Brooke and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 1995-092
- J M Potter (Chair)
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- Agnes-Mary J Brooke
ProgrammeKupu Kori Kori
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Kupu Kori Kori is a weekly commentary broadcast on National Radio about an issue
involving Maori. On 5 March, at 6.08pm, Bishop Muru Walters reviewed a column
published in "The Dominion" on 28 February and maintained that in his opinion the
writer had, through racist comment, exposed her prejudices and biases.
Ms Brooke, the author of the column, complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd that the
programme had misrepresented her arguments and, as a result, had breached the
standards requiring accuracy, fairness, objectivity and balance. She sought an apology
from Bishop Walters and an apology from RNZ to listeners of National Radio.
Accepting that the programme had misrepresented the arguments advanced in the
column, RNZ upheld the complaint as a breach of the standards requiring that people
referred to be dealt with fairly, and that the principles of partnership must be
respected. It advised that staff had been told to remind contributors of the need for
accuracy. Dissatisfied first that the complaint had not been upheld in full and,
secondly, with the action taken on the aspects upheld, Ms Brooke referred the
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.
The members of the Authority have listened to the item complained about and have
read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix) which includes a transcript.
As is its practice, the Authority has determined the complaint without a formal
The ability of people with remote Maori ancestry to claim special grants for Maori
was raised by columnist Agnes-Mary Brooke in an article published in the Dominion.
She used that stated ability as a means to question, among other matters, whether the
presentation by Maori radicals of issues affecting Maori was alienating the majority of
The column was the subject of comment from Bishop Muru Walters in Kupu Kori
Kori broadcast on National Radio at 6.08pm on Sunday 5 March. He expressed
criticism of some of the arguments advanced and concluded:
In lumping all Maori who detest the fiscal envelope, the writer treats us all as
trying the patience of all fair minded New Zealanders. It is a pity that such
writers are paid large sums to contribute feature articles about Maori in major
newspapers because, in my opinion, in exposing her prejudices, biases and
racist comments, she is no different from the radicals and racist Maori groups
she seeks to condemn. Kia Ora.
Ms Brooke complained to RNZ and wrote:
In misquoting my column Muru Walters makes factual errors. In
misrepresenting my arguments his broadcast did not conform to standards of
accuracy, fairness, objectivity or balance.
She alleged that the broadcast breached standards R1, R7, R9, R15 and R19 of the
Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice and she sought an apology from Bishop Walters
to listeners, to National Radio and herself and an apology from National Radio.
RNZ advised Ms Brooke that her complaint about Kupu Kori Kori – a weekly opinion
programme reflecting a current Maori-oriented issue now in its ninth year – was
assessed under the standards which she had nominated. In addition, RNZ had
considered the complaint under standard R5. The following standards require
R1 To be truthful and accurate on points of fact in news and current affairs
R5 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any
R7 To respect the principles of partnership between Maori and Pakeha in
New Zealand society in actively seeking a balanced contribution and views
on matters relating to that partnership.
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.
The other two state:
R15 Listeners should always be able to distinguish clearly and easily between
factual reporting on the one hand, and comment, opinion and analysis on
R19 Great care must be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure
that the extracts are a true reflection and not a distortion of the original
event or the overall views expressed.
Stressing that its task was confined to assessing the broadcast and not the accuracy of
the newspaper article to which the programme referred, RNZ stated that Standard
R15 did not apply as the broadcast, as its title disclosed, was clearly an opinion piece.
That also applied substantially to the complaint about factual inaccuracies raised
under standard R1. Any relevant remaining aspects of the complaint under those
standards which did not allege a factual inaccuracy, RNZ added, were subsumed under
standards R5 and R7.
With regard to standard R7, RNZ stated:
It could be said that Walters' inaccurate representation of what Brooke actually
said resulted in imbalance. To a certain extent, Walters aimed at balance by
quoting from the Brooke article and then commenting on that. In that there are
inaccuracies in citing which result in an inaccurate account of the Brooke article,
the Committee believed there were grounds for supporting an allegation of
breach of R7.
Accordingly, it upheld the complaint that the broadcast was in breach of standard R7.
As the misquoting and the inaccuracies in total distorted Ms Brooke's column, RNZ
continued, she had not been dealt with fairly and the broadcast was also in
contravention of standard R5.
However, as the structure of the talk adopted by Bishop Walters consisted of quoting
a point made in the column and commenting on it, RNZ maintained that the
requirement for balance in standard R9 was not breached. Further, as the programme
was recorded and broadcast unedited, standard R19 had not been transgressed. RNZ
argued that the justifiable concerns advanced by the complainant in these standards
were embodied in standard R7 under which the complaint had been upheld.
