Laws' comments about shooting journalists were over the line - BSA

Michael Laws. Photo / APN
Michael Laws. Photo / APN

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.

The statement had crossed a boundary, the ruling said.

"We do not think that any small group of identifiable local people should be subject to language of the kind that Mr Laws used in the central part of his comment. We see no difference between specific journalists in their specific newsroom and other specific people doing their work in a specific place."

Mr Laws did not breach law and order standards as the violent metaphors he used were not meant to be taken literally, the BSA ruled.

"We accept that Mr Laws was not intending that any listener should follow his advice. His comments were so extreme as not to be taken literally by anybody other than somebody who was mentally unbalanced."

The BSA acknowledged freedom of speech concerns over the finding.

It would take no further action on the issue.

A minority view from BSA member Mary Anne Shanahan said Mr Laws did not breach good taste and decency standards as he was challenging the media in a provocative way.

He had spoken in his usual tone and was not seriously imploring listeners to commit violent acts, she said.

"The speech here was essentially political, which is speech that is valued, and should be curbed only to prevent the harm to which the standard is directed."

What Michael Laws said:

"We are discussing this morning, really one of the great issues of the campaign, but unfortunately you won't have to hear it because the media have gone mad, rabid. If I had a gun I'd shoot them, put them out of their misery, because they have gone rabid and they may infect others.

"And that's the thing about the media, have you noticed? That one - the Herald on Sunday for example which is rabid all the time, no idea why somebody just hasn't taken a shotgun there and cleaned out the entire news room. But the infection has spread, so it goes to the Herald of course it does, and it infected TV3, well they're in Auckland of course it does, and then it sort of spreads from there.

"This is the reason why, if you see a rabid journalist, you shoot them straight away, and then the infection doesn't spread. But look at them now, you know they're all completely mad, so you know, you just lay your bait, put down a bit of cyanide somewhere in a news room, and you know just hope there isn't too much collateral birdlife that's killed."

What the BSA ruled:

"Laws' language breached standards of good taste and decency in the sense that it had the potential to distress or offend.

"We see this as a complaint which requires boundaries to be set. We think that the broadcaster went over the boundary. Having endeavoured to mark the boundary more clearly, and expecting broadcasters to take care in the future, we do not consider that any order is warranted."

The full text of the decision can be found here.

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