BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Tawfik and New Zealand Media and Entertainment - 2015-067

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Nevine Tawfik
Leighton Smith
Newstalk ZB # 2


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

During his talkback show, host Leighton Smith in a conversation with a caller about the impact of cultural and religious beliefs on others, asked, ‘How do you think the Muslims will fit into that?’ He then repeated the question as, ‘How do you think the beheaders will fit into that?’ The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this promoted anti-Islamic sentiment and was extremely offensive. While the comment was objectionable, it was relatively brief and not repeated, and did not reach the high threshold necessary to constitute hate speech or encourage discrimination or denigration. Mr Smith was also apparently questioned about the comment by the programme producer and he attempted to explain what he meant.    

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration   


[1]  During his talkback show, host Leighton Smith had a conversation with a caller about stores opening on Easter Sunday, which led to a discussion of the impact of cultural and religious beliefs on others. Mr Smith asked the caller, ‘How do you think the Muslims will fit into that…’ and when the caller misheard him, repeated and rephrased the question as, ‘How do you think the beheaders will fit into that?’  

[2]  Mr Smith was then apparently questioned about the comment by his producer (who was off air) and attempted to explain his comment on air to his producer as follows:

That’s not all-encompassing. London John or whatever his name is, vows he is going back to England, he’s going to go back to England and he’s going to continue to behead people… he’s your first example. 

[3]  Nevine Tawfik complained that Mr Smith’s reference to Muslims as ‘beheaders’ was offensive and promoted anti-Islamic sentiment.   

[4]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration standard as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.   

[5]  The item was broadcast on Newstalk ZB on 25 August 2015. The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Muslims as a section of the community?

[6]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, 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.  

[7]  Ms Tawfik felt that Mr Smith’s reference to Muslims as ‘beheaders’ was extremely offensive, insulting and promoted anti-Islamic sentiment. She considered that in the circumstances, and given the intention of the comment, this term would confirm in the minds of listeners that Muslims are ‘beheaders’. Ms Tawfik argued that such behaviour by the media leads to ‘setting communities against Muslims’.   

[8]  NZME conceded that Mr Smith’s comment was unfortunate, especially given he was restating a question he had phrased legitimately in the first instance. It argued that, despite his subsequent explanation being a bit rushed and muddled, he attempted to clarify his intended meaning and gave an example. NZME maintained that Mr Smith did not intend to infer that all Muslims were ‘beheaders’ but agreed this meaning could be taken from the broadcast. It noted that a high threshold is required to find a breach of this standard, and while it did not uphold Ms Tawfik’s complaint it said it had explained her concerns to Mr Smith and suggested how the question could have been worded better to ensure no offence was taken.  

[9]  The term ‘denigration’ has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people.1  ‘Discrimination’ has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment.2    

[10]  We agree with the complainant that the reference to Muslims as ‘beheaders’ was objectionable. We think it was open to be interpreted as a deliberate choice of words and we can understand why the complainant, and potentially others, took offence. Mr Smith is a highly experienced broadcaster and his talkback show occurs during primetime radio. Particularly in this context, broadcasters should avoid using language which can be insulting to sections of our society.   

[11]  Having said that, it is well-established that in light of the requirements of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard.3  While we see the comments as objectionable and insulting, we do not consider it reached the high threshold necessary to find a breach of this standard. The comment was a one-off and Mr Smith subsequently attempted to explain (albeit in a somewhat muddled fashion) what he meant which went some way to mitigating the impact of the original comment. We do not think that taken in context the comment carried sufficient invective or malice, or amounted to hate speech, such that it encouraged the denigration of, or discrimination against, Muslims as a section of the community. Had Mr Smith continued in a similar vein and made repeated or sustained derogatory comments, or if his producer had not seemingly challenged the comment, he may well have crossed the line.4   

[12]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 7.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority      



Peter Radich Chair
10 November 2015  




The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:  
1      Nevine Tawfik’s formal complaint – 25 August 2015
2      NZME’s response to the complaint – 27 August 2015
3      Ms Tawfik’s referral to the Authority – 3 September 2015 4      NZME’s response to the Authority – 4 September 2015  

1 See, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks, Decision No. 2006-030
2 For example, Teoh and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-091
3 E.g. McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network, Decision No. 2002-152
4 For example, previous complaints that the Authority has upheld under this standard include a talkback radio host’s sustained references to a particular religious sect as ‘mad’, ‘ignorant’, ‘bad neighbours’ and ‘probable child abusers’ who ‘should be bred out of the human race’ (Simmons and 5 Others and CanWest RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2004-193) and racial slurs that were intentionally pejorative and discriminatory (Richards and The Radio Network Ltd, Decision No. 2000-181).