BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Curran and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1996-121, 1996-122

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • P G Curran
Number
1996-121–122
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

TVNZ's news coverage of Anglo-Irish relations in June–July 1996 was the subject of

two complaints. In June, the news coverage mainly dealt with IRA bombings in

Northern Ireland and elsewhere. In July on One Network News, broadcast between

6.00–7.00pm, the coverage highlighted the consequences of police first stopping a

controversial march by Orangemen in Portadown and then allowing it to proceed. The

subsequent bombing of an Enniskillen hotel was also reported.

Mr Curran complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that coverage during both

months was neither objective nor impartial. In June, there was no mention of the first

state visit in over 70 years of an Irish President to Britain. In July, there was no

mention on One Network News of the violence inflicted by the Loyalists in Northern

Ireland.

On the basis that the Presidential state visit was of marginal interest to New Zealand

viewers, TVNZ declined to uphold the first complaint. As it had reported the

Loyalist violence on a Midday news bulletin, TVNZ declined to uphold the second

one.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decisions, Mr Curran referred the complaints to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the items complained about and have read

the correspondence (summarised in the Appendices). As is its practice, the Authority

determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

Mr Curran made two complaints to TVNZ about its coverage of Anglo-Irish news in

June 1996 and July 1996 respectively. He maintained that the coverage in each month

breached standard G14 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. It reads:

G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.


The first complaint alleged that that the omission of any reference to the first state

visit by an Irish President to England in over 70 years ignored the positive aspects of

Ireland's relations with the British Crown. Mr Curran noted that TVNZ had reported

the progress of the Northern Ireland peace talks and some information about some

IRA attacks – as it was entitled to do – but argued that it was also obliged under

standard G14 to report the state visit.

The second complaint dealt with TVNZ's coverage of the ban on the marchers in

Portadown, Northern Ireland, and the wider violence which occurred when the ban

was lifted. Referring to the BBC material, parts of which had been used by TVNZ to

report the events, Mr Curran listed various newsworthy events which had occurred

and argued that TVNZ's coverage of the Loyalist violence against the Catholics was

inadequate.

In its response to the complaint about the absence of any coverage of the Irish

President's state visit to England, TVNZ questioned whether a complaint about

material which was not broadcast was appropriate under the Broadcasting Act. It

maintained that a complaint about the absence of an item was the basis of a complaint

only when a breach of balance was alleged. It dealt with Mr Curran's first complaint

on that basis.

Pointing out that it was required to exercise discretion as to what overseas material

was to be included in a news bulletin from the vast amount received each day, TVNZ

wrote:

A major domestic story in New Zealand, requiring many minutes to explain

comprehensively, will inevitably mean that overseas material without any

specific New Zealand interest in it, or that which is inherently of lesser news

value will be discarded. On the other hand, a very quiet day in New Zealand will

see international events promoted more strongly – sometimes to the extent where

material lacking in substance, but providing spectacular pictures will find a place

in the programme.


TVNZ argued that the President's visit was essentially ceremonial and of marginal

interest to most New Zealand viewers, adding:

Further, we suggest that TVNZ in reporting relations between Ireland and

Britain has properly concentrated on exchanges between government leaders and

representatives in the two countries in relation to the unhappy state of affairs in

Northern Ireland.


On the basis that editorial discretion was exercised appropriately, TVNZ declined to

uphold the complaint about its news coverage in June.

As for the complaint about its coverage of the Portadown march and its consequences,

TVNZ pointed out that aspects of the coverage which Mr Curran said were missing

from the news at 6.00pm, had been dealt with, as Mr Curran acknowledged, in the

news at midday. The Midday news, it added, tended to include more overseas material

than the news at 6.00pm as the local news usually occurred later during the day. It

wrote:

Throughout the period you quote it is our view that the newsroom's decision to

concentrate at 6pm on the events at Portadown, their consequences, and their

impact on the peace process was the right one. While the newsroom was aware

that a taxi-driver had been killed (and recognised that in a domestic context in

Britain or Ireland this would be regarded as newsworthy) it seemed largely

incidental to the broader wave of violence emanating from Portadown and

threatening the future of the peace talks.


