Minister of Health (Hon Jenny Shipley) and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 1994-071
- I W Gallaway (Chair)
- R A Barraclough
- L M Loates
- J R Morris
- Minister of Health (Hon Jenny Shipley)
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationCommercial network (including Newstalk ZB)
The question of specialists working in both the public and private health sectors was
the topic when the Minister of Health (Hon Jenny Shipley) was interviewed by Pam
Corkery on RNZ's commercial network on Tuesday evening 22 March 1994.
The Minister complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd that during the interview her
integrity and that of all Members of Parliament was questioned. The broadcast, the
Minister continued, breached a number of standards including those requiring balance
and being fair to people referred to.
RNZ argued that most of the interview complied with the standards but upheld the
complaint that the host's concluding remark was in bad taste and had treated the
Minister unfairly. As a result, it said that the host had been counselled in the
principles to be applied during interviews which were intended to provide an anchor
piece for a talkback discussion.
Dissatisfied that RNZ apparently felt justified applying different standards for
talkback compared with other current affairs programmes and, consequently, had dealt
with the balance and fairness complaints inadequately, Mrs Shipley referred the
complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority, whilst agreeing with RNZ's decision to
uphold the complaint under standard R5 and s.4(1)(a) as far as the concluding remark
was concerned, declined to uphold the complaint that the action taken by RNZ was not
sufficient and by a majority upheld the complaint that a further aspect of the complaint
also breached standard R5. A majority declined to uphold the complaint that standard
R9 was breached.
The members have listened to a tape of the programme complained about and have
read the correspondence – including a transcript of the item (summarised in the
Appendix). As is its practice, the Authority has determined the complaint without a
A talkback host interviewed the Minister of Health, the Hon Jenny Shipley, on Radio
New Zealand's commercial network on the evening of 22 March 1994. The interview
discussed surgeons who had chosen to leave the public health system. The host
challenged Mrs Shipley's assertion that the public had the right to know what they
were earning in the private sector so that the issues involved could be debated openly.
Mrs Shipley complained to RNZ that during the interview the host had drawn a
comparison between politicians and medical specialists, "demanding to know" her
private income and questioning her about the value of her home.
Mrs Shipley said the interviewer implied that MPs, including the complainant, were
concealing interests which were described as "everything they earn on the side".
The host's final comment, "You could have half your money in the Cook Islands",
was seriously damaging, the Minister said, adding that she was considering legal
Mrs Shipley said she believed the broadcast had breached standards R5, R9, R11 and
R12 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. These require broadcasters:
R5 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any
R9 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political
matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature, making
reasonable efforts to present significant points of view either in the same
programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
R11 To respect the privacy of the individual.
R12 To correct factual errors speedily and with similar prominence to the
offending broadcast or broadcasts.
In its response RNZ considered the complaint under the standards nominated by Mrs
Shipley, and also judged the matter under s.4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
s.4(1) Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes and
their presentation, standards which are consistent with:
(a) the observance of good taste and decency.
RNZ first considered the matter of balance, saying that since the interview provided a
full opportunity for response the balance requirement was not contravened. Similarly,
RNZ said the interviewee had "set the record" straight immediately where necessary
and the broadcaster did not believe there were any factual errors that required
In considering the privacy complaint, RNZ said that a discussion of details, which
although personal, were matters of public record, would not appear to be an invasion
Turning to the complaint that the interview did not deal justly and fairly with Mrs
Shipley, RNZ said it did not believe the main part of the interview breached the
standard. It noted that the interview was part of a live talkback show, a more robust
and less formally structured format than ordinary current affairs programmes. RNZ
also observed that listeners to the particular host's programme were well-acquainted
with her style and were unlikely to be misled by her presentation.
However, it believed the comment "You could have half your money in the Cook
Islands" warranted closer examination. RNZ felt it was a throwaway line that was not
specifically intended to refer to the complainant. However, unlike other topics raised
during the interview, RNZ said this point was not matched by an opportunity for
response. It had been part of the closing remarks and the host had "talked over" the
Minister. RNZ concluded that the complaints under standard R5 and s.4(1)(a) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989 would be partially upheld as the final part of the interview
breached the codes.
In its response to the Minister, RNZ said it had taken the "less than usual" course of
referring the complaints committee's recommendation to an "experienced member of
an independent outside firm". That person had confirmed the committee's
conclusions. However, RNZ noted that it had directed that the host should be
counselled about the principles to be applied to interviews which, although aimed to
provide anchor-pieces for talkback, had more in common with current affairs and news
than normal talkback.
