Clarkson and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 1994-132
- I W Gallaway (Chair)
- W J Fraser
- L M Loates
- J R Morris
- Lewis Clarkson
Programme3 National News
BroadcasterTV3 Network Services Ltd
Mr Louis Sheldon, a controversial and outspoken campaigner against homosexuality,
was interviewed by Mr Bill Ralston during 3 National News between 6.00–7.00pm
on 2 August 1994.
Mr Clarkson complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the
interview was inaccurate, denigrated homosexuals and breached currently accepted
norms of taste and decency. In particular, by allowing the extreme views based on the
American constitution to go unchallenged, the interview had been unbalanced.
Pointing out that no gay group had wanted to debate Mr Sheldon but that his opinions
had been challenged by the interviewer, TV3 maintained that the standards had not
been breached. Dissatisfied with TV3's decision, Mr Clarkson referred his complaint
to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act
For the reasons below, the Authority declined to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed most of the item complained about (as
TV3 was unable to supply a tape of the full item) and have read the correspondence
(summarised in the Appendix). The papers included a transcript of the full
programme prepared by Mr Clarkson. As is its practice, the Authority has
determined the complaint without a formal hearing.
A visiting American and a controversial spokesperson for the religious right, Mr Louis
Sheldon, was interviewed by presenter Mr Bill Ralston on 3 National News on 2
Mr Clarkson complained to TV3 that Mr Sheldon had denigrated gays and lesbians
and had encouraged discrimination against them both by comparing homosexuality
with paedophilia and bestiality and by describing homosexuality as an immoral
perversion. Mr Clarkson maintained that Mr Ralston, by not citing the relevant
research and legal proscriptions and by not pointing to the inapplicability of the
American Constitution to New Zealand, had failed to provide balance.
TV3 assessed the complaint against the standards nominated by Mr Clarkson. The
first five 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.
G5 To respect the principles of law which sustain our society.
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political
matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
G13 To avoid portraying people in a way which represents as inherently
inferior or is likely to encourage discrimination against, any section of the
community on account of sex, race, age, disability, occupational 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 other two state:
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.
TV3 maintained that the standards had not been contravened as the discussion had
involved the exchange of opinions, not facts, and that balance had been achieved as the
interviewer had drawn out and had then challenged Mr Sheldon's views. It added that
several gay spokespersons had declined an invitation to debate the issues with Mr
Sheldon. As the exchange involved opinion rather than fact, TV3 added, the
exemption in standard G13(ii) applied.
When he referred his complaint to the Authority, Mr Clarkson stressed the alleged
breach of standard G5. The Human Rights Amendment, he noted, prohibited
discrimination in New Zealand on the grounds of sexual orientation and the interview,
which dealt with the position in America, was irrelevant. He believed that a legal
expert should have presented the New Zealand situation. The item was factually
inaccurate, he added, by not noting the research which suggested that homosexuals and
heterosexuals were biologically different and that it was not a matter of development
as Mr Sheldon claimed. He questioned why should a foreigner be allowed to denigrate
gays and lesbians on New Zealand television broadcast in prime time.
In its response to the Authority, TV3 repeated that Mr Ralston challenged Mr
Sheldon's views which, like those of Mr Clarkson, were genuinely held. To illustrate
that it approached homosexual issues in other ways, TV3 enclosed a tape of a
Donahue programme which had interviewed some people involved with a television
cable channel in New York which included reporting on gay issues by acknowledged
In his final comment, Mr Clarkson disputed the relevance of the Donahue programme
as it was broadcast nearly three months after the item complained about and the
audience at the time of the broadcast of the Donahue item – midday – differed
considerably from the audience of 3 National News between 6.00–7.00pm.
Dealing with this point first, the Authority agreed with Mr Clarkson that the item on
the Donahue programme on 20 October was irrelevant to its decision about the
broadcast of an item on the news on 2 August.