On the question of the beleaguered Catholic families, you have confirmed that

coverage was shown on "Midday". While we agreed this was a significant

aspect of the story, we do not accept that its absence from the 6pm edition

amounted to sectarian journalism. It was an important detail within the broader

perspective which was reflected by the 6pm programme.


When he referred each complaint to the Authority, Mr Curran questioned whether the

Irish President's visit was of "marginal interest" to New Zealanders. On the basis that

One Network News at 6pm was promoted as the day's principal news bulletin, he

emphasised the absence of news at that time about Loyalist violence against Catholics

in the bulletins in July. He also referred to some occasions of news coverage in the

past which he believed justified his opinion that TVNZ reported Irish news along

sectarian lines.

Mr Curran asked for the opportunity to put his complaints to the Authority

personally. Having considered the complaints, the Authority believes that is not

necessary in view of the comprehensive nature of Mr Curran's submissions.

Mr Curran, the Authority acknowledges, ensures that he keeps up-to-date with Irish

news by using a variety of sources. He is correct when he points out TVNZ's

coverage is much less than the coverage given to Irish news by the BBC.

The Authority agrees with TVNZ when it explains that it is not appropriate for its

news service to provide detailed reports of Irish news. It concurs with the following

comment in which TVNZ emphasises that Northern Ireland for New Zealanders is

not, unlike for British viewers, a domestic story.

Events in Northern Ireland are recognised as being important, but in a distant,

detached way. Major single events and major trends are followed by our news

programmes but the fine detail Mr Curran seeks is neither appropriate nor

desirable in the context of a New Zealand audience.


Having examined the complaints and having viewed the material provided, the

Authority is of the opinion that TVNZ has exercised its editorial discretion

appropriately. The broadcasts were not unbalanced and did not contain the sectarian

bias alleged.


For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
19 September 1996

Appendix I


Mr Curran's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 2 July 1996

Patrick Curran of Levin complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the broadcast

of aspects of Anglo-Irish news on One Network News in June 1996 breached standard

G14 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Describing the news reporting

as misleading, if not dishonest, he wrote:

For it showed only the ugly, evil side, the IRA terrorist side whilst withholding

news of Anglo-Irish relations at their very friendliest, which so clearly has

brought great joy to Queen Elizabeth and President Robinson of Ireland.

Referring first to an item on 6 June, Mr Curran said that it was reported that the

IRA/Sinn Fein were excluded from the Northern Ireland peace talks. Two days later,

an item dealt with the arrest of five men in connection with an IRA bomb in London.

British troops searching for IRA arms in Northern Ireland were also shown. On

Friday 16 June, an IRA outrage in Manchester was shown along with John Major's

condemnation. The Irish prime minister's equally strong condemnation, Mr Curran

observed, was not screened. Next, on 22 June, an item showed Catholics in Northern

Ireland battling the police in Belfast and, then, four days later, there was film of the

discovery of an IRA arms store. Finally, a week later, there was a lengthy item about

an IRA terrorist attack on a British army base in Germany. By way of summary, Mr

Curran considered:

TVNZ had every right to broadcast all those items, indeed it has a clear duty to

do so, that's what journalism in a free country is all about, the right to inform

without fear or favour.

Nevertheless, he continued:

At the same time it also has a clear duty, not only in regard to the ethics of

journalism, but also in line with Code 14 of the Broadcasting Code of Practice to

tell of the other side, the very positive side of Catholic Ireland's relations with

the British Crown and Government.

Mr Curran insisted that TVNZ was required, in order to achieve balance, to give the

Irish president's visit at least a brief mention.

