BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Credo Society Inc and Access Community Radio Inc - 1994-087

Members
  • I W Gallaway (Chair)
  • R A Barraclough
  • L M Loates
  • J R Morris
Dated
Complainant
  • Credo Society Inc
Number
1994-087
Programme
The G & T Show
Channel/Station
Access Radio # 2


Summary

An item claiming that 10% of secondary school students in America were homosexual and

dealing with the problems these students faced, was broadcast on Access Community Radio

in a programme called The G & T Show on 17 March 1994 and repeated two days later on

International Homosexual News.

The Credo Society Inc, through its secretary, Mrs Barbara Faithfull, complained to Access

Community Radio Inc, the broadcaster, that the item lacked authenticity and credibility and

was guilty of propagandising certain perverse ideas. It suggested the figures were

manipulated and claimed that the presentation of such blatantly misleading material was a

breach of broadcasting standards.

Accepting that the style of the item was different from conventional news items, Access

Radio explained that nevertheless the programme maker was entitled to broadcast from its

own point of view. It rejected the Credo Society's suggestion that the figures had been

manipulated. Dissatisfied with that decision, the Credo Society referred the complaint to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under section 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 the tape of the programme 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.

An item on the G and T Show on 17 March 1994, broadcast by Access Community Radio in

Auckland, attributed to the US Department of Health and Human Services the statistic that

about one in 10 secondary school students is gay. It also reported on the result of a survey

by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in America that for homosexual students "going

to school is like walking into a lion's den every day". Incidents were then given of unpleasant

and frightening behaviour encountered by gay students. The item was repeated on

International Homosexual News broadcast by Access Radio on 19 March.

Mrs Barbara Faithfull, secretary of the Credo Society, complained to Access Radio that the

item presented as news breached the broadcasting standard requiring truth and accuracy.

Describing the one in 10 figure as "thoroughly discredited", Mrs Faithfull maintained that the

five minute broadcast amounted to propaganda – not factual information. She considered the

broadcast of such "blatantly" misleading and pernicious material to be an abuse of the

privilege to broadcast.

The G & T Show on 28 April 1994 reported that the complaint had been received about the

17 March broadcast and the item was introduced with the comment:

810AM under attack by faithful listener


Although not registering a formal complaint about that "sarcastic" comment, in a letter to

Access Radio dated 2 May Mrs Faithfull questioned the professionalism of the programme

makers.

Access Radio's Broadcasting Operations Sub-Committee declined to uphold the complaint

about the 17 March broadcast. Noting that the item had in fact been about 2½ minutes in

length, the Sub-Committee described both broadcasts as a "legitimate news item from the

point of view of the programme makers". The Sub-Committee considered offensive the

aspect of the complaint which alleged that the statistic had been falsely attributed to the

named government department. It also rejected the complaint that because the American

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force had an interest in the outcome, its survey was invalid.

It concluded by describing as offensive the implication in the complaint that homosexuality

was perverse in itself.

When she referred the Society's complaint to the Authority, Mrs Faithfull repeated her

concern that broadcasters, with a political agenda to advance homosexuality, presented

inaccurate and misleading material – ie propaganda – as legitimate news. It was impossible,

she argued, for an organisation which had an interest in the outcome of research to obtain valid

scientific data.

As neither the complainant nor the broadcaster specified the standard which the broadcast

was alleged to have contravened or the standard under which the complaint had been assessed,

it was necessary for the Authority to determine this matter initially.

It acknowledged that standards R1 or R16 were options. The first one requires broadcasters:


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

programmes.


Standard R16 states:


R16  News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.


However, taking into account the broadcaster's remark that the comment on the G & T Show,

although a "legitimate news item", was made from the programme makers' point of view, the

Authority decided that neither standards R1 nor R16 contained the appropriate criteria under

which the complaint should be assessed.

Because the different programme makers who prepare items for Access Radio seldom make

any pretence that the items presented are impartial but overtly advance the makers' point of

view, in March this year in consultation with Access Radio the Authority approved the

following standard which applies only to Access Radio: It reads:

R(A)9  Community access broadcasters provide facilities for members of the

community to make and broadcast their own programmes. When dealing with

political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature,

community access broadcasters will, if requested, provide equivalent time to

alternative points of view under the conditions and guidelines of the station.


This standard acknowledges that the programme makers for items on Access Radio explicitly

advance material favourable to their interest. To meet the requirements for balance and what

might be described as the alternative view of reality and accuracy, this standard requires that

proponents of differing perspectives be given the opportunity to broadcast their

countervailing material. Credo's complaint on this occasion appeared to raise the very issues

for which standard R(A)9 had been promulgated.

