BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Oluwole and NZME Radio Ltd - 2021-146 (21 March 2022)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
Newstalk ZB


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about a comment by Mike Hosking referring to unvaccinated New Zealanders as ‘idiots’. The comment was unlikely to cause widespread offence and was a legitimate expression of opinion. Accordingly, it did not reach the threshold for regulatory intervention.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency

The broadcast

[1]  On Mike Hosking Breakfast broadcast on 18 October 2021 on Newstalk ZB, host Mike Hosking discussed New South Wales’s removal of border restrictions for double vaccinated Australians compared to the continuation of managed isolation quarantine facilities in New Zealand. Hosking said:

What possible reason is there to have New Zealanders arriving here - that's if you can get a spot - and sitting in a hotel room vaccinated. Who are we protecting them from given they have the same medical status as the rest of us? Why are they punished, when the idiot here who hasn't been vaccinated still gets to roam free?

The complaint

[2]  Dele Oluwole complained about Hosking’s reference to unvaccinated New Zealanders as ‘idiots’ and was concerned about the offence it would cause:

  • ‘the unguarded utterance [is] below the standards of good taste and decency because his choice of word is inappropriate, rude, and disrespectful’.
  • ‘It is also inflammatory at a time like this when people are experiencing mental health issues because of the COVID 19 lockdown. Listeners exercising their fundamental human rights, children, and even those who may have already booked in for vaccination are in this group and have been called idiots’.
  • In comparison to a previous BSA decision where a presenter called people who do not vaccinate their children ‘idiots’,1 in this instance Hosking was not ‘encouraging the unvaccinated, and the comment was not aimed at changing the mind of the unvaccinated’.
  • ‘It will also not be in the public interest to call a group of New Zealanders idiots’.
  • ‘…considering that a Sydney radio host Alan Jones called the NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern "a complete clown" and lost his job and the radio station's advertising dollars2 for a less weighty but undermining comment, and a BBC presenter 'savaged' in the UK for calling a Brexiteer [an] idiot,3 is it conscionable and acceptable to use platforms like the New Zealand radio airwave to transmit and dish out abuses that are capable of causing emotional pain?’

[3]  In response to NZME’s comments on the referral, the complainant provided further comments including:

  • The comparison to the Maksimovic and TVNZ decision is not relevant as ‘calling Novak Djokovic who does not live in New Zealand “a dick” does not have the same impact as calling unvaccinated New Zealanders idiots’.
  • The exclusion of ‘idiot’ from BSA’s research ‘Language that may offend in broadcasting’ is ‘not justified’ and does not justify finding the word is not offensive.
  • Evidence highlighting how insults can impact people:
    • ‘name-calling erodes Sense of Self, damages the sense of well-being, affects identity, and harms mental health’.4
    • ‘most people with these disabilities have intensely painful experiences being called “retarded,” “moron,” or “idiot” in clearly insulting ways. The fact that people still use such terms without intending to hurt disabled people doesn’t matter. They are harmful in all cases.’5
    • ‘People use ableist words and phrases everyday without realizing the harm they do’.6
  • Such terms are not only offensive to people with disabilities, they are also ‘cliches that allow us to write people off without having to contend with their ideas and actions. Worse, they stand for value systems in which people are judged based on arbitrary notions of intelligence and rationality.  These criteria deserve to be questioned…’7

[4]  In the original complaint, the complainant only explicitly referred to the good taste and decency standard, which the broadcaster addressed in its response. In the referral to the BSA, the complainant also alleged the broadcast breached the children’s interests and discrimination and denigration standards. Pursuant to section 8(1B) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, we are only able to consider the complaint under the standard(s) raised in the original complaint to the broadcaster. The High Court has clarified that in certain circumstances:8

…it is permissible [for the Authority] to fill gaps… or cross boundaries between Code standards…but only if these things can be done within the wording, reasonably interpreted, of the original complaint, and if a proper consideration of the complaint makes that approach reasonably necessary…

[5]  In this case, we do not consider it necessary to imply these two standards into the original complaint. The nature of the complaint can be, and is most appropriately, addressed under the good taste and decency standard noting:

  • any impact on children can be taken into account under this standard
  • the discrimination and denigration standard does not apply to the ‘unvaccinated’ or those who oppose vaccines.9

