Towers and The Radio Network Ltd - 2011-036
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Mike Towers
BroadcasterThe Radio Network Ltd # 2
Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Newstalk ZB – host used the phrase “whack-job Christians” – allegedly in breach of standards relating to discrimination and denigration
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – host used the phrase “whack-job Christians” to convey his personal opinion – comment lacked the necessary invective to reach threshold for encouraging discrimination against or denigration of Christians – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 During an item on Newstalk ZB broadcast on the morning of Friday 4 February 2011, the host stated:
I voted for [MP’s name] before he got involved with all those ‘whack-job’ Christians and stuff, back when he was that middle class,
middle of the road family man and he was on the verge of getting the five percent.
 Mike Towers made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, alleging that the host’s use of the phrase “‘whack-job’ Christians” breached standards relating to discrimination and denigration.
 The broadcaster assessed the complaint under Standard 7 and guideline 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:
Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration
Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.
This standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is:
- a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion; or
- legitimate humour, drama or satire.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant
 TRN considered that while the term “whack-job” was intended to be something of a “put-down”, it was not particularly derogatory. It contended that the term was used in an “opinionated, satirical and fun” segment in a “throw-away fashion” that was not intended to offend. Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Towers referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that Standard 7 had been breached.
 The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 The Authority has consistently defined “discrimination” as encouraging the different treatment of members of a particular group, to their detriment (see Teoh and TVNZ1). “Denigration” has been defined as blackening the reputation of a class of people (see, for example, Petros and The Radio Network Ltd2). 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 or denigration in contravention of the standard (see, for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network Ltd3).
 On this occasion, the term “whack-job Christians” was used in a colloquial manner to convey the host’s personal opinion of a specific group of Christians with whom the MP was associated. The term was not repeated and in our view, the host’s comment lacked the necessary invective to reach the high threshold required to encourage discrimination against or the denigration of Christians as a section of the community.
 Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 7.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
7 June 2011
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Mike Towers’ formal complaint – 4 February 2011
2 TRN’s response to the complaint – 14 February 2011
3 Mr Towers’ referral to the Authority – 28 March 2011
4 TRN’s response to the Authority – 31 March 2011
1Decision No. 2008-091
2Decision No. 2009-040
3Decision No. 2002-152