Mediawomen and McDougall and Radio Pacific Ltd - 1995-102, 1995-103
- J M Potter (Chair)
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- Mediawomen, Linda McDougall
ProgrammeRadio Pacific talkback
BroadcasterRadio Pacific Ltd
Channel/StationRadio Pacific # 5
A range of political and social issues were touched on during the talkback session on
Radio Pacific broadcast between 9.00–10.00am on Sunday 2 April.
On behalf of Mediawomen, Ms van Grondelle complained to Radio Pacific Ltd that
the host, Hon John Banks, referred offensively and unfairly to a TV3 reporter and,
more generally, made racist, sexist, jingoistic and derogatory remarks about those who
disagreed with him.
Ms McDougall also complained that the reference to TV3's reporter was offensive
and unfair. In addition, she found a remark about women in the Labour Party grossly
offensive and said the entire programme dealt with women unfairly and, in addition,
was inaccurate and unbalanced.
On Radio Pacific's behalf, Mr Lowe expressed the station's belief in free speech.
Arguing that the host had been giving his opinion, he said that people with a high
public profile had to be prepared to be commented upon. As the comments were on
talkback, he maintained that the specific people referred to, as with all listeners, had
the opportunity to telephone and to advance an alternative opinion. Radio Pacific did
not accept that the broadcast breached any of the nominated standards.
Dissatisfied with Radio Pacific's response Ms McDougall and, on behalf of
Mediawomen, Ms van Grondelle, referred their complaints to the Broadcasting
Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons below, the Authority upheld the complaint that TV3's reporter had
been dealt with unfairly and ordered the broadcast of an apology. It declined to uphold
any other aspect of the complaint.
After some delay in obtaining a copy of the tape (dealt with in Appendix I), the
members of the Authority have listened to the broadcast on Radio Pacific between
9.00–10.00 am on Sunday 2 April. They have also read a transcript of the
programme. After advising the parties of its intention to do so and receiving no
objection, the Authority obtained a copy of the tape of the Ralston segment on 3
National News on 30 March. It also has a transcript of this item. That broadcast was
referred to by the host during the broadcast on Radio Pacific on 2 April. Transcripts
of both programmes have been sent to the parties to this complaint.
The members have also read the correspondence which is summarised in the
Appendices. As is its practice, the Authority has determined the complaints without
a formal hearing.
This decision deals with complaints about a Radio Pacific talkback programme on
Sunday morning, 2 April 1995, hosted by a cabinet minister – the Hon John Banks.
One of the complainants, Ms McDougall, argued that it was "worrying and
confusing" that the host used the programme to advance views which might breach the
broadcasting standards imposed by government.
The Authority states explicitly that the fact that a host may hold other employment
does not raise a matter of broadcasting standards. If the suitability of any particular
person as a talkback host is brought into question by a complainant, it is a matter with
which the Authority is unlikely to be concerned. On this occasion, Mr Banks'
position as a cabinet minister has played absolutely no part in the Authority's
determination of the complaint.
The Complaints to Radio Pacific
Both complainants alleged that the host of the talkback programme broadcast on
Radio Pacific between 9.00–10.00 am on 2 April referred to a named TV3 reporter in
a way which was offensive and unfair. They also complained about what was
described as the host's racist and sexist remarks when referring to a number of other
people or issues.
Specifically, Ms McDougall objected to the host's remarks about the Labour Party.
On behalf of Mediawomen, Ms van Grondelle made the same objection and, in
addition, deplored the derogatory manner in which the host dealt with those who
disagreed with him. Mediawomen argued that the broadcast breached standards R2,
R5, R7, R8, R9 and R14 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. Ms McDougall
also referred to these standards – other than R7 – and also to R1.
These standards require broadcaster:
R1 To be truthful and accurate on points of fact in news and current affairs
R2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and
good taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in
which any language or behaviour occurs.
R5 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in
R7 To respect the principles of law which sustain our society.
R8 To respect the principles of equity especially as they relate to the
contribution and the views of all women in our society.
R9 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political
matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature,
making reasonable efforts to present significant points of view either in
the same programme or in other programme within the period of
R14 To avoid portraying people in a manner that encourages denigration of
or discrimination against any section of the community on account of
gender, race, age, disability, occupation status, sexual orientation or as
the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or
political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the
broadcast of material which is:
a) factual, or
b) the expression of serious opinion, or
c) in the legitimate use of humour or satire.
