1 Aug 2021

‘Hussy’ OK says BSA (*in context)

From Mediawatch, 7:09 pm on 1 August 2021

ZB’s Mike Hosking called Meghan Markle “a hussy” on the air earlier this year. It was a rude and sexist slur on someone he didn’t know at all  - and it prompted formal complaints to the broadcasting watchdog. But the BSA says it wasn’t a breach of broadcasting standards.

Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle watches the US Open Championships women's singles final match in New York

Photo: AFP

Meghan Markle generates lots of clickbait and talk radio traction. 

The New Zealand Herald's news and lifestyle sections carry articles about her almost every day - and their stablemates at Newstalk ZB are on the same page too. 

Newstalk ZB’s Kate Hawkesby has aired at least two dozen personal on-air condemnations of the duchess - and her husband Harry.

Her own spouse Mike Hosking seems equally uptight about the duchess. 

Back in March he had this on-air spray at her - over reports some of her staff had been forced out of their jobs: 

"We see her for what she is don't we? A sort of shallow self-absorbed, attention-seeking, woke, bandwagon-riding hussy. We'd be better off without her."

He and his NZME family really would miss her if she was gone  - so much space and airtime do they fill with what they make of her. 

At the time, that old-fashioned but gratuitous and sexist insult ‘hussy’ struck some as over-the-top. 

It’s commonly understood to mean someone who’s sexually promiscuous. 

In the case of Meghan Markle that was either untrue - or none of Hosking’s business even if it was.

So is it really okay in 2021 to call anyone a hussy on the air? 

Some who thought not confronted Newstalk ZB about it.

The network didn’t agree: 

“We strongly reject the claim that the host’s use of this word is sexist or misogynistic.”

Two women complained to the official watchdog, the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA), that it breached the good taste and decency standard and one that it breached the standard for discrimination and denigration. 

And six months on, the verdict is in

NZME told the BSA Hosking is well-known as “outspoken" and was “entitled to voice his opinion of Ms Markle.” 

And they said their Oxford English dictionary said 'hussy' means:

'A girl or woman who behaves in a disrespectful or inappropriate way  - or who has many casual sexual relationships.' 

They said Hosking only meant Meghan Markle was the former kind of “hussy.”

It also made the point that ‘hussy’ is not in the BSA’s 2018 publication “Language that May Offend in Broadcasting."

The BSA concluded calling Markle a "hussy" was not likely to have caused “widespread undue offence or distress -  or undermined widely-shared community standards”

With regard to the broadcasting standard for discrimination and denigration, NZME said that only applies to recognised sections of the community, not individuals. 

But the BSA decided ‘hussy’ was specific to women, who do “constitute a recognised section of society” - so the discrimination and denigration standard applies.


“The importance of freedom of expression means that a high level of condemnation - often with an element of malice or nastiness - will be necessary to conclude that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in contravention of the standard.”

Calling Markle a hussy in the way he did didn’t meet the threshold, according to the BSA.

So if a woman in the public eye behaves in a way a broadcaster disapproves of, it seems it's OK by the BSA to describe her that way -- especially if you’re known to be outspoken, so long as you tone down any surrounding malice, menace or nastiness.