BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Brooke and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 1995-092

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • Agnes-Mary J Brooke
Number
1995-092
Programme
Kupu Kori Kori
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio


Summary

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.


Decision

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

hearing.

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

New Zealanders.

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

broadcasters:

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

programmes.

R5  To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any

programme.

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

the other.

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

factual foundation.


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

she advanced.

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

RNZ.

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

of correction.


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

substantial criticism.

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

called for.

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

Broadcasting Practice.


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

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
24 August 1995


Appendix

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

nominated standards.

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.

RNZ concluded:

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

and consultant.

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

factual foundation.

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 mind.

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

complaint.

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.