The Authority has not upheld a complaint that an interview broadcast on Newstalk ZB in December 2018, regarding a proposed Police seizure of military style semi-automatic weapons, was unbalanced and inaccurate. The Authority first found that a valid formal complaint had been lodged with the broadcaster (which was required before the complaint could be referred to the Authority), as sufficient information was provided by the complainant for the correct broadcast to be identified and for the broadcaster to respond to the issues raised. The Authority then determined the complaint, finding that balancing perspectives on the issue of Police seizure were presented during news items prior to and following the interview. While the Authority agreed that information conveyed during the introduction to the interview could have been made more clear by the presenter, the presenter’s statement did not amount to a material error of fact in the context of the interview as a whole. In these circumstances, the Authority found that the harm alleged did not outweigh the right to freedom of expression, and any intervention in upholding the complaint would be unreasonable and unjustified.
Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy
Two complaints about Heather du Plessis-Allan’s use of the term ‘leeches’ to describe the Pacific Islands during Wellington Mornings with Heather du Plessis-Allan were upheld, under both the good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards. The Authority recognised the important role talkback radio plays in fostering open discourse and debate in society. However, the Authority found Ms du Plessis-Allan’s comments went beyond what is acceptable in a talkback environment, considering the use of language that was inflammatory, devalued the reputation of Pasifika people within New Zealand and had the potential to cause widespread offence and distress.
Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration
Not Upheld: Children’s Interests, Law and Order, Balance, Accuracy, Fairness
Orders: Section 13(1)(a) broadcast statement; Section16(4) – $3,000 costs to the Crown
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
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
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
A complaint about the use of the word ‘gypped’ during a segment of Sarah, Sam and Toni has not been upheld. The Authority found the host’s use of this word on this occasion did not carry any malicious intent and therefore did not reach the threshold required to be considered a breach of the discrimination and denigration standard. While the Authority did not uphold the complaint, they acknowledged that the casual use of this term and its variants may cause offence to some members of the public and noted care is required when using expressions relating to sections of the community.
Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration
During Hauraki Breakfast, hosts Jeremy Wells and Matt Heath discussed smoking marijuana, in relation to several National Party MPs who had recently publicly stated they had never tried it. The hosts took calls from listeners who had also never tried marijuana and asked them why they had never tried it. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the broadcast promoted and encouraged the use of marijuana. The Authority found the broadcast amounted to a comedic discussion of smoking marijuana that did not go beyond established audience expectations of Radio Hauraki, Hauraki Breakfast or the hosts. The Authority noted that humour and satire are important aspects of free speech, and found that on this occasion, there was insufficient risk of harm to justify limiting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.
Not Upheld: Law and Order, Children’s Interests
A segment on The Country featured the host interviewing The Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern not long after she began her term as Prime Minister. Towards the beginning of the interview the host asked the Prime Minister, ‘Do you wake up and say to yourself, “Holy shit! I’m Prime Minister!” and have to pinch yourself?’ The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the host’s comment breached community norms of good taste and decency and was discriminatory. Taking into account relevant contextual factors including low level of offensive language used, the light-hearted tone, and audience expectations, the broadcast did not threaten community norms of good taste and decency, or justify restricting freedom of expression. There was no malice or condemnation underlying the host’s comment, so it did not reach the threshold for encouraging discrimination against any section of the community.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency. Discrimination and Denigration
Following the broadcast of a Labour campaign advertisement on Radio Sport Weekender, presenter Mark Watson commented: ‘I like Jacinda Ardern’s optimism; I just want to know how you pay for it all. That’s all I want to know… if it’s that easy, I think everybody would have done it by now.’ The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this comment amounted to alleged political editorialising, which was unacceptable and unprofessional. While listeners might not have expected the host to comment on political issues during a sports programme, this was an opinion open to the host to express, provided broadcasting standards were maintained. The Authority recognised the important role of the media during an election period, when political parties and leaders should expect to be subject to robust scrutiny, and found that Mr Watson’s comments did not result in the Labour Party, or its leader Ms Ardern, being treated unfairly. The Authority found the balance standard did not apply to the Radio Sport Weekender programme, as listeners would not expect to hear balanced or authoritative coverage of election issues during this talkback sports programme.
Not Upheld: Fairness, Balance
During a talkback segment on Overnight Talk, a caller rang up to discuss Metiria Turei’s resignation as Co-Leader of the Green Party in the wake of benefit and electoral fraud allegations. The caller made the remark that, ‘[i]t’s almost a situation where, the Green Party are in a room and Metiria dropped a big, fat, juicy, smelly fart.’ A complaint was made that the caller’s comments were demeaning and derogatory towards Ms Turei, and breached the discrimination and denigration standard. The Authority did not uphold the complaint, noting that the discrimination and denigration standard applies only to sections of the community, and it does not apply to individuals. Even had the standard applied, the Authority was satisfied that, while some may find the choice of language distasteful, the comments did not reach the high threshold necessary to find a breach.
Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration
During a talkback segment on Sportstalk, the host Mark Watson criticised northern hemisphere sports media and the British and Irish Lions rugby team. The host made provocative statements about the Lions team who were at that time touring New Zealand, saying, among other things, ‘hopefully you get smashed’. The host then engaged in a heated discussion with a talkback caller about northern hemisphere rugby and rugby media. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the host’s comments undermined broadcasting standards. The comments made, while critical and provocative, did not exceed audience expectations within the robust and opinionated environment of talkback radio, and particularly on Radio Sport. The Authority noted that the free and frank expression of opinions is an important aspect of the right to freedom of expression, and is valued in our society. Mr Watson was entitled to express his opinion, even if it was critical or if others disagreed, and his comments were not so offensive that they reached a level which warranted the Authority’s intervention. The Lions team and its supporters are not a section of the community to which the discrimination and denigration standard applies, and the balance standard was also not applicable to this particular segment.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration, Balance
A panel segment during Larry Williams Drive discussed a recent High Court action brought by Phillip Smith against the Department of Corrections (Corrections), in which Mr Smith argued that his freedom of expression had been breached by Corrections staff preventing him from wearing his toupee. At the conclusion of the panel discussion, Mr Williams stated: ‘I say Janet, solitary confinement 24/7, dark room, with his toupee, with a little bit of waterboarding just to make it interesting’. The other panellists laughed, with one commenting, ‘You’re a hard man, Larry’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint from Mr Smith that this comment suggested he be subjected to an act of torture, which was in poor taste, and that the comment was likely to incite violence against him. The comment was clearly framed as a hyperbolic exaggeration of Mr Williams’ views for effect, and not a deliberate suggestion that Mr Smith actually be waterboarded. In the context of the broadcast, the Authority considered audiences were unlikely to have taken the comment seriously, and it was unlikely to have encouraged or motivated prisoners to act violently towards Mr Smith.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Law and Order
During a talkback segment on the Leighton Smith Show, the host discussed the recent legal personhood granted to the Whanganui River. The complainant, Mr Haines, phoned in to the programme to discuss the issue. After a two-and-a-half minute conversation, Mr Smith responded that it was ‘stupidity to give [the Whanganui River] equal status as a person. Now get off the phone,’ and made comments about Mr Haines self-identifying as Māori. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that Mr Smith’s statements were derogatory and insulting to Mr Haines and to Māori people. While the Authority acknowledged that Mr Smith’s comments could be seen as dismissive and disrespectful, in the context of the robust talkback radio environment, they did not reach the level necessary to constitute unfair treatment or to encourage discrimination or denigration. Mr Haines was afforded a fair and reasonable time to put forward his views. Mr Smith’s disagreement in response was typical of the talkback genre, in which hosts often express contentious or strong views in the interests of generating debate, and of his well-known forceful style. The Authority noted that the free and frank expression of opinions is an important aspect of the right to freedom of expression, and is valued in our society. Mr Smith was entitled to express his opinion, even if it was critical or if others disagreed, and it did not reach a level which warranted the Authority’s intervention.
Not Upheld: Fairness, Discrimination and Denigration, Balance
An audio clip promoting the ZM radio station stated that ZM played ‘hit after hit after goddamn hit’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the phrase ‘hit after goddamn hit’ was offensive to those who hold Christian or other religious beliefs and contrary to children’s interests. The Authority acknowledged that use of the term ‘goddamn’ may have caused offence to some listeners. However, in this case it was used as part of the station’s promotional messaging for playing continuous music and was not dwelt upon. Taking into account the right to freedom of expression, and the context of the broadcast, the term ‘goddamn’ could not be said to have encouraged the denigration of, or discrimination against, all Christians or others who hold religious beliefs. The broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests, having regard to the station’s target audience and the expectations of its listeners.
Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration, Children’s Interests
During the Leighton Smith Show, presenter Leighton Smith, in relation to a headline regarding Pope Francis’ warning to then President-elect Donald Trump, ‘do not back away from UN climate pact’, said, ‘I don’t want to offend, certainly not insult, any Catholics listening, but how did you end up with this tosser?’ The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this comment was derogatory, crude and demeaning. Mr Smith was entitled to express his opinion on the Pope’s stance on climate change and while his comment was considered offensive by the complainant, in the context of a talkback radio show, the Authority did not consider it undermined current norms of good taste and decency. The comment did not breach the other broadcasting standards raised by the complainant, as it reflected Mr Smith’s opinion, did not discriminate or denigrate against a section of the community, and as a public figure speaking publicly on a controversial issue, Pope Francis could have expected commentary and criticism and was therefore not treated unfairly by Mr Smith.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration, Balance, Accuracy, Fairness
During The Devlin Radio Show, host Martin Devlin was forcefully outspoken about an abusive text message he had received from the complainant, TF. Mr Devlin read out the complainant’s mobile phone number multiple times and phoned the complainant on air while making abusive comments about them. The Authority upheld a complaint that Mr Devlin breached the complainant’s privacy. While the Authority did not condone the strongly-worded text message initially sent to Mr Devlin, Mr Devlin’s response was disproportionate and unprofessional, even in the context of the robust talkback radio environment. The complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to their personal mobile number, and Mr Devlin’s comments amounted to a sustained and personal attack against the complainant, making use of private information to personalise the abuse and implicitly encouraging harassment of TF. This amounted to a highly offensive disclosure and was a breach of TF’s privacy.
Orders: Section 13(1)(d) – privacy compensation $2,000; section 16(4) – costs to the Crown $2,000; section 13(1)(a) – broadcast statement
During Kerre McIvor & Mark Dye Afternoons, the hosts had a conversation about tipping in the United States. They discussed a story told by a talkback caller, who said that a church published a Bible pamphlet to be used instead of a monetary tip. One host, who appeared to be reading from the pamphlet, said, ‘Some things are better than money, like your eternal salvation that was bought and paid for by Jesus,’ to which the other host responded by making a vomiting sound. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the vomiting sound made by the host was offensive to Christians and all those who hold religious beliefs. The Authority acknowledged that the host’s reaction would have caused offence to some listeners. However, the reaction reflected the host’s disagreement with the sentiment of the Bible pamphlet and the host was entitled to express this view. In the context of the broadcast, it did not reach the threshold necessary to encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, Christians or those who hold religious beliefs.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration
During the Hauraki Breakfast Show Deborah Stokes, mother of New Zealand-born English cricketer Ben Stokes, rang the studio to complain about what she considered to be unfair comments made by the hosts regarding her son, and to defend him. Mrs Stokes asked to speak with someone off air. Host Matt Heath assured Mrs Stokes she was off air, when in fact the conversation was being broadcast live on air. The Authority upheld a complaint that the broadcast breached Mrs Stokes’ privacy. Mrs Stokes had a reasonable expectation that, in the circumstances, her phone call and the conversation would remain private. The recording and broadcast of her conversation, in circumstances where she had expressly asked for privacy was objectionable and would be highly offensive to an objective reasonable person in the complainant’s position.
Order: Section 13(1)(a) broadcast statement
During the Hauraki Breakfast Show, Deborah Stokes, mother of New Zealand-born English cricketer Ben Stokes, rang the studio to complain about what she considered to be unfair comments made by the hosts regarding her son, and to defend him. Mrs Stokes asked to speak with someone off air. Host Matt Heath assured Mrs Stokes she was off air, when in fact the conversation was being broadcast live on air. The Authority upheld a complaint that the action taken by NZME, having upheld Mrs Stokes’ complaint under the fairness and privacy standards, was insufficient. The broadcast, and particularly the hosts’ deceptive conduct, represented a significant breach of broadcasting standards and a lack of understanding of an individual’s fundamental right to fair treatment and to privacy. While NZME offered Mrs Stokes a substantial remedy following her complaint, it took limited action, which did not adequately rectify the harm caused to Mrs Stokes. Furthermore, events subsequent to the broadcast and prior to NZME’s response to the complaint, such as the hosts’ behaviour, undermined the genuineness of the proposed offer.
Upheld: Fairness (Action Taken), Privacy (Action Taken)
Orders: Section 13(1)(a) broadcast statement; section 13(1)(d) $4,000 compensation for breach of privacy; section 16(4) costs to the Crown $4,000
During Overnight Talk on Newstalk ZB, the complainant had a conversation with the host about greyhound racing in which he defended the activity and the use of live bait. The host responded that the complainant was ‘pathetic’ and ‘a very sick person’, among other things. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the host had offended the complainant on the basis of his Australian Aboriginal culture. The host’s comments to the complainant had no relation to his culture, and were not otherwise unfair. The comments were typical of the robust and opinionated nature of talkback radio, where callers can reasonably expect hosts to disagree with their views, sometimes in a strong and confrontational manner. They were made in response to the complainant’s views on the use of live bait in greyhound racing, which he was given a fair opportunity to express during the conversation.
Not Upheld: Fairness