BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Kumar and The Radio Network Ltd - 2014-057

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Sanjay Kumar
Number
2014-057
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB

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

The host of the Larry Williams Drive Show and a political editor discussed a protest that had taken place in response to the release of the Government’s budget. The host expressed his disapproval of the protestors and made comments about how he thought they should be dealt with, for example saying fire trucks cornering them from either end of the street. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that his comments breached standards. The host was clearly expressing his personal opinion, and the political editor countered the comments, noting people living in a democracy are entitled to protest.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Law and Order, Controversial Issues, Accuracy, Fairness, Discrimination and Denigration, Responsible Programming


Introduction 

[1]  During the Larry Williams Drive Show the host and a political editor discussed a protest that had taken place in response to the release of the Government’s budget. The host expressed his disapproval of the protestors and made comments about how he thought they should be dealt with. The programme was broadcast on Newstalk ZB on 16 May 2014.

[2]  Sanjay Kumar made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), alleging that the host’s comments breached standards relating to good taste and decency, law and order, controversial issues, accuracy, fairness, discrimination and denigration, and responsible programming.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached any of these standards as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  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 item, and specifically the host's comments, breach broadcasting standards?

[5]  Mr Kumar did not specify how he considered each of the standards he nominated had been breached, but instead raised general concerns about the content of the broadcast. We have therefore considered his complaint in a general sense, before briefly summarising our findings in relation to each of the standards nominated (at paragraph [11] below).

[6]  The comments subject to complaint were made by the host, in an exchange with the political editor (PE), as follows:

Host:    I was trying to think today, as I walked to work… and saw these losers down outside Sky City, and I’m thinking, now hold on, the street’s not too narrow to get a couple of fire trucks down, you know what I mean? No well seriously, you see the cops getting all this abuse, expletives thrown at them, it’s just disgusting, they’re bloody morons…

PE:      [laughter] It’s called a democracy, Larry!

Host:    But they could get the fire trucks in from both ends of Federal Street there. Seriously…

PE:      [laughter] You’re terrible!

Host:    Corner the buggers.

PE:      [More serious tone] Well, you know, they’ve probably got a legitimate gripe, I mean they’re allowed to turn out, we live in a free society, if they want to turn up to give the Prime Minister a bit of gyppo, then they’re entitled to. I don’t think he actually minds it, I think he probably quite enjoys it.

Host:    Yeah, alright. Well I’m not sure the cops enjoyed it… let me tell you, you know, it was appalling. It’s a disgrace.

[7]  Mr Kumar took issue with the host’s comments for a number of reasons. First, he argued that the host failed to appreciate and acknowledge the protestors’ legislative right to protest under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. He said this was just one example of ‘political bias in favour of the National Party’ advanced by the hosts of Newstalk ZB, who regularly ‘advance their views and opinions… [as] propaganda’. The complainant also asserted that the host said that ‘two fire trucks should run over [the protestors] from either end of the street’.

[8]  TRN argued that the comments reflected the host’s personal opinion on the protestors and his light-hearted tone made it clear they were not meant to be taken seriously. It said that the host’s views were immediately countered by the political editor and ‘in a wider context by other centre-left hosts on the station’. It said the views of the protestors ‘were carried in news bulletins throughout the day’.

[9]  We are satisfied that the host’s comments did not breach broadcasting standards. He was clearly expressing his personal commentary and opinion – as acknowledged by the complainant – which is generally permitted under the Radio Code. While people have a right to peaceful protest, the broadcaster and the host have a right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to express opinions of any kind or in any form. Likewise, the audience have a right to hear uncensored views on topics of public importance. Further, the host’s comments were countered by the political editor, who expressed views in support of the protestors, for example saying that ‘it’s called a democracy’, we live in a ‘free society’, and ‘they’ve probably got a legitimate gripe’. The protest was widely reported across the media from a range of different perspectives,1 including left-wing political perspectives.

[10]  As the host was clearly expressing his personal opinion and his comments were balanced to some extent by the political editor, we reject the contention the broadcast was politically biased, or that the broadcast failed to acknowledge people’s right to protest. The host did not suggest that the protestors should be run over, as contended by the complainant. He referred to fire trucks entering both ends of the street where the protest was taking place, and then clearly said ‘corner the buggers’.

[11]  In summary, and taking into account the objectives of the standards raised by the complainant, we find those standards were not breached because:

  • as opinion, the host’s comments were exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a, and listeners would not have been misled (Standard 5)
  • the political editor offered alternative viewpoints on the issue and balance was provided in other programmes within the period of current interest (Standard 4)
  • the host did not say the protestors should be run over, so did not promote or condone criminal activity (Standard 2)
  • Newstalk ZB’s adult target audience would not have been offended or distressed by the host’s comments (Standard 1)
  • the protestors are a group, not an individual or organisation to which the fairness standard applies (Standard 6)
  • the host’s comments did not carry the level of invective necessary to encourage discrimination or denigration against the protestors on account of their political belief (Standard 7); and
  • given the target audience of Newstalk ZB and the nature and tone of the comments, the complaint does not raise any issues of the type envisaged by the responsible programming standard (Standard 8).

[12]  Accordingly we decline to uphold the complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

Peter Radich
Chair
21 August 2014

Appendix

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

1            Sanjay Kumar’s formal complaint – 17 May 2014

2            TRN’s response to the complaint – 19 May 2014

3            Mr Kumar’s referral to the Authority – 23 May 2014

4            TRN’s response to the referral – 23 May 2014


1See, for example, http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/10052733/PM-John-Key-defends-equality-after-protest; http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11256215; http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/pm-hits-back-against-claims-budget-leaves-vulnerable-in-cold-5973206/video