Radio Pacific's Response to the Complaints
In its response to the complainants, Radio Pacific emphasised its belief in free speech.
It expressed surprise that Mediawomen, a group which presumably supported the
right of the media to speak out, was apparently attempting to close down one
particular show. It also commented that talkback differed from most other media in
that anyone – including those who were criticised – could telephone and express their
opinion to the host. To Ms McDougall, Radio Pacific wrote:
There are rules and regulations and Radio Pacific makes every effort to abide
by them. We nevertheless also believe that a talkback network like ours
should be prepared to push free speech to its limits, because the right to say
what one thinks, openly and without threat is a cornerstone of an open, free
and deregulated society like New Zealand.
In dealing with the specific aspects of the complaints, Radio Pacific denied that any of
the comments were grossly offensive or contravened the currently accepted standards
of decency and taste. It maintained that the host had not been unfair in his references
to people within the media, as they had to be prepared to have their programmes
analysed and criticised. Similarly, people with a high public profile could expect to be
challenged and criticised. Radio Pacific declined to accept that the remarks described
by the complainants as racist or sexist had breached the standards. It noted that the
extracts cited by the complainants were too brief to rule that the standards had been
contravened and, anyway, were the host's opinions.
The Complaints to the Authority
When she referred her complaint to the Authority, Ms McDougall disputed Radio
Pacific's contention that talkback allowed the public to respond immediately. She had
tried to call on 2 April but:
All phone lines were constantly engaged. Even so, no person should be put in
the position of having to ring through to a talkback show to refute lies about
themselves and their organisations. Broadcasters have clearly defined
standards and rules which must be kept. Mr Banks totally failed to do this.
Finally, she did not accept that the public profile enjoyed by TV3's reporter and the
Labour Party leader justified the extent of the criticism which had been made about
On behalf of Mediawomen, Ms van Grondelle commented that the appeal to "free
speech" was the catchcry of pornographers and other extremists. Free speech, she
maintained, came with a responsibility for wise use.
Radio Pacific's Response to the Authority
In its report to the Authority on both complaints, Radio Pacific observed that
talkback encouraged free and frank comment and, in a highly competitive industry,
bland talkback would not gain the ratings. The host complained about, it observed,
had a colourful and provocative style and was one of the station's more successful
hosts. Radio Pacific considered and dismissed the complaint under each of the
nominated standards, and concluded that the disagreement with Mediawomen about
free speech was:
... a matter of opinion. Which is what talkback is all about.
In their final comments, both complainants maintained that the broadcast breached the
standards. Both accepted that free speech was important and that while broadcasters
could be outspoken, controversial and provocative, there were basic standards which
had to be complied with.
The Authority's Findings
(a) The standards – other than standard R5
The Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice makes no special provision for talkback
programmes. Standard R1 – the requirement for truth and factual accuracy – applies to
news and current affairs programmes only. The Authority is not prepared to make a
blanket ruling as to whether all talkback programmes are or are not current affairs
programmes. While the programme complained about on this occasion dealt in part
with current affairs, it was not presented as an impartial review and, accordingly, the
Authority decided that standard R1 did not apply to the current complaints.
The good taste and decency requirement in standard R2 unquestioningly applies to
talkback radio. Although it is undoubtedly an overarching requirement to all
broadcasts, the Authority on this occasion has focussed principally on the use of
language. It noted that most of the other issues to which complainants may relate it,
eg insulting and abusive comments, are dealt with more directly under other standards.
As the language used in the broadcast did not offend standard R2, taking into account
the talkback context, the Authority did not consider that it had been contravened.
Standard R5, under which standard R8 has been subsumed, will be discussed further
Both complaints referred to standard R9 – the requirement for balance, impartiality
and fairness. In view of the fact that the allegations which referred to standards R7
and R14 raised similar issues, these three standards are dealt with together.
The obligations for balance and impartiality are issues which have arisen in the past in
complaints about talkback programmes. The Authority has acknowledged that
talkback hosts may well be opinionated and provocative. It is accepted that they have
an obligation to encourage debate although, it is also acknowledged, listeners are not
under any obligation to listen to a particular host. Nevertheless, as standard R9
applies to all radio broadcasts regardless of the target audience, the obligation to
comply with it persists.
There is indeed a question as to whether the standard should be modified in some way
for talkback, but that is a matter for consideration in the future. Standard R9 was part
of the Radio Code on 2 April 1995 – the date of the broadcast complained about.
