BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Fudakowski and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 1994-004

Members
  • I W Gallaway (Chair)
  • R A Barraclough
  • L M Dawson
  • J R Morris
Dated
Complainant
  • Paul Fudakowski
Number
1994-004
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio


Summary

The subject of liable parent contributions was discussed on Nine to Noon on 3 August

1993 and unemployment on Morning Report on 13 August 1993.

Mr Fudakowski complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd that the dissenting view given in the

discussion about liable parents was unsourced and therefore was neither balanced nor

impartial. With respect to the second item, he complained that comments about the

inevitability of long-term unemployment were deeply offensive and lacked balance and

objectivity.

In response, RNZ denied that the news items encouraged discrimination against any

group, or that they were so lacking in balance that they were in breach of broadcasting

standards. Pointing out that the items contained expressions of opinion about matters of

public interest, RNZ explained that it could find no justification for the contention that the

reporting of those statements imposed an obligation on the broadcaster to undertake an

in-depth investigation into the subjects discussed. Dissatisfied with that decision, Mr

Fudakowski referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under

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

For the reasons given below, the Authority declined to uphold the complaint.


Decision

The members of the Authority have listened to the items 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.

A discussion about liable parent contributions was broadcast on RNZ's Nine to Noon on 3

August 1993 and an item in which the views of two economists were given was broadcast

on Morning Report and subsequent news bulletins on 13 August 1993.

Mr Fudakowski complained that because the reading of a fax in the first item identified the

author only by gender, the issues presented contained a gender bias and lacked

impartiality and fairness. His complaint about the second series of news items was that the

comments by two economists about high unemployment were offensive to the

unemployed because they failed to recognise concepts such as job sharing.

Radio New Zealand reported that it had assessed the complaint against standards R9, R14,

R15, R16 and R32 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards require

broadcasters:

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.


R14  To avoid portraying people in a manner that encourages denigration of or

discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender,

race, age, disability, occupation status, sexual orientation or as the

consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs.


This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material

which is

a factual, or

b the expression of serious opinion, or

c in the legitimate use of humour or satire.


News and Current Affairs


All broadcasters are required to preserve the respect the public has for the integrity

of radio news services and in particular, news and current affairs broadcasts should

take account of the following points.

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.

R16 News should be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.


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.

Item One – Liable parent contributions

In response to the complaint that the context of the fax in the first item was neither

partial nor fair, RNZ pointed out that the fax was not read in an effort to balance the

interview with the FARE spokesperson but was simply a comment read to stimulate listener

response on the issues.

The Authority considered that the reading of the fax did not constitute a breach of

standard R9, noting that the interview which preceded it had comprehensively covered

many of the issues about the child support legislation and liable parent contributions. It

regarded the comment as an adjunct to the previous discussion and further, that it was

helpful to be advised that the comment came from a man since it could well be seen as an

atypical comment from a member of the group to which most liable parents belong.

With respect to the complaint that the item breached standard R16, RNZ responded that

the standard was not applicable since the programme was not a news programme. The

Authority concurred and declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Responding to Mr Fudakowski's complaint that the item was in breach of standard R32,

RNZ argued that it was unable to perceive how the standard had been breached by the

reading of the fax.

Noting that the complainant did not identify any particular aspect of the programme

which he alleged was in breach of the standard, the Authority concluded that the item did

not contain material which might have been sensitive to children. The discussion focused

on the legislation and its implications for families and provided information and opinions

on why the legislation was not working. Such facts and opinions would not, in the

Authority's view, have been unsuitable for child listeners.

Item Two - unemployment

In response to the complaint that the items about long term unemployment lacked

objectivity, and accordingly were in breach of standard R9, RNZ argued that the report of

comments made by two economists, who were reacting to information revealed in the

latest Household Labour Force Survey, imposed no obligation to undertake an in-depth

investigation into wider employment-related matters. It maintained that it was legitimate

to report publicly-stated opinions, pointing out that the reporting of the fact that the

opinion was expressed in no way constituted an expression of editorial opinion.

Observing that the context for the remarks was clearly established and that the

information was presented as the opinion of the named economists, the Authority

concluded that the broadcast of the items was not in breach of standard R9. It did not

consider that it was necessary for the news bulletin to contain statements which balanced

those views nor to balance the opinions with a discussion on concepts such as job sharing

as suggested by Mr Fudakowski. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item was

lacking in balance.

Repeating the arguments outlined above, RNZ rejected the complaint that the item was in

breach of standard R15 because listeners would not be able to distinguish clearly the

difference between fact and opinion. It maintained that the statements were merely

reported and there was no editorial opinion or analysis. It distinguished the reporting of a

publicly stated fact and an editorial opinion.

The Authority was of the view that the reports were clearly distinguishable as opinion,

noting that the identities of the speakers were given and the remarks attributed to them.

It believed that listeners would have been in no doubt that the remarks were reports of

facts and their interpretation and not editorial comment or analysis. It declined to uphold

this aspect of the complaint.

The final aspect of the complaint was that the comments discriminated against the

unemployed because it was stated as fact that high unemployment was going to continue

in New Zealand.

Rejecting this argument, RNZ maintained that the standard was not relevant and further,

that there was no element of denigration or discrimination against any section of the

community on any basis.

The Authority was of the view that although the unemployed was a group to which the

standard applies, the comments from the economists did not encourage denigration or

discrimination. It also noted that the expression of serious opinion was permitted under

the standard. It declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

 

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Iain Gallaway
Chairperson
17 February 1994

Appendix


Mr Fudakowski's Complaint to Radio New Zealand Limited

In a letter dated 3 August 1993, Mr Paul Fudakowski of Porirua complained to Radio New

Zealand Ltd that an item that day on Nine to Noon lacked impartiality and fairness.

