BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Low and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 1994-080

Members
  • I W Gallaway (Chair)
  • R A Barraclough
  • L M Loates
  • J R Morris
Dated
Complainant
  • D Low
Number
1994-080
Programme
Insight
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio

Summary

During a debate about republicanism on Insight broadcast on National Radio on 8 May

1994, reference was made to Queen Elizabeth as a member of a "hereditary bunch of

Germans sitting on a throne in London" and "Frau Battenburg".

Mrs Low complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd that the comments were insulting to

the Queen and extremely offensive. In addition, she maintained, they were untrue, as

the Queen's family had lived in Britain longer than any European had lived in New

Zealand.

Pointing out that the Insight programme presented a cross section of opinions about

current issues, RNZ maintained that as long as it was clear that an opinion was being

expressed, the accuracy of that statement was irrelevant. With respect to the

complaint that the item breached good taste and decency, RNZ maintained that the

remarks would not have offended a significant section of the community and that the

views expressed were balanced by the views of others in the broadcast. It declined to

uphold the complaint. Dissatisfied with that decision, Mrs Low 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 declined to uphold the complaint.


Decision

The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the broadcast complained

about and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its

practice, the Authority has determined the complaint without a formal hearing.

On 8 May, RNZ's weekly current affairs programme Insight discussed the support

for republicanism and some of the practicalities involved. The item presented a

number of views for and against republicanism for New Zealand from politicians,

constitutional lawyers and some social commentators. One social commentator

referred to a "hereditary bunch of Germans sitting on a throne in London" and later

called the Queen "Frau Battenburg".

Mrs Low complained to RNZ that these comments were offensive, insulting and

inaccurate. She pointed out that the Queen and her family had been living in England

longer than any Europeans had lived in New Zealand and, outlining the intermarriage

between European royalty, she explained that George I was in fact entitled to the

English throne when invited to be king in 1714. Moreover, as the constituent states of

Germany had not been amalgamated as a state at that time, the reference to it was

incorrect.

Beginning by pointing out that Insight frequently contained a cross-section of opinion

as had occurred on this occasion, RNZ assessed the complaint against standards R1,

R2 and R4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. They require broadcasters:

R1  To be truthful and accurate on points of fact in news and current affairs

programmes.

R2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and good

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

language or behaviour occurs.

R4  To acknowledge the right of individuals to express their own opinions.


RNZ recorded that it had complied with the accuracy requirement as it had not

editorially endorsed the remarks complained about and had reported them accurately.

As standard R2 allowed context to be taken into account – in this case the entire

programme, RNZ said the comments complained about did not exceed the bounds of

acceptability. In addition, it argued that standard R4 allowed the individual to express

serious opinions as had occurred on this occasion.

When Mrs Low referred her complaint to the Authority she accepted the right of an

individual to speak freely provided that the remarks were not intended to corrupt or

deprave the minds of children. However despite that point, she maintained that both

of the remarks which she considered offensive were "outright lies".

The Authority considered that the core of the complaint focussed on standard R2 – the

requirement that broadcasters maintain acceptable standards of good taste and

decency. While appreciating that the comments made during the broadcast could well

be offensive, the Authority decided that attention had to be given to the context in

which the comments were broadcast. There were at least 12 people who contributed

to the broadcast of approximately 30 minutes. They discussed the issue from a

number of perspectives and one, apparently in an effort to emphasise the point he

wished to make, made the comments objected to. The Authority had no doubt that

the commentator in question was less concerned about the accuracy of his remarks

than with the impact that his comments would have. In order to express his strongly-

held opinion, he used phrases which could be seen as either satirical or provocative

and which he was well aware would offend some listeners.

However, taking into account both the brevity of the contribution complained about

and the number and range of the other thoughtful contributions, the Authority decided

that standard R2 had not been contravened. It accepted the comment was a serious, if

inflammatory, opinion to which standard R4's protection was applicable.

