BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Sabine and The Radio Network Ltd - 2004-149

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Arnold Sabine
Newstalk ZB

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Newstalk ZB – The Justin du Fresne Show – joke arising from controversy over Prime Minister’s allegedly speeding motorcade.

Principle 1 (Good taste and decency) – obvious attempt at humour – no bad language used – not personal attack on Prime Minister – not upheld

Principle 7 (Social responsibility) – obvious attempt at humour – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] On The Justin du Fresne Show, broadcast on Newstalk ZB on the morning of 19 July 2004, presenter Justin du Fresne told a joke arising from the earlier controversy over the Prime Minister’s allegedly speeding motorcade.

[2] The presenter introduced the joke as follows:

Doesn’t take long does it, for the jokes, it never takes long, after an event of some, some discussion, you know, an event that captures the public imagination, it never takes long for the jokes to turn up.

[3] He then went on to tell the joke, which involved Prime Minister Helen Clark’s chauffeur-driven car hitting and killing a cow on the road, and the driver being misunderstood when he reported to a farmer that he was the Prime Minister’s driver and he had just “killed the cow”.


[4] Arnold Sabine complained to Newstalk ZB that the broadcast was breached the requirement of good taste, and “bordered on incitement”. The complainant appeared to be concerned at the use of “obscene and suggestive language”.


[5] The following Principles in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint:

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.


7a  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:

  1. factual; or
  2. a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or
  3. by way of legitimate humour or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6] In a brief letter, Newstalk ZB, which responded to the complaint on behalf of The Radio Network, declined to uphold the complaint. It assessed the complaint under Principle 7 (social responsibility) of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, but did not address the application of Principle 1 (good taste and decency).

[7] Newstalk ZB declined to uphold the complaint on the basis that it was an attempt at humour and was thus covered by Guideline 7a.

Referral to the Authority

[8] Mr Sabine was dissatisfied with this response and referred his complaint to the Authority. In his referral, Mr Sabine did not add to the submissions in his original complaint.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9] The Radio Network responded to the referral of the complaint to the Authority. In its response, TRN apologised for the fact that the complaint had not been processed in accordance with its standard procedures (in that it had been assessed by the individual station involved rather than through TRN’s established complaint procedures).

[10] TRN then considered the complaint under Principle 1 of the Radio Code, and noted that “while the joke is not particularly funny, it is a joke and in terms of bad taste rates at a reasonably low level”. TRN also noted, in relation to the complainant’s apparent concerns that the broadcast appeared to be anti-government, that governments in power for a long time are subject to scrutiny and criticisms and are “fair game” for jokes.

[11] TRN concluded that the joke was made in the context of the speeding controversy and was broadcast to an adult audience. Accordingly, it submitted that the complaint should not be upheld.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[12] In his final comment the complainant noted the following matters:

  • It is a breach of good taste and decency to call the Prime Minister a cow;
  • The item suggests killing the Prime Minister should be rewarded;
  • The item was clearly an anti-government broadcast.

Authority's Determination

[13] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[14] The Authority does not uphold the aspect of the complaint that alleges the broadcast failed to observe standards of good taste and decency. The Authority notes that Newstalk ZB is aimed primarily at an adult audience, that the item was clearly introduced as a joke, and that it contained no offensive language.

[15] Furthermore, the Authority notes that the joke was clearly not intended to be a personal attack on the Prime Minister, but was instead an attempt at humour directed at a public figure and arising directly from a highly publicised controversy involving that figure. The Authority notes that public figures are often a target for such humour, and there was nothing offensive or obscene in the joke to bring it within the ambit of Principle 1.

[16] Nor does the Authority consider that the broadcast breached Principle 7 (social responsibility). As noted above in relation to Principle 1, the broadcast was an obvious attempt at humour, containing no offensive material, and was simply directed at a public figure involved in a recent controversy. In the view of the Authority, the broadcast contained nothing to threaten Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.


For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
15 October 2004


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

  1. Arnold Sabine’s complaint to Newstalk ZB – 30 July 2004
  2. Newstalk ZB’s response to the complaint – 4 August 2004
  3. Mr Sabine’s referral to the Authority – 10 August 2004
  4. The Radio Network’s response to the referral – 23 August 2004
  5. Mr Sabine’s final comment – 3 September 2004