After reading the points raised by Mr Clarkson, the Authority decided that his
complaint under standards G1, G2, G5, G20 and G21 could appropriately be
subsumed under standards G6 and G13. It reached that decision on the basis that Mr
Clarkson's concerns repeated in the correspondence were, first, the alleged lack of
balance in the discussion on the issues addressed, and secondly, the way in which he
maintained that the item encouraged discrimination against a group within the
community on the basis of its sexual orientation. Furthermore, the Authority does
not believe that its role includes deciding, for example, whether homosexuality is a
matter of nature, as Mr Clarkson insisted, or a matter of nurture, as Mr Sheldon
In dealing with the standard G6 complaint, the Authority took into account the point
that there is a reasonable degree of general knowledge about homosexuality within the
community in view of the extensive publicity following the enactment in 1986 of the
Homosexual Law Reform Act and the recent amendment to the Human Rights Act.
As a consequence, the Authority considered that a brief television discussion about
homosexuality need not explain the issues in detail as viewers can be expected to be
aware, at least to some degree, of the debate.
Because of the level of general knowledge in the community about homosexuality, the
Authority believed that the grounds on which Mr Sheldon based his approach would
be readily apparent to viewers. While it was an approach which viewers might
support or oppose, the Authority was firmly of the opinion that Mr Sheldon's views
were challenged by the interviewer. Although his views were not explored in any
depth, the Authority did not consider that the item was the appropriate occasion for a
detailed analysis of the issues. The Authority would note that it was not the type of
programme which was likely to make viewers change their opinion about the issues
Furthermore, the Authority also noted that TV3 reported that several gay rights
organisations had been invited but had declined to put the opposing view.
As the presenter challenged Mr Sheldon consistently on a number of points, the
Authority concluded that the balance requirement in standard G6 had been complied
with. Further, as Mr Sheldon was clearly expressing his opinion, standard G13 was
not contravened in view of the exemption in paragraph (ii).
For the reasons given above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
12 December 1994
Mr Clarkson's Complaint to TV3 Network Services Limited - 30 August 1994
Mr Lewis Clarkson of Christchurch complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd about
an item on 3 National News broadcast on 2 August 1994 when Mr Louis Sheldon was
interviewed by Mr Bill Ralston. The item, he maintained, breached standards G1, G2,
G5, G6, G13, G20 and G21 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
Mr Sheldon was introduced as a self-proclaimed spokesperson for the religious right
and, Mr Clarkson wrote, proceeded to denigrate gays and lesbians and encourage
discrimination against them. Mr Clarkson said Mr Sheldon compared homosexuality
with bestiality and paedophilia and claimed homosexuality was an immoral perversion
and a dysfunctional developmental disorder.
Mr Clarkson said that the interviewer failed to point out that paedophilia and
bestiality, unlike homosexuality, were mental disorders, that some of the sexual
activities Mr Sheldon abhorred were also heterosexual practices and, moreover, that he
should have agreed with Mr Sheldon when he asked whether he could be described as
a bigot. Further, he said, Mr Ralston should have pointed to the research in both New
Zealand and the United States that paedophiliacs were usually heterosexual males.
When Mr Sheldon referred to the American Constitution, Mr Clarkson said the
interviewer should have noted its inapplicability in New Zealand and referred instead,
to the laws which prohibit discrimination on various grounds in New Zealand. He
argued that the interviewer failed to provide balance and pointed out that the issues
had been debated in New Zealand and that legislation prohibiting certain types of
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation had been enacted in recent years. Mr
To have imported persons to advance on air discrimination and denigration of
gays and lesbians is both a breach, and a breach of the spirit of these acts, and
serves no useful point or purpose.
TV3's Response to the Formal Complaint - 26 September 1994
In declining to uphold the complaint, TV3's Complaints Committee responded by
assessing the complaint against each standard cited.
It decided that standard G1 which requires factual truth and accuracy was inapplicable
as Mr Sheldon, a "controversial and outspoken campaigner against homosexuality"
was clearly expressing his opinion. As the expressions used were appropriate and
acceptable in context, standard G2 had not been contravened. The programme did not
encourage the breaking of laws in breach of standard G5.