RNZ rejected the standard R11 complaint that Mrs Shipley's privacy was breached,
pointing out that the matters discussed were on the public record. It also rejected her
request under standard R12 that the errors contained in the broadcast be corrected,
observing that the statements alleged to be incorrect were in the form of questions
from the host and were given an immediate response by Mrs Shipley. These matters
were not referred by Mrs Shipley to the Authority for review.
In her referral to the Authority, Mrs Shipley expressed concern that RNZ seemed to
be saying that this host should be regarded differently from other broadcasters.
Talkback hosts' interviews were concerned with issues of the day and were therefore
current affairs, the Minister said, adding that she would expect the same standards to
apply to talkback as to Morning Report or Checkpoint. This did not appear to be the
case however, as this host used editorialising extensively, without separating fact from
Mrs Shipley added that she was seeking from the Authority clarification over
standards applying to talkback and current affairs issues dealt with by talkback hosts
in interviews. She concluded that she did not believe RNZ had dealt adequately with
her complaints under standards R5 and R9.
In its final response RNZ said Mrs Shipley's belief that RNZ's decision was some
form of special treatment of the host was not justified. While the broadcast in
question could not be regarded in the same light as a Checkpoint interview, basic
standards must not be neglected or overturned. RNZ suggested that the Minister's
request for a general and universal policy ruling on news and current affairs was
inappropriate and outside the scope of the initial complaint.
In her final comment, Mrs Shipley said she did not believe her complaint was
"shifting ground". Newsmakers were entitled to expect the same standard of balance,
impartiality and fairness during a current affairs interview on talkback radio as on
Morning Report or Checkpoint, she said.
The Authority examined the interview to determine if there were any extracts that
were unfair to the Minister and thus in breach of standard R5. In doing so it
considered some of the general questions raised by Mrs Shipley, where they were
relevant to the complaint. The Authority noted that the style in a talkback interview
could be expected to be more colloquial and robust than in a traditional current affairs
format. It also expected that the host's personal opinions on a topic in question might
be known from the surrounding talkback discussion. Therefore, it would not be
surprising, or unreasonable, if the host's personal opinions were evident.
Nevertheless there was no question of a variation of standards being acceptable from
one host to another. The Authority examined RNZ's Complaints Committee's
comment that it was:
...well aware, as are all her listeners, of Ms Corkery's highly individual
broadcasting style, which [it] believe[d] is a factor to be considered in any
complaint such as yours.
The Authority concluded that if by this RNZ meant that this host should be treated
differently, then it disagreed.
The Authority agreed with RNZ when it upheld as a breach of standard R5 and
s4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 the remark about money being held in the Cook
Islands. It believed it was rude and unfair of the host to have "talked over" Mrs
Shipley after raising the matter at the end of the interview, thus denying the Minister
a chance to respond. The Authority considered RNZ had acted responsibly in
ordering that the host be counselled about the requirements for anchor piece current
affairs interviews which the Authority agreed were more akin to news and current
affairs presentations than to talkback generally.
In addition, a majority of the Authority considered that the host's persistence with
irrelevant questions regarding the value of Mrs Shipley's family home was sufficient
to constitute a further breach of standard R5. The minority disagreed. While it could
understand the comparison being drawn between medical specialists and politicians
revealing their private income, it believed aspects of the persistent questioning of Mrs
Shipley came close to exceeding the boundaries of a reasonable and fair interview.
However it considered in the context where the general point was being made about
public disclosure of private income by doctors, it was unlikely that listeners would
interpret the questions as suggesting that MPs were concealing their financial interests.
The Authority then dealt with the standard R9 complaint about balance. A majority
concurred with RNZ that balance had been provided by the interviewee as she had
responded fully to the points raised during the interview, with the exception of the
last remark, which the majority felt was more properly dealt with under standard R5.
The majority declined to uphold the standard R9 complaint.
The minority considered the "Cook Islands" comment without any right of reply to be
a breach of standard R9 in addition to standard R5.
Finally, the Authority stressed that basic standards regarding balance and fairness
should not be ignored. The person being interviewed must be dealt with in a
reasonable and fair manner and given a chance to express their point of view as
required by the balance standard. In this case, Mrs Shipley had been invited to
participate in the programme by way of an interview and she was fully entitled to
expect the same standards of balance, impartiality and fairness to be applied within
the context of a talkback programme as in other current affairs interviews.
