Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1994-059
- I W Gallaway (Chair)
- R A Barraclough
- L M Dawson
- J R Morris
- Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
- Free-to-air TV Code: Good Taste and Decency
- Free-to-air TV Code: Violence
- Free-to-air TV Code: Controversial Issues - Viewpoints
- Free-to-air TV Code: Accuracy
- Free-to-air TV Code: Fairness
- Free-to-air TV Code: Discrimination and Denigration
- Free-to-air TV Code: Responsible Programming
- Free-to-air TV Code: Children's Interests
Some aspects of the activities of the Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship were examined
in a series of items on TV One's Holmes programme broadcast between 6.30–7.00pm each
evening from 29 March to 2 April 1993.
The Fellowship complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the programmes breached a
number of the broadcasting standards and, as a result of the inaccuracies and misleading
information, viewers had been given a biased view of the Fellowship.
Having examined the complaint comprehensively on two occasions, TVNZ maintained that
the issues discussed, while at times critical of the Exclusive Brethren, were of public interest
and did not breach any of the standards. Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, the Fellowship
referred its complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority by a majority upheld aspects of the complaint
that the series was not balanced and fair and, unanimously, upheld one aspect about the
accuracy of the final item broadcast on 2 April.
The members of the Authority have viewed the series of five programmes complained
about and have read the lengthy correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). The
Fellowship requested the opportunity to present oral submissions but, in view of the
extensive and comprehensive submissions it has received, the Authority has followed its
usual practice and has determined the complaint without a formal hearing.
The Programmes Complained About
Aspects of the Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship were explored in items broadcast on
the Holmes show each evening from 6.30–7.00pm during the week 29 March to 2 April
1993. That the matters discussed were considered by TVNZ to have a high news value can
be measured by the fact that the items in total screened for more than 40 minutes. Fifteen
to twenty minutes is the duration of most items on current affairs programmes while the
average length of an item on the Holmes programme is six to eight minutes.
Each of the first four items, containing interviews and other relevant material gathered by
a reporter, was introduced by the presenter and some of his comments have been the
subject of parts of the complaint. The final item involved a studio discussion in which the
presenter discussed aspects of the Brethren's beliefs with Dr Bryan Wilson from Oxford
University, who had been suggested by the Fellowship, and former Prime Minister Rt Hon
David Lange, a member of a trust which assists people who have been "shut out" of the
The first item focused on Simon Field who, with his wife, had left the Fellowship some ten
years previously although since that time his wife had returned and Mr Field had been
"withdrawn from" (excommunicated). The item also included some comment from a
brother, Stan Field, who had left the Exclusive Brethren recently with his wife. In an
attempt to assist his brother and sister-in-law gain custody of their children, Simon Field
had stolen a shotgun and some ammunition and had visited a Brethren leader in Nelson
and threatened him. He was sentenced to 11 months' imprisonment for his actions and,
during the interview for the item conducted before the sentence was imposed, he had
referred to the Fellowship as a "cult" with "bizarre rules".
The Wood family, specifically former Brethren members brothers Brendan and Leon
Wood, were the subject of the second broadcast. It was also mentioned that their father
had recently left the Fellowship as he had not been allowed, under Brethren rules, to have
radio telephones in the equipment he used for his logging business. Mr Wood had since
died. The item emphasised the brothers' adamantly held opinion that the Fellowship caused
major, damaging and, because of its rules, irreversible rifts within families.
The third programme was introduced with the announcement that a church member had
been unsuccessful in his attempt earlier that day to obtain an injunction to stop the
broadcast of that evening's item. "The judge ruled" Mr Holmes stated, "the programme
could go ahead". The item included interviews with Selwyn and Julienne Wallace, now
both out of the organisation, and again discussed how the family in recent years had been
"torn apart" by the Fellowship.
Reporting that there were about 35,000 members worldwide and about 5,000 in New
Zealand, the fourth item examined the Fellowship's rules. It included several shots of
members apparently outside a church – churches which it was said looked like prisons to
outsiders. It recorded that one recently deceased Brethren leader was an alcoholic known
as Whisky Jim who had introduced alcohol to the church. A former female member was
interviewed and said that an "assertive woman" was "a bit like a swear word" and that
Exclusive Brethren women did what they were told. It was recorded that among the 80
"don'ts" which applied to female members were rules banning contraception, make-up and
jewellery (other than wedding rings). The duration and frequency of religious meetings
was reported (daily for about one hour and five one hour services on Sunday) and the
former members who spoke stressed the need for the Fellowship to acquire what they
described as "real Christianity".
The fifth item involved a studio discussion about the Fellowship. Dr Wilson from Oxford
University, interviewed by satellite, explained the distinction between the sacred and the
profane which was central to the Brethren's belief in the fundamental importance of
separation from the evil community which surrounded them. This separation, the
presenter observed, meant that children at school were not allowed to play sport or games
with other school children. Mr Lange was also interviewed and although principally
concerned with the effect on children when members were "shut out", he commented that
life for adults within the organisation who believed in it would be "very fulfilling".
Before proceeding with the standards matters raised in the complaint, the Authority
records that the overall impression left by the series was undoubtedly unsympathetic to the
Exclusive Brethren. It was suggested that the Fellowship displayed non-Christian attitudes
to those who were "shut out" and "withdrawn from" for failing to comply with the group's
"bizarre" rules. The items implied that excommunicated members deserved sympathy and
their criticisms of the Brethren were credible. The Authority had to decide if the
unsympathetic approach resulted in a breach of broadcasting standards.
The Complaints and the Standards Allegedly Breached
On behalf of the Fellowship, Mr Peter Williams QC complained to TVNZ that the series was
offensive and that it was an example of tyranny by the majority when it questioned one
minority group's legitimate religious expression. He added that aspects of the broadcasts
had breached a number of broadcasting standards. The standards were not cited and
TVNZ, in its initial response, assessed the complaint under seven standards which it believed
encapsulated the concerns. It declined to uphold the complaint.
The Fellowship listed 13 standards allegedly contravened when it referred the complaint to
the Authority and, after some correspondence on procedural points (recorded in the
Appendix), TVNZ re-examined the complaint under each of the 13 standards nominated.
It again concluded that none had been breached by any of the material included in the
The Fellowship also referred TVNZ's second decision to the Authority. It alleged that aspects
of the broadcast breached the following standards in the Television Code of Broadcasting
Practice. The following 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.
G4 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters,
current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
G11 To refrain from broadcasting any programme which, when considered as a
(i) Simulates news or events in such a way as to mislead or alarm
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during
their normally accepted viewing times.
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 following standards were also allegedly breached. They read:
G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.
G15 The standards of integrity and reliability of news sources should be kept
under constant review.
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.
G20 No set formula can be advanced for the allocation of time to interested
parties on controversial public issues. Broadcasters should aim to present all
significant sides in as fair a way as possible, and this can be done only by
judging every case on its merits.
G21 Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.
V1 Broadcasters have a responsibility to ensure that any violence shown is
justifiable ie is essential in the context of the programme.
The Authority has decided, first, to consider each aspect of the complaint which focuses on
a specific issue referred to during the broadcasts and then to assess the way in which TVNZ
dealt with the Fellowship's overriding concern about balance and fairness.
The Specific Aspects of the Items which Allegedly Contravened the Standards
(i) The Fellowship alleged that the introduction to the first broadcast on 29 March
was inaccurate and unfair when it described membership of the Exclusive Brethren as
religious apartheid. Quoting the definition of "apartheid" which referred to separation,
TVNZ mentioned in response a number of examples of Fellowship behaviour which
separated Brethren children from their school peers.
The Authority acknowledged that, because of its origins, the word "apartheid" is an
emotive term and has negative connotations. However, it can also be used to describe a
factual situation and the Authority was of the opinion that it was not inaccurate to use
the term to describe the Brethren in light of the information supplied about the way the
Fellowship chooses to remain apart from the influences that it considers to be evil.
(ii) The Fellowship complained that it was wrong to say that non-members were the
devil's agents, pointing out that members made use of the services provided by them. In
response, TVNZ referred to Dr Wilson's report in which ex-members and other critics were
regarded as the agents of the devil.
The Authority took its guidance on the theological point from Dr Wilson and concluded
that the influence of the wider society was viewed by the Fellowship as "corrupting".
Because the Authority was unaware of the extent of the corrupting influences, it was
unable to determine as a matter of accuracy whether it was correct to describe all non-
members as the agents of the devil. However, it was not prepared to conclude that the use
of the term was a breach either of the accuracy or fairness standards as there were several
references in the items from the people interviewed, including Mr Lange, in which they
described themselves as being dealt with by members as if they were "the devil".
(iii) The Fellowship objected to the aspects of the items which alleged that it divided
families and, in particular, that it had "taken" Mrs Field from her husband. It denied
specifically as well that it had "torn apart" either the Wood or the Wallace families. It
wrote in regard to the statement that "the church has divided husband from wife, brother
This statement is untrue and inaccurate. Firstly, 'the church' does not divide. As in
any marriage, breakdown occurs when divergence occurs between the parties.
Thus within our fellowship, if a husband or wife ultimately decided to abandon the
fellowship and the other party remains, then the marriage breakdown is inevitable.
In actual fact, very few if any of marriages breakdowns within our fellowship are
due to husband or wife deciding not to continue, but are due to specific reasons
such as infidelity.
It also gave what it claimed were the real reasons for some of the problems experienced by
the couples portrayed which had culminated in their separation. It denied that the
Fellowship directives were to blame for the marriage breakdowns.
TVNZ replied by referring to the events dealt with during the items and the comments
made by the ex-members interviewed, and insisted that the comment about families being
torn apart by the Fellowship complied with the facts.
The Authority understood the Fellowship's concern in objecting to any suggestion that the
Brethren was necessarily responsible for the initial marriage breakdowns. However, it
accepted that TVNZ described the consequence rather than the initial cause and, as the
Brethren accepted that separation was inevitable should one party leave the Fellowship,
the Authority decided that the terms used by TVNZ were neither inaccurate nor unfair.
These differing approaches are evident in Dr Bryan Wilson's study "The Brethren: a recent
sociological study" (1981) which was among the papers included by the Brethren when it
submitted the complaint to the Authority. In describing a situation not dissimilar to that
which applies to a number of religious groups, Dr Wilson wrote:
Sects generally attach the greatest importance to the sanctity and quality of family
relations, and of no sect may this point be made more emphatically than of the
Brethren. Family life is seen by the Brethren as a most precious spiritual possession
and it is the arena in which the individual manifests the moral and spiritual
qualities enjoined by his religion.
TVNZ's report on the depth of the ex-members' expression of concern and despair was
anticipated in a later comment from Dr Wilson:
Certainly, it is not easy for an individual to leave the group, but the difficulty arises
from his own conscientious awareness of group standards, of his concern for
salvation, and from the fact that he is unlikely to have many, if any, friends
outside the community. Departure from the group occasions the gravest
disturbance for him and for his relatives, and indeed for the whole community of
(iv) The third item began by reporting the application by a member for an injunction
to halt the broadcast of that evening's item and included the comment that the judge
"ruled the programme could go ahead". The judge, the complaint recorded, had not
granted the injunction which, it added, was a vastly different situation than suggesting
that the programme not only could but should be broadcast.
The expression used, argued TVNZ in reply, reported the effect of the decision.
The Authority acknowledged that the inference taken by the Fellowship was that the judge
had "ordered" that evening's item be broadcast. However, the Authority considered that
the use by the presenter of the phrase recorded above which included the word "could" and
not "should" was not inaccurate.
(v) Maintaining that the bitterness of ex-members was reflected in the allegation that
the late James Taylor was an alcoholic, the Fellowship said it had considerable information
which would have refuted that comment. TVNZ maintained that Mr Taylor had issued
the first set of rules about alcohol use by the Exclusive Brethren and that it had been
informed that he had died an alcoholic and that his alleged adultery had caused a major
The Authority has been unable to determine the accuracy of the remark. It noted that the
matter was reported as a comment from ex-members. The issue whether the Fellowship
should have been informed of the contents of the programmes before their broadcast and
been allowed an opportunity to ensure that all matters were reported correctly will be
(vi) The Fellowship said the item which interviewed Trevor Ivory was inaccurate when
it referred to the length of time he had been out of the Fellowship (20 years rather than
30). TVNZ said it reported the length of time Mr Ivory believed he had been
excommunicated. Furthermore, it did not believe that the issue was critical to the details
which were broadcast.
