme given its late timeslot, that Mr Henry is a well-known media personality, and that the show’s predecessor Nightline also contained adult-orientated material in its arts and entertainment segments. The broadcaster noted that Mr Henry’s line of questioning received a ‘modest’ amount of press coverage, and that it commented publicly on the matter, with the consent of Dr Dickinson, as follows:

The question line was discussed before the interview, and Dr Dickinson has confirmed she was not offended at the time, and is not offended now. The question is one Dr Dickinson has been asked many times since her photo appeared in the paper. She is a highly intelligent and articulate person who can hold her own with Paul Henry and anyone else.

[9]  While we can understand why some viewers, including the complainant, took offence at Mr Henry’s question, we are satisfied that when taken in context, it did not breach the good taste and decency standard. This was a provocative remark broadcast during an unclassified news, current affairs and entertainment programme that screens after 10.30pm. It was uttered by a presenter who has a long history of, and is well-known for, making these types of remarks. This is relevant to audience expectations and the reduced likelihood of viewers being unduly surprised or offended.

[10]  It is also relevant, though not determinative, that Dr Dickinson herself was apparently not offended by the question. She held her own and responded with ‘mock shock’ and humour. In her public blog she indicated that she was not offended and had a good idea of what Mr Henry was going to ask her, as follows:

Paul implied that he was going to get cheeky with a ‘Richard’ question and I knew the exact question that had been on everybody’s lips as I’d been asked it so many times already that week. The producers of the show had no idea Paul was going to get into cheeky mode, I think one of the reasons why he has a late night show is because Paul can be a little unpredictable and very un-PC sometimes… I thought it was funny, I wasn’t outraged and it was the jokey type of question I would expect from Paul on a late night show...

[11]  Overall, we are satisfied that this was a typical provocative comment in the context of a late night programme known for this type of content. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, women as a section of the community?

[12]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community. It is well-established that in light of the requirements of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard.3

[13]  Mr Kilpatrick described Mr Henry’s remark as ‘sexist’, saying he would not have asked a male scientist the same question. The broadcaster did not specifically address this complaint.

[14]  The majority of the interview with Dr Dickinson was focused on her role as a scientist. Mr Henry demonstrated a genuine interest in her work and it was only at the very end of the interview that the segment transitioned into more casual banter and Mr Henry asked her this brief question. While the comment was indelicate, it did not contain any obvious invective, and though we cannot say whether or not Mr Henry would have asked a male scientist the same question, we think that, given his reputation for edgy and provocative remarks, it would not be unexpected.

[15]  We are satisfied that in context, and particularly audience expectations of Mr Henry, the comment did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, women as a section of the community. Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

Peter Radich

4 December 2014


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

1                 Mike Kilpatrick’s formal complaint – 18 July 2014

2                 MediaWorks TV’s response to the complaint – 14 August 2014

3                 Mr Kilpatrick’s referral to the Authority – 27 August 2014

4                 MediaWorks TV’s response to the Authority – 24 September 2014

1 Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112

2 Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)

3 E.g. McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network, Decision No. 2002-152