Press council versus Matt Heath

In April there was some controversy when two Radio Hauraki hosts ridiculed English cricket player Ben Stokes, then when Stokes’ mother rang up to complain they broadcast it live but told her it was off air.

One of the hosts, Matt Heath, wrote an opinion column that was published on NZ Herald: Matt Heath: When a mother sticks up for her famous son

Ben Stokes’ mum got wind of our comments and rang our studio to stick up for her 24-year-old son. I answered her call live on air thinking she was ringing up for a competition. When we found out she was ringing to make a complaint about us, we thought it would be funny to tell her she wasn’t on air so our listeners could hear someone have a go at us.

In my opinion, Ben Stokes’ mum was being an overly protective parent. She’d heard some people had made jokes about her son and wanted to stick it to us. Good on her.

But she shouldn’t have.

I reckon there is a lesson here for all us parents. Fighting your kids’ battles rarely helps.

Within reason, kids have to fight their own battles. That’s how they become resilient like we all are. You won’t always be around for them. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Your kids need to stand up for themselves today.

Give them love, support, advice and a safe home – but don’t ring up a radio station on air because someone called your boy “Ben Chokes”.

So Heath criticised Deborah Stokes and defended his deliberate deception on air.

But Deborah Stokes didn’t leave it at that. She lodged a complaint with the Press Council, who have upheld her complaint.

CASE NO: 2516



TO BE PUBLISHED ON 11 JULY 2016 Confidential to the parties until 11 July 2016

1. Deborah Stokes complains that a column published in the New Zealand Herald entitled “When a mother sticks up for her famous son” breaches Press Council Principles 1, Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, 2, Privacy, and 9, Subterfuge.

2. The complaint is upheld on Principle 1 with regard to fairness. One member would also uphold on Subterfuge.

The Complaint

11. Mrs Stokes’ complaint provides context to the subject of the New Zealand Herald column, namely the live broadcast of the phone call she made to Radio Hauraki. She says she asked for, and was given, two separate assurances by host Matt Heath that the discussion was off-air. It was in fact on air, broadcast live and was subsequently replayed and referred to on the radio breakfast show several times over the next few days.

12. Mrs Stokes complains that the New Zealand Herald column breached three Press Council principles.

13. Principle 9 Subterfuge: Because the column was based on an on-air broadcast that was itself obtained by subterfuge, the information in the column was obtained by the same root subterfuge, misrepresentation and dishonesty. “It goes without saying that the column cannot be justified as being in the public interest,” she says.

14. Principle 1, Fairness: Mrs Stokes claims the actions of Matt Heath in writing a column based on an act of subterfuge breached the fairness principle.

15. Principle 2, Privacy: Mrs Stokes claims it was a breach of her privacy for Heath to have referred to the matter in the column as the radio broadcast itself was also a breach of her privacy.

The Editor’s Response

19. The editor of the New Zealand Herald, Murray Kirkness, defends the newspaper’s decision to publish the column. It is important, he says, to make the distinction between the original live radio broadcast and the subsequent opinion column when considering the facts.

20. He denies that subterfuge was used in obtaining information for the column as the information was already in the public domain prior to the time of publication.

26. Mr Kirkness submits that the publication of the column did not breach any Press Council rules, and did not go any further than what was widely published nationally and internationally in other media. “I believe it would be a matter of significant concern if the media were not able to comment on matters of public controversy by reason of issues arising out of the circumstances in which a story first broke,” he says. “Once an issue is in the public domain and has become a matter of public debate it cannot be the case that it is impermissible for the media to comment on it by reason of some question mark over the manner in which the information originally surfaced.”


27. The New Zealand Herald column published on April 11 is based on the live broadcast on Radio Hauraki on April 6; however the Press Council cannot comment on the radio broadcast as it is the subject of a separate complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, and this adjudication deals only with the article published by the New Zealand Herald in print and online.

28. The column by Matt Heath was clearly an opinion piece; it was not a news report. Opinion pieces are by their very nature frequently provocative, offensive or controversial in subject and tone, but as long as they are clearly signposted as the writer’s opinion, they are exempt from many of the rules which apply to news reports. The Press Council’s Principle 5, Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters, states that “though requirements for a foundation of fact pertain, with comment and opinion, balance is not essential.”

29. In this case, however, we believe the fine line on what can be deemed fair or not fair has been crossed. Heath’s column about over-protective parents, which under normal circumstances is a perfectly acceptable subject for an opinion piece, was clearly a convenient hook to allow him to justify his actions in knowingly deceiving Mrs Stokes on his radio show.

30. In the column Heath openly admitted his dishonesty, which he said he thought would be funny, and then ridiculed Mrs Stokes for defending her son, writing that “a parental attempt to right things ended up bringing global humiliation on her son”.

31. The Press Council does not accept the editor’s argument that the New Zealand Herald article did not go any further than what was widely published nationally and internationally in other media. The difference was that the Herald published an opinion piece written by the perpetrator of the original deceit.