The Authority accepted that TVNZ reported this matter to the best of its ability given the
haziness of Mr Ivory's recollection as to when he was "shut out" and later "withdrawn
from". It did not amount, the Authority believed, to a breach of the standards especially in
light of the relative unimportance of the matter.
(vii) In the final programme, the presenter stated that Brethren children were not able
to play sport and games with other school children. "This", the Brethren wrote, "is quite
untrue". TVNZ responded by referring to the restrictions which were imposed on Brethren
children at public schools and the consequence that they could not belong to a school
sports team which competed or practised outside normal school hours.
That reply, the Brethren commented when it referred the complaint to the Authority, was
a tacit admission that the presenter "got it wrong" by not restricting the original comment
to "outside school hours". It repeated that the comment which was broadcast, that
Brethren children were not able "to play sport and games with other children in a school"
was "plainly erroneous". Dr Wilson's comment on this point in his report recorded:
Brethren children participate in normal school life and get to know other children
there, although they do not expect to make close friends of children who are not of
the same religion. They do not take part in extra-curricular activities or sports
which they are led to regard as worldly.
The Authority agreed with the complainant that the statement which was broadcast was
inaccurate. It could also be argued that it was unfair but the Authority decided that this
aspect should be subsumed under the complaint which alleged denigration.
(viii) The Fellowship also alleged that the comment that its churches and meeting places
looked "like prisons" was inaccurate and unfair and enclosed photographs of a number of
such places. The Authority decided that TVNZ's statement, although melodramatic, did not
breach the standards in view of the information about security with which it had been
(ix) The Authority also did not uphold the aspect of the complaint which alleged that
one brief comment in one item suggested that the Brethren condoned bestiality since the
comment was presented as the opinion of one individual and was not given any
In summary, of the specific matters complained about and dealt with above, the Authority
decided that one aspect of the programme – that pertaining to the participation of
Fellowship children in school sporting activities – was inaccurate and breached G1.
Some Other Standards Cited
The Fellowship included a number of other specific aspects of its complaint which it related
to named standards. The aspects of the complaint which raised standards G4, G6, G13
and G20 of the Television Code will be considered separately. The Authority has recorded
briefly below the complaint and TVNZ's reply on the other matters. It did not consider
that the standards had been breached in any of the following instances.
Under standards G2 and V1, the Brethren stated Mr Field's violent behaviour had been
glamorised and the items had implied that taking up arms against the Fellowship was
justified. TVNZ said the item had carried a straightforward and accurate description of the
events which had occurred. The Authority concurred with TVNZ that the items had
neither glamorised the use of violence nor had implied that taking up arms against the
Exclusive Brethren was justified in any situation.
As standard G11 raised by the Fellowship applies only to news, TVNZ argued, it was not
applicable and standard G12, it continued, had not been breached as the report on the
reason for Simon Field's action would not encourage children to attack Brethren children
verbally or otherwise. The Authority agreed with TVNZ in respect to standard G11 and in
response to the aspect of the complaint under the latter standard, it decided that as
children were not encouraged to take the law into their own hands, standard G12 had not
To the Fellowship's complaint that the requirements for accurate, objective and impartial
news in standard G14 had been breached, TVNZ said the issues raised had been dealt with
under the other standards. There was no distortion resulting from editing contrary to
standard G19, TVNZ added, and no breach of the requirement in G21 to correct
significant facts as there had been no significant factual inaccuracies. The Authority
concurred with TVNZ on these points.
A substantial matter raised in the complaint was that the items encouraged the
discrimination of or denigration against members of the Exclusive Brethren contrary to
standard G13. TVNZ denied that the series contained material which would encourage
discrimination against members, "a group which by its own definitions chooses to set itself
apart from the society in which it lives".
TVNZ also referred to the exception to the prohibition on encouraging denigration or
discrimination in standard G13 which allows the presentation of factual material and
genuinely-held opinion in the context of a current affairs programme.
Having viewed the series, the Authority disagreed with the broadcaster's first argument
and believed that the items would encourage both the denigration of and discrimination
against members of the Exclusive Brethren. However, it concurred with TVNZ that the
exceptions were applicable and that the standard had not been breached because the
material presented in this series was (with one small exception upheld on inaccuracy
grounds) either factual or genuinely-held opinion.
The Series Overall: Standards G4, G6 and G20
In view of the importance of the matter of balance and fairness and although the
provision was not raised by the parties, the Authority has taken s.4(1)(d) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989 into account when assessing the Fellowship's complaints on these
matters. In the Authority's view, s.4(1)(d) is the overarching statutory principle which
guides the interpretation of the specific standards in the Code which refer to balance and
fairness. Section 4(1)(d) reads:
(4) (1) Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes
and their presentation, standards which are consistent with –
(d) The principle that when controversial issues of public
importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or
reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant
points of view either in the same programme or in other
programmes within the period of current interest.
Standards G4, G6 and G20 have been set out earlier. The most general is standard G6
which requires broadcasters:
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters,
current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
Although the Authority considered assessing the complaint under the three nominated
standards, in its view standard G6, viewed in the light of s4(1)(d), captures the essence of
the complainant's concerns about the balance and fairness of the series as a whole.
Accordingly it declined to determine the complaints under G4 and G20 and has assessed
the series against G6.
In its complaint, the Fellowship described the items as "vitriolic", "vilification" and
"harassment". TVNZ replied:
We remain of the view that the series tackled a very important issue in the
community. What a religious group - or any group for that matter – does in the
confines of its own organisation is a matter for itself provided that neither
innocents nor the wider community are adversely affected. But when the beliefs of
the Church spill over and tragically affect the lives of citizens who have chosen to
leave the Church it becomes a matter of community concern and a justifiable topic
for journalistic investigation.
The Authority believed that TVNZ's description was the more accurate account of the
approach taken by the series.
A key consideration for the Authority was that the series was not and did not pretend to be
a documentary about the Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship. It was a study of the
Fellowship's impact mainly from the perspective of some former members. As the series
had taken that approach, the Authority did not believe that it was essential in the interests
of balance to broaden the theme of the programme to report general or specific views of
the various positive aspects of the Fellowship.
However the Authority considered TVNZ had a particularly strong obligation to comply
strictly with the standards requiring balance and fairness as the series contained harsh
criticism of the Fellowship. In determining whether G6 was breached the Authority
focused on two broad issues: did the programme contain adequate balancing comments
and had TVNZ made adequate attempts to obtain the Fellowship's perspective.
Balancing Comments in the Programme
When considering the first point, the Authority decided that, while TVNZ's approach
might not have been a "vitriolic" attack, the ex-members interviewed during the series
questioned in some detail the values held by the Fellowship. Indeed, as already mentioned,
the material presented denigrated the Exclusive Brethren and would have been in
contravention of standard G13 were it not for the exceptions to the standard.
It noted that the final item included Mr Lange's comment that membership for believing
adults would be "very fulfilling". That comment from a critic of the Fellowship's
restrictions on its members' children would have gone some way to reply to the ex-
members' allegation that "fear" was the Fellowship's binding medium. Furthermore some of
the ex-members interviewed in the series spoke positively at times (for example Brendan
Wood) about the members' life style.
However, although there were isolated comments which reflected favourably on the
Fellowship in the first four broadcasts, it was not until the fifth that Dr Bryan Wilson of
Oxford University, nominated by the Brethren, explained the basis of the Brethren's belief.
Dr Wilson explained that the group distanced itself to the extent possible from what it
considers to be "profane". As the Fellowship maintained the distinction between the
"sacred" and the "profane" to a degree which might not be understandable to most viewers,
the broadcast was dealing with a major cultural clash.
Although Dr Wilson spoke with authority on the Fellowship and at some length, his
academic perspective and manner of presentation were not such as to provide a forceful or
detailed response to the specific allegations contained in the previous items which had
involved sympathetic interviews with identified ex-members. Acknowledging that the
interview with Dr Wilson was arranged at the suggestion of the Fellowship, the Authority
focused on the question whether it was balanced and fair to leave his comment to the end.
A majority of the Authority believed that to comply with the requirements of balance and
fairness, TVNZ should have explained the Exclusive Brethren's beliefs in a straight-forward
way earlier in the series. That could have been done, for example, by using the material in
Dr Wilson's published study – particularly the Fellowship's emphasis on separation from
the profane community – and would have provided a context for the interviews and the
presenter's introductory comments each evening. The minority believed it was acceptable
to include Dr Wilson's material in the last item.
The broadcaster's effort to obtain the Fellowship's comment
The Authority acknowledges that broadcasting a comprehensive picture of a matter being
investigated is a particularly difficult achievement when representatives of the subject of
an item decline to participate.
Both the Brethren and TVNZ recounted in some detail the interaction between them prior
to the broadcast of the series. However, so tangled were the accounts presented to the
Authority of the sequences and content of the communications between members of the
Fellowship and their advisers and TVNZ over a significant period of time that it took the
unusual step of requesting affidavits from both complainant and broadcaster. The details
of these affidavits are contained in the appendix and the decision only records their
evidence where it was important to the Authority's conclusions.
Although the initial complaint was lodged on the Brethren's behalf by its counsel, Mr Peter
Williams QC, all subsequent material and correspondence has been supplied by the
Fellowship through a firm of solicitors in Christchurch.
As part of the correspondence, in a letter dated 5 April 1994 dealing with the factual
disputes, TVNZ disclosed that, during the week that the series was broadcast, it had spoken
to a lawyer (Mr Richard Fowler) acting for a member (Mr Edward Malcolm – shown in
the series). When Mr Fowler telephoned, TVNZ added, it had offered to interview either
him or Mr Malcolm but that invitation was not taken up. It reported the point as
evidence of the opportunities offered to the Brethren to advance a member or
representative to participate in the series.
The Fellowship's solicitors apparently had not been aware of Mr Fowler's participation and,
after speaking to him following receipt of a copy of TVNZ's letter, reported to the Authority
on his involvement. At this point the Authority sought affidavits. Mr Fowler's affidavit
confirms that he telephoned TVNZ's reporter about two weeks before the broadcasts and
offered to provide information about the Fellowship to "ensure that the programme was
fair and accurate". He repeated the offer about a week later but said that he did not hear
back from the reporter before the series was broadcast.
The reporter, in his affidavit, confirmed that he had spoken to Mr Fowler on one occasion.
However, while still preparing the series, he had received a call from Mr Williams "who
told me he represented the Exclusive Brethren Church, who would like to meet with me
regarding the programmes". He added:
As a result, I believed this meeting was to be with Church officials and that it would
provide the response of the Church. As such it superseded any contact with the
lawyer for Mr Malcolm.
A meeting between TVNZ and a Fellowship spokesman, Mr Raymond Ivory, and its legal
counsel occurred shortly before the series was broadcast. TVNZ maintained that the
Fellowship had insisted that the discussion be "strictly off the record" and accordingly
nothing said at that meeting was able to be used in the series. In an affidavit, the
spokesperson described TVNZ's stance as "disingenuous" as he could not comment on
specific allegations in the programme since he had not been told about the actual content
of the programmes. Furthermore, he had not wished to participate in the series or be
quoted but that, he argued, had not precluded TVNZ from using the material he provided.
The Authority noted that care must be taken by both the media and informants when
information is supplied "off the record" and it found the understanding of that phrase by
both parties to be credible in the circumstances.
In its summary, the Fellowship claimed that it was given insufficient notice of the issues to
be covered and the sources used in the series, while TVNZ maintained that opportunities
were provided both before and during the broadcasts for a spokesperson to speak on behalf
of the Fellowship.
