BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Clarkson and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 1994-132

Members
  • I W Gallaway (Chair)
  • W J Fraser
  • L M Loates
  • J R Morris
Dated
Complainant
  • Lewis Clarkson
Number
1994-132
Programme
3 National News
Channel/Station
TV3


Summary

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

1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declined to uphold the complaint.


Decision

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

August 1994.

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

gay presenters.

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

presumed.

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

discussed.

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

 

Iain Gallaway
Chairperson
12 December 1994


Appendix

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

Clarkson opined:

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

1994

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

wrote:

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

New Zealand.

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

speech.

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.