BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Voters' Voice Binding Referendum Inc and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1994-016

Members
  • I W Gallaway (Chair)
  • R A Barraclough
  • L M Dawson
  • J R Morris
Dated
Complainant
  • Voters' Voice Binding Referendum Inc
Number
1994-016
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One
Standards Breached


Summary

The launch by Winston Peters M.P. of the New Zealand First political party was covered in

an item broadcast on One Network News between 6.00–6.30pm on Sunday 18 July. The

item reported that one of the groups present at the launch, Voters' Voice, was closely linked

to the right-wing League of Rights and had been kept outside the gates.

The Chairman of the Voters' Voice Binding Referendum Inc., Mr Booth, complained to

Television New Zealand Ltd that the comments were inaccurate, unbalanced and

denigrated the group's members.

Arguing that the comment was not inaccurate in view of the links between the groups

which it had established and the action taken on the day of the launch, TVNZ denied that

the comment had breached any of the nominated broadcasting standards. Dissatisfied

with TVNZ's decision, on the group's behalf Mr Booth referred the complaint to the

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

For the reasons given below, the Authority upheld one aspect of the complaint.


Decision

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

correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). The complainant asked the Authority to

hold a formal hearing to deal with TVNZ's attack in the item on the group's credibility. In

view of the extent of the submissions, the Authority has decided to follow its usual practice

and to determine the complaint without a formal hearing.

A rally at which Mr Winston Peters M.P. launched the New Zealand First political party

was the subject of an item on One Network News on Sunday 18 July 1993. The item

showed representatives of Voters' Voice, a party described as sharing a policy with New

Zealand First about referenda. However, the item suggested, despite the similar policy on

that issue, it was not welcome at the rally and had been "kept outside" the gates and that it

was "closely linked" with the League of Rights. The Authority acknowledges that the

League of Rights is reputed to be a group with extreme right-wing policies.

Mr Walter Booth, Chairman of Voters' Voice Binding Referendum Inc, complained to

TVNZ that it was inaccurate to align his group with the League of Rights or to report that

the group had been kept outside the gates. He later explained to the Authority that his

group had originally set up its table inside the gate but, because it was the most visible

position, it had agreed to let the New Zealand First Party use the site. The next best

position, the group decided, was outside the gate and, entirely of its own volition, it had set

up the table outside. Members wearing "Voters' Voice" t-shirts had been both inside the

rally and outside the gates distributing pamphlets.

As for the alleged links with the League of Rights, Mr Booth admitted that some of the

members of his group also belonged to the League but denied that there were any formal

links. He described the group as apolitical and said members belonged to a number of

political parties. He argued that this information would have been easily ascertained had

the journalist made a few enquiries rather than relying on hearsay.

Mr Booth alleged that the item breached standards G1, G2, G6, G13, G19 and G21 of the

Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The first four require broadcasters:

G1  To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in

language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any

language or behaviour occurs.

G6  To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters,

current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.

G13 To avoid portraying people in a way which is likely to encourage

denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on

account of sex, race, age, disability, occupation status, sexual orientation or

the holding of any religious, cultural or political belief. This requirement is

not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely-held opinion in a news or current

affairs programme, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a humorous, satirical or dramatic work.

The final two state:

G19 Care must be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure that the

extracts used are a true reflection and not a distortion of the original event

or the overall views expressed.

G21 Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.


TVNZ listed six reasons which it maintained justified the statement that "Voters' Voice" was

"closely linked" to the League of Rights. That included comment from the League that

Voters' Voice had assisted in bringing to New Zealand Australian MP Dennis Stevenson, a

well-known League associate who had appeared at rallies with Mr Peters.

As for the comment about being "kept outside" the gates, TVNZ acknowledged that while

individual members might have entered the rally, the visual evidence showed the group

distributing their literature at a point outside the gates.

TVNZ said that standard G2 was not relevant to the complaint and argued that none of

the other standards had been breached.

