Connell and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 1998-061
- J Withers
- L M Loates
- R McLeod
- John Connell
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
Secondly, contrary to a suggestion from Mr Connell, the tape of the item supplied to
the Authority had covered the full item.