BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Wolf and The Radio Network Ltd - 2004-089

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Graham Wolf
Newstalk ZB

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Paul Holmes Breakfast – Newstalk ZB – reference to Israelis – “they’ve got balls but no foreskins” – allegedly offensive and derogatory

Principle 1 (good taste and decency) – context – not upheld

Principle 7 and Guideline 7a (encouraging denigration or discrimination) – neither denigration nor discrimination seriously encouraged – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] While speaking with regular Sydney correspondent Steve Price about terrorism in the Middle East among other matters, the host of Paul Holmes Breakfast (Paul Holmes) commented about the Israelis: “They’ve got balls but no foreskins”. The comment was made on Newstalk ZB at about 6.55am on Tuesday 23 March 2004.


[2] Graham Wolf complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, that the comment was offensive. While he did not object to the use of the word “balls”, he considered that the mention of “foreskins” was racist and offensive to Israelis as circumcision is a significant aspect of their culture.

[3] Mr Wolf referred to a comment by the host about UN Secretary General Kofi Annan late in 2003 for which the broadcaster had apologised. He considered that the current remark represented racial insensitivity, and indicated that the boundaries which should have been put in place after the previous comment did not appear to be there. While he acknowledged the host’s passion for a lively debate, he considered the host’s excesses affected the station’s reputation for public service.


[4] In view of the issues raised by the complainant, TRN assessed the complaint under the following standards in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice:

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:

i) factual; or

ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or

iii) by way of legitimate humour or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] Explaining that the host and the Sydney correspondent had been “conversing twice a week for over ten years”, TRN said that while not everyone would like the “joke”, it was not in breach of Principle 1 (good taste and decency). Further, arguing that the item was clearly “legitimate humour”, TRN maintained that Guideline 7a did not apply in view of exemption (iii). TRN declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[6] Mr Wolf reported that his Jewish friends unanimously found the host’s comments to be culturally offensive and bordering on “gratuitous racism”. Mr Wolf also contended that the comments on this occasion amounted to “a pattern of professional incompetence” which should have been stopped by the “checks and balances” which TRN said were introduced after the host’s comments about Mr Annan.

[7] In regard to the comment complained about, Mr Wolf said it was apparent that the broadcast had been premeditated and, unlike the host’s harmless jests, it had “violated“ the boundary of good taste and decency. He acknowledged that broadcasters were entitled to push boundaries but, on this occasion, the boundaries had been disregarded.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[8] TRN advised that it had nothing to add.

Authority's Determination

[9] 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.

[10] When determining complaints which allege a breach of Standard 1 (good taste and decency), the Authority is required to take into account the context of the broadcast complained about. While context is not determinative, it is relevant to the Authority’s decision.

[11] The contextual matters which the Authority considers are particularly relevant on this occasion are:

  • the comments occurred during a regular exchange between the host and an Australian correspondent
  • it was an exchange which usually included jokes
  • the comment was light-hearted in part
  • the comment was intended in part to be taken as a pun.

[12] While it accepts that some listeners might find the comment insensitive and noting that the complainant focused only on the reference to foreskins, the Authority decides that, in view of the contextual matters, the comment does not breach the requirement for good taste and decency in Principle 1.

[13] As to Principle 7, the Authority has ruled, on a number of occasions, that a high level of denigration or discrimination is required before a broadcast contravenes Guideline 7a. In the Authority’s view the high threshold is breached when the comments are extreme and may be described as “hate speech”.

[14] The Authority considers that the comments on this occasion did not go near being an attack that encouraged the denigration of or discrimination against an ethnic group on the basis of a cultural practice. The Authority finds that the requirement in Principle 7 was not contravened.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
29 July 2004


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

1  Graham Wolf’s Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd – 5 April 2004
2 The Radio Network Ltd’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 13 April 2004
3 Mr Wolf’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 4 May 2004
4 The Radio Network Ltd’s Response to the Authority – 13 May 2004