BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Connell and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 1998-061

  • J Withers
  • L M Loates
  • R McLeod
  • John Connell
Morning Report
Radio New Zealand Ltd
National Radio


Mr C R J Davis, an Auckland City Councillor, was the subject of a complaint to the

Human Rights Commission in view of his participation in the decision by the

Auckland City Council not to grant funds to the 1998 Hero Parade. He was

interviewed on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report about the decision at about

7.30am on 29 January 1998.

Mr Connell complained to Radio New Zealand Limited that the item was unbalanced

and unfair to Cr Davis in view of the agreement between RNZ and Cr Davis referred

to in the item. Moreover, because the broadcast was a poor example of mature and

fair debate, he was concerned about its effect on children.

Because there appeared to be a genuine misunderstanding between Morning Report

and Cr Davis as to the scope of the interview, RNZ upheld the complaint about the

lack of fairness. RNZ advised that staff had subsequently been reminded of the need

for clarity in dealing with people who are to be interviewed. It declined to uphold the

balance complaint as the interview was but one item in an ongoing story. It also

declined to uphold the complaint relating to children as Morning Report, it said, was

not normal listening for children.

Dissatisfied that the balance aspect had not been upheld, Mr Connell referred that

matter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting

Act 1989.

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


The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the item complained about

and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). On this occasion,

the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Following discussions with staff at RNZ, Cr Colin Davis agreed to be interviewed on

Morning Report as a complaint about him had been made to the Human Rights

Commission. The complaint arose as Cr Davis had declined to support an application

to the Auckland City Council for funding of the Hero Parade.

Mr Connell complained to RNZ about the interview. He considered, he said, that the

interviewer had adopted a provocative and belligerent approach, and that the interview

had been unfair and unbalanced as it had failed to comply with the agreement made

prior to the on air discussion, about the issues to be discussed. Moreover, the

interview was a bad example of conduct for children who might have been listening.

RNZ assessed the complaint under the nominated standards in the Radio Code of

Broadcasting Practice. They require broadcasters:

R4    To acknowledge the right of individuals to express their own opinions.

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


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.

R10  To avoid the use of any deceptive programme practice which takes

advantage of the confidence listeners have in the integrity of broadcasting.

After examining reports from Cr Davis and its staff, RNZ considered that there had

been a misunderstanding about the agreement reached as to the issues to be traversed

during the interview, both parties nevertheless genuinely believing that they had


Because of this genuine misunderstanding, RNZ considered that the interviewer's

manner could have given the impression that Cr Davis was being evasive. That

approach, RNZ decided, amounted to a breach of standard R5. Staff, it added, had

been reminded of the need for clarity when dealing with people to be interviewed.

RNZ did not uphold any other aspect of the complaint. Because funding of the Hero

Parade was an ongoing story, it claimed other aspects were covered within the period

of current interest, as required by standard R9. RNZ did not consider that the

broadcast involved technical trickery which could amount to deception in

contravention of standard R10.

As Mr Connell's concern about children viewers seemed to allege a breach of

standards R30, R31 and R32, rather than standard R4, RNZ assessed the complaint

under those standards. They read:

R30  Programming must not take advantage of the natural credulity of children.

R31  Where programme content is likely to disturb or encourage deviant

behaviour by people under the age of 15 years, broadcasters should use

reasonable endeavours to schedule the programme content outside of

normal listening hours for children.

R32  When programme content may contain material which may be sensitive to

children it shall be handled positively and responsibly by broadcasters.

Examples of such content include programmes relating to anger, sexuality,

violence, relationships, family conflict and alcohol and drug abuse to

which children may be sensitive.

Pointing out that Morning Report was not within the normal listening range of

programmes for children, RNZ wrote that if children were listening because their

parents were, then parental guidance was implicitly being exercised.

Mr Connell referred his complaint to the Authority as he was dissatisfied that it was

not upheld in full. As he did not believe it was worthwhile to contest RNZ's decision

on the effect of the programme on children, he confined the referral to the issue of

balance. Mr Connell maintained that the interviewer "showed his (apparent) personal

opinions on the subject under question and in a deliberately arrogant manner".

Furthermore, he added, the media in general had not dealt with the subject of the

funding of the Hero Parade in a balanced manner.

In its report to the Authority, RNZ stressed that the item in question was but one

part of its total coverage of the story. Coverage of other points of view, it continued,

had been advanced during extensive reporting on the subject.