The Authority, whilst agreeing with Radio New Zealand Ltd's decision to
uphold the complaint as far as the concluding remark was concerned, declines
to uphold the complaint that the action then taken by the broadcaster was
insufficient. A majority upholds the complaint that the questioning about the
value of Mrs Shipley's home was also in breach of standard R5. The majority
declines to uphold the complaint that there was a breach of standard R9.
Having upheld a complaint the Authority may impose an order under s.13(1) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989. It does not intend to do so for two reasons. First, the
decision to uphold an aspect of the complaint was a majority decision only, and
secondly, it considered that the action taken by RNZ was sufficient.
As a result of the increasing prominence of talkback programmes, the Authority
advises that it will give priority to investigating possible revision of the Codes of
Broadcasting Practice to include specific reference to talkback programmes.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
22 August 1994
The Minister of Health's Complaint to Radio New Zealand Limited
In a letter dated 20 April 1994, the Minister of Health (Hon Jenny Shipley)
complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd about an interview conducted by Pam Corkery
she had given for the commercial network on Tuesday evening, 22 March.
The issue was the matter of specialists working in both the public and private health
sectors which, the Minister said she had stated in Parliament, did not amount to a
conflict in interest. The Minister continued:
I anticipated the interview with Ms Corkery to be just such a discussion. By
the end of the interview, however, Ms Corkery had called into question my
integrity and honesty, and that of all MPs.
That had occurred, she said, as Ms Corkery compared medical specialists to
politicians who both might have a private income. Ms Corkery had asked her about
her family home and, despite her efforts to remain on the principal topic, Ms Corkery
continued in a personal vein and had concluded:
You could have half your money in the Cook Islands.
The Minister maintained that the broadcast breached the standards relating to privacy,
balance, dealing fairly and correcting factual errors. She concluded:
I consider that this interview seriously breached these Codes. I look forward
to a prompt response to my concerns. In the past I have been willing on many
occasions to speak to Pam on any issue of public concern. In the meantime I
do not intend to do any interviews with Pam Corkery. I made this clear, with
an explanation as to why, when a request was received from her on 11 April.
On air she chose to comment on my non-availability without referring to the
reason why. In fact she said no reason was given for the refusal. I will leave
this matter to you to deal with.
RNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint
RNZ informed the Minister of its Complaints Committee's decision in a letter dated
11 May 1994. Because of the Minister's concern, RNZ's Chief Executive (Mr Nigel
Milan) advised her that the Committee's recommendation had been considered by an
"experienced member from an outside firm" who had confirmed the conclusion and
In summary, while declining to uphold the full complaint, RNZ had upheld the aspect
of the complaint that the final comment breached the requirement that people be dealt
with fairly and the standard requiring good taste and decency.
The Complaints Committee's papers which accompanied this letter began by dealing
with the alleged breaches of each standard.
As for balance, RNZ argued that the talkback format in itself provided the
opportunity for a full response. Accordingly, neither s.4(1)(c) of the Act nor
standard R9 was contravened.
The Minister's privacy was not breached, TVNZ maintained, as the information
about her property was contained in the Parliamentary record and its value was
recorded in public offices.
The aspect of the complaint which referred to just and fair dealing dealt with the
segment of the interview when Ms Corkery argued that those who earned a public
income should also disclose their private income. As Ms Corkery had not implied
unethical or illegal behaviour (except possibly in her final comments), RNZ did not
uphold that aspect.
As there were no factual errors, RNZ stated, the standard requiring their correction
had not been put in jeopardy.
Moreover, RNZ added, it had been decided it was appropriate to assess the complaint
against the standard in s.4(1)(a) of the Act, requiring good taste and decency, in the
context of "good manners", in conjunction with the standard R5 requirement referring
to dealing fairly.
It then proceeded to assess the complaint about the final comments on the following
i) the broadcast is part of a live talk-back interview, not a structured
Current Affairs analysis. The subject matter is closely connected with
a "current affair" in the contemporary news, but the broadcast is in the
context of an altogether more robust and less formally structured
ii) Corkery has her own individual and well known style which inevitably
emerges in and colours her on-air work, most of which is "live". The
Committee therefore feels justified in regarding the broadcast in a
different light from that in which it might assess, for example, a
"Morning Report" or "Checkpoint" item. That is not to say, however,
that the basic standards may be neglected or overturned. It is
nevertheless a fact that listeners to Corkery's programme are well
acquainted with her style and unlikely to be misled by her
Expressing the opinion that the comment about the Cook Islands was meant to be "a
throw-away line" which referred to other matters of current public interest, RNZ
noted however that the Minister was not given an opportunity to respond to it. It
was expressed as a retort and RNZ concluded:
The [Complaints] Committee, bearing in mind all these aspects, considered
Corkery's concluding remarks and the manner of their delivery to be unjustified.
