BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hart and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2024-003 (20 March 2024)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Aroha Beck
  • Pulotu Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Phillip Hart
News Bulletin
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Radio New Zealand


[This summary does not form part of the decision.] 

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that RNZ breached the accuracy and balance standards of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand for including a statement in a news bulletin that Israel was ‘carpet bombing the Palestinian territory’. The Authority noted that it is not its role to determine the definitive meaning of the term ‘carpet bombing’; nor to determine whether Israel has carried out ‘carpet bombing’. The Authority’s role is to decide whether reasonable efforts have been made to ensure accuracy. Noting ‘carpet bombing’ carries multiple meanings and the story was focused on the impacts of the bombing (not military strategy), the Authority did not find any material inaccuracy likely to impact the audience’s understanding of the broadcast as a whole. The balance standard did not apply.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Balance

The broadcast

[1]  A news bulletin on RNZ National, broadcast on 5 November 2023, contained the following dialogue:

The UN Palestinian Relief Agency says a school it runs, housing displaced people in Gaza, has been bombed by Israel and no place is safe in the besieged territory. The Gazan Health Ministry says at least fifteen people were killed and dozens more wounded. Thousands of evacuees have been living in the Al-Fakhoura school in Jabalia since Israel started carpet bombing the Palestinian territory in retaliation for a massacre of its own people by Hamas militants.

The complaint

[2]  Phillip Hart complained that the broadcast breached the balance and accuracy standards of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand due to its inclusion of the statement ‘since Israel had started carpet bombing the territory’. They added:

  • The term ‘carpet bombing’ or ‘saturation bombing’ means to ‘indiscriminately attack a wide area’. ‘It implies a severe disregard for collateral damage within the area bombed and is therefore pejorative rather than accurate in this case.’
  • ‘While Israel’s Air Force has conducted many raids that cumulatively might have resulted in damage to a significant area of Gaza, each of these raids has used precision technology to restrict the damage to the selected, identified target.’
  • ‘A senior Israeli Air Force officer on [28 December 2024] rejected claims that Israel’s airstrikes in the Gaza Strip have been indiscriminate, saying it follows careful procedures before hitting each target.’1
  • ‘The [RNZ] bulletin editor was free to choose a descriptor for the military action taken by Israel and chose an inaccurate and pejorative one – shorthand or not. Indeed, omitting the word ‘carpet’ from the report would have been a more accurate short-hand.’

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  RNZ did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:


  • RNZ noted ‘“carpet bombing”, also known as saturation bombing, is a ‘description not inconsistent with bombings which have occurred in the Gaza Strip resulting in the reported numbers of dead and injured and the damage sustained in the area. It is therefore not inaccurate as envisaged under the Accuracy standard.’
  • ‘Having regard for the numbers of people killed, injured and displaced by bombing during the period described in this story, RNZ submits that it is reasonable for an editor to employ the term carpet (or saturation) bombing in this case. [RNZ] further note that it is a term used in international and local media stories2 which reinforces that it is reasonable to use such language as a short hand description for events the destruction in Gaza.’
  • ‘Israeli sources continue to insist that all their actions in Gaza are against known Hamas terrorists but there is considerable criticism of Israel, notably from the UN Secretary-General and the USA, and mounting evidence of thousands of civilian casualties.’
  • ‘Saying “carpet-bombing” to describe attacks that appear to be widespread and kill and injure dozens of refugees/evacuees is not misleading. Israeli military and political sources continue to say the attacks are precisely targeted, and this too is very widely reported throughout the media.’
  • The phrase “carpet-bombing” should not be narrowly interpreted in just militaristic terms. ‘RNZ suggests that the commonly held understanding, certainly by [its] audience, of term “carpet-bombing” to mean “widespread” should be preferred on this occasion.’


  • ‘RNZ notes further that the Broadcasting Standards Authority has previously ruled that the balance standard applies only to "discussions" and that a four sentence item in a news summary does not amount to a discussion which means that the balance standard is not pertinent to the item broadcast.’

The standards

[4]  The purpose of the accuracy standard3 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.4 It states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure news, current affairs or factual content is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. Where a material error of fact has occurred, broadcasters should correct it within a reasonable period after they have been put on notice.

[5]  The balance standard5 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.6 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.7

Our analysis

[6]  We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[7]  As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh up the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.8


[8]  Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two steps. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading. The second step is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure that the programme was accurate and did not mislead.

[9]  The complainant states the term ‘carpet bombing’ is used to describe ‘indiscriminate’ bombing over a wide area, and is an inaccurate description of Israel’s offensive in Gaza – which the complainant submits is using  precision technology to restrict damage to targets.

[10]  The broadcaster states the term ‘’carpet-bombing’ is understood to mean ‘widespread’ bombing, and is not an inaccurate description of Israel’s actions.