The Authority notes that RNZ upheld the complaint from Mr Connell that the

broadcaster breached standard R5. RNZ has reported on the action taken as a result

of this determination. The Authority also notes that Mr Connell alleged that the

broadcast breached standards R9, R10, and the provisions relating to programmes for

children. The Authority accepts RNZ's ruling on standards R10, R30, R31 and R32.

Mr Connell referred the complaint to the Authority because he considered that the

broadcast had been unbalanced and in breach of standard R9. The Authority notes

that this standard requires broadcasters to be balanced, impartial and fair, and to make

reasonable efforts to present significant points of view within the period of current


The interview about which Mr Connell complained dealt with one aspect of the

debate surrounding the Council's funding of the Hero Parade. RNZ maintains that

other items presented other views. The Authority acknowledges that the interview

complained about was conducted in a relatively aggressive style. However, that is an

issue which RNZ dealt with under standard R5, and the reasons for the

misunderstanding between Cr Davis and RNZ did not come before the Authority as a

standards issue.

In view of the ongoing controversy surrounding the decision by Auckland City

Council not to fund the Hero Parade which at times involved both perspectives taking

the lead in the debate, the Authority accepts that the various points of view would

have been covered by RNZ in other items on the subject. Accordingly, it accepts that

the balance requirement in standard R9 was not contravened.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Lyndsay Loates
18 June 1998


John Connell's Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 31 January 1998

Mr Connell of Rotorua complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd about an item

broadcast on Morning Report between 6.00–9.00am on 29 January 1998.

The item involved an interview of an Auckland City Councillor who was required to

appear before the Human Rights Commission to answer charges of discrimination

against homosexuals. Mr Connell stated that the interviewer (Sean Plunket) displayed

"a provocative and unfair bias in his belligerent questioning" of the Councillor, and had

failed to comply with the requirement for balance.

Furthermore, Mr Connell wrote, the interviewer displayed much of what many

believed to be an attempt to regulate the nation's attitudes. His questions, he wrote,

were based on what to many listeners was homosexual acceptance and economic

outcomes. The real question, however, Mr Connell continued, was "of far greater


In a further letter to RNZ dated 18 February, Mr Connell complained that the

broadcast breached standards R9, R4, R5 and R10 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting

Practice. In his view the interview lacked balance and fairness, failed to provide an

example for children, and it contravened an agreement clearly made in advance.

RNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint – 13 March 1998

In its report to Mr Connell, RNZ advised that the Councillor interviewed (Cr Davis)

had himself complained about the item and a copy of the report on Cr Davis'

complaint was enclosed. RNZ, it added, had upheld Cr Davis' complaint that the

broadcast breached the requirement for fairness in standard R5.

Mr Connell had, in addition to the matters in Cr Davis' complaint, referred to the

possible effects of the interview on children. RNZ declined to uphold that aspect on

the basis that Morning Report was not within the normal listening range of

programmes for children, and if children were listening because their parents were,

parental guidance was being implicitly exercised.

In summary, RNZ advised Mr Connell that it had upheld the standard R5 aspect, and

declined the other parts.

The accompanying report from RNZ's Complaints Committee dealing with the

complaint from Cr Davis noted that breaches of standards R5, R9 and R10 were

alleged. As there was no evidence of "technical trickery", RNZ considered that

standard R10 did not apply.

Turning to standard R9, RNZ said that it was an elaboration of s.4(1)(a) of the

Broadcasting Act which required that reasonable opportunities be given for the

expression of significant points of view on an issue. As the interview was part of the

overall coverage of the controversy surrounding the funding of the Hero Parade, RNZ

said that balance had been achieved in the coverage which preceded and followed the

interview. It declined to uphold that aspect.

In regard to the standard R5 aspect, and after listening carefully to the interview on a

number of occasions, RNZ said it was necessary to take into account any

undertakings given prior to the live interview.

Taking the information it had obtained into account, RNZ accepted that it was agreed

before the interview that Cr Davis would not debate the issues which he would be

discussing with the Human Rights Commission's investigating officer. However, RNZ

added, there was dispute on the respective understandings of the agreement.

Consequently, RNZ reported after listening to the interview:

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Committee decided it was entitled to accept

the statements of both Mr Davis and of the staffers' reports as valid accounts of

what each believed the understanding to be.

RNZ referred to its editorial policy that it would conduct an interview only on the

basis that editorial control was not ceded to the interviewee, although it was accepted

that areas for questions could be limited for such reasons as sub judice considerations.

