BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Christoforou and Al Jazeera Media Network - 2020-054 (16 November 2020)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Demetrius Christoforou
Al Jazeera


[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about documentary Western Thrace, Contested Space, which examined the lives of ethnic Turks living in the Western Thrace region of Greece. It found that there were no material inaccuracies in the documentary as alleged by the complainant. The documentary was about discrimination felt by the Turkish community as a whole and was exploring their experiences. Some inaccuracies alleged by the complainant were broadly immaterial to the thrust of the documentary, while others were expressions of opinion, comment and analysis, to which the accuracy standard does not apply. It found the balance standard did not apply as it did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance in New Zealand. The remaining standards raised also did not apply.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Balance, Fairness, Discrimination and Denigration

The broadcast

[1]  Western Thrace, Contested Space is a documentary made as part of Al Jazeera’s People and Power series which explored the experiences of ethnic Turks living in the Western Thrace region of Greece. Made by filmmaker Glenn Ellis, it included interviews with residents and examined how Turkish culture continues to survive in the region, their treatment by the Greek government and ongoing struggles.

[2]  The documentary was broadcast on 9 April 2020 at 4.25pm on Al Jazeera. After the broadcast, an unedited statement from the Greek government was published on Al Jazeera’s website along with the online version of the documentary.

The complaint

[3]  Demetrius Christoforou complained the documentary was inaccurate and biased towards Turkish irredentism (a policy of advocating the restoration to a country of any territory formerly belonging to it) and against Greece. He was concerned only one viewpoint was put forward in the range of people interviewed and that material information was omitted.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  Al Jazeera said that the documentary was not in breach of standards. It said ‘the aim of the documentary was to investigate claims of ethnic and religious discrimination that have been raised many times by the Turkish minority in Greece’.


[5]  Mr Christoforou viewed the documentary via Freeview on the Al Jazeera channel. Al Jazeera Media Network is not based in New Zealand, which raises questions about the Authority’s ability to exercise jurisdiction over its programmes.

[6]  However, jurisdiction over offshore entities broadcasting programmes for receipt by the New Zealand public flows as a matter of inevitable logic from the terms of the Broadcasting Act 1989 (the Act) read in light of its purposes.1 Its purposes include ‘to provide for the maintenance of programme standards in broadcasting in New Zealand’. This indicates the focus of the Act is on regulating the content of broadcasts received within New Zealand (rather than the entities broadcasting).

[7]  It is also relevant that the Act was amended in 1991 to remove the restriction on broadcasting in New Zealand by overseas entities. This indicates Parliament intended the Act to cover broadcasting within New Zealand by offshore entities (a matter which has become of increasing importance as information technology evolves).

[8]  As Al Jazeera is available as a regular channel on Freeview, we consider the conduct in question (ie broadcasting here) is sufficiently connected to New Zealand for us to exercise regulatory authority.

The standards

[9]  The balance standard states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[10]  The purpose of the accuracy standard is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.2 It states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.

[11]  The discrimination and denigration standard protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[12]  The fairness standard states broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct.

Our analysis

[13]  The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy and it is important we weigh this against the harm that may have potentially been caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.


[14]  Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two steps. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading. The second step, if applicable, is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure the programme was accurate and did not mislead.3

[15]  The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or unimportant points that are unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.4

[16]  Mr Christoforou made fulsome submissions on why he considered the documentary to be inaccurate including:

  • Specific information in the documentary was incorrect (for example, the population of the region, statements about the Turkish population’s ability to express their culture and statements such as ‘this land belongs to us’).
  • Some factual information was omitted (for example, information about the Treaty of Lausanne, information about how other Muslim majority countries including Turkey appoint religious leaders, and Turkey’s actions in encouraging immigration to Greece).
  • Some interviewees were not credible.

[17]  Al Jazeera disagreed with the allegations, specifically Mr Christoforou’s ‘principal charge, that this film deliberately misrepresented the reality on the ground in Western Thrace’. It said:

  • In making the film, ‘in general terms we were told of the numerous ways in which the ethnic Turkish minority in Thrace…felt that their ethnicity had been suppressed, their religious freedoms denied, their freedom of expression curtailed’.
  • The aim of the film was ‘to investigate claims of ethnic and religious discrimination’ towards the Turkish minority in Greece.
  • Relevant sources included probes and rulings by a number of internationally recognised human rights bodies.
  • The omissions raised by Mr Christoforou were generally issues of editorial decisions.

