BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hailstone and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2022-139 (22 March 2023)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
  • Glenn Hailstone
1 News


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a reporter’s comment during a segment on 1 News concerning the death of a child from a throat infection breached the offensive and disturbing content standard. The Authority acknowledged the relevant phrase represented a poor choice of words. However, in the context, the Authority accepted that it was inadvertent and did not merit regulatory intervention.

Not Upheld: Offensive and Disturbing Content

The broadcast

[1]  The 24 October 2022 broadcast of 1 News included a segment regarding the death of a four year old boy from a throat infection, and whether poor treatment by doctors was to blame.

[2]  The segment was introduced as follows:

The grieving parents of a four year old boy who died at Wellington Hospital's emergency department last month are questioning whether more could have been done to save him. An interim coroner's finding says [the child] may have died from a serious strep throat infection.

[3]  The segment included the following comment from the reporter:

It's tough to swallow for parents who did everything they could, including Healthline, the day before [the child] died. 

The complaint

[4]  Glenn Hailstone complained that the broadcast breached the offensive and disturbing content standard of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand for the following key reasons:

  • It was inappropriate, and a very poor choice of words, for the reporter to use the pun ‘this is hard to swallow’ during a story about a four year old boy dying from a throat infection.
  • The phrase was a pun, not an idiom, as the phrase ‘hard to swallow’ is literal rather than figurative. ‘[1 News] is well known for using puns (jokes) in their stories.’

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  TVNZ did not uphold Hailstone’s complaint for the following key reasons:

  • It agreed that the phrase "tough to swallow" was an awkward choice of words in the context of [the child’s] illness. However, the reporter is vastly experienced and highly reputable, and the Committee has no doubt she used the phrase sincerely.’
  • “Tough to swallow" is a commonly used idiom. Idioms and other such figures of speech are regularly used by reporters to convey ideas in plain and economical language.’
  • ‘…the complainant is wrong to make any association whatsoever with a pun or intended pun.’
  • ‘Given the reporter's experience and reputation, we consider that most viewers would have appreciated that any correlation between the phrase "tough to swallow" and [the child’s] illness was inadvertent.’

The standard

[6]  The purpose of the offensive and disturbing content standard1 is to protect audiences from viewing or listening to broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread disproportionate offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards.2

Our analysis

[7]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[8]  In Aotearoa New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. The standards are designed to provide boundaries for freedom of expression. However, as we have previously recognised, they are unlikely to be breached in cases of inadvertent error.3

[9]  The context in which relevant content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast are important when assessing whether comments are likely to cause widespread offence or distress. In this case, we have considered the following contextual factors:

  • The particular segment was a serious story about the death of a child. Aside from the challenged choice of words, at no point in the item was there any suggestion that this story was being approached without sensitivity.
  • There was strong public interest in the story, as it concerned potential failings of the public health system that resulted in the death of a child.
  • The tone of the challenged comment was serious. There was no emphasis on it, no reaction to it from the host and no other suggestion that it was intended as a pun.
  • 1 News is an unclassified news and current affairs programme.
  • The reporter is experienced and reputable.4
  • The broadcaster had full editorial control over the segment, which was pre-recorded.

[10]  We acknowledge the use of the phrase ‘tough to swallow’ represented a poor choice of words. However, the broadcaster has advised the pun was unintended and we have no evidence to suggest otherwise. In the context, we accept TVNZ’s explanation that it was inadvertent.

[11]  It is unfortunate that the phrase was not identified and edited out. However, for the above reasons, the matter does not merit regulatory intervention and we do not uphold the complaint.

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


Susie Staley
22 March 2023   




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

1  Glenn Hailstone's formal complaint to TVNZ - 24 October 2022

2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint - 18 November 2022

3  Hailstone’s referral to the Authority and supporting information - 12 December 2022

4  TVNZ's further comment on the complaint - 22 December 2022

5  Hailstone's response to TVNZ's comments - 23 December 2022

6  TVNZ confirming no further comments - 16 January 2023

1 Standard 1, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
2 Commentary, Standard 1, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 8
3 Bartlett and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-093 at [9]
4 “'Unflappable': Reporter's live cross from Te Awamutu interrupted by boy racers, sirens” NZ Herald (online ed, 8 October 2022); Zoominfo “Nicole Bremner” (last updated 22 November 2022) <> see: Nicole Bremner has been working as a Reporter NCA at TVNZ for 7 years