Newstalk ZB segment mocking teenage climate activist Izzy Cook ruled unfair by BSA

Newstalk ZB star Heather du Plessis-Allan.
The interview took place in September. Photo credit: Newstalk ZB

The Broadcasting Standards Authority has ruled NZME was right to uphold a complaint about a Newstalk ZB segment in which a teenage climate activist was ridiculed live on-air, deeming the incident "unfair".

The authority also ruled a subsequent on-air apology about the segment didn't appear genuine and "was used as an opportunity to further mock" the teen, however it is not requiring any further action be taken by NZME.

Izzy Cook, 16, is the  Schools Strike for Climate (SS4C) organiser and was interviewed on September 23, 2022 by Heather du Plessis-Allan.

During the segment Cook said she'd recently travelled to Fiji, despite her group calling for a ban on "unnecessary air travel". Du Plessis-Allan responded by "hysterically laughing at and teasing the interviewee for over a minute", the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) decision said.

A complaint was laid alleging the broadcast had breached the standards of fairness, offensive and disturbing content, children's interests, and discrimination and denigration.

Newstalk ZB conceded the segment breached the fairness standard due to the interviewee subject's age and NZME upheld the initial complaint. 

An apology was issued to Cook by du Plessis-Allan and ZB's parent company, NZME.

However, the complainants then referred this decision to the BSA, claiming "actions by the broadcaster were insufficient".

The BSA said it agreed the interview breached the fairness standard, but considered the action taken by the broadcaster - including apologies to the teen activist by du Plessis-Allan and NZME - sufficient to address the breach.

The BSA found the segment was not sufficiently offensive to breach the offensive and disturbing content standard; the complainants' concerns under the children's interests standard were better dealt with under fairness; and the discrimination and denigration standard did not apply.

"Overall, we found the interview went further than simply critiquing and questioning SS4C's policies and the interviewee's alleged hypocrisy, and instead amounted to ridicule, which was unfair," the BSA said.

"We acknowledge there was foreseeable harm in the form of embarrassment in the moment for the activist, and further ridiculing/bullying online. The apology on air did not appear genuine and was used as an opportunity to further mock and criticise the interviewee."

However, the BSA has decided no further action is required in this case due to NZME's earlier actions.