New Zealand Law Society - Screwdriver suggestion not inciting unlawful acts, says BSA

Screwdriver suggestion not inciting unlawful acts, says BSA

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The Broadcasting Standards Authority has refused to uphold a complaint that a talkback radio host encouraged listeners to break the law with a suggestion to run a screwdriver through the artwork on a "Wicked Camper" van.

In Cowsill and New Zealand Media and Entertainment 2016-031 (27 June 2016), the host, Leighton Smith, discussed Wicked Campers with a caller on NewstalkZB on 21 March 2016.

Mr Smith said: "[Wicked Campers] are the product of a sick mind as far as I'm concerned. Now I'm interested to know what your reaction is to my suggestion that if you see one of these, you know, if you're offended by one of these vans, run a screwdriver down through the so-called artwork."

The caller laughed and said "It'll be just my luck there'll be a security camera somewhere and then I'll get done."

Mr Smith replied: "I wonder what the outcome would be if you're going around damaging other people's property - it's not on my list of things to do, mind you - but is there a time where, justifiably, you can do something like that?"

The complainant said Mr Smith's comments were irresponsible and encouraged listeners to break the law.

The BSA decision says the issue was whether the broadcast breached the law and order standard as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

It says the intend behind the standard is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity.

In considering whether the broadcast could reasonably be expected to incite listeners to commit unlawful acts, it had regard to:

  • The nature of talkback radio, "as a robust, opinionated environment".
  • "The light-hearted and jovial tone of the conversation between Mr Smith and the caller".
  • NewstalkZB's adult target audience; and
  • Audience expectations of the host and the programme.

The BSA says it does not consider that Mr Smith was seriously advocating for listeners to damage Wicked Campers.

"Nor do we think that it would have had this effect, taking into account the above contextual factors. Mr Smith's comments did not amount to a call to violence or to inciting a criminal act, but rather posing a question and musing about what would happen if people took matters into their own hands."

The BSA says talkback radio programmes and their hosts are known for making provocative statements "with the aim of instigating robust discussion with callers".

"In this case we think Mr Smith was simply reflecting public sentiment on the issue, and we are satisfied this was all that the comments amounted to."

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