BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Webb and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1995-095

  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • L M Loates
  • R McLeod
  • Allan E Webb


On TV1's Holmes broadcast on 15 June 1995, the presenter read a fax from a viewer

to the effect that the colour of the French flag was white during two world wars and in

Indo-China. Holmes is broadcast on weekdays between 7.00–7.30pm.

Mr Webb complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the comment was

inaccurate, in bad taste and unbalanced. He argued that the presenter should be

required to apologise.

Drawing an analogy to "Letters to the Editor" column in a newspaper, TVNZ said the

comment was obviously one viewer's opinion which was likely to amuse many

viewers and it declined to uphold the complaint. Dissatisfied with TVNZ's reply, Mr

Webb 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.


The members of the Authority have viewed the item 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.

The presenter on TV One's Holmes programme broadcast on 15 June read a fax from

a viewer who maintained that white was the colour of the French flag flown in the two

world wars and in Indo-China.

Mr Webb complained to TVNZ that, given the efforts of the French, especially in the

second World War, the statement was inaccurate, in bad taste, unbalanced and

denigrated the French.

TVNZ assessed the statement under the following standards which require


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.

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.

Emphasising that the presenter was reading a fax received from a viewer in which the

viewer had expressed an opinion, TVNZ pointed out that this regular practice equated

with "Letters to the Editor" carried in the print media. As an opinion, it continued,

the standard G1 requirement for factual accuracy was inapplicable and the exemption

in G13 (ii) excused any breach of G13. It argued that standard G2 was irrelevant as it

focussed on questions of language, nudity and sex. TVNZ wrote in relation to

standard G6:

In reference to G6, TVNZ believes that the facsimile was clearly presented as

the opinion of a named viewer, rather than that of TVNZ. In the same way

that a newspaper feels no compulsion to withhold a letter to the editor

because it is not in possession of one carrying a contrary view, Holmes saw

no reason to withhold a facsimile message which (in the prevailing climate)

was likely to cause a level of amusement to many viewers.

Mr Webb dealt with each specific standard when he referred his complaint to the

Authority. Overall, he did not accept the "Letters to the Editor" analogy.

Specifically, he argued that as the presenter did not contest the writer's allegations, he

had both promoted an inaccuracy and acquiesced to an untruth. He also disputed

restricting standard G2 to the matters raised.

Having viewed the item, the Authority was of the opinion that the presenter had

obviously read a fax received from a viewer in which the viewer expressed his opinion.

Television is a visual medium and it was clear from the presenter's expression that the

viewer's comment was light-hearted. It was not meant to be taken as a serious

historical statement. Moreover, the Authority accepts that there is a place on

television for such comments which reflect an attitude rather than a statement of fact.

On the issue of whether standard G2 should be confined to issues such as language

and nudity, as TVNZ maintained, or should encompass attacks on bravery, valour and

sacrifice, as Mr Webb argued, the Authority did not consider it necessary to reach a

definite conclusion. It noted that notions of good taste and decency do in fact apply

to a wide range of matters but, while other standards apply to specific matters, it

tended to interpret standard G2 in a relatively narrow rather than overarching manner.

Thus, it was inclined to the view that standard G2 would apply to a broadcast which

discredited such matters as valour and sacrifice.

As the statement complained about was clearly the opinion of one viewer, and related

to a matter of intense public interest, the Authority did not accept that it had breached

the nominated standards.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Judith Potter
21 September 1995


Mr Webb's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 17 June 1995

Allan Webb of Wellington complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about an item

on Holmes - screened between 7.00 - 7.30pm on 15 June 1995 - which alleged that

white was the colour of the French flag used during two world wars and in Indo-


Noting that his family had fought alongside the French and that air crew who were

forced down in France were kept safe by the French, Mr Webb maintained that Mr

Holmes should apologise for his statement. He listed the broadcasting standards

which he considered had been breached by the comment.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 29 June 1995

Assessing the complaint under standards G1, G2, G6 and G13 of the Television Code

of Broadcasting Practice, TVNZ said that the comment objected to had been made by

Mr Ross Marks of the Auckland College of Education and not by Mr Holmes. Mr

Holmes, TVNZ continued, regularly quoted from the correspondence he received and,

on this occasion, had quoted the fax this way:

"Paul, he says ... I am confused about the French flag. They call it the tricolour,

but, says Ross, the only flag they flew in two World Wars and Indo-China was

a white one.

TVNZ emphasised that Mr Holmes, on two occasions, had made it clear that he was

reading the opinion of a viewer.

Dealing with the standards cited, TVNZ said that the requirement for accuracy in

standard G1 was not contravened as Mr Holmes had accurately read the letter. If

there was an error, it continued, the responsibility rested with the letter writer.

Arguing that the requirement in standard G2 for taste and decency was not relevant,

TVNZ considered that as the possibly amusing opinion of a named viewer was being

given, standard G6 was not contravened. Standard G13 did not apply given the

exception in G13(ii) for a genuinely held opinion.

Declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ concluded:

While TVNZ is very sorry that you took offence from the remarks made by Mr

Ross Marks it does not believe that their broadcast on "Holmes" was a breach

of the programme standards.

Mr Webb's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 14 July 1995

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Mr Webb referred his complaint to the

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

Mr Webb addressed TVNZ's response under each standard.

Standard G1. There could be no doubt, Mr Webb maintained, that it was inaccurate to

say that the French only flew a white flag during the named conflicts. As Mr Holmes

did not contest the writer's allegation, he had promoted an inaccuracy. Moreover, Mr

Webb did not accept that a parallel could be drawn with the "Letters to the Editor"

column in a newspaper as no paper with integrity would publish "a grave inaccuracy".

The parallel, he wrote, was "fallacious".

Standard G2. Arguing that the good taste and decency standard applied to comments

which were designed to destroy bravery, valour and sacrifice as well as to matters of

coarseness, crudity and vulgarity, Mr Webb said that the white flag comment implied

that the former attributes were not achieved by the French.

Standard G6. The absence of any correction to the comment from Mr Holmes after he

had read it, Mr Webb argued amounted to acquiescence to the untruth and,

accordingly, to imbalance. TVNZ's justification that the remark was amusing

bypassed an opportunity to appeal to the good sense of the French on the nuclear

testing issue.

Standard G13. Arguing that the exception in G13(i) did not apply as the comment

was not factual, Mr Webb said that G13(ii) also was inapplicable as the comment did

not amount to the genuinely-held opinion of New Zealand viewers. Maintaining as

well that the exception in standard G13 (iii) did not apply, Mr Webb concluded:

By no means can it be said that the statement was in the context of humorous,

satirical or dramatic work. It was in absolute disrespect, portraying a section of

a race, even the whole of the French nation and its fallen sons as cowards as far

as their efforts in the wars relate.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 31 July 1995

When advised of the referral, TVNZ stated that it did not wish to add to its letter to

Mr Webb of 29 June.

Mr Webb's Final Comment - 9 August 1995

Repeating that he was dissatisfied with TVNZ's response to his complaint, Mr Webb

did not add any further points in his letter in reply to TVNZ.