BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Greet and Barnett MP and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 1999-138, 1999-139

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • J Withers
Dated
Complainants
  • Nicholas Greet
  • Tim Barnett MP
Number
1999-138–139
Programme
TV3 news
Channel/Station
TV3


Summary

A news item broadcast on TV3 on 29 June 1998 between 6.00–7.00pm summarised matters raised in a 20/20 programme broadcast the previous evening relating to the dismissal of the choirmaster at St Paul’s Cathedral in Dunedin. It was reported that the choir had returned to the Cathedral to demand the resignation of their Dean.

Mr Greet and Mr Barnett complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was unbalanced, unfair and inaccurate.

TV3 responded that it was satisfied its report was a fair and accurate summary of the developments in the controversy surrounding the dismissal of the choirmaster which had been the subject of the 20/20 item the previous evening. It declined to uphold the complaints.

Dissatisfied with TV3’s decision, Mr Greet and Mr Barnett referred their complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaint that standards G4, G6 and G19 were breached. It orders TV3 to broadcast a summary of this Decision and to pay costs to the Crown in the sum of $5,000.00.

Decision

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

A news item on 3 News broadcast on 29 June 1998 between 6.00–7.00pm dealt with events surrounding the dismissal of the choirmaster at St Paul’s Cathedral. It was reported that choir members had returned that day to the Cathedral to demand the resignation of the Dean. The report stated that the Anglican church in Dunedin was in turmoil, and that the choirmaster had been sacked "amid bogus claims that he had sexually harassed his choir boys". Now, it continued, the Dean was himself under pressure to resign because of his friendship with Robert Rothel, "an alleged homosexual predator." The future of a Cathedral Canon was also under a cloud, the report went on, because he had joked on a home video that he had had sex with 6 year old children. The Dean was reported as having said he would discuss the Canon’s future involvement in the Cathedral. In concluding, the item stated that the scandal was a big embarrassment for the Bishop, who was away overseas.

Both Mr Greet and Mr Barnett complained that the report was inaccurate and unbalanced.

Mr Greet complained that the reference to Mr Rothel in the item as "an alleged homosexual predator" was unfair to Mr Rothel as he had not been given an opportunity to respond to this allegation. He contended TV3 had breached the standard requiring broadcasters to observe the principles of law, because it had published the allegations about Mr Rothel without permitting him to defend himself. That, he said, was contrary to a justice system which presumed people were innocent until proven guilty. Clearly, Mr Greet continued, the item was not balanced because Mr Rothel and others named in the programme were not given an opportunity to put their points of view.

Mr Greet argued that the credibility of the two alleged victims of Mr Rothel was suspect and thus TV3 had breached standard G15. In particular, he wrote, the account of the anonymous man lacked credibility, and it was unfair that he had his anonymity preserved when making such a serious accusation. Mr Greet observed that the anonymous man’s account of the incident had been edited for the news item and that it omitted what he called the more incredible claims which had been related in the 20/20 item the previous evening. Those omissions, Mr Greet maintained, made the account seem more plausible.

With respect to the inclusion of the extracts from the private videotape, Mr Greet argued that TV3 had clearly breached standards relating to fairness, balance and unfair editing. In his view, the use of the videotape breached basic ethical standards. He requested that TV3 ensure that the significant errors of fact were corrected at the earliest opportunity.

Mr Barnett contended that the item took one side in a complex, highly emotive situation and that it resulted in a confused and largely inaccurate story. He maintained that the effect of this largely fictitious story had been severely damaging and traumatic for many of the individuals involved.

The main emphasis of his complaint was that TV3 relied on homophobia to encourage viewers to believe its fictitious story. Mr Barnett identified a number of examples which he contended portrayed homosexual people in a negative light. These included language, such as the description of Mr Rothel as "a homosexual sexual predator" on the basis of two alleged sexual assaults, both of which he argued lacked credibility; the use of the videotape extracts to imply that homosexuals were perverted, or were paedophiles; and the implication that the Dean had a homosexual relationship with Mr Rothel.

TV3 considered the complaints under standards G4, G5, G6, G13, G15 and G19 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which were nominated by the complainants. Standards G4, G5, G6 and G13 require broadcasters:

G4  To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any programme.

G5  To respect the principles of law which sustain our society.

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.

The other standards read:

G15  The standards of integrity and reliability of news sources should be kept under constant review.

G19  Care must be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure the extracts used are a true reflection and not a distortion of the original event or the overall views expressed.