Mr Curran also observed that TVNZ's One Network News at 6.00pm had ignored a

visit by Prince Charles to Dublin in June last year and a visit by President Robinson

to New Zealand in September 1993. He commented:

TVNZ's main bulletin, ONE 6.00 totally ignored the whole State visit, a blatant

insult to a gracious lady and President of a country that has, in the past, and

now the greatest respect for New Zealand and its most hospitable people.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 15 July 1996

TVNZ began by questioning whether Mr Curran could complain, under the

Broadcasting Act process, about a matter which was not broadcast. Quoting

Authority decision 112/93, TVNZ argued that the Authority accepted that the

absence of an item was only the basis for a complaint when a breach of the balance

requirement in s.4(1)(d) of the Act was alleged. TVNZ said that it had approached the

complaint on that basis and concluded that the absence of any coverage of President's

Robinson's visit to London created no imbalance in its reportage of events involving

Britain and Ireland.

TVNZ went on to explain that it was required to exercise discretion in what overseas

material, from the vast amount received, was to be included in a news bulletin. It

wrote:

A major domestic story in New Zealand, requiring many minutes to explain

comprehensively, will inevitably mean that overseas material without any

specific New Zealand interest in it, or that which is inherently of lesser news

value will be discarded. On the other hand, a very quiet day in New Zealand will

see international events promoted more strongly - sometimes to the extent where

material lacking in substance, but providing spectacular pictures will find a place

in the programme.

Pointing out that judgment was also required over a period of time to ensure balance,

TVNZ was of the view that President Robinson's essentially ceremonial visit to

Britain was of marginal interest to New Zealand viewers. It added:

Further, we suggest that TVNZ in reporting relations between Ireland and

Britain has properly concentrated on exchanges between government leaders and

representatives in the two countries in relation to the unhappy state of affairs in

Northern Ireland.

On the basis that editorial discretion was exercised appropriately, TVNZ declined to

uphold the complaint.

Mr Curran's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 7 August 1996

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Mr Curran referred his complaint to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Mr Curran said that TVNZ had not challenged the points he had made in his

complaint but had made "ridiculous claims" that one could not complain about

something which was not broadcast. He repeated his complaint, commenting:

By not presenting the news, even 30 seconds, of President Robinson's good will

official visit to Britain, TVNZ, which gave so much coverage to IRA terrorism

that month, was clearly guilty of misleading the people of New Zealand about

the true nature of Anglo-Irish relations at a most critical time, a few days prior

to the All Party Talks in Belfast on the future of Northern Ireland.

It was a classic example of presenting news totally out of context.

Reiterating the matters raised in the letter of formal complaint, Mr Curran questioned

TVNZ's description of President Robinson's visit to London as being of "marginal

interest" to New Zealand viewers. He maintained that it was of equal relevance to the

oft-reported item about the Sinn Fein's exclusion from the peace talks for Northern

Ireland. Mr Curran did not accept TVNZ's claim that its news broadcast did not

show an anti-IRA bias.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 13 August 1996

In its report to the Authority, TVNZ wrote:

We stress this was a matter of editorial judgement, the consequence of weighing

up the intrinsic news value of the London visit with other news material

available on the day. We submit there is little New Zealand news interest

detectable in President Robinson's various formal engagements.

As we mentioned to Mr Curran, the Authority has in the past (decision 112/93)

recognised that matters of editorial discretion fall outside its wardship.

TVNZ also recalled that President Robinson's visit to New Zealand had involved a

background piece on PrimeTime and observed:

Mr Curran should not be allowed to criticise TVNZ news output solely on the

basis of what is shown or not shown in the 6pm edition. Ours is a

comprehensive news service.

Mr Curran's Final Comment - 21 August 1996

Mr Curran questioned why TVNZ believed that it was correct to report the "drug

war"

in Dublin in June but omit any reference to President Robinson's historic visit to

London. He pointed out that he had been referring to the 6.00pm news when

criticising TVNZ's lack of coverage of her visit to New Zealand.

