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Pascoe and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-090 (9 December 2020)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Grant Pascoe


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about a segment of Q+A discussing the lack of diversity among the National Party’s then top-12 Members of Parliament. In the segment, panellist Laila Harre commented, ‘the whole front kind of line-up looks like they’ve had a bit of an accident with the bleach’. The complaint was that this comment was inappropriate, unprofessional and racist. The Authority found the comment did not threaten community standards of taste and decency, or encourage discrimination or denigration of any section of the community, in the context of a political discussion in the public interest. The remaining standards complained about either did not apply or were not breached.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration, Balance, Accuracy, Fairness

The broadcast

[1]  On 25 May 2020, a segment on Q+A (TVNZ 1) discussed the lack of diversity among the National Party’s then top-12 Members of Parliament (MPs), and included the following exchange between the host and two guest panellists:

Jack Tame:     What do you make of the fact that there are, by my estimation at least, no Māori MPs in the top 12 of National’s list? Is that significant?

Laila Harre:     Of course it’s significant! I mean the whole front kind of line-up looks like they’ve had a bit of an accident with the bleach.

Jack Tame:     Laila! Ben, what do you think?

Ben Thomas:  Well, if you take out Winston Peters, who’s from another party, you’re pretty much just left with Kelvin Davis in Cabinet in that top 12.

The complaint

[2]  Grant Pascoe complained the broadcast and in particular Ms Harre’s comment breached the discrimination and denigration, good taste and decency, balance, accuracy, and fairness standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice on the following grounds:

  • ‘At best, in my opinion, this comment is inappropriate and unprofessional.’
  • ‘At worst it is racist.’
  • ‘Furthermore, upon hearing this, Jack Tame laughed. In my opinion this was also very inappropriate, unprofessional and could be interpreted as reinforcing the racist comment made by Ms Harre.’

[3]  In his referral to the Authority he elaborated, saying, given this exchange:

  • ‘…Mr Muller and his Opposition party in particular [and] Pakeha peoples within NZ were discriminated against & denigrated…’
  • ‘…there was a complete imbalance to both the interview with Todd Muller [and] the following interview with Ms Harre [and] Ben Thomas’.
  • ‘…the [two] interviews did not give an accurate representation of the Opposition [Caucus and] its ethnic makeup [and] left the impression, or at least could have left the impression, that the National Party was a “racist” Political Party’.
  • ‘…the [Q+A] programme was at best unfair [and] at worst biased against Todd Muller [and] the National Party’.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  Television New Zealand Ltd (TVNZ) did not uphold Mr Pascoe’s complaint for these reasons:

  • Good Taste and Decency: The comment was challenging but part of a legitimate discussion and unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress in the context.
  • Discrimination and Denigration: The comment did not contain any element of hate speech or any negative portrayal of a section of the community, and would not lead to discrimination or denigration.
  • Balance: The broadcast did not canvass a controversial issue of public importance. In any case, it adequately included significant viewpoints with commentary from both sides of the political spectrum and from Mr Muller.
  • Accuracy: The comment was not a statement of fact to which this standard applies, and the complaint did not identify any material inaccuracy.
  • Fairness: The complaint did not identify unfair treatment of an individual or organisation taking part in the broadcast.

The relevant standard

[5]  We consider the good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards are the most relevant to the complainant’s concerns about the broadcast, so we have focused our determination on those two standards.

[6]  The good taste and decency standard states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast. Its purpose is to protect audience members from viewing or listening to broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards.1

[7]  The discrimination and denigration standard states broadcasters should not 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. Its purpose is to protect sections of the community from verbal and other attacks, and to foster a community commitment to equality.2

[8]  We have briefly addressed the remaining standards at paragraph [20] below.

Our decision

[9]  In making our decision, we have viewed a recording of the relevant broadcast and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[10]  We have also considered the important right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast caused actual or potential harm such that limiting the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified. We have not found any such harm in this case or any breach of the nominated standards.