Radio Pacific, like talkback stations in the past, argued to the Authority that it met its
obligations under standard R9 by keeping open telephone lines which allowed callers
from all perspectives.
While open lines are important, the Authority was not prepared to accept that, in
themselves, they ensure compliance with standard R9. If all the callers advance only
one perspective, it then becomes necessary for the host to ensure balance by, for
example, adopting the role of the devil's advocate.
Overall, the talkback format involves "give and take", exchanges can be robust,
passionate and colloquial, but in the end the standard R9 requirement for balance must
be complied with.
The host's comments on 2 April were provocative. He expressed some opinions
which, in isolation from their context, could be seen as ridiculing different community
groups and expressed scorn for well-known named individuals. Nevertheless, as the
views expressed were opinions, and as the callers included both the adversarial and the
supportive, the Authority did not accept that standards R7 or R9 had been breached.
Moreover, in view of the exemption in standard R14 (b), it considered that standard
R14 was not contravened.
(b) Standard R5
Talkback hosts may infuriate or amuse but, at the same time, they are required to
comply with the obligation in standard R5 to deal justly and fairly with any person
taking part or referred to in the programme.
In the lengthy introduction to the programme on 2 April, the host referred critically to
a number of well-known Labour politicians. He then mentioned a number of named
journalists who wanted him removed from his job as a talkback host. He then took
the first call, and the issue of the free press came up. Referring back to his
introductory comments, the host stated:
There's a Mrs Young, who's an erstwhile in a Minister's office in Parliament
and she recently got a low level job with TV3 carrying around the wires
behind the microphones and then she's all of a sudden promoted to a junior
reporter, this is Mrs Young, she's a woman of late forties, early fifties,
looked like she'd had about ten thousand volts put through her when she was
on TV One night and she couldn't gush out so much, so much hatred against
me in ten seconds, twenty-five seconds if she tried, she must have absolutely
sat down all afternoon and schemed with the John Banks, I hate John Banks
club in Parliament, about things she could say about me on TV3 and they
hotwired her with about eleven thousand volts and they put her on TV on
the Ralston Show and she oozed it and gushed it all out and I sat there, I
don't listen to TV3, I don't listen to much TV frankly and I thought to
myself, wow, Mrs Jane Young, if that's the best you can do I suggest you go
back to the Minister's office and continue your career as a clerk.
Both complainants argued that these remarks breached the standards. The Authority
listened to the remark on Radio Pacific and watched a tape of the TV3 item referred to
before determining this aspect of the complaint.
The item referred to was a segment of 3 National News on 30 March which had
focussed on the Moutoa Gardens dispute in Wanganui. Presenter Bill Ralston had
interviewed Ms Young about the Government's stance on the dispute. The
discussion also referred to the talkback show where a senior government MP (Mr
Carter) had embarrassed the Prime Minister while the latter was overseas. Ms Young
made some reasonably critical comments about Mr Carter, and then the discussion
turned to the fact that the host at the time when Mr Carter made the call was the Hon
John Banks (who was also the host on 2 April). The exchange in full on TV3 went:
Presenter: Alright but what about John Banks? How long can they
continue with John Banks being this rampant rogue, bull ...
(indistinct) talk-back host who's caused them a number of
problems in the last few months?
Young: It has. It's been very, very damaging and again you see only ...
how many days ago was it that John Banks himself said oh I
was just joking.
Presenter: Jane, let's take our break right there because right now in
Wanganui the Mayor Chas Poynter is beginning a news
Radio Pacific argued that the host's comment was not unfair as people in the media
had to be prepared to be challenged.
Taking that point into account, along with its acceptance that talkback hosts may
invite and/or sometimes provoke, comment, the Authority nevertheless concluded that
standard R5 had been breached. Ms Young's comments on the TV3 item about the
host (the Hon John Banks) were brief and innocuous; his response was personalised,
unbalanced, inaccurate and unwarranted. Accordingly, the Authority concluded, the
broadcast was in breach of standard R5.
For the reasons given above, the Authority decides that the talkback host's
comments broadcast by Radio Pacific between 9.00–10.00am on 2 April 1995
breached standard R5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make an order under s.13(1) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989.
The Authority considers that the applicability to talkback of some of the standards in
the Radio Code could well be assessed. However, this does not apply to standard R5.