Following an interview with a FARE (Families Apart Require Equality) spokesperson, a

facsimile was read which did not identify the author other than to say that it was a man.

In Mr Fudakowski's opinion this resulted in the issues being presented on a strictly gender

basis and, since FARE's view was accurately sourced to a person, he claimed that the item

lacked impartiality and fairness. He cited standards 1.1(i), 5.2(b) and 7.3 (now

renumbered R9, R16 and R32) which he alleged were breached.

In a second letter, dated 31 August 1993 Mr Fudakowski complained about an item on

Morning Report broadcast on 13 August in which comments were made by interviewees

about employment statistics.

Mr Fudakowski claimed that the comments made about long-term unemployment were

deeply offensive to the unemployed and, that in order to be objective, the item should have

mentioned concepts like job sharing. He alleged that standards 1.1(i), 5.2(a) and 8.1 (now

renumbered R9, R15 and R14) were breached.

RNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint

RNZ advised Mr Fudakowski of its Complaints Committee's decision in a letter dated 18

November 1993. It reported that the complaints had been assessed against the standards

nominated by Mr Fudakowski.

Responding to the complaint about the item on unemployment broadcast on 13 August,

RNZ commented first that it was unable to perceive the relevance of standard R14 since it

could detect no element of denigration or discrimination against any section of the

community. With reference to standard R15, RNZ explained that there was frequent

confusion between the reporting of a publicly stated opinion, attributed to its source, and

the publication of an editorial opinion. The reporting of a publicly made statement did not

constitute an editorial opinion. In this case, it continued, RNZ reported the statement and

clearly identified the source and furthermore, the report contained a summary of

comments from other sources. It declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Responding to the complaint that the same item lacked balance (standard R9), RNZ

reported that it found no justification for a contention that the report of a public

statement imposed an obligation to undertake an in-depth investigation into wider

employment-related matters. It also noted that the standard refers to balance "within the

period of current interest".

With reference to the item broadcast on 3 August on Nine to Noon, RNZ rejected the

standard R16 complaint, pointing out that it only applied to news programmes.

It also rejected the R9 aspect of the complaint, maintaining that the reading of the

facsimile was unrelated to any question of primary balance. Responding to the standard

R32 complaint, RNZ maintained that there was no statutory obligation for the presenter

to identify the author of the facsimile and, further, that the presenter was at liberty to set

the context of such a message by reference to gender, age or any other contextual factor if

it seemed relevant. It was unable to see how a breach of the standard occurred.

Mr Fudakowski's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

Dissatisfied with RNZ's decision, in a letter and Complaint Referral Form dated 14

December 1993, Mr Fudakowski referred his complaints to the Broadcasting Standards

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

Referring to the comments made by the interviewee in the 13 August interview, Mr

Fudakowski described as offensive the remark that high unemployment was a fact of life

and that there was little prospect of improvement over the next decade. He claimed that

these and similar comments ignored alternative options like job sharing.

Mr Fudakowski claimed that the fax which was read on 3 August attempted to legitimise a

gender bias and he accused the presenter of being sexist in the presentation of the material.

He maintained that both broadcasts were attempts to influence listeners' opinions by the

dissemination of unique viewpoints. A formal hearing was requested in view of the length

of time taken in dealing with the matters with the result that the period of current interest

has become academic. Mr Fudakowski claimed that the delay was prejudicial to his

complaint.

RNZ's Response to the Authority

As is its practice, the Authority sought the broadcaster's response to the complaint. Its

letter is dated 16 December 1993 and RNZ's reply, 24 December.

RNZ commented that it believed Mr Fudakowski misunderstood the function of a radio

news bulletin service, which is to report and not to engage in investigative journalism.

Referring to the item on unemployment, it noted that the item reported the public

statements of two economists, each of whom had made a point about the recently released

Household Labour Force Survey figures. RNZ rejected any suggestion that reporting those

comments was an indication of bias. It wrote:

To contend that these public statements required contrary views, together with an

examination of all the variations of public employment policy, before those

statements might be published is to revert to the "flat earth" rule.

RNZ enclosed copies of the news items and a copy of its first informal response to Mr

Fudakowski, which made the points repeated above. RNZ also included a copy of the

general manager of National Radio's response concerning the second complaint which

involved the reading of a facsimile message sent in to Nine to Noon prompted by an

interview concerning child support policies and law. It pointed out that Nine to Noon was

not a news broadcast, was not reporting news and was putting the message in context by

noting that its author was a man (since he was criticising mainly male attitudes) and that

it was read to invite further public comment on the subject.

In concluding, RNZ suggested that Mr Fudakowski was attempting to adapt programme

standards to support an editorial policy which he preferred Radio New Zealand to follow.

It pointed out that that was outside the scope of the formal complaints legislation. RNZ

included a copy of his letter of 25 November which it believed appeared to support that

view.

Mr Fudakowski's Final Comment to the Authority

When asked to comment on RNZ's response, in a letter dated 20 January 1994, Mr

Fudakowski took exception to a number of points.

He repeated that his objection was to the content of the news bulletins about high

unemployment becoming a fact of life which, he argued, was implicitly abusive.

Acknowledging that the matter was newsworthy, he nevertheless argued that the

comments by the economists should have been identified as opinions. In his view, such

opinions should be cautiously interpreted and qualified.

Mr Fudakowski suggested that the journalist could have asked different questions and

conducted an interview with the economists, instead of repeating verbatim, their views.