Good taste and decency

[11]  Good taste and decency is assessed with reference to the context in which content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast. Relevant contextual factors in this case include:3

  • Q+A is a current affairs programme aimed at an adult audience.
  • The nature and format of Q+A means there is a well-established audience expectation it will offer robust political discussion.
  • Ms Harre used metaphor and hyperbole to convey her views about the lack of diversity among the National Party’s top MPs.
  • Mr Tame was evidently surprised by Ms Harre’s comment and shifted the conversation to the other panellist.
  • There was a high level of public interest in discussing matters of representation and diversity among MPs.

[12]  In light of these factors, we are satisfied the broadcast was within audience expectations of the programme. It was not likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, and did not undermine widely shared community standards.

[13]  Therefore, we do not uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency standard.

Discrimination and denigration

[14]  ‘Discrimination’ under this standard is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment.4 ‘Denigration’ is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community.5

[15]  To the extent Mr Pascoe’s concerns relate to discrimination against or denigration of Mr Muller and the National Party, the standard does not apply. The standard does not apply to individuals or organisations, which are dealt with under the fairness standard.

[16]  Later in the complaint process Mr Pascoe also argued Ms Harre’s comment encouraged discrimination and denigration in relation to Pakeha people, who are a recognised section of the community under the standard. The broadcaster considered this to be outside the scope of our decision as it was a new point and not raised in the original complaint.

[17]  Regardless, we are satisfied there was no breach of this standard.

[18]  The 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.6 In the context of the Q+A broadcast, the comment was a genuine expression of opinion by Ms Harre about the lack of diversity among the National Party’s top 12 MPs. It was satirical, provocative and exaggerated for the purpose of making a point. The reference to ‘an accident with the bleach’ (a chemical product that removes colour) suggested diversity had been lost among the National Party’s front line-up, rather than making any derogatory comment about all Pakeha people as a section of the community. This was a legitimate issue for discussion and in the public interest. The above contextual factors at paragraph [11], also relevant under this standard7 support the view that the broadcast did not encourage discrimination or denigration.

[19]  Therefore, we do not uphold the complaint under the discrimination and denigration standard.

Remaining standards

[20]  We found the remaining standards raised in the complaint were either not applicable, or were not breached, for the following reasons:

  • The alleged lack of diversity and representation among the National Party’s top MPs could be considered a ‘controversial issue of public importance’ that triggered the balance standard. However, the issue was clearly put to Mr Muller for his response during the programme to provide balance.
  • The accuracy standard does not apply to statements that are distinguishable as analysis, commentary or opinion, rather than statements of fact. As we have said, Ms Harre’s comment was a genuine expression of opinion on a matter of public interest. Therefore, this standard does not apply.
  • The fairness standard protects against undue harm to the reputation of programme participants or those referred to in a broadcast. Mr Pascoe did not initially explain who he thought was treated unfairly though he clarified later he was concerned about unfairness to Mr Muller and the National Party. TVNZ again disputed this was within scope for us to consider since it was not in the original complaint. Regardless, we are satisfied the broadcast did not go beyond what Mr Muller or the Party could reasonably expect in terms of robust political commentary and scrutiny. No unfairness arose, particularly given the public interest and because Mr Muller had an opportunity to comment.

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


 Judge Bill Hastings


9 December 2020    



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

1  Grant Pascoe’s formal complaint – 23 June 2020

2  Mr Pascoe’s confirmation of standards complained about (at TVNZ’s request) – 27 June 2020

3  TVNZ’s decision on the complaint – 29 July 2020

4  Mr Pascoe’s referral to the Authority – 5 August 2020

5  TVNZ’s response to the referral including comments disputing scope of Authority’s decision based on points raised in the original complaint – 1 September 2020

6  TVNZ’s further comments on fairness (at our request) – 17 September 2020

7  Mr Pascoe’s final comments – 19 October 2020

1 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
2 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
3 Guideline 1a
4 Guideline 6a
5 As above
6 Guideline 6b
7 Guideline 6d