On this occasion the host's tirade against Ms Young could not be excused merely as
one personality's views about another person with a high public profile. The host's
reply was out of proportion to the reporter's comment and, in the Authority's
opinion, therefore, deserves an apology. The following order is imposed:
Pursuant to s.13(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders Radio
Pacific Ltd to broadcast a brief summary of its decision and an apology to Ms
Jane Young, approved by the Authority, arising from the talkback broadcast
between 9.00–10.00am on Sunday 2 April 1995. The broadcast shall be made
on a talkback programme between 10.00–11am on a Sunday morning within
one month of the date of this decision or at such other time as approved by the
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
5 October 1995
Mediawomen's Complaint to Radio Pacific Ltd - 28 April 1995
On behalf of Mediawomen, Carole van Grondelle complained to Radio Pacific Ltd
about the talkback show broadcast between 9.00 - 10.00am on Sunday 2 April which
was hosted by Hon John Banks.
Ms van Grondelle said that there were two general objections: first, that TV3 reporter
Jane Young was deliberately denigrated and, secondly, that the host made comments
and encouraged comments from callers which were racist, sexist, jingoistic and
derogatory of those who disagreed with him.
With reference to the aspect of the complaint referring to TV3's reporter, Ms van
Grondelle maintained that the comments made during the broadcast breached
standards R2 and R5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. An extract from the
host's comments was quoted in which Ms Young, who was giving her opinion on
some current issues, was referred to as a junior reporter and while, it was said she was
"hotwired" with ten thousand volts, she had gushed "hatred" against the host as a
politician. The host in part had stated:
... and I thought to myself, wow, Mrs Jane Young, if that's the best you can do
I suggest you go back to the Minister's office and continue your career as a
The excerpt, Ms van Grondelle wrote:
... shows clearly that Mr Banks was unacceptably rude and denigratory toward
Ms Young, and that he has a personal grievance against her. Not only did he
suggest that she was incompetent in her professional duties, and she was
working way beyond her level of ability, but he accuses her of extreme bias in
the presentation of her views as a political reporter. At the same time, he uses
sexist language which belittles and demeans her.
The other general aspect of the complaint, Ms van Grondelle argued, involved
breaches of standards R7, R8, R9 and R14 of the Code.
In support of the allegations, extracts from a transcript of the broadcast were cited in
which the host, among other points, said that Maori radicals were behaving badly, that
thoroughly bad gang members terrorised law-abiding citizens, that the Race Relations
Office staff were secret police and that whingeing Poms should go home.
Furthermore, he did not disagree with one caller who suggested that the Labour Party
women were lesbians and he described political reporter - Mr Colin James - as a "little
whinge" who took himself too seriously.
Ms van Grondelle noted that the host claimed to be the people's voice who told
things the way they were but, she replied:
In fact, these random excerpts indicate that he abuses his position of power as
talkback host to make offensive and occasionally even malicious statements
about his political opponents, and to use language and to make comments that
reinforce stereotypes and are racist, sexist and jingoistic.
With free speech, she continued, came responsibility to act with integrity, balance and
fairness. As the Group believed that the host had gone beyond the limits of good
taste and decency, she argued that he should be permanently removed from his
Radio Pacific's Response to the Formal Complaint - 1 May 1995
On Radio Pacific's behalf, the Managing Director (Mr Derek Lowe) began in response
to the complaint:
Radio Pacific believes in free speech. That means the right to criticise. I am
surprised, putting it mildly, that a group that presumably supports the right of
media people to speak out, bluntly and even at times in ways that might upset
different individuals or groups of people, wants to see Radio Pacific pull the
plug on a programme like "Banksy on Sundays". I certainly don't agree with
many of the things said by John Banks, but heaven help this country if we
media people start trying to shut down forums that permit people to speak out
openly, honestly (from the way they perceive it) and critically. Neither you nor
I have the ability or the right to tell others what they can or cannot say.
Talkback was different from most other media, he continued, in that anyone -
including those who were criticised - could telephone and express their opinion to the
With regard to the specific complaint about the reference to TV3's reporter, Mr Lowe
did not accept that the comments contravened the currently accepted standards of
decency and good taste. Acknowledging that people had to be referred to fairly, Mr
Lowe argued that media people must be prepared to have their programmes analysed
and commented on. Stating that the host was expressing a personal opinion, Mr Lowe
said the reporter could have telephoned during the session or arranged, through him, a
guest appearance with the host at a later date.
