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McCaughan and Mediaworks TV Ltd - 2019-065 (16 December 2019)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Dermott McCaughan
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Three (MediaWorks)


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

During an episode of Newshub, news reporter Emma Cropper referred to police vehicles as ‘paddy-wagons’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the use of the term breached the discrimination and denigration standard. The Authority did not find any element of condemnation, malice or nastiness present in the usage of the term in this context and therefore could not conclude that the broadcast encouraged discrimination and denigration in contravention of the standard.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and denigration

The broadcast

[1]  During a Newshub item covering the protest at Ihumātao, reporter Emma Cropper referred to police vans as ‘paddy-wagons’ four times as follows:

Police are literally taking several people into police custody right now. They are being put into ‘paddy-wagons’ here.


Police have had their hands-up against the ‘paddy-wagons’ and they’ve been patting them down there before putting them inside one of the ‘paddy-wagons’…

I saw police patting down around five of these people and protestors, and putting them inside one of the ‘paddy-wagons’ and driving away with them.

[2]  The episode was broadcast on Three at 6pm on 25 July 2019. As part of our consideration of this complaint, we have viewed a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[3]   Dermott McCaughan complained that the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. It was Mr McCaughan’s submission that the term ‘paddy-wagon’ is racist, derogatory, discriminatory and denigrating and it should not be used in a news broadcast.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  MediaWorks did not uphold Mr McCaughan’s complaint on the basis that the term was not used to express condemnation of a section of the community and therefore did not reach the threshold necessary to conclude that it encouraged discrimination against, or denigration of, a section of the community.

[5]  Although MediaWorks did not uphold the complaint, MediaWorks apologised to Mr McCaughan for the offence that the usage of the term had caused him. Mr McCaughan’s concerns were also communicated to Newshub’s Director of Daily News.

The standard

[6]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) protects against broadcasts that encourage discrimination against, or denigration of any 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. The standard only applies to recognised ‘sections of the community’, which is consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993.1

[7]  A high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness will be necessary to conclude that a broadcast ‘encouraged’ discrimination or denigration in contravention of this standard.2

The history of the term

[8]  The term ‘paddy’ was used in the mid-19th century as a pejorative way to describe Irish immigrants reflecting an anti-Irish sentiment that was present in England during that time.3

[9]  The term ‘paddy-wagon’ is an American term which originated in the early 20th century when Irish immigrants made up a majority of the New York and Boston metropolitan police forces.4 At that time, ‘paddy’ came to mean a policeman and the ‘paddy-wagon’ to mean a police van. However, others used the term as a slur, referring to ‘the typical troublemakers who were constrained and conveyed in those police vans’.5

[10]  The Collins English Dictionary simply defines the term as ‘US, Australian and NZ an informal word for patrol wagon’.  However, in view of its history, we understand that the term may evoke negative connotations.6

Our analysis

[11]  Freedom of expression, which includes the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, is the starting point in our consideration of complaints. We may only uphold complaints where the limitation on those rights is reasonable, prescribed by law and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

[12]  As discussed in paragraph 6, the standard only applies to recognised ‘sections of the community’. We consider people of Irish descent a relevant ‘section of the community’ for the purposes of the standard.

[13]  Context must always be considered when assessing whether the broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration.7 In this case, the segment complained about was a report on the protest at Ihumātao. Emma Cropper was reporting from the scene about the police presence at the protest and used the term repeatedly when referring to the type of vehicle that was used by the police. We note that the term was used colloquially and it was not expressly directed or targeted at any person of Irish descent.

[14]  While some viewers may have found the use of the term offensive, we did not identify any element of condemnation, malice or nastiness as is required for a finding of breach under the discrimination and denigration standard. We are therefore unable to conclude that the broadcast ‘encouraged’ discrimination or denigration in contravention of the standard.

[15]  Accordingly we do not uphold this complaint.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority



Judge Bill Hastings


16 December 2019    



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

1                 Dermott McCaughan’s formal complaint –25 July 2019

2                 MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 21 August 2019

3                 Mr McCaughan’s referral to the Authority – 23 August 2019

MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 6 September 2019

1 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 15
2 Guideline 6b
3  James McCabe “Paddywhacking and Mick-taking: Of being on First-Name Terms with the Irish Other” (2008) Open Edition Books < > at 16
4 As above, at 23
5 As above
6   President Trump's reference to 'paddy wagon' insults Irish Americans like me (The Washington Post, 2 August 2017)

7 Guideline 6d