Accordingly, the Authority then proceeded to determine the complaint on the basis that it

involved an allegation that standard R(A)9 has been contravened by the broadcast of a "news"

item.

On the basis that the broadcast on Access Radio in Auckland (repeated on 19 March) gave

the sources for its report and thus allowed listeners to appraise their validity, and as the

complaint did not allege that an opportunity to broadcast a response had been denied, the

Authority declined to uphold the Credo Society's complaint.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


The Authority would point out that although standard R(A)9 accepts that each individual

Access Radio programme might not be balanced and although the standards requiring factual

accuracy (R1 and R16) are confined to news and current affairs, programmes must not

advance substantial factual inaccuracies in view of standard R12. It requires broadcasters:

R12  To correct factual errors speedily and with similar prominence to the offending

broadcast or broadcasts.


The broadcast complained about on this occasion has not been assessed against standard R12

as the factual material reported was based on attributed sources. However, when factual

comments are not sourced, standard R12 requires that significant points made on Access

Radio programmes, and indeed other broadcasters' programmes, to be factually correct.

With regard to the factually attributed material contained in the current broadcast, the

Authority began by noting that the one in 10 figure for homosexuality has been based on an

aspect of the Kinsey Report which has been extensively criticised. However, that Report

was not the source given in the broadcast complained about. The figure was specifically

attributed to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The Authority

accepted that the listener was entitled to decide what degree of credibility to ascribe to the

source – but, as the figure was attributed, the Authority did not accept that it could be

dismissed as propaganda.

The complaint also questioned the credibility of the findings of the American Gay and

Lesbian Task Force. It was argued that any organisation which has an interest in the outcome

of research could not be relied on to present the results in an unbiased manner.

The Authority did not accept this argument for two reasons. First, most research is

commissioned by interested parties and the credibility of the results, depends first on the

competence of the organisation actually doing the research and secondly on the manner in

which the results are published. In this instance, the report suggested that the research

quoted could well have been undertaken - not just commissioned – by the Task Force.

Nevertheless, there was a second reason why the Authority did not accept that the research

was therefore unreliable. The research quoted was qualitative – reporting on the impact of

school life on some gay students – rather than quantitative – reporting on numbers of gay

students. Because of this difference, the Authority considered that the evidence provided by

the Task Force was presented in the item as material from one - openly acknowledged - point

of view. It was a situation where Access Radio, if requested, must provide proponents of an

alternative perspective the opportunity to produce a programme carrying a different

perspective.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Iain Gallaway
Chairperson
29 September 1994

Appendix


Credo Society Inc's Complaint to Access Community Radio Auckland Inc

In a letter dated 12 April 1994, Mrs Barbara Faithfull on behalf of Credo Society Inc

complained to Access Community Radio Auckland Inc about an item presented as

"news" on the G & T Show on 17 March and repeated on International Homosexual

News on 19 March. The Society claimed that the item contravened the Codes of

Broadcasting Practice which require broadcasters to be truthful and accurate on points

of fact in news and current affairs programmes. It wrote:

... given the evidence, we strongly suspect that the very intention of the

programmers in presenting this item had very little to do with informing their

listeners but much to do with propagandising certain perverse ideas.


The item claimed that 10% of secondary school students in America were homosexual

and, the Society wrote, dealt with the supposed travails of such students. It stated

that "no source whatsoever was given for this supposed news item".

The five minute long item, it said, began with a quote of what it described as the now

thoroughly discredited 1 in 10 figure which was attributed to the US Department of

Health and Human Services, presumably, the complainant wrote, in order to attach to

it a ring of authority. This supposed "news" item, it continued, then "generalised

hugely" and appealed to the pity of listeners by informing them that for homosexuals

"going to school is like walking into a lion's den every day".

The Society maintained that further "manipulation of figures then ensued, along with

emotive, inflammatory, utterly unsubstantiated assertions and survey results". One

such survey result was from the (American) National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce

which, it said, would have been without scientific validity due to the organisation's

special interest in the outcome.

It concluded its letter of complaint by stating:

This Society is most concerned that homosexual programmers are able to abuse

their privilege of broadcasting by using such blatantly misleading and

pernicious material as this and, to compound matters, by presenting it

masquerading as "news".

On 2 May the Society wrote again to Access Community Radio stating that it was

disturbed to note that on 28 April the G & T Show had reported as "news" the lodging

of the Society's complaint and had even promised to keep their listeners "posted".