[18]  We were satisfied the documentary did not contain any material inaccuracies. It was exploring the experiences of the ethnic Turkish population in Western Thrace from their perspective. It was not an historical recounting of grievances nor was it attempting to draw comparisons to other nations. It was a representation of the experience of this particular community today. While it was a factual programme to which the accuracy standard does apply, this complaint raised allegations of factual inaccuracies which were immaterial to the broadcast and issues of omission which primarily concerned matters it was reasonable for the filmmaker to omit in the context.

[19]  A number of the comments identified as inaccurate were expressions of opinion, comment or analysis to which the accuracy standard does not apply. For example, statements such as ‘this land belongs to us,’ ‘we didn’t come here later’ and allegations regarding a mosque fire incident were statements by interviewees in their words. The comments were made in the context of an authorial documentary from the perspective of the community. They did not result in material inaccuracies and were unlikely to mislead viewers.

[20]  Regarding the population of the Turkish community, our research indicated population numbers in the region are disputed as there are differing views regarding the separation of Turkish, Pomak and Roma ethnicities. While Mr Christoforou may have been suggesting the broadcaster was deliberately inflating the size of the population, we agree with Al Jazeera that ‘the film was about the discrimination felt by the community as a whole’, and the statistic was not material to it.

[21]  We also disagreed with how Mr Christoforou characterised one aspect of the documentary. He argued it was misleading to say the Turkish population is not able to exercise its cultural identity because ‘the camera is showing them doing exactly that…’ However, there is no contradiction in stating religious leaders are jailed and citizens feel forced to hide their identity while depicting that, inside cultural associations, Turkish traditions can be celebrated.

[22]  For those reasons we do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.


[23]  An issue of public importance is something that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public. A controversial issue will be one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate. In most cases, human interest or personal stories will not be considered controversial issues of public importance.5

[24]  With regard to overseas issues, it will not always be the case that items on overseas developments will amount to discussion of a controversial issue of public importance in New Zealand.6 International issues have been found to be of public importance here in some cases (such as the Israel-Palestine conflict and the US-North Korea conflict)7 but others have been found to not be of public importance (such as proposed internet-filtering legislation in Australia and predictions of the outcome of British elections).8

[25]  Taking into account the following factors, we found the balance standard did not apply to this broadcast as it was not an issue of public importance in New Zealand:

  • The programme was limited to consideration of issues specific to a remote area of Greece (Western Thrace) and to Turkey.
  • The focus area of the programme (alleged governmental ‘oppression’ of the people of Western Thrace – including by harassing journalists/advocates, closing local schools and withholding funding to protect revered historic architecture/mosques in the area) was not of particular relevance in New Zealand; unlikely to ‘excite conflicting opinion’ and not the focus of ‘ongoing public debate’.
  • Even though the programme signalled that it is ‘contested’ and there are different views, the film is arguably more ‘of interest’ to the New Zealand public than ‘of significant concern’ or ‘having potential to impact New Zealanders’.

[26]  Therefore we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.

The remaining standards: fairness and discrimination and denigration

[27]  The complainant also raised the fairness and discrimination and denigration standards. These standards were not breached:

  • Fairness: This standard only applies to persons or organisations taking part or referred to in the broadcast, and the complainant did not specify whom he felt was treated unfairly or why. The standard does not apply to countries or their governments.
  • Discrimination and denigration: The film does not contain sustained or malicious attacks on all Greek people as contemplated by the standard nor does the depiction of the experiences of ethnic Turks in Greece encourage discrimination or denigration in relation to Greeks as a section of the community.

[28]  Therefore we do not uphold the complaint under these standards.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Judge Bill Hastings


16 November 2020    



The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1  Demetrius Christoforou’s original complaint to Al Jazeera – 27 April 2020

2  Al Jazeera’s response to the complaint – 17 May 2020

3  Mr Christoforou’s referral to the BSA – 12 June 2020

4  Al Jazeera agreeing to proceed with BSA process - 12 June 2020

5  Al Jazeera’s response to the referral – 26 July 2020

6  Mr Christoforou’s further comments – 11 August 2020

7  Mr Christoforou’s further information – 3 September 2020

8  Mr Christoforou’s further information – 16 September 2020

9  Al Jazeera’s final comments – 19 September 2020

10  Mr Christoforou’s final comments – 22 September 2020

1 See Poynter v Commerce Commission [2010] NZSC, [2010] 23 NZLR 300 at [46] per Tipping J
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
4 Guideline 9b
5 Commentary: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
6 Wakelin and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-060 at [14]
7 See Pask and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2019-057; Maasland and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-065 and Barnett and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-055
8 See Media Matters in NZ Inc and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-139 and Boyce and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2020-005