Abey-Koch and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2020-060 (24 November 2020)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Leigh Pearson
- Louis Abey-Koch
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority declined to determine a complaint that the broadcaster breached broadcasting standards for failing to broadcast the whole of the Director-General of Health’s briefing during the COVID-19 lockdown period. The Authority acknowledged the importance and value of the Director-General’s COVID-19 briefings particularly during the COVID-19 lockdown period. However, it found the complaint did not raise any issue of broadcasting standards capable of being resolved by the complaints procedure.
Declined to determine: Programme Information
 During a broadcast of the 1pm Radio New Zealand news bulletin on 21 May 2020, Radio New Zealand (RNZ) crossed over to the 1pm briefing from the Director-General of Health shortly after it had commenced and therefore did not broadcast the beginning of the briefing. The broadcaster also returned to the scheduled programming prior to the briefing concluding.
 In considering this complaint, we have listened to a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 Mr Abey-Koch complained that the broadcast breached the Programme Information standard of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice on the basis the broadcaster’s actions resulted in the public not being informed of the current level of virus management. He added:
- The members of his household are over 70 years’ of age and were confined to their houses and the 1pm announcement from the Director-General of Health was their only means of information on the progress of the virus.
- A public information broadcast from the Director-General of Health on the topic of a national emergency cannot be subject to editorial choice.
The broadcaster’s response
 RNZ did not uphold Mr Abey-Koch’s complaint on the grounds the complaint raised an issue of editorial choice rather than formal broadcasting standards. RNZ provided the following reasons:
- The broadcaster has to make an editorial choice as to whether to complete a news item in the bulletin, then transfer to the briefing or whether to cut short a news story half way through the item.
- It was not known exactly when the Director-General’s briefing was going to start and whether he was going to impart important information straight away rather than making cursory or introductory remarks.
- While the announcement of the number of new cases was missed, the statistics were summarised at the end of the news bulletin.
Outcome: Declined to Determine
 Under section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, we can decline to determine a complaint if we consider that in all the circumstances of the complaint, it should not be determined.
 We have considered the complaint and acknowledge the complainant’s genuinely held concerns and the importance and value of the Director-General’s briefings, particularly during the COVID-19 lockdown period and amongst those in the complainant’s age group, given their increased vulnerability to the virus. However, we find that the complaint does not raise any issue of broadcasting standards.
 The complaint is under the programme information standard (Standard 2). The purpose of this standard is to ensure that audiences are properly informed about the content of programmes on offer.1 The issue raised by the complainant however does not relate to the content of the programme. It relates to what was omitted from the programme due to the broadcaster’s choice of when to transfer between the news bulletin and the Director-General’s briefing. This in itself is not an issue of broadcasting standards, but rather is a matter of editorial discretion that is not capable of being resolved by a complaints procedure.2 The Director-General’s briefings are also all available live from other sources.
 We therefore decline to determine the complaint under section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to determine the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
24 November 2020
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Mr Abey-Koch’s formal complaint – 21 May 2020
2 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 22 June 2020
3 Mr Abey-Koch’s referral to the Authority – 23 June 2020
4 Mr Abey-Koch’s further comment – 24 June 2020
5 RNZ’s further comment – 10 July 2020
1 Commentary: Programme Information, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 13
2 Broadcasting Act 1989, s 5(c)