While not disputing the reporter's belief that Mr Williams' involvement superseded that of
Mr Fowler's (see appendix), a majority of the Authority considered that TVNZ could well
have spoken to Mr Fowler earlier while the series was being prepared. To ensure that
TVNZ was aware of the other perspective while gathering the material from the
disillusioned ex-members, contact with Mr Fowler could have been pursued before Mr
Williams made his offer which was received shortly before the series was ready for
broadcast. Indeed, the majority believed that this was particularly important in view of
the barriers put up by the Brethren. Moreover, as the session with Mr Williams and Mr
Ivory was "off the record", a further discussion with Mr Fowler should have been held at
that time seeking comments for inclusion in the series in view of the extent of the
criticisms of the Brethren contained in the series.
However the Authority was unanimously inclined to the view that taking into account the
limited amount of balancing material available, the interviews with the former members
could and should have been significantly more challenging in an attempt to ensure that
the series contained the full story behind the situations portrayed. For example, TVNZ was
not seen to play the devil's advocate during those interviews .
A minority of the Authority decided that TVNZ, confronted with the refusal by the
Fellowship to be involved in the series or to speak "on the record", had nevertheless made a
variety of attempts, especially with material broadcast during the final item, to meet its
aim to be balanced, impartial and fair in its approach to the Exclusive Brethren Fellowship.
It also believed the confusion over who was representing the Exclusive Brethren was
understandable, and that TVNZ's assumption that Mr Williams was acting for the church
overall was not unreasonable.
The minority decided that the purpose of the series was not to provide a detailed
explanation of the Exclusive Brethren's attitudes but to reveal the depth of unhappiness
experienced by a range of former members who had been hurt by their alienation from
what had once been their spiritual home.
Their stories were heartfelt and credible and the minority believed that such is the
philosophical gulf between members of a closed group such as the Exclusive Brethren and
the general public, that even had a church leader spoken at length during the series about
the matters alluded to (and none were willing to do so) it would still have been difficult for
outsiders to understand the painful estrangement of former members who found
themselves "shut out".
The minority believed that despite the church's protestations, there was no doubt that the
beliefs of the church had led to much unhappiness for those ex-members who spoke in the
items, and their personal perspectives could not be denied. This was an occasion, the
minority believed, where the concept of balance in broadcasting was something of a
mirage. Both parties saw the situation in a completely different light. Overall, the
minority saw the series as being fairly presented.
In summary, the Authority believed TVNZ had a strong obligation to do all it could to treat
the Fellowship fairly and to provide balance in this difficult case. The religious objections
of the Exclusive Brethren to appearing on television made this task a challenging one. The
Authority acknowledged that the broadcaster made some attempt to provide balance.
However, as recorded above the majority identified three areas where it believed the
broadcaster should have done more in its efforts to show balance and fairness. First, it
could have been more challenging in its questioning of those who had left the Fellowship.
Secondly, it could have provided a straightforward explanation of the Exclusive Brethren's
beliefs earlier in the programme. Finally, it could also have followed up Mr Fowler's offer
of information from the Exclusive Brethren's perspective. Although the findings led the
majority to uphold a breach of G6 it repeats that the Brethren's reluctance to comment,
because of its religious beliefs, contributed to TVNZ's difficulties.
For the reasons set forth above a majority of the Authority upholds the
complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of the series on
activities of the Exclusive Brethren Fellowship on the Holmes programme
between 29 March–2 April 1993 breached the requirements of standard
G6 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice for balance and fairness.
The Authority unanimously upholds one small aspect of the complaint that
the item on 2 April 1993 breached standard G1 in that it inaccurately
referred to the limitations on activities which can be undertaken by the
children of Exclusive Brethren in school.
The Authority unanimously declines to uphold all other aspects of the
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose an order under s.13(1)(a) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989.
It does not intend to do so for two reasons. First, while a majority concluded that TVNZ's
attempts to obtain the Brethren's perspective should have been more extensive, the
Fellowship's lack of co-operation contributed to TVNZ's difficulties. Secondly, the Authority
regarded the factual aspect upheld as relatively minor in the context of the total series.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
2 August 1994
Exclusive Brethren Fellowship's Complaint to Television New Zealand
In a letter dated 4 May 1993, Mr P.A. Williams QC complained to Television New Zealand
Ltd on behalf of the Exclusive Brethren Fellowship about a series of programmes broadcast
on the Holmes programme between 6.30 - 7.00pm from 29 March to 2 April 1993.
Maintaining that the series was offensive to a minority group which had a very low rate
of separation of married couples, Mr Williams said that the programmes breached the
following broadcasting standards:
(a) The observance of good taste and decency and, in particular, by glamorising the
acts of a person with a gun.
(b) The maintenance of law and order and, in particular, by publishing details of a
custody case knowing an appeal was pending.
(c) The privacy of the individual and, in particular, by broadcasting biased accounts
from Church dissidents and attempting to bring Church members into public
(d) The protection of children and, in particular, by bringing humiliation on children
of members at public schools because of the false accusations.
(e) The portrayal of violence by glamorising the acts of a gunman.
(f) The requirement for fair and accurate programmes by ignoring the advice from
Mr Raymond Ivory, a Fellowship representative.
(g) The requirement not to portray people in a way which encourages denigration on
account of their religious beliefs by broadcasting false information from people
excluded from the Fellowship and by not showing the many virtues of the Brethren
TVNZ's First Response to the Formal Complaint
TVNZ advised Mr Williams of its Complaint Committee's decision in a letter dated 1 June
1993 when it reported that the complaint had been considered under standards G2, G5,
G6, G12, G13 and V1 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice and the privacy
requirement in s.4(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act.
The first three of the five broadcasts, TVNZ reported, were based on the experiences of
three families who had been members of the Fellowship. The first, Mr Field, had been
imprisoned for assaulting a Brethren leader. The second story had related the experiences
of three members of the Wood family who had left the Fellowship and the third concerned
the Wallaces who had separated apparently because of Fellowship rulings. The fourth item
had looked at the Brethren's organisation and rules and the fifth included interviews with
a lawyer/politician (Mr David Lange) and an Oxford academic nominated by the Church
(Dr Bryan Wilson).
The [Complaints] Committee heard evidence that the reporter involved had made
strenuous and repeated efforts to acquire and include interviews with Church
members or with leaders of the Exclusive Brethren. In each case they refused.
The Committee also heard that there was an attempt to prevent further
programmes being broadcast after the second had gone to air through an
application to the High Court for an injunction (dated 31 March 1993). The
application was unsuccessful.
The Committee was told that immediately after the hearing of the injunction
application, "Holmes" once again invited representatives of the Exclusive Brethren
to appear on the programme.
TVNZ then dealt with each specific aspect of the complaint.
(a) Denying that the activities of the man with a gun were glamorised, TVNZ said that
the item - a factual account of a former Brethren member who had been
excommunicated - had not breached the standards.
(b) The reference to the custody case complied with precedents as far as court reporting
was concerned as was confirmed in the Court's decision on a Brethren member's
application for an interim injunction.
(c) Pointing out that the same judicial decision had ruled that privacy had not been
invaded, TVNZ said that the matters referred to were in the public domain and did
not breach any of the privacy principles applied by the Authority.
(d) Describing this aspect of the complaint "perplexing", TVNZ said that Brethren
children were already acknowledged and accepted as a distinct and separate group
in secular schools.
(e) No violence was portrayed, TVNZ maintained, in any of the five programmes
(f) Repeating that no Fellowship representative was prepared to appear during the
series as a spokesperson but that Mr Lange stated that the Fellowship provided a
fulfilling lifestyle, TVNZ argued:
The [Complaints] Committee felt that any suggestion the Church might
make that it had not had its views fairly represented must be rejected on the
grounds that it had declined to participate in the programme making. The
Church cannot now cry "foul" when it refused to nominate representatives
when asked to do so.
(g) The standard prohibiting denigration, TVNZ, observed, did not prevent the
broadcast of factual material of genuinely-held opinion. It concluded:
The series was a considered and detailed look at some aspects of an unusual
religious group which is part of the New Zealand community and whose
fervent beliefs demonstrably had caused considerable grief and distress to
some people. The items laid out in detail the history of those involved, and
provided reasons why each was being shown.
The Committee did not feel that the series as a whole denigrated the
Exclusive Brethren. It agreed that those criticisms of the Church that were
made by people appearing on the programme were either factual, or
expressions of genuinely-held opinion and were therefore not in breach of
Further, it believed that if the Church felt its reputation was tarnished by
the series (and the Committee did not agree with this assessment) then in a
very real sense it was the author of its own misfortune because it
consistently declined to offer an alternative viewpoint.
Exclusive Brethren Fellowship's First Complaint to the Broadcasting
Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, in a letter dated 28 June 1993 on the Fellowship's behalf
Mr Williams referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under
s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
Noting that an attached detailed submission had been prepared by some Fellowship
representatives, Mr Williams commented that the members, who were "honest, law-
abiding and sincere", had been deeply hurt by the series of items. He added:
It is vital that New Zealanders enjoy freedom of religious expression and that
minority religious groups are not bullied by powerful TV corporations and I wish
therefore in this letter to express my personal support to the Exclusive Brethren
Fellowship in respect of this present complaint.
In a covering letter, the members who had prepared the detailed referral (Mr Raymond
Ivory and Mr Ron Hickmott) reported that TVNZ had declined an offer made before the
broadcasts to review the material for accuracy. They pointed out that the items were
provocatively anti-Brethren and that they did not show the positive aspects of the
Fellowship. They continued:
In the show, the Exclusive Brethren Fellowship has been totally misrepresented to
the public, with half truths, distortions and lies being publicised in order to arouse
public sentiments against us.
The Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship began in 1827 and was now represented in
350 cities in 21 countries. They explained:
Our position is one which is solely based on the Holy Scriptures as the instrument of
divine teaching, guidance and light and its interpretation as unfolded in the temple
which is a continuing, living and progressive experience.
Our way of life is based on total separation from the way of life and course of this
present evil world, its lifestyle and prevailing behaviour. The standard of
separation is reflected in every part of life even to not having common walls in our
houses or business premises.
The Complaint Referral Form completed by them argued that the Fellowship should be
given the opportunity to present verbal submissions to ensure that the Authority obtained
a full understanding of the issues involved.
The detailed complaint listed the alleged contraventions under each nominated standard.
(i) Standard G1 - Truth and accuracy
It was incorrect, the complaint maintained, to describe membership as a state of "religious
apartheid" or to say that non-members were the "devil's agents". Members made frequent
use of services operated by non-members and often worked for or employed them.
It was also inaccurate to say that the Brethren divided husbands and wives or families.
First, marriage breakdown was infrequent in the Fellowship but if one party to a marriage
decided to leave the Fellowship then marriage breakdown was inevitable. Specifically, the
referral continued, the Brethren did not "take" Mrs Field as the first broadcast claimed.
She had fled the family home because of her husband's drunkenness and drug use.
In the story which dealt with Brendan Wood, the Fellowship in shutting him out had
followed the school's decision to expel him and therefore his behaviour had been the
reason why the family had been torn apart.
The next programme (31 March) had inaccurately summarised the judicial ruling on the
interim injunction application and had inaccurately alleged that the Wallace family was
"torn apart by the strict religion they were both born into". Briefly outlining the adultery
committed by both Mr and Mrs Wallace, the Fellowship maintained the summary which
was broadcast had amounted to a "gross distortion of the facts".
The item of 1 April had been inaccurate in alleging that one leader had introduced alcohol
into the organisation as its moderate consumption had never been prohibited. It had also
been wrong to say one man (Trevor Ivory) had been out of the Fellowship for about 20
rather than nearly 30 years.
The final item had been incorrect when stating that Brethren children did not participate
in sport or games at school.
ii) Standard G2 - Currently accepted norms of decency
This standard had been breached in the first programme, the Brethren wrote, in referring
to Mr Field's violent behaviour in a way which glamorised it and which implicitly blamed
the Fellowship. The complaint continued:
We are particularly concerned that due to the manner of presentation of this
instance, and considering the anti-Brethren thrust of the whole programme,
dissenters, whether it be Brethren or otherwise, may feel justified in taking up arms
if court decisions are unfavourable.
iii) Standard G4 - Dealing fairly with people referred to
Arguing that each of the 5,000 Brethren in New Zealand had been referred to in the item,
the complaint listed a number of remarks in each programme ("a few examples") which
were unjust or unfair to them. The opportunity to elaborate on the examples by way of
oral submissions was requested.