The Authority then considered the standard R1 complaint that the remarks made in a

current affairs programme were inaccurate. It believed that RNZ's argument, that

Insight was neither a news bulletin nor a discussion of immediate events, had

considerable validity. Moreover, it agreed with RNZ when it described Insight's role

as being to present a range of attributed community opinion on the issue under

discussion. The Authority also noted the point made by Mrs Low that the Queen's

family had lived in Britain longer than any European has lived in New Zealand.

However, because the aspect of the broadcast complained about was obviously one

person's opinion and not a factual history of European monarchy, the Authority

decided that it was neither appropriate nor necessary to determine the accuracy issues

raised by Mrs Low beyond accepting in this instance RNZ's argument that the

opinion was reported accurately without editorial endorsement. The Authority

believed that the complaint had been appropriately determined by RNZ when it

decided that the potential offensiveness of the remark was insufficient to justify a

decision that the good taste requirements of standard R2 had been contravened.

 

For the reasons given above, the Authority declined to uphold the complaint

that Insight on 8 May broadcast by Radio New Zealand Ltd breached standard

R2 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It also declined to uphold the

complaint that the same broadcast breached standard R1 of the same code.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Iain Gallaway
Chairperson
19 September 1994


Appendix

Mrs Low's Complaint to Radio New Zealand Limited

In a letter dated 10 May 1994 addressed to New Zealand On Air (which was later

referred to the Broadcasting Standards Authority and then forwarded on to Radio New

Zealand) Mrs D Low complained that that comments included in the Insight

documentary broadcast on National Radio at 12.30pm on Sunday 8 May were

offensive and insulting to the Queen.

According to Mrs Low, during the course of a debate on republican issues one of the

speakers referred to the Queen as the German Queen, while another referred to her as

"Frau Battenburg". Mrs Low pointed out that in addition to being insulting, neither

description was true, noting that the Queen and her family had lived in Britain longer

than any Europeans had lived in New Zealand. She added that the Queen could trace

her bloodlines back to the Plantagenets, which gave her a lineage as old as anyone

currently living in New Zealand.

To illustrate her argument that the statements were untrue, Mrs Low outlined the

genealogy of the royal families of Europe, showing that intermarriage between the

English royal family and other European royalty had been going on for hundreds of

years.

She requested that her letter be drawn to the attention of the two republican debaters

so that in future they would not air their crass ignorance on public radio.

RNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint

RNZ advised Mrs Low of its Complaints Committee's decision in a letter dated 30

May 1994. Noting that Mrs Low's letter had not identified her complaint as a formal

one, RNZ briefly outlined the correct process and then proceeded to determine the

complaint. RNZ also reported that it had assessed the complaint against standards

R1, R2 and R4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

In its analysis of the complaint, RNZ noted first that Insight was a current affairs

programme which frequently contained a cross-section of opinions. It explained that

the accuracy or otherwise of those opinions was irrelevant, as long as they were

accurately reported and attributed. The Insight programme which was the subject of

the complaint was not, RNZ pointed out, an attempt to deal with the history of the

British monarchy. Rather it was a debate on the current issue of republicanism. RNZ

then proceeded to summarise the programme which had contained comment from a

number of people including the Prime Minister, Colin McKay, Sir Geoffrey Palmer,

David Lange, Steve Maharey, Sir Kenneth Keith and Simon Upton. Then followed

footage from the archives on the enthusiastic reception given to the royal visitors in

1953 and more recent excerpts from citizenship ceremonies with comment on the

attitudes of New Zealanders to the monarchy. John Robson, an industrial consultant,

was then introduced, and it was he who referred to a "hereditary bunch of Germans

sitting on a throne in London" (not, as Mrs Low said, the "German Queen"). Mr

Robson then continued (not another speaker as the complainant alleged):

I wonder how relevant it is to a bunch of kids, sniffing glue under a bridge at

Mangere, to be ruled over by Frau Battenburg and her brood.

