Broadcasting Standards Authority tells anti-vaxxers not to bother complaining about discrimination

Anti-vaxxers thinking about complaining to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) about being discriminated against probably shouldn't bother.

The watchdog says comments aired on TV or radio about people based on their vaccination status "are unlikely to be considered discrimination or denigration under broadcasting standards".

More than half of all complaints laid in recent months have been related to COVID-19.

On Tuesday the BSA said it had thrown out three complaints against high-profile broadcasters.

'Endless propaganda'

The first involved Newstalk ZB Mike Hosking, who hosts the station's morning show. In September he publicly called for the Government to hurry up with vaccine mandates, citing low uptake amongst some district health board staff.

"Overall it's estimated about 75 percent of the roughly 80,000 strong DHB workforce is fully vaccinated," he told Mike Hosking Breakfast listeners. "If that’s the best they can do, mandates can't come fast enough. You either get jabbed or you don't work, simple as that."

Complainant Osmyn Morgan claimed this was discrimination and denigration, accusing Newstalk ZB owner NZME of "endless propaganda". Morgan said the station should give "equal and fair air time" to groups like Voices for Freedom and NZDSOS, which have been spreading misinformation about the vaccines, and lawyer Sue Grey, who has represented people challenging the vaccine mandates in court and is under investigation by the Law Society for spreading misinformation.

He also said COVID-19 wasn't an emergency, falsely claiming anti-parasitic medicine ivermectin can be used to treat the viral illness.

The BSA said it declined to determine the complaint, because "there is consensus around the safety of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine", no reliable evidence ivermectin works, and the "discrimination and denigration standard does not apply to the 'unvaccinated' or those who oppose vaccines".

"Much of the complaint relates to the complainant’s personal views as to what perspectives the broadcaster should include in its programming. This is a matter of personal preference and editorial discretion which does not raise broadcasting standards issues."

'Pup tent'

Two complaints laid against TVNZ current affairs show Seven Sharp were also thrown out.

After an interview about the mandates with an employment lawyer, hosts Jeremy Wells and Hilary Barry were discussing what to do if unvaccinated guests show up to your dinner party.

"You can't let them in the house. I don't know. You could set up a pup tent out the back, I guess," said Barry, adding their food could be delivered "on a tray".

"So awkward… should've been vaccinated, soz."

Complainant Robert Laroche said anti-vaxxers are "continually subjected to discrimination, derision, coercion and ridicule by making such offensive and provocative comments", saying there would be calls for her sacking "if she were to have made those remarks about somebody who is, for example black, gay, Muslim or transgender".

Two others - Ian and Karilyn Breed - said there was "no scientific basis" for Barry's remarks, calling opposition to vaccines "legitimate expression" and a "political belief".

"TVNZ's tendency, alongside other mainstream media providers, has been to indoctrinate people as opposed to educating them," the Breeds complained.

The state broadcaster called it a "light-hearted exchange" and Barry's comments were "clearly her opinion", so not required to be balanced.

The BSA said it wouldn't consider the complaints for similar reasons it rejected those made against Hosking.

'Serious end of the spectrum'

The BSA did uphold a complaint against APNA Television, a channel which Freeview describes as "New Zealand’s first 24/7 free-to-air Indian entertainment channel".

An episode of Talanoa Sa'o featured far-right activist Damien de Ment talking to hosts Leao Tildsley, and Fuiavailili Ala'ilima about a range of subjects, which complainants said contained "a number of false or misleading claims", including COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and that a baby born alive after a failed abortion was "left to die".

APNA said the show had since been taken off the air. The BSA told it to broadcast a statement correcting the errors and pay the Crown costs of $500, saying its offending was "at the serious end of the spectrum".

"This carries a level of responsibility with it, especially with regard to issues like COVID-19 when there are considerable impacts on the public when standards are not observed," the BSA said in a statement on Friday.