As for the other matters raised in the complaint, Mr Lowe said that the extracts were
too brief to assess the context. He also said that the programme should be judged on
its verbal content rather than in print.
He commented that the monitoring service who had supplied the transcript had no
authority to pass on transcripts of Radio Pacific's programmes and the matter was
now with the company's lawyers.
As for the excerpts quoted, Mr Lowe said that they were the host's personal
comments and did not breach the standards.
Observing that offensive remarks - even an occasional malicious one - were insufficient
reason to take a host off the air, Mr Lowe said that many people listened to the
particular programme as they enjoyed the host's outspokenness and sense of humour.
In closing, I can only say that I think it is a sad day when a group representing
media takes steps to clamp down on free speech. We are all guilty of judging
others by our own standards. The trouble is that none of us have the God-given
right to decide what the correct standards are.
Mediawomen's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 23 May 1995
Dissatisfied with Radio Pacific's response, on Mediawomen's behalf Ms van
Grondelle referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under
s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
Observing that Mr Lowe had defended the programme on the basis of free speech, Ms
van Grondelle stated that that argument on this occasion amounted to giving the host
"a free reign". She added:
This is a common argument used by supporters of pornography and extreme
racist and white supremacist views, and we take strong issue with it.
As free speech was accompanied by a responsibility to use it wisely and in good
taste, she argued that the host should be held accountable when he breached the
Radio Pacific's Response to the Authority - 31 May 1995
In its report to the Authority, Mr Lowe acknowledged the Authority's request for a
tape of the broadcast and on Radio Pacific's behalf explained that as the tape had been
recycled after 40 days, he was unable to forward it. He accepted personal
responsibility. Because he had heard most of the programme complained about, it had
not been necessary to withdraw the tape before he responded to the initial complaint,
and, he wrote:
I very much regret that this occurred and of course Radio Pacific is probably
somewhat disadvantaged by not being able to forward the tapes to the
Authority, as we always prefer to be judged by what was heard, rather than the
We do not deny that the comments that are the subject of this complaint were
broadcast. I expect to be criticised by the Authority for not being able to
forward a copy of the tape. However, I do hope that this error on my part
won't influence the Authority's judgment regarding the complaint itself. We
accept that these comments were broadcast.
As for the complaint, he said that talkback encouraged free and frank comment.
Talkback hosts, he added, frequently adopted the role of devil's advocate to elicit a
response as bland talkback did not rate and as the radio industry was highly
competitive, ratings were important.
The extracts cited, Mr Lowe observed were "typical examples" of the host's colourful
and provocative style" and, because of that style, he was one of the station's more
popular and successful hosts.
He then dealt with the six standards allegedly contravened.
R2 None of the comments breached the standards of good taste and decency given
the nature of the programme.
R5 People's opinions on what was fair and just differed and if listeners felt that
comments were unfair, they were encouraged to telephone to express a contrary
R7 The host's comments were explicitly personal and contributions from all sides
were sought. "You can't have a partnership", Mr Lowe wrote, "unless all sides
and arguments and opinions are canvassed and encouraged".
R8 As talkback encouraged women to participate, equity was built into the
R9 As talkback provided an opportunity for all New Zealanders to present
significant points of view, balance, impartiality and fairness were achieved given
the range of calls received.
R14 Observing that outspoken talkback hosts would sometimes offend and that
hearing comments that hurt was part of the price of free speech, Mr Lowe said
that, given the publicity, for the particular show, people who chose to listen
would be aware that the comments would be provocative. The explicit calls
complained about, he added, were the host's personal feelings and were not
made to encourage denigration or discrimination.
Mr Lowe concluded:
Carole van Grondelle says John Banks confuses free speech with a perceived
right to make disparaging, contemptuous and unsubstantiated remarks about
other people. What is disparaging, contemptuous or unsubstantiated to Carole
van Grondelle or members of her organisation could well be considered fair,
reasonable, humorous or accurate in the minds of others.
It is all a matter of opinion. Which is what talkback is all about.
Mediawomen's Final Comment ¾ 21 June 1995
In response to Radio Pacific, Ms van Grondelle on Mediawomen's behalf disputed
the broadcaster's argument that whatever was acceptable was "all a matter of
opinion". To the contrary, she contended, there were basic standards with which if a
host could not comply, then the host should be taken off the air.