Then followed comments from Jeremy Rose and social historian Tony Simpson after

which David Lange commented again and also historian Bill Oliver. Finally the

implications for Maori were discussed by Shane Jones and then Steve Maharey

concluded the programme by looking forward fifty years or so, observing that by then

having the constitutional head living in London would seem very odd.

RNZ then assessed the programme against the standards it nominated. With respect

to accuracy, it maintained that the broadcast contained accurately reported opinions

and there was only one non-attributed statement of fact made by RNZ and that was

the correct reference to the Windsor family name. It concluded that there was no

breach of accuracy, noting in passing the balanced nature of the programme.

In its analysis of the standard R2 aspect of the complaint, RNZ pointed out that

context was an essential element in its consideration and was of the opinion that the

broadcast would not cause offence to a significant number of people. It wrote:

The Committee could not accept that, although a forceful turn of phrase

(accurately reported in actuality) was used by Robson to express his feelings

about royalty, this would, in the serious and balanced context of the broadcast,

exceed the bounds of acceptability of the average listener. That no evidence

could be found of a complaint other than your own supported the

Committee's opinion.

Finally, declining to uphold the complaint, RNZ noted that the right of an individual

to hold and express an opinion was safeguarded in the Code of Practice and recent

legislation.

Mrs Low's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

Dissatisfied with RNZ's response, in a letter dated 8 June 1994 Mrs Low responded

to RNZ. That letter was returned to her and she was advised of the correct process

by RNZ. Accordingly on 27 June, in a letter substantially the same, Mrs Low

referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989.

Acknowledging the right of individuals to speak freely on any subject, Mrs Low added

that that right was only provided there was no intention to corrupt or deprave the

minds of children. She maintained that the two statements in the Insight programme

were outright lies.

First, she argued that the description of the Queen as "Frau Battenburg" was a false

statement because that name was changed to Mountbatten at the beginning of WWI

and was the surname adopted by Prince Philip so that he could become a British

subject and serve in the Royal Navy.

Secondly, she noted that when George I came to the throne in 1714 there was no such

state as Germany, which came into being under Bismarck. She argued that George I

was legally entitled to inherit the throne through his mother who was the daughter of

James I and VI of England and Scotland. Mrs Low also questioned how the Royal

family could be described as a hereditary bunch of Germans after some 280 years'

residence in Britain. She suggested the phrase came very close to incitement of racial

hatred.

RNZ's Response to the Authority

As is its practice, the Authority sought the broadcaster's response to the referral. Its

letter is dated 1 July 1994, and RNZ's reply, 18 July. It enclosed a recording of the

programme.

RNZ repeated that Insight was neither a news bulletin nor a current affairs

development of the day's news. Instead, it was a weekly programme which was

intended to review a topical issue and to present a cross-section of opinion on that

issue. It noted that the programme did not take an editorial stance of its own, and

made a clear distinction between the presenter's linking material and statements clearly

attributed to those expressing them.

Accepting that the programme was bound by the requirement to be accurate, RNZ

drew a distinction between the accuracy of its reporting and the accurate report of an

attributed statement and insisted that it complied with the standard when it reported

an opinion accurately. Further, RNZ maintained that Insight was not a historical

review of British royalty, nor was its function to challenge statements of opinion.

With references to the two statements objected to, RNZ noted that they were the

clearly-attributed opinion of the speaker and were made to reinforce his own views.

Noting that the emphasis in Mrs Low's referral to the Authority had appeared to shift

from good taste to historical accuracy, RNZ noted that the programme made no

attempt to address the issue of historical events.

It concluded by stating that the broadcast could not seriously be taken as contravening

standard R2 and that the references objected to could well be seen in the light of satire

used by the speaker to underline seriously held opinion.

Mrs Low's Final Comment to the Authority

When asked to comment briefly on RNZ's reply, in a letter dated 25 July 1994, Mrs

Low repeated her concerns. She maintained that it was up to the producer of the

programme to prevent inaccurate statements from being broadcast.

Mrs Low commented that in her view, the programme did not come across as satiric,

but bitchy. She argued that the discussion of a serious topic such as this demanded

total accuracy.