RNZ advised Ms Brooke that it had taken the following action:
1. Remind the Manager, Te Reo O Aotearoa, and request him to keep
contributors informed of the need for one hundred percent accuracy in
citing public comment or reports of events and statements, always noting
that this imperative is not intended to limit clearly identified comments in
appropriate programmes, ensuring that such comments or expressions of
editorial opinions cannot be mistaken by the audience for reports of fact.
2. That the existing policy of review of programme elements by senior
producers, prior to broadcast, should continue to be observed.
It had decided not to broadcast a correcting item because:
... such an item would necessarily be accompanied by explanatory detail which
would rehearse the whole matter to little purpose after this lapse of time.
Ms Brooke referred her complaint to the Authority on the basis, first, that the
complaint was not upheld under all the nominated standards and, secondly, that RNZ
had decided not to broadcast an item of correction. Because she earned part of her
living as a columnist, she insisted on a broadcast retraction from Bishop Walters as,
regardless of the elapsed time:
It's not good enough for Radio New Zealand to admit in essence that I have been
brought into disrepute through the medium of one of these programmes - and
that they don't intend to do anything about it.
In its report to the Authority, RNZ maintained, contrary to Ms Brooke's remark, that
the complaint had been substantially upheld. Moreover, serious action had followed
and, it added:
The particular broadcast might be taken as an example of legitimate expression
of serious opinion rendered less than legitimate as a consequence of an inaccurate
RNZ also expressed the opinion that its principal difference with the complainant
seemed to be the applicable standards.
In her final comment, Ms Brooke repeated her concern about the lack of both a public
retraction and apology. She disagreed with RNZ that their differences involved a
dispute about the applicable standards and insisted that the broadcast contained a
number of points which were faulty or of doubtful validity.
The Authority first considered the standards which RNZ had decided were
inapplicable (R1 and R15) or had not been breached (R9 and R19).
Kupu Kori Kori is an opinion piece and the title, loosely translated, according to RNZ,
means "a comment about an issue" or "a personal interpretation of an issue". It was
an opinion piece on radio in response to an opinion piece in the press. The
interpretations advanced differed and, in these circumstances, the Authority agreed
with RNZ that neither standard R1 nor R15 applied. That did not amount to
accepting a "factionalised Maori perspective", as the complainant suggested, or indeed
"a factionalised Pakeha perspective". Two parties had differed in offering their
interpretation of the facts. Accordingly, the Authority agreed with RNZ that
standards R1 and R15 did not apply.
As for standard R19, the Authority noted Ms Brooke's suggestion that it could apply
to Bishop Walters' interpretation (and subsequent editing) of Ms Brooke's
newspaper column. However, the Authority has applied the provision in the past
solely in relation to the editing by the broadcaster of material gathered for a
programme. As there are other provisions in the standards to deal with the issues
raised by Ms Brooke under standard R19 on this occasion, the Authority did not
consider that it was either necessary or appropriate to adopt the interpretation which
When it examined the alleged breach of standard R9, the Authority appreciated Ms
Brooke's argument that it was not logical to uphold the complaint under R7 but not to
do so under standard R9. Because of the overlap between these two standards, the
Authority decided that the appropriate action on this occasion, rather than cavil about
the possible differences between the standards, was to subsume the balance
requirements in standard R9 under the obligation for a "balanced contribution" laid
down in standard R7. The complaint under standard R7, as noted, was upheld by
Moreover, as RNZ had upheld the complaint under standard R5, the Authority
decided it was not necessary to determine the dispute between Ms Brooke and RNZ
as to whether one misquotation was sufficient in itself or a series of misquotations
was necessary for a specific broadcast to amount to a breach of standard R5. It could
well depend on the circumstances of each complaint and, in the broadcast complained
about, the series unequivocally contravened the standard.
The Authority then considered whether the action taken by RNZ was appropriate in
the circumstances. On a number of occasions in the past, the Authority has noted
that neither the need for some explanatory detail nor the lapse in time between the
broadcast complained about and the correction are in themselves – either individually
or together – sufficient justification not to require a broadcast of a correction or
apology. They are matters to be taken into account but the substantial issue in all
complaints is the degree of the breach and the relevance and usefulness of a broadcast
On this occasion the commentary broadcast was a criticism of a published article. It
was a commentary which, because it was unbalanced and unfair, breached standards
R5 and R7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. The final remarks in the
commentary, that the comments in the article were biased and racist, involved
In its determination of the complaint, the Authority read a transcript of the item and
listened to a tape of the broadcast. Whereas the critical remarks dominated upon
reading the transcript, the qualification "in my opinion" was stressed and featured
during the broadcast in a manner which ameliorated the impact of the written word.
