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Latest Decisions

The list below contains our recently published decisions, with the latest at the top. 


Avery and NZME Radio Ltd - 2018-076 (16 January 2019)

Warning: This decision contains language that some readers may find offensive.

The Authority did not uphold a complaint about the broadcast of the song ‘Hurricane’ by Bob Dylan, which contained the words: ‘And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger’ [emphasis added], on Coast FM. The complainant found the use of the word in question to be ‘offensive, racist and unacceptable’. The Authority acknowledged the power of the word and that its use is highly contentious in New Zealand. The Authority acknowledged that its role is to reflect community standards and noted that its recent research, Language That May Offend in Broadcasting, showed a significant portion of the public find the use of this word in broadcasting to be unacceptable. However, the Authority also recognised the importance of context in determining whether a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards. In this case, it took into account well‑established audience expectations of Coast FM, the historical and social significance of the song and Bob Dylan as an artist, and the use of the word in the narrative of a 1970s political protest song. Taking these contextual factors into account, the Authority found that the broadcast of the word in this song was justified on this occasion.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration

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Marr & Robinson and NZME Radio Ltd - 2018-080 (16 January 2019)

The Authority has not upheld two complaints that comments by Leighton Smith about climate change issues were unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair. Mr Smith provided his views in response to a news item, saying that climate change was not predominantly man made and was instead due to ‘normal variability’. The Authority noted that the balance and accuracy standards apply only to news, current affairs and factual programmes, and the requirements of the accuracy standard do not apply to statements of analysis, comment or opinion. In this case, the Authority considered it was clear that Mr Smith’s statements amounted to statements of opinion in a talkback context. In these circumstances, and taking into account the role and reputation of Mr Smith as a well-known climate change sceptic, listeners would not expect to hear a balanced or authoritative examination on the topic of climate change. Further, no individuals or organisations were treated unfairly in the broadcast. The Authority therefore found that the alleged harm did not outweigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and its intervention in upholding the complaint would be unjustified.

Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy, Fairness

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Roberts and NZME Radio Ltd - 2018-082 (16 January 2019)

During a segment on The Leighton Smith Show, host Leighton Smith quoted a listener’s views on news sources such as CNN, the BBC and Newshub. Mr Smith went on to say that consumers of similar sources lived in ‘blissful ignorance’ because they did not listen to the views of ‘the other side’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that Mr Smith’s comments were biased and dismissive towards reputable news sources. The Authority noted that, while talkback radio is not immune to broadcasting standards, the balance and accuracy standards in particular apply only to news, current affairs and factual programmes, and the accuracy standard does not apply to statements clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion. In this case, and taking into account wider contextual factors such as audience expectations of the programme (which is predominantly talkback) and the reputation of Mr Smith, the Authority agreed that Mr Smith’s comments were clearly distinguishable as opinion and listeners would not have been left misinformed or misled. This was an opinion open to Mr Smith to express, and was not unfair to the news organisations or their consumers. The Authority therefore found that its intervention, in upholding the complaint and limiting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, would be unjustified.

Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy, Fairness

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Clapham and Mediaworks TV Ltd - 2018-089 (18 December 2018)

During a segment of The Project, the presenters discussed whether it was illegal to wear headphones while driving. One of the presenters, a well-known New Zealand comedian, said that he wore headphones while driving ‘because it drowns out the sound of the seatbelt warning’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the presenter’s comment trivialised an important road safety issue. The segment as a whole carried a positive road safety message, with the presenters sharing their surprise that wearing headphones while driving was not illegal in New Zealand (though distracted drivers could still be charged with careless driving). The comment was clearly intended to be humorous and the reactions of the other presenters balanced the comment and signalled to viewers that wearing your seatbelt was important. In this context, the presenter’s comment did not actively promote, encourage or glamorise illegal behaviour, and any limitation on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression would be unjustified.

Not Upheld: Law and Order

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Hendry and Mediaworks TV Ltd - 2018-084 (18 December 2018)

A complaint about comments, made by contestants about a landscaper during an episode of The Block, was not upheld. During the episode, a new landscaper started work on the property of contestants, Chlo and Em. Em referred to the landscaper and said, ‘Who’s that new meat on The Block? Come over.’ Chlo then said ‘Some fresh meat for Em’. The complainant submitted the references to the landscaper as ‘meat’ were sexist, unacceptable and amounted to sexual harassment. The Authority highlighted the importance of context when considering whether comments of a sexual nature have breached broadcasting standards. The Authority noted that, in some contexts, these comments could be considered to be inappropriate. In this case, however, the comments did not go beyond audience expectations of The Block. They were not explicit or graphic, nor were the comments made with malice or nastiness. The Authority also did not uphold the complaint under the discrimination and denigration standard, finding the comments did not contain any malice or invective.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration

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