BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network Ltd - 2002-152

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
  • Irene Angus
  • Kathleen and Patrick McCartain
Newstalk ZB

Paul Holmes Breakfast on Newstalk ZB – derogatory comment about Catholic Church and the Pope

Principle 7 and Guideline 7a – intemperate and populist contribution to global debate – high threshold not reached – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] Referring to some recent publicity about priests who were paedophiles, the host of Paul Holmes Breakfast on Newstalk ZB made some highly critical comments about the Catholic Church and the Pope, including describing the Church as rotten to its core. The comments were broadcast at about 8.20am on 1 July 2002.

[2] Kathleen and Patrick McCartain, and Irene Angus, complained to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, that while they accepted critical opinion, they did not accept comments in which their faith and beliefs were "ridiculed so blatantly".

[3] In response, TRN said the hard-hitting comments were factually based, and the expression of a genuine opinion. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TRN’s decision, the complainants referred their complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority has prepared and read a transcript of the comments complained about. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Paul Holmes Breakfast is the title of the programme broadcast by TRN on Newstalk ZB between 6.00–8.30am each weekday. It includes various news items and comments from interviewees and the host (Paul Holmes).

[7] At about 8.20am on Monday 1 July 2002, the host referred to the recent publicity about priests who were paedophiles, and made some highly critical comments about the Catholic Church and the Pope.

The Complaint

[8] Kathleen and Patrick McCartain, and Irene Angus, complained to TRN that the host, while "ranting and raving" about the Catholic Church, had said that it was "rotten to the core". The complainants said that they accepted broadcasters who offered opinions with which they disagreed:

but we strongly object to our Faith and beliefs being ridiculed so blatantly on air.

The Standards

[9] TRN assessed the complaint under Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Principle and relevant Guideline read:

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.


7a  Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual; or

ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or

iii) is by of legitimate humour or satire.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainants

[10] TRN acknowledged that the host had made some "hard-hitting" comments about the Catholic Church in view of the recent exposure of paedophilia being practised by some priests.

[11] Maintaining that the wrongs asserted by the host were factual and that the comment about the Pope, "a pathetic old man … bending so low his head’s on the ground", was an observation of his portrayal on television, TRN declined to uphold the complaint on the basis that it was the "genuine expression of comment and opinion".

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[12] The complainants disagreed with the host’s claim that the Catholic Church was "rotten to its core". They accepted that some priests had behaved disgracefully and that the matter had not been dealt with appropriately at first, adding:

We feel very sad about this situation and are relieved that it will at last be dealt to fairly and sympathetically.

[13] However, as "all Catholics are the Church", they considered the host’s comments were a personal insult. Moreover, they objected to the comments which denigrated the Pope, "a highly respected World Leader" who carried out his duties despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

[14] The host’s comments, they said, damaged the increasing religious tolerance and understanding which was occurring, and they sought an apology from the host.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[15] The Broadcaster made three points in its response to the Authority:

1. The complainants are wrong to assert ‘a few’ priests and brothers have behaved disgracefully.
    There is clear evidence that paedophilia is rife in the Catholic Church and thousands of young
    boys have been damaged.

2. It is also clear that paedophilia in the Catholic Church has been covered up on grand scale.

3. Leaders, both political and religious, are not immune from criticism, comment or satire. This
    applied in the reference to the Pope.

The Complainants’ Final Comment

[16] While acknowledging that some priests had behaved disgracefully, the complainants did not accept that, consequently, the Church "was rotten to the core". They referred to the important work done by some groups within the Church, and the value of Catholic education. They agreed that leaders were not immune from criticism, but questioned whether that meant ridiculing and insulting those who suffered from disabilities.

The Authority’s Determination

[17] The Authority observes that the host entered the current debate about the widely reported global scandal involving sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

[18] While the comments complained about were, in the Authority’s opinion, an intemperate outburst, it considers the comments were nothing more than a self-opinionated and populist contribution to an ongoing debate in the media about an international scandal. The complainants acknowledged that widespread interest. The Authority concludes that the broadcast did not breach Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[19] The Authority notes it has stated on a number of occasions that, given the requirements for free speech in a democratic society, a high level of invective is necessary in order for it to conclude that a broadcast is of such a nature that it encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standards.

[20] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards and applies them in a manner which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Cartwright
26 September 2002


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

  1.  Kathleen and Patrick McCartain’s, and Irene Angus’ Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd
    – 1 July 2002
  2. TRN ’s Response to the Complainants – 8 July 2002
  3. The Complainant’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 12 July 2002
  4. TRN’s Response to the Authority – 18 July 2002
  5. The Complainants’ Final Comment – 11 August 2002