Combative Sean Plunket appointed to Broadcasting Standards Authority

Broadcaster and TOP communications director is in the unusual position of having seen life from both sides of the BSA fence.
Sean Plunket served a colourful stint as TOP's communications director during the campaign

Something I (and other media) missed during the hurly-burly of the campaign but the Twitterati picked up on overnight: On September 7, the New Zealand Government Gazette ran a brief statement from Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Maggie Barry, announcing Sean Plunket had been appointed to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – the body that deals with viewer and listener complaints about allegedly offensive content.

Mr Plunket will serve a three-year term as a BSA director and sit on a panel of four that assesses complaints.

The broadcaster and media trainer is now in the unusual position of having seen the BSA live from both sides of the fence.

In 2015, the authority fielded two complaints about what was described as a "bullying" personal attack on Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton. The complainants thought Mr Plunket had called the Man Booker Prize winner an ungrateful "whore" on RadioLive.

Mr Plunket said he had in fact said "hua," a Maori insult not specific to any gender.

The BSA ruled that  “The severity of [Plunket’s] attack and the hostility and aggression of the language used … raised the question of whether this attack went too far."

But it added that such comments were to be expected in the context of talkback radio, and freedom of expression by both Ms Catton (who earlier said  "New Zealand is dominated by “neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture") and Mr Plunket in his response.

"This is how we think things are meant to work in a liberal democracy. We do not think that our society would be better off if views such as those of the radio host were staunched," the authority said as it dismissed the complaints.

Plunket is not averse to envelope-pushing social media posts, from giving TVNZ the bash to an endless series of tweets aimed at Lizzie Marvelly that earned a ticking off from John Edwards ("I really don't understand why you get off trolling a young woman") to his series of tweets on Election Day dropping heaving hints about voting for TOP. The Electoral Commission says it's investigating his posts.

During the 2017 election cycle, Mr Plunket served as communications director for Gareth Morgan's The Opportunities Party.

He attacked the role with his usual front-foot verve, getting into disputes with The Spinoff's Duncan Grieve and Herald contributor Lizzie Marvelly, and even managing to flingYoung Ones-style insult at yours truly. My personal take: he brought out Mr Morgan's worst side, and distracted from policy discussion.

Mr Plunket did not immediately return a request for comment.

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