In its examination of the complaint, the Authority agreed with TVNZ that standard G2

was not relevant. It also accepted that the requirement in G13 relating to discrimination

or denigration was not an appropriate standard under which to assess this complaint on

the basis that linking a group to a political party, unless of an extremely abhorrent or

marginal nature, cannot be considered to amount to denigration or discrimination. In

view of the matters raised in the correspondence, the Authority decided that the concerns

raised by Voters' Voice – that it was "closely linked" with the League of Rights and had been

"kept outside" the gates – were most appropriately considered under the requirement for

truth and accuracy in standard G1. Because of the possible impact of the alleged

inaccuracies, the Authority also decided that this standard was appropriate for dealing

with the complainant's concern about the item's fairness.

The Authority then considered whether or not the comments in the news item to which

Voters' Voice had objected breached the requirement for accuracy in standard G1.

In dealing with the allegation about the links with the League of Rights, the Authority

considered that the use of the term "close" implied not only a linkage but, in addition, a

certain level of co-operation. Common policy on some matters and, indeed, common

membership could be accepted as a linkage but, in this instance, the adverb "closely" was

used to describe the relationship. A majority of the Authority was of the view that

common policies, common membership and working together to bring a speaker to New

Zealand could amount to a "certain level of cooperation" which was suggested by the term

"close". In the absence of more precise evidence as to the relationship between Voters' Voice

and the League of Rights, the majority was not prepared to accept that the item was

inaccurate.

The minority concluded that while the breach was not major, on the information supplied

by both TVNZ and the complainant the item exaggerated the links which existed and,

accordingly, breached the requirement in standard G1 for truth and accuracy.

The Authority applied similar reasoning to the statement that Voters' Voice had been "kept

outside" the rally. As TVNZ pointed out, the item showed that the Voters' Voice group was

outside. However, by using the word "kept", the item implied more than the factual

situation justified. The Authority unanimously concluded that the statement breached

standard G1 in that the Voters' Voice group was contrasted with identified personalities

from other political parties who were admitted to the rally.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds the complaint that

the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of an item on One Network

News on 18 July 1993 breached the requirement for truth and accuracy in

standard G1 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice when it

reported that Voters' Voice had been kept outside the rally


A majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item

breached the same standard when it stated that Voters' Voice was closely

linked to the League of Rights.


Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make an order under s.13(1)(d) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989. However, the Authority decided that the aspect of the complaint

upheld did not amount to a major breach which justified a statement of correction.

Nevertheless, the minority felt sympathy with the Voters' Voice when it pointed out that a

telephone call to the organisation seeking direct comment on the degree of association

between the organisations and events at the rally before the broadcast could have ensured

that the item which was broadcast was accurate and fair.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Iain Gallaway
Chairperson
18 April 1994


Appendix

Voters' Voice Binding Referendum Inc.'s Complaint to Television New

Zealand Limited

In a letter dated 20 July 1993, the Chairman of Voters' Voice Binding Referendum Inc.,

Mr Walter Booth, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about the "manipulative"

reporting included in One Network News between 6.00 - 6.30pm on Sunday 18 July.

The item about the launch of the New Zealand First political party was unbalanced in that

it suggested that Voters' Voice was connected with the League of Rights. Such a

connection, Mr Booth argued, was defamatory.

In a further letter dated 2 September, Mr Booth repeated that complaint and, in addition,

complained that the item breached a number of the standards, including the obligation

not to denigrate groups, when it reported that the Voters' Voice representatives were kept

outside the gates at the launch. That claim, Mr Booth maintained, in addition, was

"probably incorrect" as members wearing "Voters Voice" t-shirts attended the meeting and

distributed the organisation's literature.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint

TVNZ initially responded to the complaint informally and in a letter dated 16 August

1993 listed the information which, it believed, had justified the comment about the links

between it and the League of Rights. Following some correspondence between the

complainant and the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the matter was later treated by

TVNZ as a formal complaint.

TVNZ advised Mr Booth of its Complaints Committee's decision in a letter dated 21 October

and it reported that the complaint had been considered under the standards requiring

balance, accuracy, good taste and decency and the avoidance of discrimination and

denigration.