Furthermore, the broadcast commentary could not be described as vindictive in tone.
Rather, it gave the impression of being the thoughts of a person who was keen to
advance an alternative perspective in a constructive manner.
In reaching a decision on whether RNZ's action should include a broadcast correction
and apology to Ms Brooke, the Authority took into account the fact that the two
individuals (Ms Brooke and Bishop Walters) both had high public profiles and were
committed to debating publicly issues of social concern and sensitivity. They had
expressed their views in public forums. Bishop Walters had misrepresented Ms
Brooke's views, and RNZ correctly upheld this as a breach of broadcasting standards.
In the Authority's opinion RNZ's decision was appropriate and no further action was
For the reasons given above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint
that the broadcast by Radio New Zealand Ltd of Kupu Kori Kori at 6.08pm on 5
March 1995 breached standards R1, R9, R15 or R19 of the Radio Code of
The Authority also declines to uphold the complaint that the action taken by
the broadcaster, having upheld the complaint that the said broadcast breached
standards R5 and R7 of the Radio Code, was insufficient.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
24 August 1995
Ms Brooke's Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd - 13 March 1995
Agnes-Mary Brooke of Nelson complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd (through the
Broadcasting Standards Authority) about the broadcast of a programme entitled Kupu
Kori Kori on 5 March 1995 in which, she said, Bishop Muru Walters had attacked a
column she had written for "The Dominion" published on February 28.
She alleged that Bishop Walters had misrepresented and distorted her argument and
that the broadcast breached standards R1, R9, R15, R19 and R7 of the Radio Code of
Broadcasting Practice. In his misrepresentation of her column, she added, Bishop
Walters had not distinguished between fact and opinion and his editing of her
argument amounted to a distortion of her opinion.
Citing Bishop Walters' concluding comments that her column was biased and racist,
she maintained specifically that his unsubstantiated claims breached the standard R7
requirement to respect the principles of partnership.
Ms Brooke asked for an apology from Bishop Walters for herself and sought an
apology from RNZ to listeners for broadcasting the inaccurate, misleading and
possibly defamatory statements.
She attached to her complaint the column from "The Dominion" referred to and a
transcript of the broadcast.
RNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 22 May 1995
In reporting its decision on the complaint to Ms Brooke, RNZ described Kupu Kori
Kori as a weekly opinion programme - now in its ninth year - reflecting on a Maori
oriented issue. RNZ said that in addition to the standards cited, it had considered the
complaint under standard R5 which requires that people referred to during a broadcast
be dealt with fairly. RNZ also pointed out that its task in dealing with the complaint
was confined to deciding whether the material which was broadcast breached the
broadcasting standards and it proceeded to assess the complaint under each of the
R7: RNZ said that Bishop Walters, as alleged, had misrepresented what was
contained in the newspaper column. While that could be considered a matter of
balance, it decided that it involved a breach of standard R7.
R9: Defining Kupu Kori Kori as "a personal interpretation of an issue", RNZ argued
that Bishop Walters maintained balance by introducing and commenting on the points
in the column. That structure, it added, achieved balance and it did not consider that it
involved a breach beyond what had been upheld as a contravention of standard R7.
R19: As the standard referred to the editing of the material which was broadcast,
RNZ said that it was not applicable. The thrust of the complaint under this standard
had been assessed under standard R7.
R5: RNZ expressed the belief that a single misquotation of the column in isolation
would not have been serious. However, in totality, it accepted that the inaccuracies
and misquotations in this instance distorted Ms Brooke's views to the extent that she
had not been dealt with justly and fairly.
RNZ then advised Ms Brooke that standards R1 and R15 were not applicable. The
former was not relevant as the broadcast was a long-established commentary
programme and the issues raised had been dealt with under standards R5 and R7. For
the same reasons, standard R15 was inapplicable.
Having upheld the complaint under standards R5 and R7, RNZ reported what action
it had taken. First, it had reminded the Manager of Te Reo O Aotearoa of the need for
contributors to distinguish comment from fact and to cite public comment with 100%
accuracy. Secondly, the existing policy of reviewing programme elements by senior
broadcasters, prior to broadcast, should continue.
The Complaints Committee considered the option of recommending the
broadcast of a correcting item, but decided, on balance, against such a
recommendation in view of the fact that such an item would necessarily be
accompanied by explanatory detail which would rehearse the whole matter to
little purpose after this lapse of time.
Ms Brooke's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 5 June 1995
Dissatisfied with aspects of RNZ's decision, Ms Brooke referred her complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She
addressed RNZ's response under each standard.
R9: Ms Brooke objected on two grounds to RNZ's decision not to uphold the
aspect of the complaint that the broadcast was unbalanced.
