An Auckland man charged with threatening to kill veteran broadcaster Mike Hosking has been discharged without conviction, because of the impact a conviction would have on his employment.
Sinapati Tuugasala, 60, appeared at Manukau District Court today for sentencing after making a death threat to the Newstalk ZB breakfast radio host on August 27 last year.
The court heard how Tuugasala made a call to Newstalk ZB after he "took umbrage" at Hosking's comments to the Prime Minister during a "robust" interview.
Hosking had made a suggestion to Jacinda Ardern that she improved her Covid-19 because: "you got caught with your pants down".
Tuugasala's legal counsel David Wang said he took the idiom Hosking used about getting "caught with your pants down" as a literal thing rather than a figure of speech because his English is limited. Tuugasala moved to New Zealand in 2004. He is Samoan.
"He misunderstood why that line was used against Prime Minister Ms Ardern. He understands what the interview was about but not the direct meaning of that line.
"He thought Hosking was directly referring to Ms Ardern with her pants down."
The idiom seemed demeaning and sexist to Tuugasala, the court heard.
In his call to Newstalk ZB, Tuugasala asked to speak with Hosking, but was refused. He then asked for Hosking's personal phone number, and when it was not given to him, he threatened to go into the studio and kill him the next morning.
Tuugasala had heard the interview after a "long shift" as a security guard at border control at Auckland International Airport, where he had worked for 18 months.
Auckland was in alert level 3 Covid-19 restrictions at the time, and Tuugasala had been a security guard throughout the alert level 4 lockdown.
In an affidavit paraphrased by Judge Patel, Tuugasala said he was "exhausted, it was a stressful time".
"You were in constant fear of contracting Covid-19, and also passing it on to your family."
His family also feared for his health, given his risk of contracting the virus due to his age.
In his affidavit Tuugasala said Ardern had "done a good job" in leading the country in its response to Covid-19.
He said that the way Hosking treated Ardern made him very angry. A police summary of facts said Tuugasala is a Labour Party supporter.
"You also felt umbrage personally, given you consider you had risked your own health working at border for greater good of community," said Judge Patel.
"You felt proud of what you did, felt you were protecting community against virus in a hands-on way."
Judge Patel said some might have described Hosking's style of interview with Ardern as "robust" or some interpreted it as "rude", and that Hosking interrupted Ardern on a number of occasions.
"Regardless of style of content, it provides no excuse for calling the radio station and making [a] threat.
"Media play an important part in our democracy, provide public with in-depth factual information and act as watchdog against abuses of power."
Judge Patel said if there is a disagreement with some views expressed in the media, it's important to approach with calmness.
"We have a proud history of doing that in this country... it's a real shame you are here today."
Tuugasala pleaded guilty and offered to apologise to Hosking in person, as part of restorative justice. This did not go ahead, but a letter of apology was provided to court.
This showed genuine remorse, Judge Patel said.
A decision was made to discharge Tuugasala without conviction because of the risk that a conviction would render him "unsuitable for continued employment" and put his future employment options at risk.
When asked if he had any questions, Tuugasala said: "no your Honour, just thank you very much."
He was aided by a Samoan interpreter. He has no previous convictions.
The maximum penalty for the charge is seven years in prison.
Hosking won best talk presenter for his three-hour show at the 2020 NZ Radio Awards. He has hosted the show since 2008 after the departure of Paul Holmes.
Hosking is also well-known for his time hosting Seven Sharp.