BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Geddes and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1999-224

  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • J Withers
  • L M Loates
  • R McLeod
  • K J D Geddes


A representative of the Airline Pilots’ Association was interviewed on Holmes, broadcast at 7.00pm on TV One on 2 September 1999, in connection with a strike by Ansett pilots.

Mr Geddes complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the interview was biased, unbalanced and actively denigrated pilots involved in the dispute. He said he was appalled at the rudeness of the interviewer and his unprofessional, discourteous behaviour.

TVNZ conceded that the interview could be described as "robust" but did not agree that it was rude or biased. The pilots’ representative was given full opportunity to respond on their behalf, it argued. It explained that, as management had declined to appear, balance was achieved by the presenter adopting a "devil’s advocate" position in order to prevent the item from becoming a chronicle of viewpoints from the Pilots’ Association. It declined to uphold any aspect of the complaint.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision not to uphold his complaint, Mr Geddes referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

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


The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Industrial action taken by airline pilots against Ansett was the topic of discussion in a Holmes item broadcast on TV One on 2 September 1999 beginning at 7.00pm. A representative from the Airline Pilots’ Association (ALPA) debated the issues with presenter Paul Holmes.

Mr Geddes complained to TVNZ that the broadcast breached normal standards of good taste and decency, lacked balance, and actively denigrated pilots who were involved in the dispute. He said he was appalled by the presenter’s rudeness, constant interruption and obvious bias against the interviewee. The "ultimate insult", he suggested, was when the presenter abruptly terminated the interview, but then called the interviewee back to make a final statement.

In Mr Geddes’s view, the interview failed to achieve balance. The presenter, he said, asked clearly loaded questions, and then cut off the interviewee’s response. He contended that the interview was "a travesty of all that public broadcasting should stand for". He requested a thorough investigation of the matter.

In its response, TVNZ explained the background to the item. It noted that it concerned the industrial dispute between pilots and management at Ansett New Zealand. It included two brief remarks from Ansett’s CEO, followed by a studio interview with a legal officer attached to ALPA. TVNZ advised that it had considered the complaint under standards G2, G6 and G14 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Standards G2 and G6 require broadcasters:

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.

The other standard reads:

G14  News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.

TVNZ noted that the item’s purpose was clearly stated in the introduction, in which the presenter asked:

Is the union holding this struggling company to ransom, or are pilots getting a bad deal – getting a contract thrown at them that they simply cannot accept?

With reference to the complaint under standard G2, TVNZ responded that it assumed this related to the manner adopted by the presenter when interviewing the pilots’ representative. It pointed out that it was imperative, in order to achieve a balanced presentation of the dispute, that the presenter should offer a challenge to the points of view advanced. It agreed that the interview could be described as "robust", but did not consider it to be rude or biased. TVNZ pointed out that at the end of the item when the interviewee rose to leave, he was offered the opportunity to read the letter he had with him, even though the time allowed for the interview had expired.

Turning to the complaint that the item lacked balance, TVNZ pointed out that in this case, management had declined to appear and it was therefore necessary for the presenter to adopt a "devil’s advocate" position to ensure that the item did not simply become a chronicle of viewpoints from ALPA.

In its view, ALPA’s representative had responded forcefully and effectively to points made, and made clear the position of the pilots. TVNZ suggested that the interviewer would not have been doing his job properly had he failed to challenge the interviewee on the pilots’ position. It acknowledged that the presenter did interrupt, but noted that that was to ensure that the interview was kept on track, and to ensure that as wide an area of debate as possible was canvassed within the time available. In passing, it observed that the interviewee had been offered the opportunity to bring a pilot to join in the studio discussion, but had declined to do so. TVNZ concluded that the presenter had, by adopting a devil’s advocate role, ensured that the debate was balanced.

To the complaint that the reputation of pilots was denigrated, TVNZ responded that it found nothing in the item to suggest that the pilots were anything but fully professional and competent.

It declined to uphold any aspect of the complaint.

When he referred the complaint to the Authority, Mr Geddes emphasised several points. First, he wrote, the presenter had displayed an unacceptable level of rudeness to the interviewee and had constantly interrupted him as he was trying to give reasoned answers to complex questions. This type of behaviour, in Mr Geddes’s view, had no place in public broadcasting.

Secondly, he argued that the presenter had failed to give the interviewee sufficient time to answer complex questions. His constant interruptions prevented reasonable answers being given, he wrote.

Turning to the balance complaint, Mr Geddes argued that the treatment by the presenter of Ansett’s CEO had been "gentle" in comparison to the treatment given to the ALPA representative. This, he argued, demonstrated a lack of impartiality and fairness, and was a clear breach of standard G6.

Mr Geddes advised that he had been informed subsequent to the item that the presenter admitted to having a personal relationship with the CEO. Under such circumstances, he argued, it was quite improper for the presenter to interview a friend in a different manner to the person on the other side of this bitter industrial dispute. In his view, the presenter should have withdrawn and allowed an interviewer without a personal bias to conduct the interview. He suggested the manner in which the interview was conducted was a breach of standard G10.

Finally Mr Geddes made the observation that as Holmes was not a news programme, the complaint should not have been assessed under standard G14.

In TVNZ’s response to the Authority, it emphasised first that it did not consider the presenter to have been rude to the ALPA representative. It repeated that it had been necessary for him to adopt a "devil’s advocate" role to ensure that the interview was balanced.

Secondly, it advised that Mr Geddes had been mistaken in assuming that the presenter had interviewed the CEO. It noted that that interview had been carried out by a reporter.

In response to the allegation that the CEO had been treated gently, it pointed out that his appearance had been brief and had been confined to a few short sentences. On the other hand, it argued, the ALPA representative had been given eight minutes to put forward the position of his association.

The Authority’s Findings

The interview with the ALPA representative arose, the Authority notes, in the context of an acrimonious and long-running industrial dispute. At issue were safety matters, allowances, and terms and conditions of service.

The ALPA representative appeared on the programme as the spokesperson for the striking pilots. No management representative was available.

The complainant contended that the interviewer’s discourteous treatment of the guest breached several broadcasting standards. In his view, the interviewer’s conduct breached normal standards of good taste and decency, and revealed an obvious bias against the interviewee.

The Authority deals first with the complaint that the interview breached standard G2 because the interviewer was rude to and biased against the guest. It notes TVNZ’s description of the interview as "robust". In the Authority’s view, that is a fair description of the interviewer’s approach, but it concludes that it was one which did not transgress community standards of good taste and decency. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Next the Authority turns to the complaint that the interview failed to provide balance, lacked impartiality and was unfair. TVNZ has pointed out that had the two parties in the dispute been represented in the studio debate, balance would have been achieved by the presenter allowing both sides to advance their views. However, in this case, as no management representative appeared, the presenter was obliged to adopt the role of a devil’s advocate. Given the interview’s format, the Authority acknowledges that, had the interviewer not adopted such an approach, the interview might well have canvassed only one side of the debate. By adopting the course that he did, the interviewer ensured that not only was the ALPA representative given a full opportunity to present the union’s case, but the views of management on the other side of the debate were also aired. The Authority observes that the interviewee was able to put his union’s point of view with some vigour, and in the circumstances, the Authority finds no breach of standard G6.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Sam Maling
25 November 1999


The following correspondence was received and considered when the Authority determined this complaint:

1.    K J D Geddes’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 6 September 1999

2.    TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 23 September 1999

3.    Mr Geddes’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 2 October 1999

4.    TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 18 October 1999

5.    Mr Geddes’s Final Comment – 25 October 1999