They were not made to elicit a "straight" answer from an evasive interviewee,
and the Committee believes that this final part of the broadcast was in bad taste
and unfair in that no effective opportunity was given to the complainant to
The Minister's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority
Dissatisfied with aspects of RNZ's reasoning, in a letter dated 9 June 1994, the
Minister referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under
s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
Referring to RNZ's comment that Ms Corkery's style justified applying the
standards in a different manner, the Minister said that RNZ seemed to regard Ms
Corkery differently from other broadcasters. She continued:
The fact is, however, that within the talkback format of Ms Corkery's and
others' shows the host conducts interviews on issues of the day - in other
words, current affairs. I would expect that the same standards that apply to
programmes such as Morning Report and Checkpoint would apply to these
interviews. It does not appear to be the case however and Ms Corkery uses
editorialising extensively as part of her show, without separating comment from
The Minister recorded the reason for the referral:
I am seeking from the Broadcasting Standards Authority clarification over the
standards that apply to the talkback format and the current affairs issues that
are dealt with by talkback hosts in interviews with the day's newsmakers.
As a consequence of RNZ's approach, the Minister argued that her complaints about
balance and dealing with people fairly had not been dealt with adequately. She
Moreover, to my knowledge this is the first time the question of the
news/current affairs guidelines has been interpreted so "clearly" by the
broadcaster. This is a very important policy question and I look forward for
your considered ruling on this issue.
RNZ's Response to the Authority
As is its practice, the Authority sought the broadcaster's response to the referral. Its
letter is dated 10 June 1994 and RNZ's reply, 14 June.
RNZ said that the Minister was incorrect to argue that her complaint was the first to
deal with the news/current affairs status of talkback. It referred to Decision No: 24/91
(dated 17 June 1991) where the talkback host presented editorial comments as fact.
RNZ noted that this differed from the present complaint where the host posed a
number of questions or "statements-for-response". It continued:
It is difficult to find support in that programme format for a contention that
opportunity was denied Mrs Shipley to make balancing comments or to
respond with her views and statements.
It was also incorrect, RNZ continued, to reach its decision as implying that different
standards (or none at all) applied to Ms Corkery's broadcasts. While her broadcasts
might not be regarded in the same light as, say, a Checkpoint item, "basic standards
must not be neglected or overturned".
RNZ then argued that some of the matters raised by the complaint were matters of
editorial policy and asked whether it was appropriate to ask the Authority, in a
complaint referral, such general questions. It stated:
Mrs Shipley's letter of 9 June to the Authority ought to be such a reference for
review. The Company respectfully suggests that her request for general and
universal policy rulings on News and Current Affairs standards which apply to
talk-back programmes is inappropriate on a number of counts.
It was inappropriate, first, as it was outside the scope of referral; secondly, because
the issue had been dealt with in Decision No: 24/91; thirdly, as RNZ acknowledged
already that the standards applicable to current affairs applied when talkback dealt
with current affairs; and fourthly, the Authority had questioned in the earlier decision
whether a universal ruling - as opposed to commonsense "case-law" was possible.
The Minister's Final Comment to the Authority
When asked to comment briefly on RNZ's reply, in a letter dated 4 July 1994 the
Minister disagreed with RNZ's contention that she was "shifting ground", observing:
At issue is the question of treatment of an interviewee by an interviewer, and in
particular the principle of balance and fairness in relation to my interview with
Reporting that she had agreed to the telephone interview about an answer given during
question time in Parliament, the Minister stated:
I believe the day's Ônewsmakers' are entitled to expect the same standard of
balance, impartiality and fairness during a current affairs interview on talkback
radio they would on ÔMorning Report' or ÔCheckpoint', and to be dealt with
justly and fairly on the same basis.
Describing the matter as important, the Minister concluded:
These standards I believe, were not adhered to during the interview at the centre
of my complaint, and the response from Radio New Zealand, while upholding
part of my complaint, did not satisfactorily address this issue. There is this
issue as it applied to this interview and the issue in principle which I believe
needs to be clarified.