BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Simpson and The Radio Network Ltd - 2012-064

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • David Simpson
Overnight Talkback
Newstalk ZB

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Overnight Talkback– during a discussion about gay marriage, the host described the complainant, a caller, as “incredibly rude” – host read out complainant’s fax and repeated the word “homophobic” but spelled out “faggot” – allegedly in breach of fairness and discrimination and denigration standards

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant not treated unfairly – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – host’s use of the word “homophobic” and spelling out of “faggot” did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


[1]  During Overnight Talkback, broadcast on Newstalk ZB on 6 June 2012, the host and callers discussed the issue of gay marriage. The host spoke to a caller, “David from Queenstown”, whom he described as “incredibly rude”, before terminating the call. The host then read out a fax from the caller, as follows:

To call everyone who is against gay marriage homophobic is like me calling everyone who is gay a [f, a, g, g, o, t]. You have insulted and discriminated against a Christian faith by calling everyone homophobic… I hope you apologise for calling everyone homophobic.

[2]  David Simpson, the caller, made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, alleging that the broadcast was unfair as the host “had no problem with using the word ‘homophobic’ but wouldn’t say ‘faggot’ in context [which] shows his bias and discriminatory manner”.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast, and in particular the host’s use of the word “homophobic” but not “faggot”, breached Standards 6 (fairness) and 7 (discrimination and denigration) of 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.

Was any person taking part or referred to treated unfairly?

[5]  Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

[6]  One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.1

[7]  Mr Simpson did not specify who he considered had been treated unfairly in the broadcast, but said that the host and producer “mocked people like me… I feel there was a double standard all night as most listeners got [the host’s] view pushed but anyone who disagreed was mainly dismissed as angry and homophobic”.

[8]  TRN considered that the host dealt with all callers professionally and fairly. It accepted that the word “homophobic” was used to describe some callers, though reluctantly and only because the host “felt he could not allow what he believed to be discriminatory comments to air without confronting those making them”. It said that the host “handled callers offering intelligent debate on the issue professionally”, but did not tolerate discrimination against gay people.

[9]  The host had the following conversation with the complainant on air:

Simpson:     That bloke from North Carolina has got his head in the sand… Anyone
                   who agrees with you, you let them rave on and you agree with them.
                   Anyone who disagrees, it all comes out…

Host:           David, now wait, wait, wait. I don’t know if you were listening earlier on
                   David, but almost every show I have a chat with at least one person where
                   we will say, ‘I don’t agree with you on that one but it’s been good to have a
                   conversation on it’…

Simpson:  … You’re very disingenuous… this gay marriage rubbish. You know people
                   from your side of the fence … you know I look at people like you…

Host:           No hang on David, this is getting quite rude. David we had someone on
                   earlier... it was a long conversation … with someone I disagreed with about
                   gay marriage but the whole conversation, even though we went back and
                   forth to each other, none of us was rude to the other one... we                    
                   disagreed but it was polite… so I am not quite sure you are hearing that.

Simpson:     Anyone who disagrees with homosexuality from the left is either
                   homophobic, a bigot, and you know is on the wrong side of the legion…

[10]  The host and Mr Simpson continued to discuss gay marriage, to the point where the conversation deteriorated and the host stated, “David, you’re being incredibly rude this morning. The thing is on every single programme… the thing I dislike is people who are rude. I don’t mind if people have a different point of view because that keeps things interesting... If you have a different point of view, great, ring up tell me why…” The host went on to say, “I hate hanging up on people… someone I’ve spoken with many, many times is David in Queenstown and he was just spectacularly rude this morning”, before reading out the fax (see [paragraph [1]).

[11]  The conversation between the host and the complainant was, in our view, unremarkable in the context of a talkback programme. Guideline 6a to the fairness standard recognises that “A consideration of what is fair will depend upon the genre of the programme (e.g. talk/talkback radio, or factual, dramatic, comedic and satirical programmes).” The Authority has consistently recognised that talkback radio is a robust and opinionated environment, in which the host and callers often engage in heated conversations and express strong or provocative views, and in which the threshold for a finding of unfairness may be higher.2 The Authority has also recognised that in the talkback environment “hosts will sometimes behave rudely. Rudeness is not in itself a breach of broadcasting standards, but where hosts cross the line and abuse a caller, their manner and language needs to be considered as a potential breach of the fairness standard”.3

[12]  While it was clear that the host disagreed with the complainant’s views, he did allow Mr Simpson an opportunity to present his perspective, and he was not abusive towards him. It is well known that talkback hosts forcibly express their views, and callers should be aware that the host could behave in this manner, or be rude, if they disagree with the host’s position on the topic under discussion.

[13]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Did the item encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community?

[14]  Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[15]  The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people (see, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks4). “Discrimination” has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group to their detriment (see for example Teoh and TVNZ5).

[16]  It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages discrimination in contravention of the standard (see, for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network6).

[17]  Mr Simpson argued that the host’s use of the word “homophobic” while he refused to say the word “faggot” indicated “his bias and discriminatory manner”. In the fax that was read out in the programme, Mr Simpson said that the use of the word “homophobic” insulted and discriminated against “[the] Christian faith”.

[18]  TRN argued that the host did not discriminate against any caller because they were Christian, but in fact prevented discriminatory comment. The broadcaster noted that the Authority’s research showed that 68 percent of people considered the word “faggot” to be “totally or fairly unacceptable” when used by a talkback host on air.

[19]  In our view, that the host used the word “homophobic”, but only spelled the word “faggot”, could not be considered to have blackened the reputation of Christians as a group, or to have encouraged the different treatment of them, to their detriment. The host’s comments did not carry any invective or approach the threshold necessary for encouraging the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community, including on the grounds of religious belief.

[20]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
21 August 2012


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

1                  David Simpson’s formal complaint – 7 June 2012

2                 TRN’s response to the complaint – 8 June 2012

3                 Mr Simpson’s referral to the Authority – 13 June 2012

4                 TRN’s response to the Authority – 21 June 2012

1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

2See, for example, Caddie and RNZ, Decision No. 2011-172, Mazer and RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2010-021 and O’Halloran and RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2011-021

3E.g. Mazer and RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2010-021

4Decision No. 2006-030

5Decision No. 2008-091

6Decision No. 2002-152