(iv) Standard G6 - Balance, fairness and impartiality
The Fellowship stated:
It is without question the Exclusive Brethren have been presented to the public in a
biased and unfair manner. From the programme, the public's perception of us
would be a group of people held by fear and bondage, dictated to with no minds of
our own. The reverse is true. We are bound by no other law than scriptures and it
is this common denominator which holds us in unison, all having the same
objective and purpose.
(v) The Brethren also alleged that the item breached the following standards:
Standard G11 - Misleading or alarming viewers
Standard G12 - Mindful of the effect on children
Standard G13 - Encouraging denigration
Under this heading, the Fellowship recorded:
The series as a whole, has without question denigrated the Exclusive Brethren. The
Brethren, based on the programme and due to half truth, distortion and lies,
therein, are presented as villains of New Zealand society, callous and without
Nothing could be further from the truth, and we would appeal to the Authority to,
on behalf of 5000 simple living christians in New Zealand, to rectify this situation.
Standard G14 - Accurate, objective and impartial news
Standard G15 - Use of reliable news sources
Standard G19 - Editing must not distort
Standard G20 - All significant views should be presented
The Fellowship argued that anti-Brethren material was presented in four of the five
programmes and in part of the fifth. Moreover, the positive comments from Dr Wilson of
Oxford University were cut off before completion.
Standard G21 - Significant factual errors must be corrected
Standard V1 - Violence shown must be essential
TVNZ's Submission to the Authority
As is its practice, the Authority sought the broadcaster's comment on the referral. Its letter
is dated 29 June 1993 and TVNZ, in its reply of 15 July, raised a procedural point.
Pointing out that s.8(1)(a) of the Act allowed a complainant to refer the broadcaster's
decision to the Authority, TVNZ argued that it did not provide the complainant the
opportunity to lodge, in effect, a new complaint. In the present case, the initial formal
complaint was one a half pages long and listed six standards while the referral amounted
to a three page letter, a seven page appendix, a six page affidavit and a 16 page article.
The material submitted to the Authority therefore is much more extensive than the
initial complaint lodged with the Company which gave rise to the decision of our
Complaints Committee. The appendix in our opinion is in effect a new complaint.
This appendix starts by listing 13 alleged breaches of Code G1. None of these were
mentioned in the initial complaint and cannot now we submit be considered by the
As a general observation, TVNZ stated:
This complaint illustrates a trend among some complainants to regard the
broadcasters' internal complaints mechanism as a mere irksome preliminary to a
determination by the Authority. Such an attitude would appear to be at odds with
the spirit of the Broadcasting Act.
Exclusive Brethren Fellowship's Comment on TVNZ's submission
Harman and Co, solicitors of Christchurch, responded in a letter dated 9 August 1993 to
the Authority's request for comment from the complainant on TVNZ's submission.
Referring first to the provisions in the Broadcasting Act which governed the Authority's
procedures, the solicitors argued that the original letter of complaint to TVNZ covered all
the areas expanded upon when the complaint was referred to the Authority. It added that
the Fellowship, which had not been focused on by television so extensively before, was
featured in five half hour programmes during one week and, it observed:
This is quite extraordinary for such a minority group within New Zealand and we
would have thought it was imperative that the most extensive and full response be
made to the complaint which was forwarded by Mr Williams in the first instance.
More importantly, it is clear that Television New Zealand upon receiving the
complaint made quite extensive enquiries, heard evidence, and took cognisance of a
wide range of information within their organisation to enable Television New
Zealand to rebut the complaint. We would suggest that the ambit of the material
sought was partial in that the information sought was (without exception) in the
nature of rebuttal.
Among the material considered, it believed, would have been the affidavit and article
included with the referral.
The letter also argued that TVNZ had elected not to examine the complaint initially under
the accuracy requirement in standard G1 despite the fact that the letter of complaint
referred to "false accusations" and "false information". Furthermore, it was not accepted
that TVNZ could now cry "foul" as it was aware from a discussion between its reporter and
a church representative and its counsel before the broadcasts, that truth, accuracy and
balance were major considerations to the Fellowship. The solicitor's letter concluded on
For Television New Zealand to now say that the complaint did not come within the
ambit of Code G1 is inconsistent with the complaint made at first instance. That
they elected not to deal with it under Code G1 does not preclude the Authority
from dealing with it. On the contrary, we would say that is the very purpose of
the Broadcasting Authority and that they should investigate very carefully the
complaint made by our clients.
It repeated the point that the item had been misleading in summarising the judge's ruling
when declining to issue an interim injunction (he did not order the programmes to
continue but concluded that the Court could not act as a censor and that individuals who
were pilloried by the media had remedies elsewhere). The letter concluded:
Finally, we note that Television New Zealand has suggested that because the
Exclusive Brethren did not appear on the "Holmes Show" they are somehow the
authors of their own fate. That can never absolve a broadcaster from its
responsibilities under the Act and compliance with the Code of Practice. Rather
they should be doubly scrupulous when dealing with people like the Exclusive
Brethren who (because of their genuinely held religious beliefs) do not take part in
The Authority's Decision on the Procedural Point
The Authority agreed with TVNZ that its statutory function is to "investigate and review"
the broadcaster's decision and that a referral may not amount to a new complaint.
Accordingly, its task was to decide whether the referral was a (justified) elaboration of the
original complaint or whether it introduced (unjustified) new grounds.
It acknowledged that the initial letter of complaint from Mr Williams was in general terms
and did not nominate any standards while the referral provided considerably more detail
and attached those details to specific broadcasting standards. Although TVNZ had advised
Mr Williams of the standards it intended to apply before the Complaint Committee's
deliberations (and he had not responded to its request whether or not those standards were
a correct interpretation of the substance of the complaint), the Authority noted that the
word "accuracy" has been used in the complaint.
Accordingly, the Authority accepted that the truth and accuracy requirement in standard
G1 had been raised in the initial complaint and that the referral did not amount to a new
complaint but was an acceptable elaboration. In the circumstances, the Authority
suggested that TVNZ might wish to proceed by addressing the initial complaint (as
elaborated on in the referral) and reporting its findings to the complainant.
By way of general comment, the Authority observed in its letter to TVNZ:
The Authority agrees with you that referrals to the Authority should not become,
in effect, a new complaint. It concurs that the complainants should not treat
broadcasters' internal mechanisms as a "mere irksome preliminary". However, it
does not believe that was the Church's attitude with this complaint.
TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint
TVNZ advised the complainant of its Complaints Committee's decision in a lengthy letter
dated 5 October 1993. It reported that it had considered those detailed matters raised
when the complaint was referred to the Broadcasting Standards Authority in the context
of standards G1, G2, G4, G6, G11, G12, G13, G14, G15, G19, G20, G21 and V1 of the
Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
The items, TVNZ began, focused on some concerns within the community about the
Exclusive Brethren Fellowship's attitude to those who had left it. The broadcasts had
followed some discussion on matters about the Brethren in Parliament and the print
medium. The broadcasts, TVNZ continued, dealt with the topic by interviewing some
families as specific examples and by taking a broader look at the organisation which
included an interview with an English academic.
TVNZ then examined each of the specific points raised in the complaint under the
(1) Standard G1 - Truth and accuracy
TVNZ maintained that it was not inaccurate to apply the term "religious apartheid" to
Brethren as members lived within the community but in a state of separation. Further,
Brethren children were not allowed to partake in many activities at school such as
watching films or television or using computers. TVNZ also understood that Brethren
children were being withdrawn from secondary schools and placed in correspondence
courses. In addition, members were not allowed to attend tertiary institutions and were
subject to restrictions in activities in workplaces. Overall, TVNZ thus concluded, the word
apartheid was not inappropriate.
In response to the complaint about some people being the Devil's agents, TVNZ cited Dr
Wilson's report that those who had left the fold or had been excommunicated or criticised
it were regarded as agents of the Devil.
TVNZ also argued that the statements about dividing husband and wife was accurate in
view of the material advanced during the items. It was a situation that Dr Wilson had
As for the remark that the Fellowship "had taken" Mrs Field, TVNZ referred to the events
portrayed and concluded:
The evidence seems overwhelming that the Exclusive Brethren Fellowship did in fact
"take" Mrs Field in accordance with its strictly held beliefs.
Dealing with the programme about Brendan Wood, TVNZ reported how he had been cut
off from his family, adding:
The Committee noted your view that the church was "morally bound" to follow the
school's decision to expel the boy. However, it believed most reasonable people
would believe the role of the church would be to compassionately assist a 14-year-
old in trouble, not to throw him out. It seemed to the Committee a reasonable
deduction that much of Brendan's behaviour could be ascribed to the actions of the
It discussed further the points which were confirmed by Brendan's three brothers and
insisted that the phrase - that the family was torn apart by the religion - complied with
the facts. TVNZ also commented that the remark about excommunication for talking to a
brother was provided by members of the family and that no alternative reason for
excommunication was provided by the Fellowship.
As the application for an interim injunction was unsuccessful, the programme had been
allowed to proceed which, in effect, was the statement made during the broadcast.
TVNZ disagreed that it was an untruth to say that the Wallaces were torn apart by their
religion as that was the view of both of them.
The reference to "Whisky Jim" (Mr Taylor) as the man who was responsible for
introducing alcohol into the Fellowship was made on the basis that alcohol was not
permitted into Brethren homes before his edict. He had introduced the first firm set of
rules about what members could drink. TVNZ recalled that Mr Taylor died an alcoholic
and that many members had left the Church after he had been found in bed with a
woman other than his wife.
Mr Trevor Ivory was unsure exactly how long since he had been excommunicated as he
had earlier spent a number of years in limbo. The information included in the item, TVNZ
noted, was not critical to the item.
Returning to the comment about the participation of Brethren children in schools, TVNZ
added to the information supplied earlier that children could not take part in teams which
practised or competed outside normal school hours. The restrictions were such to exclude
Brethren children from involvement in sports and games as understood by most New
TVNZ finished this discussion about the alleged breaches of standard G1 by writing:
While it recognised that your deep involvement in the Exclusive Brethren
Fellowship inevitably leads you to perceive the church's teachings and disciplines in
a different light than would an impartial observer, the Committee was not
convinced by the examples you provided that Code G1 had been breached in any of
the five programmes referred to.
(ii) Standard G2 -Currently accepted norms of decency
TVNZ denied that a straightforward and accurate description of the events involving Mr
Field breached the requirement in standard G2.
(iii) Standard G4 - Dealing Fairly with People Referred To
Repeating the matters covered and the approach taken in the series, TVNZ quoted the
introduction to the final item which emphasised the efforts made to include the Brethren
perspective. Using the information and informal comment which were available, TVNZ
It is the [Complaints] Committee's view that the failure of your Church to provide a
representative to counter the allegations made in this series of programmes was
unfortunate but was not sufficient reason for the programme makers to abandon
an investigation into a matter of significant public interest.
It cited the introduction used for the first broadcast which, it said referring to Dr Wilson's
comments, was fair and just. It also believed it was fair to describe the Brethren churches
as "prisons" and to make a number of other related remarks. The introduction to the
other broadcasts were quoted as were a number of comments from each about the
Fellowship which, TVNZ maintained, were accurate, fair or reported honestly held
opinions and did not amount to a breach of standard G4.
(iv) Standard G6 - Balance, fairness and impartiality
Pointing out that "extraordinary efforts" had been made to give Fellowship representatives
the opportunity to provide information or comment on the matters raised, TVNZ said that
the discussions with the representatives had been off-the-record at their insistence. The
Fellowship's views had been summarised and the last item included an interview with a
person recommended by the Brethren. As a whole, TVNZ stated, the series had not been
(v) The other standards
Standard G11 - Misleading or alarming viewers
This standard applied only to news and was, TVNZ believed, therefore inapplicable.
Standard G12 - Mindful of the effect on Children
The items had not, TVNZ insisted, encouraged children to take the law into their own
Standard G13 - Encouraging denigration
As permitted, the material fell under the exemptions allowing a broadcast of factual
material or genuinely held opinions. Moreover, TVNZ did not consider that the item
encouraged discrimination against the Fellowship anyway.