While very displeased that the tape of this programme was not initially available, the
Authority considered that a transcript would be of use in its determination of the
complaints. Accordingly, in a letter dated 30 June 1995, it asked the complainants for
a transcript should they have one. It also asked the parties for comment on its
proposal to write to TV3 to ask for a tape of the item on which Ms Young had
appeared and to which the host had responded.
In a letter dated 6 July, Radio Pacific expressed its agreement with the Authority's
approach and regretted that it was not able to provide a tape of the programme.
Both complainants made available a transcript of the item on Radio Pacific but TV3
advised that it had not retained a tape of the item in view of the time which had
passed since the broadcast. The Authority nevertheless obtained a transcript of the
TV3 item from a monitoring service. In its letter of 28 July, TV3's Chief executive
advised the Authority:
To assist the Authority in their consideration of the complaint, I can report
that Ms Jane Young is engaged by TV3 as a senior political correspondent
and she is a senior member of the Wellington Parliamentary Press Gallery.
Our employment records indicate that Ms Young is nowhere near her early
fifties, and I would also point out that this is quite obvious from her on-
screen appearance. Ms Young was never in a "low level job with TV3":
(whatever that means) nor was she hired to "carry wires" and then "all of a
sudden promoted to a junior reporter". Ms Young was hired as a senior
political correspondent for our Wellington bureau, and I can say that we are
very pleased with her performance.
The Authority forwarded a transcript of the programme complained about and the
TV3 item to Radio Pacific and Mr Lowe responded (4 August 1995):
I don't think I can add anything further to this issue. We simply submit
that none of the comments or remarks made by John Banks breached the
various programming rules. Listeners who tune to a "Banksy on
Sundays" expect to hear his rather unique brand of comment, opinion, criticism and
humour. Remove that and you would effectively remove the appeal that
the programme clearly has for many people. At the other end of the scale
there are many who can't stand listening to John Banks. He polarises. In
our view his style of talkback is quite acceptable in New Zealand in the
The complainants were also sent a transcript of the TV3 item and, on behalf of
Mediawomen, Ms van Grondelle wrote (on 6 August):
We can see nothing in the written transcript to justify - in any way -
Mr Banks' vituperative and personal attack on Ms Young. It reads just like
what one would expect from an experienced political reporter who is giving
viewers an informed commentary on how Government ministers were
handling a topical current affairs issue, namely the Moutoa Gardens
We also noted with interest [TV3's] comments regarding Ms Young's
Later, both missing tapes were located by Radio Pacific and TV3 respectively and
were forwarded to the Authority.
Ms McDougall's Complaint to Radio Pacific Ltd - 11 April 1995
Writing as a New Zealander who lived in the United Kingdom but who had heard the
talkback show between 9.00 - 10.00am on Sunday 2 April while in New Zealand on
business, Ms Linda McDougall complained to Radio Pacific Ltd that the racist and
sexist comments during the broadcast breached the standards in the Radio Code of
Describing the remarks made about a TV3 reporter and the Leader of the Opposition
as "grossly offensive", Ms McDougall also expressed concern that a Government
Minister was allowed to use the radio as a platform for presenting views which
contravened the broadcasting standards approved by the government. She urged the
cessation of the programme.
In response to Radio Pacific's request for specific examples, Ms McDougall reported
the following comment made by the host:
There's a Mrs Young who's an erstwhile in a Minister's office in Parliament and
she recently got a low level job with TV3 carrying around the wires behind the
microphones and then she's all of a sudden promoted to a junior reporter, this
Mrs Young, she's a woman in her late forties, early fifties, looked like she'd had
about ten thousand volts put through her when she was on TV one night and she
couldn't gush out so much, so much hatred against me in 10 seconds, twenty
five seconds if she tried, she must have absolutely sat down all afternoon and
schemed with the John Banks, I hate John Banks club in Parliament, about
things she could say about me on TV3 and they hot-wired her with about eleven
thousand volts and they put her on TV on the Ralston Show and she just oozed
it and gushed it out and I sat there, I don't listen to TV3, I don't listen to much
TV frankly and I thought to myself wow Mrs Jane Young if that's the best you
can do I suggest you go back to the Minister's office and continue your career as
That remark, she contended breached standards R14 and R5. The other comment to
which she objected stated:
Well the Labour Party is in deep trouble it's run by hairy legged feminists and
raging lesbians ... and that's the Labour Party in New Zealand. The top of the
Labour Party is in bad shape. Now poor old Helen Clark is the apologist for all
these people that need to have their itches scratched all the time. And they're
bitter people they're twisted people, Mrs Clark is 3 per cent in the polls the
Labour party is going nowhere ...