The Authority considers it helpful to quote the transcript of the item in full:

TRANSCRIPT

CAROL HIRSCHFIELD:
An Anglican church choir that’s been boycotting Dunedin’s St Paul’s Cathedral returned briefly today to demand the resignation of the Dean. The choir walked out last month in protest at the sacking of their choirmaster amid accusations of homosexual harassment of the boys.

MICHAEL TURNER (reporter):
St Paul’s choir members and their supporters back at the Cathedral not to sing but to demand the resignation of their Dean.

SUPPORTER:
Excuse me. Is the Dean going to come out and speak to us please?

REPORTER:
He didn’t appear.

CHOIR PARENT:
There is something very unsavoury in the hierarchy of the Anglican church and I think they need to deal with it…

REPORTER:
Last night’s 20/20 programme revealed an Anglican church in turmoil, the St Paul’s choirmaster sacked amid bogus claims he had sexually harassed his choir boys.

CHOIR PARENT:
If there’d been anything, I would have been out of the place. I’ve got seven kids of my own and I just wouldn’t be party to any of that sort of rubbish.

REPORTER:
Now the man who sacked White, the Very Reverend Jonathan Kirkpatrick is himself under pressure to resign because of his friendship with this man, Robert Rothel, an alleged homosexual predator.

DAMIAN PEYROUX:
…he tried to jump on top of me and at that stage I had to push him off. And he knew I was scared and he wouldn't leave me alone…

ANONYMOUS MAN:
He said he was cold because the window was open, that was his excuse for climbing into my bed. About two or three hours later I woke up with sore private parts.

REPORTER:
3 News wasn’t welcome at the Cathedral.

CHOIR SUPPORTER:
What is going on in this Cathedral?

DIOCESAN OFFICIAL:
Go.

REPORTER:
In a statement supporting the Dean, the church said: At heart this is about the church’s integrity and willingness to deal fairly, honestly and with compassion.

Meanwhile the future of a Canon at St Paul’s is also under a cloud. The Reverend Carl Somers-Edgar featured on last night’s 20/20 joking on a home video of having sex with 6 year olds.

CANON SOMERS-EDGAR:
…and I'm good in bed …. So all those six-year-old children say.

REPORTER:
The Dean said he’d be discussing with Somers-Edgar his future involvement in the Cathedral. The scandal’s a big embarrassment for Penny Jamieson, Bishop of Dunedin. But the world’s first woman Diocesan Bishop is away overseas, leaving Dean Kirkpatrick, the man with the heat on him, acting in her place.

ENDS

TV3’s Response

TV3 declined to uphold the complaint that Mr Rothel was dealt with unfairly in the item. It advised that 20/20 had spoken to Mr Rothel on a number of occasions, and that he had expressed a wish not to be interviewed on camera. TV3 maintained that it was not necessary in a news item to indicate whether a person wished to comment or not, and nor was it a requirement to obtain a response to every statement of fact. It therefore declined to uphold the complaint under standard G4.

Turning to standard G5, TV3 responded that the previous night’s programme showed clear evidence, in the form of comment from two men, of inappropriate sexual advances being made by Mr Rothel. It said it was satisfied that it had sufficient information to justify the comment that he was "an alleged sexual predator". In declining to uphold the complaint under this standard, TV3 noted that there had been no criminal charges laid against Mr Rothel and therefore the prospect of prejudice did not arise.

With respect to the complaint that the programme lacked balance, TV3 responded that the item clearly referred to the previous night’s 20/20 programme and had broadcast developments in the controversy. Bearing this in mind, it declined to uphold the complaint that it lacked balance.

In its response to the G13 complaint, TV3 noted that the phrase used was "alleged homosexual predator". It pointed out that the item had featured two men who had complained of Mr Rothel’s unwanted sexual advances, noting that their recollections were clear, and that they had felt victimised. It argued that the fact that the assaults were described as being alleged allowed viewers to conclude there was room for doubt and to weigh the credibility of the two witnesses. TV3 concluded that the phrase used was justified and declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Responding to the standard G15 complaint, TV3 said it understood a complaint had been laid with the Church with regard to Mr Rothel’s behaviour. Damian Peyroux had appeared on camera with his recollection of events, but Mr Rothel had elected not to comment on camera. Mr Peyroux’s comments had been supported by the unnamed person, it wrote. Bearing in mind these facts, TV3 concluded there was no breach of standard G15.

