Last Thursday Thane Kirby and Kara Rickard celebrated the five-year anniversary of their breakfast show on dance music station George FM by ridiculing women over photos on their Instagram accounts. Calling the stunt "social media intervention", they targeted women in their late teens and early twenties, calling them "rank", "hoes", and "do-nothing bitches" who "sit around and post half-naked pictures of themselves on Instagram". The hosts didn't respond to a request from VICE for comment on the segment.
This attack is the latest in a series by radio hosts from MediaWorks, a company that owns 10 radio stations throughout New Zealand as well as TV and web platforms, and seems indicative of a bad trend across New Zealand radio. MediaWorks has defended the culture of "mischievous but innocuous pranks and jokes". But their insistence that this is all in good fun has drawn criticism. "It's not good enough that New Zealand radio gets away with misogyny like this under the guise of humour," Anna Bracewell-Worrall, the news director of Auckland alternative radio station 95bFM, told VICE. "We see a lot of it in competitive breakfast radio. It's antiquated."
Despite the backlash over last week's segment, media critic Russell Brown points out the behaviour "isn't exactly new". Speaking to VICE he said, "MediaWorks' first really big success was with The Rock, a dudebro station that repeatedly shrugged off complaints about sexist content." As he said, "a common thread here seems to be the acceptance of bullying as entertainment."
Following the George FM stunt, Anna spoke to the two women who had been the focus of the attack. "I was honestly shocked at the extent and cruelty of what I heard," she said. One of the women, 19-year-old Devon Bayer, said Thane requested to follow her private account, then attacked her for her photos on-air, calling her and other women "sluts and good-for-nothing bitches". Bayer and Keely Paige, another woman targeted by the hosts, didn't responded to requests for comment.
As Russell flagged, radio hosts using social media to shame people—especially women—is becoming a trend in New Zealand. In June The Edge radio host Dominic Harvey planned to play "trans for a day" (changing it to "dress-up day" after complaints rolled in), and in July he tweeted screenshots of a Dancing with the Stars contestant's crotch, captioning it "Crystal just showing Art [her former The Bachelor co-star] what he missed out on." Earlier this year Dominic, his wife Jay-Jay Harvey, and their co-host Mike Puru repeatedly asked female contestants from The Bachelor (which screened on MediaWorks' TV3) to shove a cucumber down their throat for a game they called "The Cucumber Number". Whoever bit down the furthest along the cucumber won.
Like most of the hosts' stunts, it met immediate backlash and a complaint was made to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA), a government appeal body. But last week the BSA dismissed the broadcast, saying it "did not contain any explicit sexual content" and that it was "meant to be humorous rather than offensive".
It turns out that it's not unusual for the BSA to dismiss incidents like this – they only uphold about one-fifth of all complaints they receive. Their stance is reflective of New Zealand's culture of casual dismissal that stems from a fear of "PC gone mad". It's partly what has allowed this sexist radio to persist, and it trickles down from the top.
And when we say the top, you could argue it includes New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. The PM is popular for his down-to-earth, everyman, "I could imagine having a BBQ with him"-type image. This means he feels at ease repeatedly pulling the ponytail of his local waitress (and small children), and telling the media Liz Hurley would be "thrilled" to hear he finds her "hot".
But arguably his most cringe worthy moment was when he twisted an apology opposition leader David Cunliffe made to Women's Refuge about domestic violence by wearing a T-shirt that said "I'm not sorry for being a man" on—you guessed it—The Edge. It wasn't the first time the Prime Minister endorsed the shock jocks – Key wrote the foreword to Dominic's second book in 2012.
In an open letter earlier this year, The National Council of Women of New Zealand's Chief Executive, Sue McCabe, summed it up as: "The fact that our Prime Minister has joined the list of people outed for sexism highlights how much sexism is a part of our culture."
But it's worth recognising that this isn't a simple men against women issue. Female radio personalities are also active in this behaviour. Paige told Anna that Kara Rickard's slurs hurt her "ten times more" because she is a woman. Bayer also said she thought Kara "said a lot worse things" than Thane, and "actually did most of [the abuse]". By diving in and participating in this harassment, these women are not only giving this culture their permission, they're perpetuating it.
The Edge host Jay-Jay Harvey not only stood by her husband while he pressured multiple women into simulating oral sex on vegetables on-air—she provided commentary. When Dominic criticised one woman's "pathetic amount of cucumber", instead of protesting or even pausing to reconsider, Jay-Jay blithely said, "That's all right."
In another poignant open letter , Women's Refuge New Zealand highlighted how verbal abuse is "just as dangerous" as physical assault because "it's actually what underlies… and excuses violence against women". They invited radio hosts to do domestic violence awareness training with them and report that MediaWorks have already accepted their offer. So take a little comfort in a small effort being made to address the country's culture of sexism.
Follow Sarah on Twitter
For more New Zealand content like VICE on Facebook