First, as RNZ acknowledged in its decision on standard R7, Bishop Walters had
inaccurately misrepresented her and, therefore, she maintained its was illogical not to
acknowledge also that the comment was unbalanced. Secondly, it was also illogical to
accept the inaccurate misinterpretation but not to uphold the complaint which
required "balance, impartiality and fairness".
R1: Ms Brooke again referred to RNZ's finding that the commentary had distorted
and misrepresented her column and, since it dealt with current affairs, she said that
RNZ was inconsistent not to uphold the standard R1 complaint. She wrote:
Is the committee maintaining that programmes from a factionalised Maori
perspective are not required, according to the Code of Broadcasting Practice, to
be "truthful and accurate on points of fact" in current affairs programmes?
Unless the committee is arguing this, my complaint with respect to R1 should
have been upheld.
R15: Maintaining that opinion pieces had to comply with this standard, and pointing
out that RNZ accepted that the broadcast contained inaccuracies, distortion and
misrepresentation, Ms Brooke stated that listeners would be unable to distinguish
between Bishop Walters' report of her column and his commentary. The standard,
she maintained, was applicable.
R19: Maintaining that the standard as written was ambiguous, Ms Brooke said a
wider interpretation would find Bishop Walter's distorted editing of her column to be
a breach of the standard.
R5: Ms Brooke objected to RNZ accepting an isolated misquote as not serious
whereas, in totality, the misreporting amounted to a breach. She wrote:
Misquoting is always serious. It leads to misunderstandings, inaccuracies and
distortions, and to people being held in a lesser regard that would have been the
case if their views had not been misquoted. Given that the truth of things is of
supreme importance, I am surprised that the authority should take such a
flippant view of any individual being publicly misquoted.
Action taken: Ms Brooke described RNZ's decisions not to broadcast a correction
as "simply not good enough". She added:
Through a channel provided by Radio New Zealand, Bishop Muru Walters
broadcast a commentary on a Dominion column of mine in which he
misrepresented me, inaccurately quoted from my writing, thus probably raising
anger and concern in the minds of a number of his hearers, and misrepresented
my position, by distortion and inaccuracies, to the extent of accusing me,
wrongly, "of prejudices, biases and racist comments". Legal advice is that his
comments may be construed as defamatory. Bishop Walters has wronged me,
publicly, and it is not good enough for Radio New Zealand to make absolutely
no provision for a correction to be issued, publicly. Not all of the damage will
be able to be undone. But some attempt to issue a correction, reaching listeners
of Kupu Kori Kori, who will have heard the original broadcasts (in English and
Maori) should be made. I earn my living as a columnist, book reviewer, writer
Arguing that RNZ's admission of the breach to her was insufficient, Ms Brooke
maintained that a broadcast retraction was essential.
RNZ's Response to the Authority -18 July 1995
In its report to the Authority, RNZ dealt with each standard raised in the original
complaint and, overall, maintained that Ms Brooke's complaint had been substantially
upheld, with serious following action taken. It commented:
The particular broadcast might be taken as an example of legitimate expression
of serious opinion rendered less than legitimate as a consequence of an inaccurate
RNZ also pointed out that it had acknowledged from the outset that Ms Brooke, as
the person referred to in the programme, had been treated unfairly and unjustly.
Further, the broadcast has been found to be in breach of standard R7 and, RNZ
concluded in its summary:
The divergence of opinion over which programme standards can or cannot apply
to the particular broadcast may be the chief difference. The Company would
request that the Authority approach this complaint reference with those points
In its comments on specific matters, RNZ referred to the point about whether a
breach occurred after one or a number of lapses and remarked:
[The] complainant in her reference to the Authority appears not to agree that a
particular lapse in a broadcast may by itself be regarded (especially in a radio
context) as significantly less serious than if it occurs in combination with several
other lapses in the same item; the force of the combination is greater than the
mere sum of each added individually. The Company sees no need to defend or
justify this principle, which its Complaints Committee brought to the
Mrs Brooke's Final Comment - 27 July 1995
In her reply to RNZ's comments, Mrs Brooke highlighted a number of its points
which she said were faulty or of doubtful validity. Pointing out that radio was
essentially a public medium, she emphasised that there had been neither a public
retraction nor a public apology.
She disagreed with RNZ's argument that the referral was fundamentally a
disagreement about the standards which were applicable, maintaining that she
continued to be concerned about the aspects not upheld. In conclusion, she repeated
her contention about the absence of a public apology and wrote:
As I may well have cause for claiming defamation, if an apology is not
forthcoming from Radio New Zealand and Bishop Muru Walters I shall have to
consider taking further action.