With respect to the standard G19 complaint, TV3 responded that the editing of the original broadcast made the statements shorter, but no less true. Obviously, it argued, it was not surprising that the anonymous man should not wish to be identified. That did not compromise his credibility, it argued.

Insofar as the use of the videotape of Canon Somers-Edgar was concerned, TV3 argued that its existence assumed a new and public significance after Canon Somers-Edgar had alleged that Dr White had been involved in acts of sexual impropriety. The extracts shown were, it contended, a fair representation of that videotape. It also added that the programme had made clear that the videotape was taken at a 21st birthday party by members of the family involved in a dispute with the church and who supported Dr White. It concluded:

Given Canon Somers-Edgar’s prominent and public office, the use of the videotape was not only reasonable, but essential. Furthermore, it is a matter of record that Canon Somers-Edgar lodged the initial allegations of sexual impropriety against Dr Raymond White.

For these reasons, TV3 declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

The Authority’s Findings

First, the Authority records that it has considered a number of complaints relating to the 20/20 item broadcast the previous evening. That item was the source for the news item which is the subject of these complaints. The Authority’s decision on the 20/20 item has been released separately.

The news item was, the Authority notes, a much truncated version of the 20/20 item, and purported to provide an update on the controversy surrounding the choirmaster, who was said to have been dismissed "amid accusations of homosexual harassment of the boys". It was reported that the choir had returned briefly to the Cathedral to demand the resignation of the Dean because of his friendship with a man described as "an alleged homosexual predator." The item continued with a brief extract from a home videotape where a Cathedral Canon was seen joking about having sex with six year old children. The scandal, the item concluded, was a big embarrassment for the Bishop, who was away overseas.

Mr Greet’s complaint focused on the unfair treatment of the "alleged homosexual predator" and the Cathedral canon, neither of whom were given an opportunity to respond. The main emphasis of Mr Barnett’s complaint was that TV3 exploited homophobic values to portray Cathedral officials in a negative light.

Turning to the complaints that the programme lacked balance and was unfair, the Authority notes TV3’s argument that it had simply reported on developments in the controversy which was the subject of the 20/20 item the previous night. It also recalls, in the context of the complaints relating to the 20/20 item, the Dean’s contention that the news item had been created by TV3, and that the choir’s "protest" had been orchestrated for the cameras. It appears to the Authority that TV3’s conclusion that no standards were breached is premised on the assumption that the 20/20 programme complied with broadcasting standards. As the Authority’s Decision on those complaints reveals, that was not the case. Chief among the 20/20 item’s deficiencies was its failure to give a fair and objective account of the events surrounding Dr White’s dismissal. In addition, it was found to have violated the privacy of two members of the Cathedral hierarchy.

The Authority deals first with the complaint under standards G4 and G6 that the item was unbalanced and Mr Rothel was not dealt with fairly in the item, first because he was described as an "an alleged homosexual predator", and secondly because he was given no opportunity to respond to the allegations made about him. As it has recorded in the companion decision, the Authority finds it unfair that such a serious allegation was made about Mr Rothel’s conduct without its being put to him for comment. Furthermore, it finds that the evidence upon which the item relied to assert that proposition – the edited remarks of the two alleged victims – does not credibly support such a contention. As no opportunity was given for him to respond, the broadcaster also breached the requirement for balance and fairness under standard G6, the Authority concludes.

In addition, the Authority finds that the item failed to portray Canon Somers-Edgar fairly. The edited extract from the private video tape was introduced by implying that Canon Somers-Edgar’s future at the Cathedral was uncertain and was part of a scandal that was a big embarrassment for the Bishop. It was not made clear that the remarks were taken out of context, and had been made at a private party. Further, the Authority notes, the report invited viewers to deduce that he was possibly a paedophile, an inference he was given no opportunity to comment on.

Accordingly, the Authority upholds the complaint that standards G4 and G6 were breached.

The Authority is not persuaded that a complaint is made out under standard G5. However, it took into account the matters raised when it considered the complaint under standards G4 and G6 above.

As for the complaint under standard G13, the Authority does not consider that the brief item contained elements of homophobia which would encourage discrimination against homosexuals, as is contemplated by that standard. However, it acknowledges the implication, contained in the item’s reference to choir boys, that there was a connection between homosexuals and paedophilia. Nevertheless, after careful consideration, it concludes that the threshold required to breach the standard was not transgressed.