The broadcaster’s response

[6]  NZME Radio Ltd (NZME) did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • ‘Newstalk ZB is an adult targeted radio station for 30-64 year olds’. 
  • ‘…regular listeners would also understand the established format of this programme, and would expect a robust articulation of Mr Hosking’s opinion on topical issues during the programme. The BSA has stated in a previous decision relating to this standard that “audiences expect that Newstalk ZB will often feature conservative and controversial opinions.”10
  • No coarse or offensive language was used.
  • ‘The host is entitled under the right to freedom of expression to voice his opinion on those [who] choose not to be vaccinated. Unlike the example [the complainant gave], the host did not call a specific individual an “idiot”’.

The standard

[7]  The good taste and decency standard11 states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme. The standard is intended to protect audiences from content likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.12

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 our starting point when considering complaints. 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, in light of actual or potential harm caused.

[10]  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. Since the receipt of this complaint we have completed our most recent version of this research.13 As with our 2018 and 2013 research we did not test the word ‘idiot’.14 The word ‘idiot’ was raised by respondents to the survey as an offensive term or phrase not included the questionnaire, but did not appear with a high frequency.15 This suggests the word does not carry a high level of offence with audiences generally.

[11]  The complainant has argued the BSA cannot rely on this research to find the word ‘idiot’ does not carry a high level of offence with audiences generally. We agree this research is not exhaustive of all possibly offensive words; however, it acts as a guide to us when considering community views on offensive language.

[12]  The Authority is required to make determinations of taste and decency based on what the New Zealand public is likely to find offensive. Research such as this allows us to gauge community views on the offensiveness of words, which can be extremely subjective. In addition, this research is not the only factor which led to our findings.

[13]  The context in which content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast are relevant to assessing whether a broadcast has breached this standard. As we have previously found, audience expectations of talk radio, Newstalk ZB as a station and Hosking as a host 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.16

[14]  The particular comment was brief and made in the context of Hosking’s challenge to the New Zealand Government’s position on continuing managed isolation quarantine facilities here despite an increasingly vaccinated public.

[15]  We acknowledge the complainant’s considered comments. However, Hosking was offering a legitimate expression of opinion and, for the above reasons, we do not consider it likely to have caused widespread undue offence or distress, or undermined widely shared community standards. It therefore did not reach the threshold for regulatory intervention.

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


Susie Staley
21 March 2022    




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

1  Dele Oluwole’s complaint to NZME – 26 October 2021

2  NZME’s decision on the complaint – 20 November 2021

3  Oluwole’s referral to the Authority – 1 December 2021

4  NZME’s final comments – 21 January 2022

5  Oluwole’s final comments – 27 February 2022

1 Gray, Scott, Vickers & Vink and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2019-020
2 “Australian shock jock Alan Jones - who attacked Jacinda Ardern - resigns” NZ Herald (online ed, 12 May 2020)
3 Manon Dark “BBC presenter savaged for calling Brexiteer 'idiot' on Twitter 'Utterly bizarre!'” Express (online ed, 30 November 2020)
4 Sherri Gordon “9 Consequences of Name-Calling”, Verywell Family (online ed, 11 March 2021)
5 Andrew Pulrang “It's Time To Stop Even Casually Misusing Disability Words” Forbes (online ed, 20 February 2021)
6 Rakshitha Arni Ravishankar “Why You Need to Stop Using These Words and Phrases” Harvard Business Review (online ed, 15 December 2020)
7 As above, footnote 5
8 See Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Limited, CIV-2011-485-1110 at [62]
9 See Donald and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-033 at [23]; and Gray, Scott, Vickers & Vink and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2019-020 at [25]
10 Day & Moss and NZME Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2018-090 at [21].
11 Standard 1, Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
12 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 35
13 Broadcasting Standards Authority (March 2022) “Language that may offend in broadcasting” <>
14 As above, at page 11; Broadcasting Standards Authority (June 2018) “Language That May Offend in Broadcasting” <> at pages 10 and 11; Broadcasting Standards Authority (September 2013) “Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting” <> at page 9
15 As above (footnote 13) at page 17
16 Woolrych & Glennie and NZME Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2019-100 at [18]