Dictionary definitions of ‘carpet bombing’

[11]  We note there are a number of definitions for the term ‘carpet bombing’, including:

  • ‘To bomb extensively and systematically, with the aim of causing widespread damage as opposed to destroying a specific target.’9
  • ‘The dropping of a large concentration of bombs to cause extensive and widespread damage to an area.’10
  • ‘To drop large numbers of bombs so as to cause uniform devastation over (a given area).’11
  • ‘To drop many bombs in order to cause great destruction over (an area).12
  • ‘The act of dropping a lot of bombs all over a particular area so that it will be destroyed.13
  • ‘To drop many bombs on (an area) to prepare for advancing ground forces.’14 

[12]  ‘Carpet bombing’ is also a term that is often used figuratively, as in to bombard with advertisements.15

Materiality of the phrase

[13]  We note that it is not our role to determine the definitive meaning of the term ‘carpet bombing’; nor is it our role to determine whether or not Israel has carried out ‘carpet bombing’ (on either party’s understanding of the phrase). Our role is to decide whether reasonable efforts have been made to ensure content is materially accurate and does not materially mislead.

[14]  Technical or other points that are unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.16

[15]  While we appreciate the complainant’s concerns regarding the use of accurate phrasing when discussing the Israel and Hamas war, we consider the difference between understandings of the phrase – ‘indiscriminate’ versus ‘widespread’ – to be a technical point, unlikely to materially impact the audience’s understanding of the broadcast as a whole.

[16]  The point being made in the broadcast was that a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA)-run school had been bombed, and that UNRWA felt that no place was safe in the Gaza strip, due to the bombing by Israel. In this context, whether the bombing was ‘indiscriminate’, or targeted but ‘widespread’ would not materially impact the audience’s understanding of the message being conveyed. The broadcast examined the impact of Israel’s bombs rather than Israel’s military strategy or intentions.

[17]  Further, we note that several organisations at the time had described the bombing by Israel as ‘indiscriminate’17; there have been concerns raised about Israel’s use of ‘dumb bombs’ / unguided bombs18; and there have been concerns raised at the extent of the bombing and damage caused to Gazan infrastructure.19  In these circumstances, it was not unreasonable for RNZ to use the term, and any harm caused does not justify regulatory intervention.

[18]  For the above reasons we do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.


[19]  The balance standard requires reasonable efforts to be made to reflect significant perspectives when ‘controversial issues of public importance’ are discussed in news and current affairs programmes. While the Israel-Hamas conflict and Israel’s military strategy and approach in that conflict may constitute controversial issues of public importance, those issues were not ‘discussed’ as contemplated by the standard.

[20]  The report was a short item focused on the recent bombing of an UNRWA-run school which had been housing refugees. We have previously found that such brief news reports do not constitute a discussion for the purposes of the standard.20 The complainant’s concern is therefore more properly dealt with under the accuracy standard and the balance standard does not apply.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Susie Staley
20 March 2024    




The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1  Phillip Hart’s formal complaint to RNZ – 5 November 2023

2  RNZ’s response to the complaint – 7 December 2023

3  Hart’s referral to the Authority – 31 December 2023

4  RNZ’s further comment – 31 January 2024

5  Hart’s further comment – 9 February 2024

6  RNZ’s further comment – 15 February 2024

7  Hart’s further comment – 21 February 2024

8  RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 23 February 2024

1 Emanuel Fabian “IAF: Gaza strikes precise, there's no indiscriminate bombing, but mistakes can happen” The Times of Israel (online ed, 28 December 2024)
2 Lazar Berman “Accusing Israel of carpet-bombing Gaza, Qatar PM calls for 'time-bound' peace process” The Times of Israel (online ed, 16 January 2024); Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland “Biden says Netanyahu must change, Israel losing global support” Reuters (online ed, 13 December 2024); Nora Fakim and James W Kelly “British couple trapped in Gaza with no UK help, says son” BBC News (online ed, 12 October 2024); Morgan Godfrey “When the Hague decides, how will New Zealand respond?” The Post (online ed, 11 January 2024); “Military briefing: the Israeli bombs raining on Gaza” Financial Times (online ed, 5 December 2024)
3 Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand 
4 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 16
5 Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
6 Commentary, Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 14
7 Guideline 5.1
8 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
9 Oxford English Dictionary “carpet bombing” meaning one
10 Oxford English Dictionary “carpet bombing” meaning two
11 Merriam-Webster “carpet-bomb”
12 Britannica “carpet-bomb” <>
13 Cambridge Dictionary “carpet-bombing”  
14 Collins “carpet-bomb”
15 Merriam-Webster “carpet-bomb” ; Cambridge Dictionary “carpet-bombing”
16 Guideline 6.2
17  Amnesty International “Damning evidence of war crimes as Israeli attacks wipe out entire families” (20 October 2023) ; Médecins Sans Frontières “Indiscriminate violence and the collective punishment of Gaza must cease” (Press release, 12 October 2023) ; United Nations “Israel/occupied Palestinian territory: UN experts deplore attacks on civilians, call for truce and urge international community to address root causes of violence” (Press release, 12 October 2023)
18 “U.S. urges Israel to stop using ‘dumb bombs’ in Gaza” CBS (online ed, 7 November 2024)
19 “Gaza before and after: Satellite image show destruction” BBC (online ed, 27 October 2023); “Gaza war inflicts catastrophic damage on infrastructure and economy” Reuters (online ed, 18 November 2023); World Health Organisation “Attacks on health care in Gaza Strip unacceptable, says WHO” (Press release, 4 November 2023)
20 Wilson and NZME Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2023-045 at [10]