Moreover, the Society continued, while presenting this information in the guise of

objective news reporting, it had sarcastically prefaced it with: "810AM under attack

by faithful listener". The Society went on to question whether the people responsible

for the programme were well enough informed about matters relating to TV and radio

complaints in general stating:

Clearly, they need to be made aware that a complaint about TV or radio

standards is just that, and in no way to be construed or interpreted as an

"attack" upon the medium concerned, let alone to be publicly labelled as such.

The Society was interested to know whether the G & T Show's raising of this matter

on air – and its method of doing so – met with the Station's approval and, if it did not,

whether steps would be taken to prevent a repeat of the situation


Access Community Radio's Response to the Formal Complaint

Access Community Radio's Broadcasting Operations Sub-Committee advised the

Society, in a letter dated 14 June, that it had considered and declined to uphold the

complaint about the 17 March broadcast (repeated on the 19 March). It had treated

the letter about the 28 April broadcast as a formal complaint declined to uphold it too.

The Sub-Committee informed the Credo Society that it had found no basis for the

complaints as both items were legitimate news items from the point of view of the

programme makers. It said that although the style and duration of the items might not

have been compatible with what was conventionally accepted as "news items", the

Sub-Committee had adhered to its policy of facilitating programme makers to

broadcast from their own point of view. The Committee members also rejected the

claim by the Credo Society that the news item was 5 minutes long when, in reality,

both the items complained about had a duration of considerably less than 5 minutes.

The complainant's assertion that the broadcaster had falsely and deliberately

attributed statistics to the United States Department of Health and Human Services in

order to support its claims was an aspect of the complaint which the Committee

found offensive as it suggested that the attribution was a downright lie. Similarly, it

objected to and rejected the suggestion that the American Gay and Lesbian Task Force

statistics could not be valid because the group had an interest in the outcome implied

that the group had deliberately skewed the results to their advantage.

The Committee was also offended by the suggestion in the complaint that

homosexuality in itself was perverse.

Credo Society's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

Dissatisfied with the broadcaster's response, in a letter dated 19 July 1994, the Credo

Society referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under

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

Referring to its letter of 2 May which expressed concern at the G & T Show reporting

as "news", albeit sarcastically, the lodging of the Society's formal complaint, it

explained that this letter was never intended as a formal complaint and was not

identified as such in any way.

The Credo Society's concerns, it continued, had been set out in both letters which had

been then dismissed by the broadcaster as being without basis. The main areas of

concern were fully set out in its 12 April letter and, the Society said, the essence of

these concerns was:

... that homosexual broadcasters who clearly demonstrate the pursuit of

political ends through their broadcasting, seem able to abuse the privilege of

broadcasting with impunity, even to the extent of using inaccurate, misleading

and propaganda material under the guise of legitimate news.


Commenting on Access Radio's response to the complaints, the Society said that it

considered the overall response was simply a whitewash which suggested a curious set

of priorities. It went on to say that the Sub-Committee – the members of which had

not even been identified – dismissed out of hand all the carefully documented and

detailed April 12 and 2 May concerns and yet devoted ten lines to mere hair-splitting

about the duration of the item.


Furthermore, the Society continued, matters relating to accuracy which seemed to

concern the broadcaster greatly were the issues of no importance (the question of the

duration of the March item) and yet when the question of accuracy was critically

important to the whole complaint - ie in order to gauge the authenticity, truthfulness

and credibility of the news item in question - it was fatuously passed off as simply

being "from the point of view of the programme makers". The Society considered that

the Sub-Committee had no grasp of the deep factors involved.

Under the heading "General Conclusion" the complainant made several points

regarding the manner in which it perceived its complaint had been dealt with by the

broadcaster. It wrote:

The overall impression gained by this Society to the handling of these

complaints is that nobody seems to have been called to account. At least on

past occasions when lodging complaints with Access Radio the Station

Manager has written to the programmers concerned and called upon them to

explain, with the Manager then reporting back to us. This time it seems to

have been quite a different situation: no mention of any such procedure, let

alone mention of any explanation from them.


The Society also questioned the "make-up" and impartiality of the Committee asking:

Yet how can those opinions be fairly evaluated without knowing who

proffered them, let alone what vested interests they may have been serving by

so making them?

Access Community Radio's Response to the Authority

In a letter dated 22 July 1994, the Authority sought Access Community Radio's

response to the referral. Its reply, dated 4 August, advised that it did not want to

comment further on the complaint but enclosed a copy of the letter of advice of the

Broadcasting Operations Committee's decision to the G & T Radio Club and Gay

News programmes.