Standard G14 - Accurate, objective and impartial news
Covered in the discussion under standards G1, G4 and G6
Standard G15 - Use of reliable news sources
TVNZ pointed out that a Brethren representative had been aware of the information
gathered and not objected to the sources at that stage.
Standard G19 - Editing must not distort
There was, TVNZ wrote, no distortion
Standard G20 - All significant views must be presented
In the absence of Brethren comment, all other significant views were presented.
Standard G21 - Significant factual errors must be corrected
Because no inaccuracies were detected, TVNZ regarded this standard as inapplicable.
Standard V1 - Violence shown must be essential
TVNZ said that the references to Mr Field's actions were justified and did not breach the
By way of summary, TVNZ stated:
In summary, the Committee concluded that the series of items to which your
complaint refers was important, and that its screening in New Zealand was a
matter of public interest. The programme makers reported the experience of three
families. The items included their genuinely-held opinions and where possible,
verified the facts with outside sources (such as police, court records etc).
The programme makers made every effort to contact church officials and obtain
their involvement and cooperation. Respecting the beliefs of the church, the
programme makers made every effort to include interviewees suggested by the
church, to talk "off-the-record" with them, and to include any factual information
It must be stressed that the focus of the series was not so much on the church itself,
as on its attitude to those who have left the church and the consequent effect on
With regard to the complainants' concern that the programmes were a "vitriolic" attack
on the Exclusive Brethren, TVNZ re-iterated that Dr Wilson, the expert suggested by the
Fellowship, made the point in his written report that the Brethren would in due course
withdraw from individuals who erred and failed to repent. That occurred because of the
Fellowship's cardinal principle to separate from evil and departure was likely, to use Dr
Wilson's words, to involve "the gravest disturbance" for the person outside the community
and family who remained within it.
While the [Complaints] Committee recognised that the Exclusive Brethren
Fellowship can have taken no pleasure from hearing that these issues had been
discussed on national television it was the Committee's view that an overriding
public interest in the matter made the decision to broadcast the material the right
Exclusive Brethren Fellowship's Second Complaint to the Broadcasting
Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, the solicitors for the Exclusive Brethren Fellowship
(Harman & Co) advised the Authority on 28 October 1993 that it again intended to refer
the matter to the Authority pursuant to s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The
completed Complaint Referral Form was dated 30 November 1993 and the wish of the
Brethren representatives to present oral submissions was reiterated.
By way of introduction, the Fellowship representatives (Mr Raymond Ivory and Mr Ron
Hickmott) expressed concern about the series. Pointing out that the Fellowship was based
on the unchanging teaching contained in the Holy Scriptures, they described TVNZ's
campaign of vilification and harassment as a "gross injustice". Since the broadcasts, they
added, members' businesses had been adversely affected and their children ridiculed.
Maintaining that all matters contained in their submission prepared in June could be fully
verified, the referral began:
The principal concern of the Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship ("the
Fellowship") is that the programmes aired on National television between 29 March
1993 and 2 April 1993 known as "the Holmes Show" evidenced predetermined bias
against the Fellowship (see the introduction to the first of the series of five
- that the information obtained and used in the presentation of the
programmes was erroneous,
- that the sources of that information were unreliable in that, firstly, it was
almost exclusively from former Fellowship members (who obviously had an
axe to grind), former Fellowship members who had been dealt with by the
criminal justice system in New Zealand who were dissatisfied with the
manner in which they were treated, and certain politicians who have made
their opposition to the Fellowship a platform for their own political ends.
This preconception, coupled with the inaccuracies and untruthfulness evident in
the programmes, gave rise to a total lack of balance in the programmes that went
The Fellowship disputed TVNZ's claim that the series dealt with a significant matter of
public interest as most of the information in the broadcasts came from former adherents.
If full research had been conducted, TVNZ would have ascertained that most Fellowship
members were held in high esteem in their communities.
Dealing with the programmes, the Fellowship argued that the matters advanced by the
former members were presented as facts - not as contentions. To argue that the Fellowship
was responsible for its own fate by failing to defend itself, the Fellowship continued was
"the worst kind of tyranny over minority groups". Television bore a responsibility to
ensure that the information presented was correct.
The submission then dealt with the specific allegations in the complaint and TVNZ's
response to them.
The Fellowship denied that the expression "religious apartheid" was either appropriate or
correct, stating that the Exclusive Brethren was no different from other religious
groupings. Referring to the vast majority of Brethren children who attended public
schools, the submission maintained that they participated in a wide variety of school
activities during school hours. They also went on school trips although not staying
overnight. The difference was that the Brethren brought a high degree of parental
oversight, guidance and nurturing into the lives of their children which, it argued, should
not be a basis for criticism.
The Fellowship also denied the statement which was broadcast that Brethren believed that
anyone who was not with them was the "Devil's agent". It also did not apply to people
who left the Church as many later returned to it. Pointing out that the excerpt cited from
Dr Wilson was an analysis of the belief system of any religious grouping, the submission
maintained that the statement was misleading and further evidence of inadequate
As for the statement about dividing husband from wife and brother from brother, the
Fellowship argued that the item focused on isolated incidents which distorted the overall
picture rather than examine the reasons for the breakdown.
That comment was also applicable to the reference that the Fellowship had "taken" Mr
Field's wife. No attempt was made to explain why Mrs Field "had fled her home fearing for
her safety". Were it not for the gravity of the allegations, they would have been risible
and, referring to the item's introduction, the Fellowship continued:
One can discuss the niceties of the meanings of particular words in isolation but it
is submitted that taken as a whole the introduction was erroneous in fact and
content, that there was evidence of preconception and it is submitted there can be
no doubt that it was quite unbalanced in terms of its focus having predetermined
the views that they wished their audience to take from the programme.
The Fellowship considered that TVNZ had not addressed the complaint in respect of the
comments about Brendan Wood made in the June referral.
The Fellowship adamantly opposed TVNZ's comment that a judge had ruled that the
programme could go ahead. The judge did not grant the injunction but there was a
"chasm of difference" to say that he had directed that the programme could go ahead and
the Fellowship considered that was another example of TVNZ's predetermination of the
way in which it would deal with the issue.
As for TVNZ's argument that Mr and Mrs Wallace believed that they were torn apart by
the "strict religion", the Fellowship responded that the matter was presented not at the
Wallaces' belief but as one of fact.
As with the entire contents of the programme the proposition was first made and
then evidence that supported that proposition or fact was advanced without
investigating the real reasons for the break-up.
Calling defamation of a dead man an objectionable matter, the Fellowship stated that
TVNZ's Complaints Committee, by accepting the comments of bitter ex-adherents without
checking, had been misinformed about the late James Taylor.
Describing TVNZ's admission as "grudging" about inaccurately reporting the length of
Trevor Ivory's absence, the Fellowship argued that the programme was "plainly erroneous"
when it said that Brethren children were unable to play sport or games with other
children of school. It also observed that TVNZ now defended the statement on the basis
that it applied only to sports outside of school hours and it wrote:
What the TVNZ Complaints Committee is really saying is that the programme
should have said "They do not play sports outside of school hours" - and as such it is
a tacit admission that the Holmes show got it wrong. They should therefore admit
they were wrong. It does the Committee no credit to attempt to construct an
artifice to get around the programme's inaccuracies.
The submission then dealt at length with TVNZ's assertion that it was difficult to obtain the
Fellowship's side of the story. TVNZ had not attempted to contact it while gathering
information but had only sought comment when the programme was largely completed.
The member approached one week before the broadcast, Mr Edward Malcolm, declined to
appear as he had been involved in a very unpleasant incident depicted. The Fellowship's
spokesperson's legal counsel arranged an interview on the Friday preceding the broadcasts.
During the two hour discussion, the spokesperson (Mr Raymond Ivory) was told neither
what the programmes contained nor what the informants had said and he was not asked
about the positive aspects of the Exclusive Brethren.
The spokesperson was assured by the reporter that the programme would be balanced
which were "assurances that subsequently fell woefully short of the mark".
Pointing out TVNZ was advised that its belief system did not allow them to appear on
television, the Fellowship was of the opinion that this imposed an extra obligation on TVNZ
to ensure balance. Otherwise a negative examination could become a persecution as had
occurred in prewar Germany.
The Fellowship also said it was incorrect to say that its churches "look like prisons".
Security at its churches was not dissimilar to that used at other churches and the presence
of security guards was probably a reference to a world leader's visit which, again, was not
dissimilar to other leaders' visits. Photographs of a number of meeting houses were
enclosed to show that there was no barbed wire and that they did not look like prisons.
The Fellowship did not wish to add anything to its submission concerning standards G11 -
G21. It specifically maintained that the programmes breached the balance, impartiality
and fairness argument in standard G6 as they were based on a partial pre-conception.
TVNZ's defence was described as a "whitewash" in which it relied on information and
innuendo from ex-members. Furthermore:
It is misleading to suggest that the Fellowship were given every opportunity to
comment, when they were refused access to the content of the programmes, were
not contacted in the first instance until the programmes were virtually complete,
and when the only interview involving Mr Ivory came about only as a result of his
request, and that on the Friday prior to the airing of the programmes.
Incidentally, at the conclusion of the interview, Mr Ivory was assured by [the
reporter] that the programmes were a balanced representation of the issues. Mr
Ivory (perhaps somewhat naively, in retrospect) believed in the truth of the
representations as to the contents made to him by [the reporter].
The Fellowship submitted that the series was biased from the outset and that it relied on
untrue information from unreliable sources. The Fellowship maintained that its non-
appearance did not justify the content of the programmes which were screened. The
programmes, the submission continued in expressing its dissatisfaction with TVNZ's
decision, had not presented all significant points of view fairly and had not dealt with the
Brethren fairly. In addition, the incident in which Mr Field threatened a member (Mr
Malcolm) had not been shown fairly.
Further, the Television New Zealand Complaints Committee have obviously been led
to believe that the programme makers made every effort to contact Church
officials and obtain their involvement and co-operation. There is clearly a factual
gulf in what is asserted by the Fellowship and what is asserted by Television New
Zealand. There is only one reference to one contact made to Mr Malcolm one week
before the programme went to air, subsequently Mr Ivory's legal counsel contacted
Television New Zealand. This cannot by any stretch of the imagination amount to
"every effort to contact Church Officials and obtain their involvement and co-
In summary, the Fellowship expressed regret that the adherence by the Brethren to their
faith was shown in a negative light and suggested that it was an example of the "tall
poppy" syndrome. It argued that it did not believe that it should be vilified "in the national
interest" as TVNZ had done, concluding:
Whilst the Authority may take the view that the language used in this submission
has been strong - it is important to remember that these programmes affected the
lives of some 5,000 New Zealanders. Whilst they might not have seen the
programme they nonetheless suffered the consequences at their schools, in their
work places, and in their communities. They have been singled out, they have been
vilified. They have not been treated justly. That TVNZ will not now redress the
injustice is alarming, as ultimately it leaves all minority groups at the mercy of the
media. It is to be hoped that the Authority will make a stand against these types of
programmes, and censure TVNZ accordingly.
TVNZ's Response to the Authority
As is its practice, the Authority sought the broadcaster's response to the complaint. Its
letter is dated 1 December 1993 and TVNZ, in its reply dated 21 January 1994, began by
apologising for the delay caused by the need to respond thoroughly to a detailed referral
while many staff were on holiday. In view of the voluminous and detailed paperwork,
TVNZ expressed the opinion that a hearing as requested by the complainants was
Arguing that the items, which were broadcast in the public interest, provided an account
of an unusual religious group, TVNZ maintained that Fellowship representatives were
given clear and repeated opportunities to comment and pointed out that the programme
included a lengthy interview from London with the only person suggested by the
Fellowship. TVNZ continued:
The series of programmes was never intended to comprise a documentary account
of the Exclusive Brethren Fellowship. It was a current affairs investigation about
the particular relationship of the Fellowship with those who chose to leave it. In
the final two items the scope was broadened to take a wider look at aspects of the
Fellowship as they relate to that particular issue.