RNZ decided that Cr Davis had misunderstood the arrangement arrived at, but that

was neither his nor RNZ's fault. It added:

The [Complaints] Committee concluded from a study of the material available to

it that, whatever the reason might have been, Mr Davis was put on air without a

full understanding of the arrangement which Morning Report thought it had

made with him. It is clear, both from his letters and from an audition of the

interview, that Mr Davis had a problem.

Turning again to the interview, RNZ noted that the interviewer's approach confirmed

the existence of a misunderstanding of the undertaking, and the impression was given

by the interviewer's manner that the interviewee was being deliberately evasive. In

upholding the standard R5 aspect, RNZ concluded

The Committee agreed that it was reasonable for Mr Davis to withhold

comment he would be likely to be called upon to make to the Commission's

investigating officer, but considered once more that there was evidence of some

confusion in understandings which ought not to have been allowed to develop


RNZ then advised on the action that it had taken on the upheld aspect. Following

detailed discussions with the Executive Director of Morning Report, all staff had been

reminded of the need for clarity when dealing with people to be interviewed. Further,

all staff would be required to become acquainted with the procedures of the Human

Rights Commission.

Mr Connell's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 26 March

Dissatisfied with RNZ's decision that the complaint was not upheld in full, Mr

Connell referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under

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

Mr Connell said that he was not satisfied with RNZ's decision on the aspect of the

complaint which referred to the effect of the programme on children. Nevertheless, as

he was of the opinion it would be waste of time to take the matter further, he accepted

RNZ's decision.

However, as he considered the interviewer had shown his "apparent" personal

opinions in a deliberately arrogant manner, he did not accept RNZ's findings on the R9

aspect. Further, he did not believe that the media in general had maintained balance on

the question of the funding of the Hero Parade.

By way of concluding comment, Mr Connell wrote:

I believe that programmes such as Morning Report should report on events of

interest and they should not be in the business of leading and attempting to

regulate society. Equally important is the quality of this reporting. It must

set examples of civilised behaviour and debate .....I settled in New Zealand in

the mid eighties and have listened to a steady decline in the level of intellectual

presentation on both radio and television since then.

This is the reason I have decided to make my concerns known to those who are

entrusted with the maintenance of high standards of broadcasting and in

consequence our nation's social development.

RNZ's Response to the Authority – 2 April 1998

RNZ advised that it had received several complaints about the item, including one

from Cr Davis himself. The decision on that complaint had been sent to each of the

complainants, along with the response to the specific points make by each individual

complainant. In Mr Connell's case, that meant his concern about the effect of the

programme on children was covered although, RNZ observed, he appeared confused in

citing standard R4.

Although that aspect had not been referred to the Authority, RNZ disputed Mr

Connell's comment that a possible breach had not been upheld on a "technicality".

Rather, it was not upheld, RNZ wrote, as it did not regard the three hour Morning

Report programme as normal radio listening for children.

On the balance issue referred to the Authority, RNZ emphasised that the interview

was but one part of the total coverage of the "story". There were, it added, many

different "stories" on the same subject within the period of current interest. The

specific development discussed in the item complained about was that Cr Davis had

become one of the four Councillors who had been asked to appear before the Human

Rights Commission.

RNZ denied that the item had been editorially biased, and pointed out that the story

had not yet concluded as the outcome of the Human Rights Commission inquiry had

yet to be reported.

Mr Connell's Final Comment – 14 April 1998

Mr Connell maintained that he was not satisfied. He considered the complaints

process was stacked against the average listener who was not familiar with the

language and format that a complaint required.

Mr Connell wrote:

May I confirm that my complaint was against the presenter's arrogance and

bad manners when interviewing Mr Davis. Such behaviour is more common

amongst certain TV front persons but clearly Radio is open to what I call the

attempted "Regulation" of society.

I am one who has travelled the world as an airline commander for many years.

I have in this capacity enjoyed the opportunity to absorb cultures and their

motivation. Sadly I am increasingly distressed by the place media holds in the

cultural development of our nation.

I suggest that your Authority, while advertising so earnestly for people to take

interest in the standard of broadcast, may have built in a procedure for such

complaint that is difficult, time consuming and confusing .... I have to ask is

this really necessary?

Further Correspondence

Acknowledging that it was unusual to respond to a complainant's final comment, in a

letter dated 20 April 1998, RNZ first pointed out that the formal complaints process

was set out in the Broadcasting Act, and was not under the control of either RNZ or

the Authority.

Secondly, contrary to a suggestion from Mr Connell, the tape of the item supplied to

the Authority had covered the full item.