That "grossly offensive" comment, she wrote, contravened standards R1, R2, R8 and
In addition, she stated, the programme had an embarrassing tone and made racist
cracks against Australians and the British.
Radio Pacific's Response to the Formal Complaint - 3 May 1995
As the comments complained about were the host's personal views and as talkback
provided an immediate opportunity for those who disagreed with the remarks to
telephone and register a contrary view, on Radio Pacific's behalf Mr Derek Lowe (the
Managing Director) did not accept that the standards had been breached. He
Mrs Young, as a television commentator and front person and Helen Clark as
the Leader of the Labour Party, are in the public eye. John Banks himself has
been on the receiving end of a considerable amount of criticism recently and I
think it's to be expected that he will respond on occasions.
The real issue, Mr Lowe maintained, was what were standards and who set them.
While the remarks were offensive to some, they could be humour or satire to another.
A "perfectly safe" talkback station, he wrote, would have minimal impact in a
crowded marketplace and, he added:
There are rules and regulations and Radio Pacific makes every effort to abide by
them. We nevertheless also believe that a talkback network like ours should be
prepared to push free speech to its limits, because the right to say what one
thinks, openly and without threat is a cornerstone of an open, free and
deregulated society like New Zealand.
Acknowledging that Ms McDougall would disagree with his decisions were she in
charge of programming at Radio Pacific, Mr Lowe conceded that the comments quoted
would have offended some people. However, he insisted that they were not "grossly
offensive" and did not breach standards R5 or R14. Listeners could either telephone
the host or make their own assessment of him having heard his comments. He argued:
I think that society should be more concerned about what people think and
don't say or what goes on in meetings behind closed doors, than in what is said
openly and without any form of interference or censorship on a Station like
Ms McDougall's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 30 May
Dissatisfied with Radio Pacific's response, Mr McDougall referred her complaint to
the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
She acknowledged that the host's remarks about Ms Young and Ms Clark were
personal views but, she added, Radio Pacific as publisher was responsible for them.
Further, she disputed Mr Lowe's contention that a host could say what he liked given
the opportunity for the public's immediate response. She added:
I tried to call Mr Banks during the programme in question. All phone lines were
constantly engaged. Even so, no person should be put in the position of having
to ring through to a talkback show to refute lies about themselves and their
organisations. Broadcasters have clearly defined standards and rules which must
be kept. Mr Banks totally failed to do this.
Further, she wrote, the high public profile of Ms Young and Ms Clark did not excuse
the host's remarks, nor did the "weak plea" that he had been on the receiving end of
Radio Pacific's Response to the Authority - 7 June 1995
On Radio Pacific's behalf, Mr Lowe advised that his comments with regard to the
Mediawomen's complaint also applied to Ms McDougall's complaint.
It is summarised in Appendix I.
Ms McDougall's Final Comment - 12 June 1995
Referring to her correspondence with Mr Lowe of Radio Pacific, Ms McDougall
asked why had the tape not been secured when the complaint was first made.
Describing the host's style of speech as a "sneering tone" and an "abusive whine", she
stated that although Mr Lowe accepted that the comments were broadcast, the way
they were broadcast was lost forever.
Mr Lowe, she observed, sought to justify the breach of standards on the grounds:
... that people expect this kind of thing from talkback, that the offended have
instant access to the airwaves to rebut Bank's allegations and that being
offended sometimes is the price of free speech in our country.
He tries to give the impression that anyone who objects to his station's output
must be a narrow-minded person unable to take the pace in the real world.
Describing these excuses as unacceptable, she said that while broadcasters could be
outspoken, controversial and provocative, they were required to comply with the
good taste standard. Moreover, all listeners did not have access to the airwaves given
the number of callers wanting to call. Finally,
... New Zealand is a democracy and free speech comes as part of the package.
We do not have to pay any price for it.
In a letter dated 19 June 1995, Mr Lowe of Radio Pacific responded specifically to
some of Ms McDougall's final comments. Calls were not screened and, he argued,
anonymity was one of talkback's great strengths. Calls were put to air as they were
received, he continued, and a log of calls was not kept.
The subsequent correspondence involving the complaints is contained in the section
headed Further Correspondence in Appendix I.