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Heerdegen and The Radio Network Ltd - 2012-043

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Michael Heerdegen
Newstalk ZB

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Leighton Smith Show – host discussed verdicts in Urewera Four case – complainant phoned the programme and the host subsequently made comments about “nut bars” in New Zealand – allegedly in breach of discrimination and denigration standard

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – unclear which section of the community the complainant considered was denigrated or discriminated against – standard only applies to sections of the community and not to individuals so cannot be considered in relation to the complainant – broadcast did not encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   During the Leighton Smith Show, broadcast on the morning of 21 March 2012 on Newstalk ZB, the host discussed the verdicts in the “Urewera Four” case. He made the following comments:

It has been said by some that there is no way in the world that these guys were terrorists. Now I am not here to judge whether they were or they weren’t. I am here to, as far as I am concerned at this particular point of time, to discuss what a terrorist is supposed to look like. Does a terrorist have to look like a Palestinian, or an Arab, or a Muslim? Because that’s the concept that most people in the world now conjure up in their mind when they hear the word “terrorist”. Is that what you have to look like? Well the answer is no. ...Let me ask you a question. What did the Oklahoma City bomber look like? Did he look like a terrorist? 

[2]  A listener phoned in to the programme, and said, “Ghandi was a terrorist. George Washington was a terrorist. Your name should be Richard,” before hanging up. The host laughed and said:

Is there any hope for this country? I tell you what, the education system and the mental health system both have a lot to answer for in New Zealand. I reckon there is an increasing – you know how many people are fleeing to Australia – I reckon there is an increasing rate of people with an IQ of at least the sane category who are going to Australia and leaving us with an increasing number of nut bars. Thank you for the laugh.

[3]  Michael Heerdegen, the caller, made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, saying:

In the host’s attempt to compare Tame Iti’s behaviour with the Oklahoma bombers, I reminded him that Ghandi and George Washington were both regarded as terrorists. [The host] then called me a nut, mental...

[4]  The issue is whether the programme breached Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community?

[6]  Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a 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.

[7]  It is unclear from Mr Heerdegen’s complaint which section of the community he considered was denigrated or discriminated against. The standard only applies to sections of the community, and so cannot be considered in relation to the complainant as an individual.

[8]  TRN argued that the host’s comments regarding “nut bars” were clearly satirical, which was allowed under guideline 7a. It said, “Given the lack of desire by the caller to enter into a genuine discussion or debate, we believe this humorous reply was deserved.”

[9]  Guideline 7a to Standard 7 states:

This standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is:

  • factual;
  • a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion; or
  • legitimate humour, drama or satire.

[10]  With regard to the opening of the discussion in relation to “terrorists”, we consider that it was clear that the host was offering commentary and opinion, supported by comments such as,  “I am not here to judge whether they were or they weren’t [terrorists]”, and, “you might disagree with that, and that’s fine”. We also note that the host did not directly compare the Urewera Four with the Oklahoma City bombings, but simply referred to Oklahoma when pondering what a “terrorist” might look like.

[11]  Similarly, we consider that the host’s remarks following his phone call with the complainant were opinion, sometimes preceded with “I reckon”, and delivered in a humorous manner. We agree with the broadcaster that the complainant should have expected some response from the host to his suggestion that he should be named “Richard” (i.e. “Dick”). We also note that the host did not refer specifically to the complainant as a “nut” or “mental”, as alleged, but used the term “nut bars” when making a general comment.

[12]  We are satisfied that the broadcast did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community, and that the comments fell squarely within the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. We therefore decline to uphold the complaint.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
8 June 2012


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

1                  Michael Heerdegen’s formal complaint – 21 March 2012

2                 TRN’s response to the complaint – 22 March 2012

3                 Mr Heerdegen’s referral to the Authority – 5 April 2012

4                 TRN’s response to the Authority – 12 April 2012