Mike Hosking: You do the crime, you do the time

So Mike Hosking has stuck his lower lip out over the BSA ruling against him. But his column attacking the standards body has wider ramifications than just him and his mistake

Suck it up, buttercup. Take your medicine. Don't whinge and claim to be misunderstood, just take responsibility. That's the sort of advice often offered on talkback radio, yet Mike Hosking seems to have missed that memo with his ill-advised Herald column this morning on a Broadcasting Standards Authority ruling against him.

The breakfast radio host and former Seven Sharp presenter got whacked this week with a complaint upheld by the BSA, in which it said he misled his viewers when he told his co-host Toni Street, 

"You can't vote for the Māori Party because you're not enrolled in the Māori electorate".

Of course Street can vote for the Maori Party, just not in any electorate. She could have given the Maori Party her party vote. So he clarified the next night in a most reluctant manner, saying he "appeared to have confused the Maori Party" (not his viewers) with his statement. 

What he meant, he sighed, was that the Maori Party was an electorate party, only in parliament because hey had won a seat. And to vote for them in a Maori electorate, you have had to be on the Maori roll. He assumed everyone - everyone! - knew they could give them their party vote. (Although he rather confusing said they could vote for it as 'a list part', as if that is somehow different from an electorate party. But hey, everyone knows this stuff, right?).

Some saw this as post-fact justification or an expression of ignorance. Some thought it a fuss about nothing. But somebody saw it as a breach of broadcasting standards and complained to the body empowered in law to uphold those standards. It decided his comments on prime time TV "had the potential to significantly affect voters' understanding of the Māori roll and of New Zealand's electoral system" just weeks out from an election. That means TVNZ as the broadcaster will have to apologise on air.

Now you can argue this decision all the way to the next election and reasonable people can disagree. But with power and position comes responsibility, so what you don't get to do is spit the dummy when you get told off and rant at the judge.

Yet that's what Hosking did this morning. He directly contradicted the BSA, saying he didn't mislead the nation. He went on, writing:

"...they don't have a sense of humour, or indeed any understanding of the realities of broadcasting, like you shouldn't take everything literally.... This was a throwaway line, it was a flippant remark given Toni was never voting for the Maori Party." 


"But the BSA was having none of it. And so sadly, once again, we have paid for a bunch of humourless earnest clipboarders to sit around pontificating and writing reports."

This is dangerous stuff and a rather worrying abuse of power. When someone is sentenced by the Court in New Zealand, they don't get a newspaper column in which to vilify the judge. And for good reason. Hosking may disagree with the ruling, but you suck it up and take your dues. That is another of the realities of broadcasting, and Hosking should realise that.

Yes, standards bodies get to pontificate; it's their job. I know, as the digital rep on the New Zealand Media Council (until recently, the Press Council). The bodies exist to protect free speech, balance the power between the media and the audiences it serves and ensure those people with the megaphone act according to agreed ethics. As with anything we do in society, there are rules. If Hosking doesn't like the rules, he can argue to change them. He can cry into his pinot at home.

But he doesn't get to whine about them in print when he gets pinged.

That undermines not only the responsibilities all broadcasters should feel keenly, but also the freedoms they are privilged to enjoy. If individuals get to rant back with impunity against the impartial judges they and their bosses have agreed to subject themselves to (in this case by law), then the system will break. Standards will fall. Our audience's already tenuous trust in the efforts of most media professionals to be fair and balanced will be strained further. 

His bosses at both ZB and the Herald should quickly clarify whether or not they endorse his judgment in penning this attack. Indeed, the fact this column was printed at all raises the question whether he saw fit to run such a significant decision past a superior or if he's a law unto himself.

So think what you like about the BSA and its decision, but the rule of law matters, even when it comes to media standards. Hosking would now be wise to get over it, see the wood for the trees, and apologise personally. Because, to use another truism you often hear on talk radio, no-one's bigger than the game.