Noting that the group, if not all individual members, were shown in the item to be outside

the gates at the meeting, TVNZ maintained that its comment to that effect was not

inaccurate. Listing the links between the group and the League of Rights which the

reporter had established, TVNZ stated:

It was the [Complaints] Committee's view that the strong circumstantial evidence

made it pertinent for the script to reflect that Voters' Voice "is a group closely

linked" to the right-wing League of Rights. Note that there is no suggestion of a

"formal" link - only that the links are close.

The comments, TVNZ said, had not breached the requirement for accuracy and balance.

TVNZ was unable to understand the relevance of the good taste complaint and,

furthermore, it maintained that the item did not denigrate members of Voters' Voice.

The complaint was not upheld.

Voters' Voice Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, in a letter dated 1 November 1993, Mr Booth on Voters'

Voice behalf referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under

s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. A Complaint Referral Form completed at the

Authority's request was received from Mr Booth on 8 December

Repeating the reason for the group's complaint, Mr Booth expressed its concern that TVNZ

was manipulative and misleading. Voters' Voice, he noted, had not been contacted before

the broadcast when it would have explained that it represented a cross-section of New

Zealand Society.

When completing the section in the Form which asked if the Authority should hold a

formal hearing, Mr Booth wrote:

The credibility of our organisation had been attacked by TV One News which we

find very hard to put into written word and they have done this without having

the decency of even bothering to ask us personally. This we could do at a formal

hearing.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority

As is the Authority's practice, the Authority sought the broadcaster's response to the

complaint. Its letter is dated 9 December 1993 and TVNZ in its reply, dated 4 February

1994, apologised for the delay caused by the need to check the information from a

number of sources over the holiday period.

Having done so, it maintained its belief that there were links between Voters' Voice and the

League of Rights and that it was in the public interest to report them. It referred to the

evidence it had earlier advanced and concluded:

We stand by the suggestion that informal links exist between the two organisations

and we aver that in the context of the story being told it was relevant to mention

that link.

We are not surprised that Voters' Voice denies the link, but we stand by the

authority of our sources and feel the description was accurate and fair.

Voters' Voice Final Comment to the Authority

When asked to comment on TVNZ's reply, in a letter dated 17 February 1994, Mr Booth

explained the circumstances of Voters' Voice participation in the rally covered in the news

item.

Beginning by explaining that the gathering was not a meeting of a political party but a

rally to allow Mr Peters to launch his party, Mr Booth said representatives had handed out

"Binding Citizens Initiated Referendum" pamphlets at three gates. At the gate shown by

TVNZ, the table set up by Voters' Voice was inside the fence first of all but had moved at the

request of Mr Peters' representatives who wanted to use that particular spot for their table

to distribute literature because it was in a clearly visible position. Mr Booth continued:

We were not asked to leave and neither were any of our group at the other two

gates. There was no objection given. Mr Peters was faxed three times asking for

confirmation of this fact immediately after the TVNZ article. So far he has shown

no objection to us being there. Please give us the date and time that TVNZ

confirmed with Mr Peters if he had asked for us to be removed or not welcome

from this meeting.

Moreover, Mr Booth wrote, Voters' Voice members wearing Voters' Voice t-shirts had stood

beside TVNZ's staff during the meeting inside the grounds and undoubtedly been seen

handing out the group's literature. They were at no time asked to leave.

Mr Booth then explained that term "Voters' Voice" was used by groups throughout the

world and that Voters' Voice banners and flags were seen at most political rallies. He

added:

For TVNZ to connect V.V. only with the League of Rights (L.O.R.) appears to us to

be a manipulation of journalism to suit their own means. As we have said in

previous letters we have no formal connection with the L.O.R. and we certainly

have no connections with any political parties although we are apolitical. ... We do

admit that independent members of ours do belong to the L.O.R. At no time did

TVNZ contact us for any information regarding this matter.

He concluded by noting that TVNZ did not define the term "right wing" used in that

programme and repeated that Voters' Voice had been asked to move the table and the most

suitable alternative place was outside the gate. Rather than using competent journalists to

gather information about the group, Mr Booth claimed that TVNZ had based its item on

"hearsay alone".