Next, the Authority turns to the complaint that standard G15 was breached because the allegations made by the two men about Mr Rothel’s sexual advances were implausible and lacked credibility. It finds this to be more appropriately dealt with under standard G19 and subsumes it accordingly.

Finally, the Authority deals with the complaint that standard G19 was breached because of the way in which the anonymous man’s remarks were edited. Although this is a relatively minor matter in the context of the news item, the Authority considers that there was selective editing which had implications for the credibility of his account. In its view the edited version fell short because some of the more implausible elements of his account were not included. It upholds this aspect also.

Conclusion

The Authority’s conclusion is that the news item was inherently flawed. It purported to report that the choir had returned to demand the resignation of the Dean. As a truncated version of the 20/20 item, the Authority finds that it contained a number of deficiencies. For example, it notes the 20/20 item was summarised as concerning "the St Paul’s choirmaster sacked amid bogus claims that he had sexually harassed his choir boys." The Authority is not convinced that was a fair or accurate summary of the 20/20 item which, among other things, had claimed that Dr White was sacked for "dobbing in his Dean". Further, it notes, there had been no claims of sexual harassment, bogus or legitimate, against choir boys by anyone. Such allegations as there were related to Dr White’s conduct with young men of the choir, and the item had not established conclusively that they were "bogus".

The Authority also questions the assertion that the Dean was under pressure to resign because of his friendship with "an alleged homosexual predator". On the basis of the information presented in the 20/20 item, the Authority does not agree that such a conclusion could be drawn and, it notes, no additional evidence was provided to justify the assertion.

The inclusion of footage from the party videotape has been dealt with in detail in the decision relating to the 20/20 item. The Authority repeats here its conclusion that Canon Somers-Edgar was not dealt with fairly, first because the extract was taken out of context, and secondly because he was given no opportunity to respond.

Overall the Authority finds the news item’s deficiencies resulted in serious breaches of broadcasting standards. It notes that the news item served to further promote the previous evening’s broadcast. However, it concludes, the assertions made in the item, when subjected to a close analysis, did not withstand scrutiny. Its conclusions were flawed and its unbalanced reporting perpetuated the unfairness of the 20/20 item, the Authority concludes. It acknowledges the arguments of the complainants that the damage done to the Cathedral community has been immeasurable.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds Mr Greet’s complaint that a news item broadcast by TV3 Network News Ltd on 3 News on 30 June 1998 breached standards G4, G6 and G19 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaints.

Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under s.13 and s.16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It invited the parties to make submissions on penalty.

First, the Authority notes that it received a request from TV3’s solicitors that it convene to hear submissions by counsel in person. After careful consideration of that request the Authority has concluded that oral submissions would not assist it further. Accordingly, it declines the request for an oral hearing on the matter of penalty.

In reaching its decision on penalty, the Authority has considered the range of penalties available to it under the Broadcasting Act 1989, the seriousness of the breaches and the effects on the Diocese and the individuals involved. It has also taken into account TV3’s somewhat intransigent approach in its dealings with the complaints which, in the Authority’s view, has contributed to the time which it has taken for the matters to be resolved.

Order

The Authority makes the following order under s.13 and s.16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989:

Pursuant to s13(1)(a) of the Act, the Authority orders TV3 Network Services Ltd to publish a statement approved by the Authority. That statement shall:

  •  be broadcast on Monday 11 October 1999 (or such other date approved by the Authority) between 6.00 and 6.30pm during TV3’s evening news programme;
  •  explain that TV3 has been ordered to make the statement as a result of the Broadcasting Standards Authority’s  decision to uphold a complaint about a news item broadcast on 29 June 1998; and
  • summarise the Authority’s decision on the complaint.

Pursuant to s.16(4) of the Act, the Authority orders TV3 Network Services Ltd to pay costs to the Crown in the amount of $5000.00 within one month of the date of this Decision.

These orders shall be enforceable in the Wellington District Court.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
9 September 1999

Appendix I

1.    Nicholas Greet’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 5 July 1998

2.    TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 18 August 1998

3.    Mr Greet’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 8 September 1998

4.    TV3’s Response to the Authority – 8 December 1998

5.    Mr Greet’s Final Comment – 25 January 1999

6.    Mr Greet’s Submissions on Penalty – 23 August 1999

Appendix II

1.    Tim Barnett’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 27 July 1998

2.    TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 1 September 1998

3.    Mr Barnett’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority
       – 29 September 1998

4.    TV3’s Response to the Authority – 8 December 1998

5.    Mr Barnett’s Submissions on Penalty – 24 August 1999