New Zealand Law Society - Newstalk ZB host breached broadcasting standards

Newstalk ZB host breached broadcasting standards

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The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has found comments made by Newstalk ZB host Heather du Plessis-Allan, referring to Pacific Islands as leeches, breached broadcasting standards.

It has ordered the broadcaster, NZME Radio, to broadcast a statement during Wellington Mornings with Heather du Plessis-Allan, summarising the BSA’s decision and to pay $3,000 in costs to the Crown.

The decision and order relates to a talkback discussion about the Prime Minister attending the Pacific Islands forum in Nauru, during which Ms du Plessis-Allan said: “I mean, it’s the Pacific Islands. What are we going to get out of them? They are nothing but leeches on us. I mean, the Pacific Islands want money from us. We don’t need money from them.”

In a follow-up broadcast, Ms du Plessis-Allan attempted to clarify her comments saying: “[s]ome chap … from the Green Party said I ‘casually dehumanised our Pacific peoples’. Oh my gosh. Did I? Or did I say the Pacific Islands? I don’t know, confusing people with islands?”

The Authority determined that the comments breached the good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards as they were inflammatory, devalued the reputation of Pacific people within New Zealand, and had the potential to cause widespread harm.

In acknowledging the important role talkback radio plays in cultivating discussion and debate about controversial ideas and opinions, the BSA noted this “does not mean anything goes or that the host is able to offend without censure.”

“[O]n this occasion we found the severity of the comments and their significant potential to cause harm, through distress and denigration, justified the upholding of these complaints and the restriction of the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. We consider that even in the talkback context these statements went too far.”

The BSA also found Ms du Plessis-Allan’s attempted clarification in the second broadcast did not remedy the breaches or mitigate the harm caused by her earlier comments. In making orders the Authority determined that the additional comments in the second broadcast “inflamed the distress caused”.

The Authority considered Ms du Plessis-Allan was disingenuous in subsequently arguing that she had been referring to the Pacific Islands as leeches, rather than the people themselves.

“Countries are not just plots of land. They are the land and their people,” the Authority stated.