32. We agree with Mrs Stokes’ view that it was not fair for the newspaper to provide Matt Heath a further opportunity to justify his improper actions on his radio show. It is also unfair that he was permitted to add insult to injury by using her as an example of what not to do as a parent. Otherwise he is able to take advantage of his own misleading actions, which is unfair.

33. The complaint that the column breached Principle 1, with respect to fairness is upheld.

34. With regard to the complaints under Principle 9, Subterfuge, and Principle 2, Privacy, it is clear that rightly or wrongly, the subject of the broadcast discussion between Mrs Stokes and the Radio Hauraki hosts was very much in the public domain by the time the column appeared, so the information contained within it cannot be deemed to have been obtained by subterfuge. Mrs Stokes’ identity was by that stage also in the public domain, so her privacy cannot be deemed to have been breached by the New Zealand Herald article.

35. The complaints under Principle 2 and Principle 9 are not upheld.

However one member of the Council also wanted the complaint upheld on grounds of subterfuge and wanted his dissent noted. The column relied on an interview based on deception, and regardless of whether that interview was broadcast on radio or was simply part of the columnist’s research, the deception remains and, in his mind, was grounds for a wider uphold.

Regardless of this, the actions of Heath (and Jeremy Wells) on air were crappy, and Heath doubled down on his crap with the column.

The Herald published the full finding in Press Council upholds complaint against Matt Heath column.


Announcer arses

Why do some radio stations, and to a lesser extent TV channels, think that it’s a good thing to have announcers acting like arses?

NZ Herald reports that two announcers (Matt Heath and Jeremy Wells) have been ‘suitably reprimanded’ and will be off air today, but then said “they are flying to Las Vegas for a work-related project”. That doesn’t sound like much of a reprimand. It sounds more like ‘get stuffed, we’ll act like arses if we want to’.

Radio Hauraki hosts reprimanded for on-air stunt

Radio Hauraki hosts Matt Heath and Jeremy Wells have been reprimanded for an on-air stunt when they aired an interview with the mother of England cricketer Ben Stokes despite assuring her it was off air.

Deborah Stokes called Radio Hauraki to complain about comments made about Ben, who was hit for four consecutive sixes by West Indies batsman Carlos Brathwaite in the final over of the World T20 cricket final on Monday morning.

Stokes, who was born in New Zealand, became the brunt of some jibes because of comments he made ahead of the final in which he said he enjoyed “the big moments in games”.

Mrs Stokes asked to speak to someone off air at Radio Hauraki and, after being assured by Heath she was, said she was “brassed off” about the attacks on him.

NZME group progamme director Mike McClung said Heath and Wells had been rebuked.

“Matt and Jeremy are famous for identifying where the line is and then ignoring it, however putting Ben’s mum to air without her knowledge, albeit defending her son, was obviously well over that line,” McClung said in a statement.

“They’ve been suitably reprimanded, and are off-air tomorrow.”

Heath and Wells are flying to Las Vegas tomorrow for a work-related project.

That comes across as a very poor ‘rebuke’. The Herald and Radio Hauraki are both owned by NZME.

Media rival Stuff also reports on this, saying that Stokes has not received any apology.

Radio hosts Jeremy Wells and Matt Heath in trouble over call from Ben Stokes’ mum.

Deborah Stokes, the mother of English cricketer Ben Stokes, said she she has received no apology after controversial radio hosts Jeremy Wells and Matt Heath broadcast a conversation with her after telling her she was off air.

While Radio Hauraki said the pair had been “suitably reprimanded, and are off-air tomorrow,” sources close to the pair said they were never due to be on air on Thursday as they were headed to Las Vegas on a promotional jaunt. Deborah Stokes said she was unaware if Wells or Heath had been punished because no-one had contacted her.

On Wednesday evening Wells and Heath posted a photo on Hauraki Breakfast Facebook page of them at the airport with champagne and a message, “Feeling really remorseful for what we done. On route to Vegas for that important business trip.” report says Heath twice told Deborah Stokes she was off air – but continued the conversation despite discovering she was the mother of the English allrounder.

Stokes said on Wednesday night no-one from NZME had spoken her to say they were sorry for the prank.

“The first I knew about it (Wells and Heath not working on Thursday morning) was when a friend said it (the story) was online,” Stokes said. “It might have been nice to get one (an apology).”

Announcers bagging sports people seemingly for fun and for ratings looks bad enough.

But lying to someone ringing up with what sounded like reasonable concerns, saying they were not on air when they were speaking live, is a particularly arsy thing to do, and Radio Hauraki and NZME seem to be taking the piss with their report of a Clayton’s reprimand and no apology.

As well as being prats on Radio Hauraki  Heath and Wells are also contracted by NZ Cricket “on a season by season basis as part of radio’s Alternative Commentary Collective”.

I’ve never listened to the alternative commentary, and certainly have no interestbut with behaviour like this I think NZ Cricket should carefully consider what sort of arses they support.

The Herald also published this:


It’s not a surprise to see heath and Wells still acting like arses, but it’s a very bad look for the Herald to be acting like arses on this as well.

I think the Herald owes the stokes an apology as well – a proper one.