Appendix II

P G Curran's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 18 July 1996

Patrick Curran of Levin complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about its news

coverage on One Network News between 8 - 17 July 1996 of the ban on the marchers

in Portadown, Northern Ireland, and the wider violence which occurred when the ban

was lifted. He alleged that the items breached standard G14 of the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice.

Mr Curran summarised the violence which took place into the following categories:

(a) The initial violence as the Orange marchers battled with the police.

(b) The violence of that section of the Loyalist side against their traditional

enemies, Catholics in general.

(c) The violent reaction of Catholics against the police when the ban on the

Orange marchers was lifted.

(d) What appears to have been a murderous attempt to kill and maim as many

Protestants as possible by republican terrorists by a huge car bomb at an

Enniskillen hotel.

As TVNZ had used BBC material to cover events A, C and D, Mr Curran accepted

that it was honest and accurate. However, he wrote, that did not apply to category B.

On 9 July, Mr Curran noted, the BBC had reported Orange rioting and the murder of a

Catholic taxi-driver near Portadown. However, although the rioting was reported

briefly on TVNZ's One Network News on 9 July, there was no mention of the murder.

Further, the BBC reported on the search by police divers for clues as to the taxi-

driver's murderer on 17 July. However, TVNZ's One Network News only showed

the part of the BBC item which dealt with the peace talks and commented that the

"IRA political wing Sinn Fein" remained excluded from the talks. Mr Curran wrote:

Here we have a classic case of news management, leaving out a crucial piece of

news about what seems to have been the result of Loyalist terrorism and

inserting an old/filed piece about the IRA/Sinn Fein.

Mr Curran equated this distortion with one on 5 November 1992 when Yorkshireman

Guy Fawkes was referred to on the Holmes programme as a deranged Irish Catholic.

On this occasion, he argued:

Not only did ONE 6.00 not report the murder of the Catholic taxi-driver,

Michael McGoldrick but it at the same time drew a curtain over the ethnic

cleansing, sectarian cleansing of innocent Catholic families living in most

Protestant areas.

That story, he added, was reported by the BBC and carried on TVNZ's midday news

on 9 July but not at 6.00pm. Next day Midday followed up the item but again the

6.00pm news ignored the item.

Then on 11 July, both the BBC and TVNZ's Midday "carried more images of Catholic

victims of Loyalist petrol bombers", while the 6.00pm news omitted the item. Mr

Curran concluded:

(a) TVNZ's Midday coverage of that violent period in Ulster was on a par

with the BBC coverage, journalism at its best.

Why did TVNZ's main bulletin of the day not act likewise.

(b) What guarantee have we that this kind of sectarian journalism by ONE

6.00 will not occur again?

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 30 July 1996

Assessing the complaint against standard G14, TVNZ summarised the material dealt

with on One Network News between 8 - 17 July:

The coverage during this period highlighted the consequences of police first

stopping a controversial Orangemen march through Portadown, and then

allowing it to proceed. The violence that followed was reported as was the

bombing at the Enniskillen hotel. The various items also emphasised the impact

these events were having on the prospects for the Ulster peace process.

The complaint, TVNZ noted, focussed on the claim that One Network News did not

report either the murder of the Catholic taxi-driver or the ethnic cleansing of Catholic

families living in mostly Protestant areas.

TVNZ explained that the One Network News team produced three editions each day -

as did many newspapers - and that Midday, because it was broadcast before a large

proportion of the day's domestic news had occurred, carried more overseas news than

the later broadcasts. Secondly, because of the time differences, events which occurred

in Northern Ireland were usually "fresher" at midday than in the early evening. TVNZ

wrote:

It should be noted further that overseas material shown at midday can become

out-of-date by 6pm and that is particularly so in the case of developing and fast

moving stories such as the Orangemen parade in Portadown.

Further, there was a reluctance simply to repeat an item broadcast six hours earlier.

Declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ explained the approach it had taken:

Throughout the period you quote it is our view that the newsroom's decision to

concentrate at 6pm on the events at Portadown, their consequences, and their

impact on the peace process was the right one. While the newsroom was aware

that a taxi-driver had been killed (and recognised that in a domestic context in

Britain or Ireland this would be regarded as newsworthy) it seemed largely

incidental to the broader wave of violence emanating from Portadown and

threatening the future of the peace talks.

On the question of the beleaguered Catholic families, you have confirmed that

coverage was shown on "Midday". While we agreed this was a significant

aspect of the story, we do not accept that its absence from the 6pm edition

amounted to sectarian journalism. It was an important detail within the broader

perspective which was reflected by the 6pm programme.

Mr Curran's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 8 August 1996

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Mr Curran referred his complaint to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

In view of TVNZ's publicity, Mr Curran argued that the 6.00pm One Network News

was advanced as the one to watch. Unlike the approach taken in its letter, TVNZ did

not suggest in its promotions that it was necessary to watch three programmes to get

"a fair overview" of each day's events.

On the basis that the 6.00pm news was each day's main bulletin, Mr Curran

maintained that, by not reporting Loyalist violence against Catholics between 8 - 17

July, standard G14 had been breached. The claim not to repeat items gave rise to the

following questions, said Mr Curran:

In the context of my complaint may I ask why this extraordinary licence for

selective journalism on the 6pm bulletin applied only to the items about the

murder of the Catholic taxi-driver and the ethnic cleansing of hapless Catholics in

Protestant areas.

Returning to the point that the 6.00pm news was promoted as the day's principal

bulletin, Mr Curran pointed out that the various Loyalist groups were described

internationally as terrorists but the 6.00pm news kept "very silent" about their role in

Northern Irish politics. Noting that TVNZ did not report the newsworthy meeting

between Mr Billy Wright - a Loyalist spokesperson - and British Prime Minister John

Major, Mr Curran expressed the opinion that TVNZ seemed "to have written those

terrorists out of the Ulster equation". Enclosing some clippings from his local paper

which dealt with these events, Mr Curran asked that the Authority consider his two

complaints about TVNZ's coverage of Anglo-Irish relations together. He also sought

an inquiry in which the parties were required to give sworn evidence.

TVNZ's Report to the Authority - 13 August 1996

TVNZ rejected Mr Curran's allegation that One Network News at 6.00pm involved

reporting on sectarian lines. It wrote:

It is with some frustration that we once again try to explain that One Network

News is not a vehicle designed, come what may, to provide detailed blow-by-

blow reporting of the Irish question. Events in Northern Ireland are recognised

as being important, but in a distant, detached way. Major single events and

major trends are followed by our news programmes but the fine detail Mr

Curran seeks is neither appropriate nor desirable in the context of a New

Zealand audience. Mr Curran fails to grasp the difference in covering this story

between the BBC (for whom Northern Ireland is a domestic story in which its

domestic audience is directly involved) and TVNZ whose domestic audience has

no such involvement. For us it is a foreign story.

Mr Curran's Final Comment - 21 August 1996

Mr Curran's letter containing his final comment was designed to cover both

complaints. He focussed on TVNZ's denial that news was reported along sectarian

lines.

He asked why TVNZ's coverage of President Clinton's visit to Ulster told only of

terrorist murders committed by Catholic republicans. He then asked why had TVNZ

not addressed his complaint directly. TVNZ's answers, he maintained were an

attempt to mislead the Authority.

To ensure that the Authority examined the correct items, he again requested the

opportunity to attend the hearing which would determine his complaints. He enclosed

a tape of a Panorama documentary on violent events in Ulster which dealt in part

with

the murder of the taxi driver. He wrote:

The "Panorama" documentary, the "flagship" of the BBC documentaries, was

denied New Zealanders. No way am I suggesting that it should have been

broadcast in full. What I am saying that it should, at least, have been given as

much broadcasting time as the mini-documentary on 12 August which showed

only one side of the sectarian picture in Northern Ireland in July and August.