TVNZ "strongly" refuted the complainant's comment that the items amounted to a
"publicity campaign" against the Exclusive Brethren and said that the events and the
opinions expressed were reported fairly and accurately. The complainant's comments, it
suggested, amounted to attacking the messenger rather than the message. TVNZ also
denied that TVNZ had harassed the Fellowship over a long period. In addition, TVNZ
maintained that the items were not aimed at discrediting members of the Fellowship,
reiterating that the items reported a number of events and the issues which arose when
some members left.
Dealing with the specific comments, TVNZ said that it stood by its remark that the
Brethren's churches "looked like prisons" in view of the experiences of its reporters and film
crews in various parts of New Zealand and it stated in summary:
It would seem, then, that the visual appearance of the buildings, combined with the
presence of security measures and security guards justifies the description of the
churches as "looking like prisons". It was accurate and fair reporting.
TVNZ responded to the next comment from the Fellowship by repeating that the series was
not a documentary but an examination of one aspect of the Exclusive Brethren's beliefs
and that as the Fellowship was aware of the enquiries, it could have raised matters had it
wished to do so.
TVNZ also persisted with the accuracy of the description "religious apartheid". It also
insisted that the items were accurate to state children of Exclusive Brethren families did
not participate in school sports and that the children were not allowed to go on school
trips or socialise with non-Brethren children. Moreover, TVNZ called the comparison
drawn by the Fellowship, with a named rugby player who did not play sport on Sundays,
as "spurious". It continued:
During the series of items, nobody challenged the rights of Exclusive Brethren
members to hold strong views, or to live a certain lifestyle. In fact, Hon David
Lange was seen to praise them for it. However, Mr Lange did point to community
concerns (which were the focus of the series) that the unbending doctrines of the
Church had divided and hurt families and particularly children.
TVNZ then provided some examples on the restrictions faced by the children of Exclusive
Brethren families and stated:
If what the complainants say in their submission to the Authority is true, then
scores of Exclusive Brethren children in the many schools we have spoken to are
living a different and more restricted lifestyle than that implied by the
We believe the use of the phrase "religious apartheid" accurately and fairly
encapsulated the position.
TVNZ argued that the comment that anyone who was not with them was the "Devil's
agent" was a fair comment from the material gathered and one to which the Church
could have responded to had they provided a spokesperson.
Maintaining what was reported was valid, TVNZ did not want to add to its comments
about the family separations, about the judge's ruling, about Mr Taylor and about Trevor
It described its attempts to get the Fellowship's side of the story as central to the matter of
balance and responded in some detail. First, the reference to the gunpoint incident had
occurred at least six months before TVNZ approached the member involved and thus it
was not a recent "traumatic incident". The member had been approached because he was
in a leadership position but had declined to give any informed comment. The Hickmott
family had been approached some months earlier - in writing as they had requested - but
had declined to give an interview. TVNZ stated:
Church representatives were approached again before filming of the series began,
while it was continuing, and long before structuring and editing of the items
began. Church representatives specifically declined involvement on two occasions.
The interview with Mr Ivory and his counsel has been, at Mr Ivory's insistence, "off the
It is absolutely untrue to state that the programmes were "largely finished" by the
time this interview took place. At the time of the meeting none of the items had
been edited or scripted, and no date for the transmission of the series had been
TVNZ said that the programmes' format had not been decided at that time as it had been
continuing to seek the Fellowship's viewpoint.
With regard to the Fellowship's refusal to appear on television, TVNZ observed:
That must not prevent news media outlets pursuing stories which are in the public
interest and there can be no doubt that the impact of the Church's teachings have
on those who choose to leave the faith is a matter of community interest and
In such circumstances the best the news media can do is to offer the Church the
chance to respond - as occurred on this occasion. When the Church recommended
Englishman, Dr Bryan Wilson, as the most appropriate person to explain the
Church's position, "Holmes" went to considerable lengths to acquire the interview.
By way of conclusion, TVNZ stated:
One further point, in conclusion, is that we note that the complainants now claim
that if the Fellowship had been allowed to view the material there could have been
a more balanced outcome. We remind the Authority that the series ran over a
number of days, which means that (even allowing for the fact that the Fellowship
had repeatedly declined invitations to comment on the issues raised) the Fellowship
had the opportunity after the first programme, the second, or the third to come
back to "Holmes" with comment and reaction which could then have been included
in the later items, The opportunity to view the material and to provide balancing
information was offered to legal counsel for the Church after the injunction
hearing - but still there was no response.
We remain of the view that the series tackled a very important issue in the
community. What a religious group - or any other group for that matter - does in
the confines of its own organisation is a matter for itself provided that neither
innocents nor the wider community are adversely affected. But when the beliefs of
the Church spill over and tragically affect the lives of citizens who have chosen to
leave the Church it becomes a matter of community concern and a justifiable topic
for journalistic investigation.
Events were portrayed accurately and fairly - as was the level of suffering and
distress of those featured in the series.
Exclusive Brethren Fellowship's Final Comment to the Authority
When asked to comment on TVNZ's response, in a lengthy letter dated 8 March 1994, the
Fellowship's solicitors (Harman & Co) apologised for the delay in replying to the Authority's
request for a final comment. They reported that it had been necessary to do some further
research to ensure an accurate response.
Repeating that the complaint raised matters of credibility, the solicitors again sought an
opportunity to make oral submissions. TVNZ's description of the group as "fervent", the
letter continued, implied criticism which was an indication of TVNZ's flawed approach
Reiterating its opposition to TVNZ's contention that the Fellowship had been given
"repeated opportunities to become involved", the letter also argued that TVNZ's explanation
that the series was not a documentary did not coincide with the facts. It also disputed
TVNZ's belief that separation of families was a matter of public interest which, it added,
contradicted the philosophy of the legislation dealing with families. Further, it described as
"trite" TVNZ's comment that the complaints had amounted to attacking the messenger
rather than the message, pointing out that TVNZ's broadcast went nationwide and
affected the lives of Brethren family throughout the country. Brethren children, it
reported, had been harassed at school after the broadcast and a list of Brethren businesses
had been circulated in Nelson and Christchurch with a suggestion that they should be
avoided. By way of general comment, the letter added:
It is worth repeating that this was a programme that spanned five consecutive
nights on a nationwide television news channel, and the writer does not recollect
any other item that has been considered so newsworthy as to have such a
concerted attack on a group of individuals within the community. Having created
a message which denigrated the members of the Fellowship and their beliefs, TVNZ
can hardly be surprised that members were unhappy, especially given the very real
effects that they suffered as a result of the programmes. TVNZ's attempt to deflect
the blame on to Nick Smith [M.P.] for attacks on the Fellowship ignores the fact
that they were a vehicle for such attacks and subsequently embarked on a series
that dwarfed his efforts in that regard.
Apropos the suggestion that their churches looked like prisons, the Fellowship pointed out
that the alleged razor wire shown was in fact standard Cyclone fencing. Maintaining that
some Brethren churches looked more like houses than churches and in no way did they
not look like prisons, the letter said that there were more forbidding churches belonging to
other groups but TVNZ had broadcast its pre-determined value judgment.
The letter stated that more inaccuracies could be listed but the ones which were included
illustrated the point that TVNZ had accepted the comments of former members without
checking. It added that security firms had been used for special visits, commenting that
there was reason for concern as one ex-member (interviewed during the series) held a
member and his family at gun point for which he had been sentenced to imprisonment.
In response to TVNZ's comment that it had tried to get information from Fellowship
representatives, the letter recorded:
It is disingenuous to suggest that the Exclusive Brethren Fellowship could have
commented because they were not aware of the content of the programmes. Had
the suggestion been put to them that their churches were to be described as prisons
they would have responded. Equally, had they been told that they lived in a state
of religious apartheid, they could have provided the appropriate comment, but,
again that was not put. The shoe is actually on the other foot, given that TVNZ
already had the programme "in the can", which meant that they could provide
information to the Fellowship and seek their comment. To expect the Fellowship to
respond in isolation to any knowledge of what was going to be aired is a nonsense.
What were they to comment on?
It had not been possible, the letter continued, to locate the Fellowship representatives TVNZ
maintained that it had approached. It then gave examples of practices in other churches
and maintained that "religious apartheid" was an extravagant term to use, adding:
Again, whilst these points are trivial, what they highlight is that there are different
churches with different belief systems and different rules that the adherents to that
particular belief system comply with, and, to any other person who is not an
adherent to that religious grouping, those rules can often seem arbitrary and/or
unfair. The point is that adherence to a particular belief system does not equate to
a state of "religious apartheid".
The letter then dealt with the comment which was broadcast about the extent of the
participation of children from Brethren families in school activities and it enclosed letters
from three primary school principals to substantiate the Fellowship's remarks. These
letters, it continued, showed that the Fellowship participated in school activities - probably
more than other groups - for the benefit of the pupils and added:
The letters are a frank appraisal of the relationship between the Fellowship
and their school communities, and we would have thought that, before embarking
on the series in the way that they did, it would have been equally open for TVNZ to
obtain such information, as that would have clearly indicated to them that the
path they were choosing to go down was not in fact a correct or fair one. It would
seem apparent that they did not so choose.
The letter repeated that TVNZ now claimed incorrectly that the programme had confined
its remarks to extra-curricular activities which, moreover, was also incorrect as Brethren
children went on school trips for which Brethren parents provided transport for both their
children and others.
Stating it was curious that TVNZ suggested that Mr Lange - a vitriolic opponent - was an
advocate for the Fellowship, the letter attached a recent article by Mr Lange which
contained some "savage" comments about the Exclusive Brethren. The letter then
expressed the view:
This is also the person [Mr Lange] whom TVNZ chose to be present on the fifth
night when the programme went to the air in an attempt to put the Fellowship's
side of the story. Clearly, that was not his role, and effectively Dr Wilson was set
up, given that he understood in the first instance he would be presenting a precis of
his knowledge on the Fellowship. Of course, that did not take place, as, in effect, a
debate was set up with the players heavily stacked against the Fellowship.
Obviously, Mr Holmes and Mr Lange were aware of what was to take place, but
certainly Dr Wilson was not made aware.
Noting that TVNZ was now unsure of the doctrinal point which it reported in the phrase
"Anyone who is not with them is the Devil's agent", the letter maintained that its use by
TVNZ, even based on the information it had at the time, was "extravagant, untrue, unfair
and inaccurate". In reply to TVNZ's comment that a spokesperson could have responded,
the Fellowship commented that it would have - had it known it was to be made. The
Fellowship chided itself for its naivety in believing the reporter's assurances about even-
The letter expressed concern that the initial comments from the Wallaces were advanced
as TVNZ's rather than the Wallaces' and then repeated that TVNZ's efforts to obtain the
Fellowship's input "was meagre at best". When Mr Malcolm was approached for
comment, he had recently been through a traumatic incident and was shortly to give
evidence in a Family Court case. His reluctance to be involved was therefore
understandable. The Hickmott family - who were approached eight months before the
broadcast of the items - was also involved in Family Court proceedings. At Mr Ivory's
request, a meeting was arranged on the Friday before the week in which the items were
screened and because of his lack of specific knowledge, he had declined to comment on the
On the basis that the items were screened the week following the meeting with Mr Ivory
and his legal counsel, the Fellowship maintained that the programmes must have been
substantially completed at the time. Moreover, Mr Ivory was told that the programmes
would be broadcast the following week but was not advised, apart from the assurances as
to even-handedness, of the programmes' contents.
Maintaining that the point was one of credibility, the request to present oral submissions
was reiterated. TVNZ's statement that the completion of the information gathering
process awaited the Fellowship's comments was"dodging the issue". The Fellowship, it
continued, was not advised that the items included the comment about prison-like
churches, religious apartheid, or that outsiders were the Devil's agent. The letter observed:
The interviewing technique suggested by the TVNZ letter requires the Fellowship to
guess the question, and then provide the appropriate answer. That is nonsense.
The comments made at the commencement of the programme used extravagant
language, were divisive, and derisory of the Fellowship. It is just not credible for
TVNZ to suggest that the Fellowship should somehow have guessed that they were
going to say these things about them.
