BSA says Laws can’t advocate killing journalists

The Herald reports:

Talkback host Michael Laws breached good taste and decency standards in an on-air tirade about shooting Herald on Sunday journalists, the Broadcasting Standards Authority has ruled.

In his Radio Live morning slot on November 18, Mr Laws accused the media of going “mad” over the Teapots Tapes scandal engulfing election coverage and said “if I had a gun I’d shoot them, put them out of their misery”.

He called the Herald on Sunday “rabid” and questioned why somebody hadn’t “taken a shotgun there and cleaned out the entire news room”.

In a majority ruling issued this afternoon, a BSA panel found the part of the diatribe referring to shooting Herald on Sunday journalists breached good taste and decency standards as it had the potential to distress or offend.

This is hardly a surprise. The BSA ruling is here. It was a 3-1 majority decision. The majority said:

In our view, some of the words in the statement embraced specificity. They embraced specific people in a specific target area and they referred to the specific weapon of a shotgun being used to kill these people. When these words are heard or read, they do convey an image of a small group of known and specified people in Auckland being shot. We do not think that the use of metaphor or any attempt at humour was sufficient to disconnect the words used from the reality of the image. We think it likely that there was a conscious effort on the part of Mr Laws to create this image to shock and attract attention but in such a way that it could be passed off as something light and frivolous. It is difficult to achieve both of these objectives, that is, to shock and attract attention with imagery, but to have this imagery being seen as humorous or unreal.

In other words it is okay to talk generally about shooting journalists, but not okay to talk abour shooting specific journalists 🙂

They also note:

There is some irony in Mr Laws, under the mantle of freedom of expression, saying that journalists who expressed views with which he did not agree should be closed down (or “shot”). We see that as being a legitimate manifestation of freedom of expression so long as the language does not go too far.

There is a tendency for some broadcasters, out of a desire to shock, to test the boundaries of acceptability. It is our responsibility to endeavour to determine where the boundaries of acceptability lie. On this occasion we judge the totality of the words used by Mr Laws as having gone too far.

The dissenting view:

I find that Mr Laws’ speech on this occasion fell within the same permissible range as the speech considered in these cases. I do not consider that the “specificity” of Mr Laws’ comments in this case took them beyond what was acceptable. In previous complaints which were not upheld, Paul Henry was specific in his comments about Afghan security forces.18 Paul Holmes was specific in suggesting Noam Chomsky be shot.19 Indeed the colloquialism invariably involves a specific candidate, or candidates, for shooting. The target of Mr Laws’ speech was specific (but not to the degree of identifying an individual), and legitimately so, as that necessarily follows given the subject being considered was the media, and specifically the Herald on Sunday, and its behaviour over the “tea tapes” incident.

So other specific references to shooting has not been upheld.

The style of talkback hosts may and does vary widely. The context here is Mr Laws. Like South Park, his programme has its own demographic. His programme is long-running. Mr Laws’ usual listeners would not have been surprised or offended. Others who find him distasteful are sufficiently well informed by the well known nature of his programme to make an informed choice about whether or not to listen.

In other words, don’t listen to Michael if you are going to be offended by him. Sage advice.

Comments (26)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment

%d bloggers like this: