Johnson and NZME Radio Ltd - 2022-143 (7 March 2023)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- John Gillespie
- Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
- Aroha Beck
- Ella Johnson
BroadcasterNew Zealand Media and Entertainment
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint concerning comments by the host of Newstalk ZB’s Overnight Talk responding to a listener’s question about what you should/should not include on your CV. The complainant considered the host’s references to ‘neo-Nazi dress-up parties’ and being a fan of the Ku Klux Klan as examples of ‘things you wouldn’t want to put on your CV’ were offensive and ‘almost glorifying’ of Nazis. The Authority did not consider the comments glorified Nazis, and found in the context the comments did not seriously threaten community standards of taste and decency and would not have disproportionately offended the audience.
Not Upheld: Offensive and Disturbing Content
 During Newstalk ZB’s Overnight Talk, broadcast at approximately 2.50am on the morning of 25 November 2022, the host, Roman Travers responded to a question from a listener about what information you should include in your CV. The host stated:
Definitely every way to contact you would be handy. Marital Status? No. Religion? No. First aid? Absolutely. If you’re a highly experienced, qualified first aider or a ‘volunteer anything’, then this is the sort of stuff you might want to put on there, along with your interests. As long as the interests aren’t, you know, axe-throwing, or something, or you know, neo-Nazi dress-up parties or something like that. You know, there are certain things you wouldn’t want to put on your CV, of course. ‘Avid fan of the Ku Klux Klan, and I’ve got a collection going back to the 1920’s’, things like that – no. You’ll definitely unmask yourself very quickly. Anyway, it’s very hard to not be the person you are, people can see through you, can’t they, I would imagine?
 Johnson complained the broadcast breached the offensive and disturbing content standard of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand as the host’s references to ‘Nazi dress up parties’ and ‘ku klux klan collection outfits’ were ‘totally inappropriate’. Upon referral to the Authority, Johnson added:
- The ‘host was joking in a manner regarding those who were responsible for real life tragedies which he mentioned … almost glorifying them in a manner by talking about dressing up as a Nazi.’ ‘There was nothing serious about the conversation and nothing saying how it was unacceptable.’
- ‘The host is not known for his irreverent humour. It is a talkback show and not a comedy show. There is nothing listed about the host having irreverent humour.’
- The comment regarding being a fan of the Ku Klux Klan was offensive to members of the Black community.
- Guideline 1.7, regarding the use of audience advisories, was also breached as a warning should have been included about the offending themes. Many people listen to overnight radio, such as those working. These comments should not be acceptable ‘just because of the time.’
The broadcaster’s response
 NZME Radio Ltd did not uphold the complaint, finding the comments did not ‘seriously violate community norms or disproportionately disturb the audience in the circumstances.’ In reaching that finding, NZME noted:
- Context is crucial in assessing a complaint under this standard.1 Relevant factors here include:
- Newstalk ZB is an adult targeted radio station for 30-64 year olds.
- ‘Roman Travers is a talk host known for his frank and forthright discussion of all manner of topics and regular listeners would be aware of this.’
- The show in question is an overnight talkback show broadcast at a late hour when only adults are likely to be tuning in.
- Talkback is an opinionated forum and is granted some latitude to be provocative and edgy in the interests of robust debate.2
- ‘Humour is not the exclusive preserve of comedy shows. Talkback shows can and do frequently contain moment of humour.’
- ‘The comments complained of by the host were clearly tongue-in-cheek and we are satisfied that it would have been clear to listeners that the host was in no way suggesting that it was acceptable to hold neo-Nazi or white supremacist views. The host’s point was that regardless of what a person may omit from their CV, their true character will become evident to their co-workers rather quickly.’
- ‘NZME strongly disagrees with the complainant’s claim that the host was not clear about his views. To the contrary, we consider the host made it absolutely clear that he did not in any shape or form condone or endorse neo-nazi or white supremacist views.’
 In response to Johnson’s referral, NZME noted:
- It ‘strongly rejects the complainant’s claim that the host’s comments can be viewed as “almost glorifying them [Nazis]”. The host’s point was that is completely unacceptable in today’s society to hold neo-Nazi or white supremacist/racist views.’
- ‘The new Codebook underlines the importance of freedom of expression and as the Authority has consistently stated, it can only intervene and uphold a complaint where a broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that outweighs the right to freedom of expression.’
- A similar analysis to that of the Authority’s decision in WX3 can be applied here, that the host is known for his irreverent humour and robust views, and the thrust of the remarks was that holding neo-Nazi or white supremacist views was unacceptable.
 The purpose of the offensive and disturbing content standard4 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.5 The standard takes into account the context of the programme, and the wider context of the broadcast, as well as information given by the broadcaster to enable the audience to exercise choice and control over their viewing or listening.
 We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh up the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the level of harm means limiting the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.6
 We acknowledge the complainant was offended by the references to neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
 However, attitudes towards taste and decency – including various types of humour and what people may find funny – differ widely and continue to evolve in a diverse society such as ours. The standard does not prohibit challenging material, but rather ensures that broadcasts fall within the broad limit of not causing widespread disproportionate offence or distress or seriously undermining widely shared community standards.7
 As noted above, context is crucial in assessing whether the broadcast exceeded this limit.8 Relevant contextual factors in this case include:
- The broadcast was a talkback radio show, an environment where robust statements are to be expected in the interests of generating debate.9 Newstalk ZB and Overnight Talk are also known for providing a platform for robust, opinionated discussion.10
- Newstalk ZB has an adult target audience.11
- The segment of concern was aired after midnight (at about 2.50am), when challenging material is likely to be more acceptable.12 The comments were tongue-in-cheek, making the point that it was not good to be associated with neo-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan13 (rather than glorifying them in any way).
 In this context, we do not consider the host’s comments overstepped audience expectations of a late-night talkback radio show or that they seriously violated community standards of taste and decency. For the same reasons, including the nature of the programme and the comments, we also do not consider any warning was required.
 Accordingly we have not found any harm under the offensive and disturbing content standard that justifies restricting freedom of expression in this case, 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
7 March 2023
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Ella Johnson’s formal complaint to NZME – 25 November 2022
2 NZME’s decision on complaint – 21 December 2022
3 Johnson’s referral to the Authority – 21 December 2022
4 NZME’s response to referral – 1 February 2023
5 Johnson’s final comments – 20 February 2023
6 NZME’s final comments – 22 February 2023
1 Citing Rohrbeck and Discovery New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-092 at 
2 Citing Guideline 1.2
3 WX and NZME Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2020-174
4 Standard 1, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
5 Commentary, Standard 1, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 8
6 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
7 Commentary, Standard 1, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 8
8 Guideline 1.1
9 Guideline 1.2
10 See Blomfield and NZME Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2022-027 at 
11 The Radio Bureau “Brand profiles: Newstalk ZB” <trb.co.nz>
12 Commentary, Standard 1, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 8
13 See WX and NZME Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2020-174 at  for a similar finding