TVNZ, the letter noted, was aware that the Fellowship's belief system precluded a
representative's appearance on television and the authority interviewed, Dr Bryan Wilson,
was unexpectedly placed in a debate with Mr Lange. The Fellowship responded to the first
item, not by making an appearance on the Holmes programme, but by attempting to
obtain an injunction to prevent further programmes. The papers in support of that
injunction had contained information refuting TVNZ's comments but TVNZ had chosen to
ignore that material in its subsequent items. That response, the Fellowship maintained,
indicated that TVNZ intended to advance a predetermined view.
The Fellowship listed four points by way of summary:
1. TVNZ's professed aim to do a series involving investigative journalism was
not achieved in view of the programmes which were screened.
2. The letter recorded:
The introductory comments were inflammatory, inaccurate, and
unfair, and we would suggest it is now obvious that that is the case.
The suggestion that the Fellowship lives in a state of religious
apartheid is countered by both the comments in this, and previous,
correspondence, and also the letters that are annexed to this
3. The doctrinal statement that non-members were regarded as representatives
of the Devil was inaccurate.
4. In response to TVNZ's assertion that it had attempted to obtain balancing
information over an eight-month period, the Fellowship contended that the
one interview with a member of the Fellowship was initiated by the
Fellowship and it had not been advised of the introductory comments TVNZ
intended to use.
The letter concluded:
Whilst we have commented in detail on some matters raised in the TVNZ response,
we have, to a large extent, only scratched the surface in terms of comment, taking
the view that the Authority itself is now in a position to weigh up the changing
tacks evidenced in TVNZ's response. We look forward to your response, equally in
regard to the request to augment the Fellowship's complaint with oral submissions.
Appended to the letter was an advertisement for Cyclone fencing, an 1993 article by Mr
David Lange from Craccum Magazine and recent letters from the principal's of Rangiora
Borough School, Three Kings Primary School in Auckland and Kendal School in
TVNZ's Response to the Fellowship's Final Comment
The Authority, as is its practice, sent the broadcaster a copy of the complainant's final
comment for its information.
TVNZ responded in a fax dated 5 April 1994, beginning:
Conscious that a year has passed since the broadcasts we apologise for feeling the
need to respond briefly to some of the points made in Harman and Company's 8
Before doing that however we express the hope that the important theme running
through the series of items will not be lost within a mass of detail raised in this
The theme, TVNZ continued, was a detailed look at some aspects of the beliefs of an
"unusual religious group" which had caused distress to an identifiable community group -
those who had chosen to leave the Fellowship.
It proceeded to deal with three specific points.
First, it expressed the opinion that the comment that the Brethren churches looked "like
prisons" was fair and reasonable. Noting the group's claim that it used standard cyclone
fencing, TVNZ pointed out that the material at the Auckland church - a rolled spike top,
the most secure security option available - was not standard fencing. Referring to the
secure facilities in some other churches throughout New Zealand and pointing out that
only Fellowship members were allowed to attend meetings, TVNZ stated:
Other churches use security measures but we could find none that match the
stringent security employed by the Exclusive Brethren.
The Brethren's response to TVNZ's enquiries was the second point considered. Referring to
the meeting between Mr Ivory and his counsel on the Friday before the first broadcast,
It is nonsense to suggest that the items had been completed at the time of the
meeting. Each was edited on the day it went to air (which is perfectly normal
practice in a news/current affairs environment).
Because neither the timing nor the contents of the items had been settled at the time and
because a response from an Exclusive Brethren spokesperson was still sought, it had not
been possible to advise Mr Ivory of the precise matters to be covered.
During the week the item had been screened, Mr Edward Malcolm's lawyer had spoken to
TVNZ on two occasions and it had been emphasised to him that TVNZ would be happy to
interview Mr Malcolm. TVNZ insisted:
The anytime, anywhere invitation was perfectly clear and remained open, but
there was no response that week.
The lawyer, TVNZ added, had presented Mr Malcolm's views on an earlier item on Holmes.
TVNZ finished the second issue by commenting:
To clarify another point, we wish to make it clear that Television New Zealand had
not been working full time on the items for eight months since the matter was
raised in Parliament. Occasional work was done on researching and investigating
different aspects involving the Exclusive Brethren. There was no decision to carry
out a long-term investigation.
The "religious apartheid" remark was the third matter addressed by TVNZ and it began:
We repeat - the children do not participate in technology education, they do not
participate in extra-curricular, out-of-school activities, they eat their meals
separately from non-Brethren children, they do not stay overnight on class trips.
The attitude of parents and children was not the issue. The facts show that
Brethren children are "separate" from others because of their beliefs.
TVNZ believed that phrase was fair and reasonable given the information included in the
By way of summary, TVNZ concluded:
In summary we stand by the reporting of this particular aspect of the Exclusive
Brethren Church - that is the difficulties faced by those who leave the Fellowship.
The issue raises important questions for the wider community and therefore was
and is a matter of public interest.
"Holmes" made every reasonable attempt to include the view of the Exclusive
Brethren Church and included their nominated representative in a satellite
interview from London when no other person would come forward in this
We believe it is important that the concerns of former Church members be fully
reported. These items attempted to do that, and gave every opportunity for the
Church to give its viewpoint through a variety of means.
Once again we apologise for adding further to what is an already long and
extremely convoluted correspondence.
Exclusive Brethren Fellowship's Response
In a fax dated 11 April 1994, the Fellowship's solicitors responded to TVNZ's comments.
They expressed their disappointment at being refused the opportunity to present oral
submissions and reserved their position "in that regard".
They repeated their argument that TVNZ's view that the series focused on specific beliefs
was incompatible with the introduction to the items which were broadcast which
suggested that the inquiry was "all-encompassing".
As for TVNZ's claim that the "churches look like prisons" comment was justified because the
Fellowship used the most secure fencing available, the solicitors enclosed a brochure which
promoted an "unscalable fence". The fencing material used by the Brethren, they added,
was that used by commercial businesses. Moreover, the letter added, only about ten of the
one hundred meeting places in New Zealand had any sort of security fencing. It
We come back to the point of how does the statement, "their churches look like
prisons", have any relationship to their stated aim to investigate certain aspects of
the Fellowship. The answer is, that it does not, and we would suggest that the use
of such extravagant terms is merely designed to create a climate of fear and bias,
and in any event is both inaccurate and unfair and unrepresentative of the
meeting places attended by the Fellowship.
Dealing with Mr Ivory's and Mr Williams' discussion with TVNZ, the solicitors contended
that they were only given a "vague" outline of the programmes.
The letter then discussed TVNZ's assertion that the telephone call from Mr Richard Fowler
(Mr Malcolm's solicitor) was evidence of its attempts to include the Fellowship's views.
Having spoken to Mr Fowler, the Brethren's solicitors said his call referred to by TVNZ was
to register a complaint at the broadcast comment that Dr Wilson was the only person put
up to present the Fellowship's point of view. That was incorrect, the solicitors continued,
... on two occasions prior to the screening of the programme Mr Fowler had
telephoned the reporter who was investigating on behalf of TVNZ (Mr Valintine),
and advising that he was in a position to provide, and obtain, information for the
programme, and that he was prepared to do so.
The letter proceeded to give details of Mr Fowler's offers and TVNZ's account was described
as an attempt "to mislead the Authority".
As for the comment about "religious apartheid", the letter noted TVNZ's explanation and
We submit that the Authority should not lose sight of the fact of what TVNZ
actually said during the currency of the programmes which is very different from
what is now contained in their various submissions.
The solicitors concluded their letter by observing that, in view of Mr Fowler's actions, it
was "incredible" for TVNZ to assert that no other person would come forward, stating:
The suggestion that TVNZ gave every opportunity for the church to get its
viewpoint through a variety of means is untrue, especially in light of the contact
made by Mr Fowler in the period immediately preceding the viewing of the
The Authority's Response
In view of the conflict in the submissions, the Authority at its meeting on 12 April 1994
decided to request affidavits from Mr Fowler and Mr Williams, through the Fellowship's
solicitors, and affidavits from the responsible staff members from TVNZ. The affidavits
were to be confined to the issue which in the correspondence had been headed "The
Response of the Exclusive Brethren" and dealt with the interaction between TVNZ and the
Fellowship and the debate about how the Brethren's perspective was to be advanced in the
The Responses from the Exclusive Brethren Fellowship and TVNZ
In a letter dated 29 April 1994, the Fellowship's solicitors forwarded an affidavit from Mr
Richard Fowler, solicitor. He reported that he acted for Mr Edward Malcolm of Nelson
who was a member of the Exclusive Brethren Fellowship. On Mr Malcolm's instructions,
he had contacted TVNZ's reporter (Mr Mike Valintine) on two occasions within the month
before the series complained about was broadcast to advise him that he could arrange
input in respect of his client's perspective:
... to ensure that the programme was fair and accurate which was particularly
significant here given their sincere abhorrence of taking part in any broadcast
The reporter did not fulfil his promise on each occasion to contact him "very shortly" for
which he was "extremely disappointed".
The series, the affidavit continued, vilified Mr Malcolm more than any other member of
the Fellowship and furthermore, asserted in the fourth item that "'the Church' would not
put up anyone" to discuss the programme. He had contacted TVNZ and was advised that
Mr P A Williams, on behalf of some clients, had attempted to injunct the programme and
that TVNZ had assumed that Mr Fowler's offer of input "had been entirely overtaken by
Mr Williams' involvement". Mr Fowler found that conclusion "quite extraordinary" but
added that TVNZ, at that stage offered to interview either Mr Malcolm or himself. In view
of the series' approach in the broadcasts to date, that offer was declined.
An affidavit was received from Mr Williams on 3 May who reported that he had set up a
meeting for Mr Ivory and himself with TVNZ shortly before the broadcasts. he wrote:
That during the meeting I informed Mr Valintine that although no Exclusive
Brethren member would appear on the television programme because of their
religious beliefs, Mr Ivory, a member of the Exclusive Brethren, was prepared to
supply at the meeting any information required in relation to the Exclusive
Brethren so that if allegations were made against the Exclusive Brethren by
aggrieved people, TVNZ would be in possession of the explanations or answers to
those allegations by the Exclusive Brethren so that these could be presented during
the programme to make the programme balanced and fair.
However, he continued:
When I later saw the items on TV1 relating to this matter I realised that many
important allegations had not been revealed at the meeting and I was disagreeably
surprised at the strong bias of the programme against the Exclusive Brethren.
TVNZ's response in the form of signed statements and a letter from its solicitor was received
on 3 May. Statements were received from Mr Mike Valintine, senior reporter, Ms Susan
Baldacci, Producer, and Executive Producer, Mr Paul Cutler. The latter two recalled that
they had spoken to Mr Fowler while the series was being broadcast. Ms Baldacci also
reported Mr Valintine's belief that Mr Williams was the person to speak to about church
matters after he "entered the picture". She had invited Mr Fowler or Mr Malcolm to
appear on the programme. Mr Cutler confirmed the point about the invitation, adding
that his two conversations with Mr Fowler were "friendly".
Mr Valintine began by noting that the Brethren had declined to comment when he had
prepared an item about a dispute with some former members in March/April 1992. In
regard to the series complained about, he stated that TVNZ's staff in Christchurch had
been shouted at and abused by members of the Fellowship. In Nelson, he had contacted
Mr Malcolm and had later heard from Mr Fowler who said he was prepared to talk to him
about the programmes. The offer was deferred pending further filming. He then added:
But in the week beginning 22 March 1993 before the items went to air -- and
before I had begun structuring the items -- I received a call from Peter Williams,
who told me he represented the Exclusive Brethren Church, who would like to meet
with me regarding the programmes.
He explained that Church representatives would be flown up from the South Island
for the meeting. He asked for an appointment and I replied that I would make
myself available at any time.
A meeting was arranged for the Friday afternoon of that week -- and Mr Williams
arrived with Mr Ivory. ...
As a result, I believed this meeting was to be with Church officials, and that it
would provide the response of the Church. As such it superseded any contact with
the lawyer for Mr Malcolm.
