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Pickford and NZME Radio Ltd - 2021-010 (22 June 2021)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Simon Pickford
Jono and Ben
The Hits


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

During Jono and Ben on The Hits radio station, one host commented the weevils in his pantry were ‘procreating faster than a solo mother in Nelson’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this breached the discrimination and denigration standard, finding ‘solo mothers’ do not amount to a section of the community to which the standard applies. In any event, the comment did not meet the threshold required to find a breach of the standard.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration

The broadcast

[1]  During Jono and Ben, at 8.14am on 12 December 2020 on The Hits, one host discussed the weevils infesting his home, saying ‘they’re procreating faster than a solo mother in Nelson’.

The complaint

[2]  Simon Pickford complained that this comment reinforced unfair stereotypes and breached the discrimination and denigration standard:

  • ‘Both socially and legally, we relentlessly stigmatise single parents as bad parents who have broken, incomplete, dysfunctional families.’
  • ‘Given [NZME’s] broad audience – some of whom are single mothers – I don’t think it’s appropriate to stereotype and denigrate them in this way.’
  • ‘Studies have shown that while 18% of all adults face disadvantage in some form, this proportion varied greatly by family type. Sole parents with young children were disproportionately affected with 50% being disadvantaged in various areas such as income, material wellbeing, employment, education, health, housing, safety, and connectedness.’
  • ‘Comparing vulnerable members of NZ society to insects is bad enough but the casual, throwaway nature of the host’s comment only emphasised the underlying malice and invective. This kind of casual denigration reinforces unfair stereotypes which only intensifies the disadvantage and prejudice.’

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  NZME commented ‘the statement by the host was unnecessary, rude and without any merit nor factual basis’. However, it did not uphold Mr Pickford’s complaint, noting:

‘[It] is clear from the tone of the host that he was not being malicious in his statement. We do not consider that the requisite malice, nor invective, was present in his tone to breach the standard.’

[4]  NZME also set out a number of steps it took in response to the complaint (although it was not upheld):

  • ‘The complaint and the response sent to Mr Pickford were passed to the Content Director for The Hits, to discuss the matter with the hosts.’
  • ‘NZME’s Chief Content Officer is to meet with the hosts in question to discuss why statements such as this should not be broadcast.’
  • ‘This matter – as well as an update as to the application of BSA standards more generally in today’s climate – has been placed on the agenda for an upcoming meeting with NZME’s content leaders to ensure our expectations of our broadcasters are clear.’

The standard

[5]  The discrimination and denigration standard1 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. It protects sections of the community from verbal and other attacks, and fosters a community commitment to equality.2

[6]  Discrimination is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment. Denigration is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community.3 The importance of freedom of expression means 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.4

Our analysis

[7]  We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[8]  The right to freedom of expression is an important and protected right in a democracy. Our task is to weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the level of harm justifies placing a reasonable limit on the right to freedom of expression.

[9]  This broadcast carried little public interest,5 and the comment – a lazy attempt at humour which traded on an outdated sexist stereotype – reflected poorly on the hosts. In its response the broadcaster acknowledged the comment was ‘unnecessary, rude and without any merit nor factual basis’, and advised it has taken steps to address this.

[10]  The discrimination and denigration standard applies only to the recognised sections of the community set out in the standard and in the Broadcasting Act 1989.6 In contrast to the broader grounds for discrimination identified in the Human Rights Act 1993,7 the Broadcasting Act and the standard do not include marital status8 or family status9 as prohibited grounds of discrimination. Given this, we find solo mothers are not a recognised section of the community for the purposes of the standard. Therefore the discrimination and denigration standard does not apply.

[11]  In any event, as the standard generally requires a high level of condemnation to justify limiting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression,10 we do not consider the host’s comment would have met this threshold.

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


Judge Bill Hastings


22 June 2021   



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

1 Simon Pickford’s complaint to NZME – 12 December 2020

2  NZME’s decision on the complaint – 3 February 2021

3  Mr Pickford’s referral to the Authority – 10 February 2021

4  NZME’s comments on the referral – 5 March 2021

5  Mr Pickford’s final comments – 15 March 2021

1 Standard 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
3 Guideline 6a
4 Guideline 6b
5 Defined as referring to a matter of concern to, or having the potential to affect, a significant section of the New Zealand population. It is more than something that merely interests the public: Definitions, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9
6 Section 21(1)(e)(iv)
7 Section 21
8 Subsection (1)(b)
9 Subsection (1)(l)
10 Standard 6b