As for the standard G6 requirement to show balance, TV3 said that the interviewer's
task was to draw out Mr Sheldon's views which he challenged on several occasions.
Several gay rights organisations were asked to put the opposing view but had declined.
As the views expressed during the current affairs segment of the news were opinion,
neither standard G13 nor G21 were contravened. Standard G19 was not breached as it
had not been possible to find a spokesperson for the opposing view and, in addition,
the debate about homosexuality has been widely covered in the media over the years.
Mr Clarkson's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 24 October
Dissatisfied with TV3's response, Mr Clarkson referred his complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He
advanced three main reasons for disputing TV3's decision.
First, he claimed it was a breach of standard G2 to invite a foreigner with his views to
denigrate gays and lesbians on prime-time television.
Secondly and noting that standard G5 requires broadcasters to respect the principles
of law, Mr Clarkson argued that the cumulative effect of the anti-discrimination
legislation was to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. He
This section G5 of the Broadcasting Act does not say that the broadcaster is to
put up persons on air to denigrate persons on grounds of their sexual orientation
in an unbalanced presentation, based on alien legal constitutional law operating
outside of our law and British Commonwealth law.
He then pointed out some of the differences - which he said were not picked up during
the interview - between the New Zealand and American legal systems.
Thirdly, he dealt with the other standards together and began by noting the research
which suggested that the heterosexuals and homosexuals were biologically different.
Mr Sheldon's claim that homosexuality was dysfunctional, he said, was inaccurate
and his comparison of homosexuality with bestiality could not be considered genuine.
Similarly, he could not have been expressing a "genuinely" held belief when he
compared homosexuality with paedophilia.
Noting that TV3 admitted that the programme did not advance the alternative view as
it had been unable to find someone to play "victim for the pleasure of the denigrator
and TV3", Mr Clarkson said TV3 was trying to shift its responsibility on to the
groups being denigrated. He argued:
The obligation in terms of the Broadcasting Act is clearly on the broadcaster to
produce a balanced programme which was not the case on 2nd of August 1994.
In view of the legal issues raised during the broadcast, balance could have been
provided by a person familiar with constitutional law. TV3, he said, had not
explained why a legal expert had not been contacted to explain the legal situation in
Mr Clarkson concluded:
The Broadcasting and Human Rights Acts are being treated as though they are
events that never happened with the broadcast of 2/8/94 and with the claim by
Bill Ralston of TV3 that the inclusion of gays and lesbians in our law system is
a matter to be "supposed".
TV3 should be advised, he said, of the anti-discrimination provisions which were
included in the law.
TV3's Response to the Authority - 3 November 1994
TV3 maintained that the interview was quite clearly a debate about the views of Mr
Louis Sheldon who represented the "religious right". To his group, it was
inappropriate to offer special rights to homosexual groups as it would be to offer such
rights to those who practised paedophilia or bestiality. Mr Sheldon's views, TV3
maintained, were challenged by Mr Ralston throughout the interview.
Pointing out that Mr Sheldon's views were genuinely held, as were those of Mr
Clarkson, TV3 said that the topic was debated in a recent Donahue programme and it
enclosed a tape of that programme for the Authority's information.
Mr Clarkson's Final Comment - 13 November 1994
In his final comment, Mr Clarkson maintained that Mr Sheldon had been invited by
the interviewer to make a lengthy statement and had dominated the entire exchange.
TV3, he continued, by not presenting a spokesperson for the other side of the issues,
had not complied with the standards. The result, he said, was not a debate but a long
Mr Clarkson said the Donahue item was not balanced as it was not broadcast within
the current period of interest and the audience of midday differed from that at 6.00pm.
He attached a transcript and analysis on the Sheldon interview.
The principal reason for the interview and the broadcast of extreme views, Mr
Sheldon concluded, was to improve TV3's ratings against One Network News.