At the meeting Mr Ivory was introduced to me as a representative of the Exclusive
Brethren. From Mr Williams' first call I was in no doubt that he, and whomever
he brought to the meeting, were representing the Exclusive Brethren Church in
After explaining that Mr Ivory had insisted that his comments were "off the record", Mr
Valintine said that, among other matters, he had raised the issues of the Brethren's
attitude to university education and new technology. He continued:
It was during this debate Mr Ivory and Mr Williams asked to see the items I had
done. I explained that no items existed -- I had a huge amount of raw footage and
while I had shortlisted a lot of the material -- that process had not finished and I
hadn't even structured or scripted and was still unsure as to what format the
programme would air in, that is, in one programme or a series of items, that to
some extent that would depend on their responses on this day.
However, I readily offered to outline (in some detail) the people involved in the
items and the substance of their allegations and complaints.
That briefing included all the complainants that in the end were seen in the items,
and some complainants and issues that were not eventually included. It was a
detailed briefing, which I estimate would have taken between 15 and 20 minutes.
He had asked Mr Williams and Mr Ivory for their response by the Monday, gave them his
contact telephone numbers but they did not contact him.
The Parties Response to Each Others' Information
The Fellowship's solicitors were sent a copy of TVNZ's statements and TVNZ a copy of the
affidavits provided by the Fellowship. A reply from each party was received on 9 May
The Fellowship's solicitors pointed out that TVNZ had supplied statements, not affidavits as
requested, that they contained "a great deal of hearsay" and, accordingly, should not be
accepted by the Authority. Alternatively, if the statements were accepted, then in the case
of a factual dispute, the affidavit evidence should be accepted.
Pointing out that Mr Valintine's statement began with some irrelevant information and
acknowledged only one telephone call from Mr Fowler, not two, the solicitors pointed out
that moreover he did not disagree that he had not taken up Mr Fowler's offer to talk about
the Fellowship. It stated:
We did not accept that it is reasonable to believe that the contact by Mr Williams
initiated in the week prior to the programmes going to air (on or about
Wednesday, 25 March 1993) was such as to preclude following up the two offers
of assistance provided by Mr Fowler made in the preceding month.
The solicitor reported that he had spoken to Mr Ivory recently who said the meeting had
been arranged to allow TVNZ the opportunity to ensure that its programmes were
balanced. One of the programmes which dealt with schooling, the solicitor observed, had
then inaccurately referred to playing sport rather than include an accurate reference to
The letter also maintained that TVNZ's descriptions as to the extent of the discussion at the
meeting about the content of the series was inconsistent and Mr Ivory continued to insist
that he had not received a "detailed outline" or a "detailed briefing". Rather, Mr Ivory
recalled, he had received a "sketchy outline" which did not contain the extravagant
allegations which were broadcast. After reporting more of the discussion, the solicitors
We find it ludicrous for Mr Valintine to still be asserting that he was prepared to
interview anyone anywhere to obtain input from the Fellowship. We do not
believe that can in any way be consistent with the refusal to take up the offer
provided by Mr Fowler in the preceding month.
Again we find it quite inconsistent for Television New Zealand to take the view that
Mr Williams' involvement precluded them from following up any other avenues of
investigation in order to provide a degree of balance and fairness to the
programme. If that were so (ie they believed that Mr Williams was the only person
authorised to speak on behalf of the Brethren) we wonder why they then the
following week were quite prepared suddenly to talk with Mr Fowler.
The letter stated that Mr Ivory considered Mr Valentine's statement to be inaccurate and,
furthermore, avoided the main issue that he did not supply detailed information on which
the Fellowship could comment.
After commenting briefly on the other statements, the Fellowship's solicitors concluded:
In an endeavour to comply with the time constraints, we have not commented on
every inconsistency set out in the statements provided by Television New Zealand.
We would also reiterate that the tone for the whole series of programmes was set
on the first evening that the programmes were screened and it has now become
apparent that those opening remarks were wrong and were known to be wrong by
Television New Zealand. Those opening remarks coloured the context of the
ensuing programmes which essentially set about proving those statements to be
correct. Television New Zealand used whatever means at their disposal to do so
without any apparent regard to the rights of members of the Fellowship. It is
apparent that they deliberately did not take up the invitation for Mr Fowler to
provide information. We do not believe the excuse that they now advance to be
In the circumstances we think this complaint has taken a new and serious turn in
that Television New Zealand have not only deliberately misled the Authority in
terms of their analysis of the events but continue to disregard the procedures laid
down by the Authority in that they have refused to provide the affidavits requested
because of the obvious implications of providing information in an affidavit which
subsequently turns out to be incorrect. We submit that Television New Zealand (a
national organisation with huge resources) should not be able to ignore the
procedures laid down by the Authority and that the appropriate message should be
conveyed to them by the Authority (ie in light of their noncompliance) namely that
the Television New Zealand statements will not be considered as part of this
In its response dated 9 May, TVNZ expressed the wish to attempt to clarify some points
First, it argued, as Mr Malcolm's inclusion in the programmes was not part of the original
complaint, it was now only relevant in clarifying TVNZ's communications with Mr Fowler.
It then dealt with a number of points in Mr Fowler's affidavit. As soon as it was realised -
while the series was being broadcast - that Mr Fowler represented a different view from
that advanced by Mr Williams, he was advised on several occasions that his or Mr
Malcolm's participation in the series would be appreciated. It was declined.
Both producers - if not the reporter, moreover, were not aware of Mr Fowler's interest
until he told them during the broadcasts and, similarly, were not previously aware that
Mr Malcolm had taken action against TV3 or Mr Smith M.P.
There is an inherent problem when people involved in a news item take the position
that they will not appear. It puts an onus on the programme which is often
extremely difficult to fulfil.
Once the misunderstanding about Mr Fowler's involvement was clarified, he had
every opportunity for himself, or his client, to be involved in providing input to the
series of items. The clear indication from Mr Fowler was that he was not going to
avail himself of any offer to appear, supply information, written statements or off-
With regard to the affidavit from Mr Williams, TVNZ maintained that considerable
information was received as a result of the broadcasts which would not have been
available to the reporter when he spoke to Mr Williams but:
However we strongly dispute the implication in Mr Williams' statement that we did
not reveal all that we could to him at the Friday meeting. While the programmes
were not yet edited, the reporter is emphatic that all the major points known to
him at the time were put to both Mr Williams and Mr Ivory.
The Authority's Request for Further Information
The affidavits supplied by the Brethren's solicitors and the statements provided by TVNZ
were considered by the Authority at its meeting on 12 May 1994.
As a result of the discussion at the meeting about the general nature of the affidavit from
Mr Williams, in a letter dated 16 May, the solicitors were asked to provide an affidavit
from Mr Ivory dealing with the reasons for the meeting with TVNZ staff a few days before
the broadcast of the series complained about. In a letter to TVNZ, also dated 16 May, the
Authority pointed out that it had requested affidavits - not statements - and if TVNZ was
not prepared to supply sworn affidavits, the Authority said it would draw the inferences
TVNZ's Response to the Authority
Two replies were received from TVNZ. The first, dated 18 May 1994, responded to some of
the comments made by the Brethren's solicitors when forwarding Mr Fowler's affidavit to
First, TVNZ argued that it was not inconsistent for its reporter to maintain he was
prepared to interview anyone at any time and for Mr Fowler to decline to be interviewed.
Secondly, it rejected the Fellowship's interpretation of the reporter's attitude at the meeting
with Mr Williams and Mr Ivory.
As the final point, it noted that the Brethren continued to object to three phrases in the
introduction to the first programme. It also noted that it had earlier responded
comprehensively to the complaints about:
(i) "religious apartheid"
(ii) "anyone not with us is the devil's agent"
(iii) "a church that has been divided"
and insisted that the series' introduction was not incorrect.
In reference to (ii) we would ask the Authority to note our full response to the
Brethren's complaint namely that, while in a strictly doctrinal sense this may not
be the stated position of the Fellowship, there was substantial evidence given to the
programme makers (which included sound recordings of members) that this was in
fact the position of the Fellowship.
Finally, we reiterate that what matters most in this complaint is what was shown
on air - the content of the several programmes which provided a detailed and
informative look at some aspects of an unusual religious group whose fervent
beliefs had demonstrably caused grief and distress to members of the public.
We submit that much of the ancillary material now surrounding this complaint is
of little relevance.
In the second letter in response to the Authority's comment about statements as opposed to
affidavits, dated 20 May, TVNZ expressed its concern at the request and, noting that it had
not offered to supply affidavits, expressed displeasure that its statements might not be
given the same weight as the affidavits.
However, apparently on the basis that the practice of seeking affidavits would be used in
unusual situations only, TVNZ later supplied affidavits from Mr Michael Valintine, Ms
Susan Baldacci, Mr Paul Cutler and Mr William Akel which confirmed the points
contained in their statements. An affidavit was also received from Ms Helen Wild,
solicitor, in which she confirmed that Mr Akel suggested to one of the Fellowship's counsel,
after the injunction hearing, that a member might like to appear on the programme to
respond to the points raised. An affidavit from Mr C H Cooke, a TVNZ employer in
Christchurch, reported he had approached members of the Hickmott family but they had
declined his written request to put their side of the custody dispute between the Hickmott
family and Stan and Julia Field. In another affidavit, TVNZ employee Ms Tsehai Tiffin said
that while filming the Exclusive Brethren, on two occasions vehicles had been driven at
TVNZ employees dangerously.
The Fellowship's solicitors on 14 June 1994 supplied the affidavit the Authority requested
from Mr Ivory. He began by recording the background to the meeting with TVNZ which
included some unannounced filming of Fellowship members without permission at a
number of different places. The first direct approach, he continued, had occurred in
March 1993 when TVNZ asked Mr Malcolm to comment on a custody case in which he
was involved. Mr Ivory added:
As Mr Malcolm was directly involved in the court case in that he had to give
evidence I understand he had asked his solicitor to comment on his behalf. This
then was the first direct approach of Television New Zealand. From this we
assumed that TVNZ were behind much of the filming that had been undertaken to
this point (and that has subsequently turned out to be the case). Prior to this
advice the majority of the vehicles and crew bore no visible identification to single
out which television or film company they belonged to.
Because of his concern about the filming and because of possible adverse publicity, in view
of the Fellowship's past experiences, a meeting was arranged with TVNZ:
... with a view to finding out whether a programme was to be aired, and, if so, to
arrange a meeting in an attempt to have such a programme stopped, and/or, if
that could not be achieved, provide some sort of overview or input to achieve some
degree of balance so we did not have a repeat of the past.
Emphasising that Fellowship members did not, both as a matter of conscience and in terms
of their belief system, appear on or participate in television programmes, Mr Ivory said he
tried to convince TVNZ to "leave us alone". As he was unsuccessful in that pursuit, he said
he then wanted to ensure that a true and fair picture was given of the Fellowship. He
Our meeting was not in substitution for Richard Fowler's offer of input - that was
not the consideration - his input was parallel to the input that I would have
provided. Neither Mr Fowler's name nor his offer of input came up for discussion
although I made it quite plain that I could not address issues in relation to the
Nelson Fellowship at the meeting. On behalf of the Brethren of New Zealand I
would have provided a balanced view if TVNZ had allowed it.
Naively, he acknowledged in retrospect, he had expected to be told or shown what would
be screened in order to comment on the credibility and accuracy of the information. He
would also have explained the doctrinal matters had he known what the programmes
would contain. He observed:
I have seen the statements provided by Mr Valintine which suggested that
everything I said was off the record. That is disingenuous. Of course, what I was
saying was that, because of my personal position, and my belief system, I did not
wish to either appear and/or be quoted or be recorded on tape, but that certainly
did not preclude TVNZ from utilising that material, or accessing further material as
a result of the information I provided.
He provided a summary in which he explained that the purpose of the meeting was to
ascertain TVNZ's interest, to try to convince them not to broadcast the programme and, if
that was unsuccessful, then to ensure that TVNZ's information was accurate and balanced.
As he was assured that the programme would be balanced and fair, he did not consider
the matter needed to be taken further.
In confirmation of his recollection, he referred the Authority to an affidavit dated 31
March 1993, earlier supplied to the Authority, dealing with these matters and which was
prepared when the issues were fresh in his mind.