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Bell & Wolters and NZME Radio Ltd - 2021-036 (21 July 2021)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Jazmine Bell & Hayley Wolters
Newstalk ZB


[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The Authority has not upheld two complaints about Mike Hosking’s statement on Mike Hosking Breakfast that the Duchess of Sussex was a ‘shallow, self-absorbed, attention-seeking, woke bandwagon-riding hussy’. The Authority found it was not likely to cause widespread, undue offence in the context. Although the discrimination and denigration standard applied, as the word ‘hussy’ may refer to and reflect upon women as a section of society, the comments did not meet the threshold justifying regulatory intervention.

Not upheld: Good taste and decency, discrimination and denigration

The broadcast

[1]  During Mike Hosking Breakfast, broadcast on 4 March 2021 on Newstalk ZB, host Mike Hosking commented on the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle with regard to the upcoming Oprah Winfrey interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex:

Buckingham Palace [is] looking into the very concerning claims that some of the staff of Meghan were driven out of their jobs, drove two personal assistants out, undermining the confidence of the third. I think we all see her for what she is, don't we, as sort of a shallow, self-absorbed, attention-seeking, woke bandwagon-riding hussy, and we're better off without her.

The complaints

[2]  Jazmine Bell complained this was in breach of the good taste and decency standard for the following reasons:

  • The word ‘hussy’ is ‘deeply offensive and sexist’.
  • ‘In 2021 in the era of #Metoomovement I would hope that the authority would be somewhat more aware of how it is not decent to call a women a hussy.’
  • ‘I have spent some time now googling the word “hussy”, every single dictionary shows it to be a derogatory word. So the idea that it is not included in the Broadcasting Language that May Offend, is offensive in itself.’
  • ‘This is why women keep getting gaslighted and abused by men, because if you think it is okay, then society will as well.’

[3]  Hayley Wolters complained this was in breach of the discrimination and denigration standard for the following reasons:

  • ‘It was callously and casually toxic.’
  • ‘the portrayal of Meghan Markle absolutely encourages denigration against women’.
  • ‘It empowers your listeners, in a country where 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault, and 1 in 3 women experience physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime.’
  • ‘Denigration on a national platform gives implicit consent…to other prominent men in the media [that] they can behave in toxic ways’.
  • ‘The premise from NZME that the use of hussy it’s not denigration because they’re choosing to apply an out of date meaning of the word hussy to this situation seems to be a logical fallacy - refusing to engage on the fact that this word is sexist, no matter the context it’s being used in, is disingenuous at best.’
  • ‘…calling a woman a hussy on the radio is not funny, or challenging, or mildly rude or whatever the officially terminology applied is when somebody who has been toxic would like to avoid accountability’.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  NZME did not uphold either complaint, arguing:

Good taste and decency

  • The comment was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence, in the context it was made.
  • ‘Newstalk ZB is an adult targeted radio station for 30-64 year olds.’
  • ‘Mr Hosking is a talk host known for his frank and forthright discussion of all manner of topics and regular listeners would be aware of this.’
  • ‘Mr  Hosking  is  well-known  for  his  particularly  outspoken  style  in  his  role  as  a  radio  and television  presenter… [He] is entitled under the right to freedom of expression to voice his opinion on public figures including Ms Markle’.
  • The Oxford English dictionary definition of 'hussy' is 'A girl or woman who behaves in a disrespectful or inappropriate way or who has many casual sexual relationships.' The host intended the comment in the former way.
  • ‘While undoubtedly robust, it was employed by the host in the context of commenting on allegations of bullying made against Ms Markle by her former staff.’
  • The word ‘hussy’ is not surveyed in the BSA’s 2018 Language that May Offend in Broadcasting research, ‘nor did this segment contain any language identified by the Authority as offensive and unacceptable when used on the radio’.

Discrimination and denigration

  • This standard only applies to recognised sections of the community, rather than individuals.
  • As the comment was directed at Ms Markle, ‘this standard does not apply’.
  • ‘We strongly reject the claim that the host’s use of this word is sexist or misogynistic.’

The standards

[5]  The good taste and decency standard1 states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast. The standard is intended to protect audiences from content likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.2

[6]  The discrimination and denigration standard3 states 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. It protects sections of the community from verbal and other attacks, and fosters a community commitment to equality.4

[7]  ‘Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment. Denigration is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community.5

Our analysis

[8]  We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[9]  The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy and it is important that we weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm that may have potentially been caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

[10]  The description of Ms Markle as a ‘shallow, self-absorbed, attention-seeking, woke bandwagon-riding hussy’ may be offensive to some listeners. However, given the importance of freedom of expression, and that this was a legitimate expression of opinion, we do not consider this comment reached a threshold justifying regulatory intervention. We expand on our reasons below.

Good taste and decency

[11]  The good taste and decency standard aims to reflect ‘current norms’ of good taste and decency, and ‘widely shared community standards’. In assessing what these are, we are guided partly by research we conduct with members of the public to gauge community attitudes. In the Authority’s 2018 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research we did not test the word ‘hussy’ nor did it appear in other words identified as offensive by participants.6 It also was not tested or identified by participants in our 2013 research.7 This suggests the word does not carry a high level of offence with audiences generally.

[12]  The context in which content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast are relevant to assessing whether a broadcast has breached this standard, which in this case include:8

  • Mr Hosking was discussing Ms Markle who is a controversial public figure.
  • The comment was made as part of a legitimate critique of Ms Markle, that she was bullying her staff.
  • Audience expectations of talkback radio, Newstalk ZB as a station, Mr Hosking, and the Mike’s Minute segment are such that audience members expect robust, opinionated discussion and sometimes provocative or controversial views in the interests of generating debate about topics of public interest.9

[13]  For the above reasons, we do not consider the comment likely to have caused widespread undue offence or distress, or undermined widely shared community standards.

[14]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency standard.

Discrimination and denigration

[15]  The discrimination and denigration standard applies only to the recognised sections of the community set out in the standard and in the Broadcasting Act 1989.10

[16]  We agree use of the word ‘hussy’ may refer to and reflect upon women, who constitute a recognised section of society for the purposes of the standard. We accept Mr Hosking was referring to Ms Markle only. However, the use of words which are used to refer only to a specific group in society in reference to one member of that group can have the effect of normalising discrimination towards that group. Accordingly, the discrimination and denigration standard applies.

[17]  The question for us is whether the comments met the threshold necessary for a finding of breach. The importance of freedom of expression means that a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, will be necessary to conclude that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in contravention of the standard.11

[18]  For similar reasons discussed under good taste and decency, this remark did not reach that threshold.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaints.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Judge Bill Hastings


21 July 2021    



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

Jazmine Bell  

1  Jazmine Bell’s complaint to NZME – 4 March 2021

2  NZME’s response – 13 April 2021

3  Ms Bell’s referral to the Authority – 14 April 2021

4  NZME’s comments on the referral – 30 April 2021

Hayley Wolters

5  Hayley Wolters’ complaint to NZME – 12 March 2021

6  NZME’s response – 12 April 2021

7  Ms Wolters’ referral to the Authority – 1 May 2021

8  NZME’s comments on the referral – 18 May 2021

9  Ms Wolters’ final comments – 30 May 2021

1 Standard 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
3 Standard 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
5 Guideline 6a
6 Broadcasting Standards Authority (June 2018) “Language That May Offend in Broadcasting” <> at pages 10 and 11
7 Broadcasting Standards Authority (September 2013) “Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting” <> at pages 9 and 28
8 Guideline 1a
9 Woolrych & Glennie and NZME Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2019-100 at [18]
10 Section 21(1)(e)(iv)
11 Guideline 6b