Hector & Casey and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2021-052 (2 August 2021)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Martin Hector & Anna Casey
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
Two complaints about a report on ‘explosive scenes at Parliament’ including a comment from Willow Jean Prime MP that statements from the National Party ‘really sound[ed] like “she asked for it, her skirt was too short. She was drunk”’ were not upheld. The Authority found the omission of Ms Prime’s subsequent withdrawal of the statement was not material to the story, and her specific comment was opinion to which the accuracy standard does not apply. The balance standard did not apply as the statement did not concern a controversial issue of public importance, and there was no unfairness to the National Party.
Not Upheld: Accuracy, Fairness, Balance
 An item on Morning Report broadcast on 5 May 2021 reported on ‘explosive scenes at Parliament…when the Speaker of the House went on the attack over the controversy in which he mistakenly accused a former parliamentary staffer of rape’. A political reporter introduced clips of the Speaker, ‘Mr Mallard defended his conduct as victim centred and denied ruining the man's life.’ Clips from National’s Chris Bishop were then played with the introduction, ‘his address infuriated National’s Chris Bishop’.
 The item concluded with the following:
Political reporter: The temperature rose in the chamber further when Labour's Willow Jean Prime rose to defend the Speaker and take aim at the National Party benches.
Willow Jean Prime MP: I've heard some horrific statements in the House tonight that perhaps there might have been something going on and we don't know the full story. It really sounds like ‘she asked for it, her skirt was too short. She was drunk’. I didn't like what I heard. You said it.
Political reporter: There was no resolution in the House last night, but this is not something the opposition intends to let go. A disgusted National Party leader, Judith Collins, told reporters afterwards, unless the Prime Minister grows herself a spine, they'll continue with their efforts to have him removed.
 Martin Hector complained the inclusion of Ms Prime’s comments was in breach of the accuracy, balance and fairness standards:
- The broadcast omitted that Ms Prime had to subsequently withdraw her comments and apologise.
- Listeners had likely expectations that the broadcast would be balanced but this omission to confirm the comments were false meant it was not.
- The omission would have ‘significantly misinformed’ the public.
- The broadcast was an ‘extremely unfair representation of The National Party on such an incredibly charged issue in this country and for [women] worldwide, it cast them to be what MP Willow Jean Prime had [inaccurately] tried to paint them as. It seriously misrepresented them’.
 Anna Casey complained the comments breached the accuracy and balance standards:
- Listeners would have been left with the understanding that such statements (or statements akin to them) had been made by members of the opposition.’
- ‘…not only did the opposition MPs not make those comments, they did not make any comments remotely along those lines’.
- ‘The failure to: (a) include the fact that Ms Prime withdrew and apologised [and] (b) to explain that no opposition MP had said the things suggested by Ms Prime, meant that the broadcast was inaccurate and was likely to mislead listeners as to what was said by opposition MPs in the context of an extremely controversial and sensitive subject’.
- ‘It is important to bear in mind that this was a radio broadcast, not a printed article. This was not a case where the listener had the opportunity to read the exact words being broadcast…’
- The broadcaster should have ‘made clear that what she said was not true – that in fact members of the opposition did not state or imply that the victims of an alleged sexual assault had "asked for it", wore a skirt that was "too short" or "was drunk"’.
- ‘The programme did not include the opposition MPs' response to that accusation (which was to object to it) or the part of the parliamentary debate recording in which Ms Prime withdrew and apologised…The failure to provide the response meant that a competing view on the subject was not broadcast’.
The broadcaster’s response
 RNZ did not uphold either complaint, writing:
Decisions about what to include and what to omit from a report on Parliamentary proceedings are made by RNZ’s Parliamentary and editorial staff. They are a matter of editorial judgement. The broadcasting standards are only concerned with what is broadcast. So, for this reason your complaint could be taken no further and was not upheld.
 Following referral of the complaints to the Authority, RNZ further commented:
- ‘Because of the nature of what was said and the interjections which followed, what is laid out in the complaints are not entirely correct.’ In fact, Ms Prime ‘did not accuse National Party MPs of making those statements, but of making statements that to her "sounded like" those examples.’
- ’…there was no need to report the fact that she had been asked to withdraw and apologise in the context of the story that was broadcast. It was clear from the statements from the National Party leader and others referred to in the story following the report of this exchange that there was a level…of disgust at the state of disorder in the House the previous evening’.
- ‘The item… largely addressed comments made by the Speaker of the House [and] conveyed the condemnatory remarks of the Leader of the Opposition, describing it as something that the Opposition did not intend to let go...’
- ‘Listeners to the item would have been left in no doubt, given the audio of National Party MP Chris Bishop earlier on in the piece, and these final comments from his party leader, that Ms Prime's views were not welcome or accepted by opposition MPs.’
 The purpose of the accuracy standard1 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.2 It states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.
 The balance standard3 states when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.4
 The fairness standard5 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in any broadcast.6 It ensures individuals and organisations are dealt with justly and fairly and protected from unwarranted damage.
 We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy and it is important that we weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm that may have potentially been caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.
 The key issue raised in these complaints is the broadcast of comments made by Ms Prime and the omission of her subsequent withdrawal and apology. We first note that RNZ’s initial response was incorrect; omission of relevant material in a broadcast can result in a breach of standards (for example, a news item may be misleading by omission and therefore inaccurate). However, for the reasons outlined below, we have not found a breach of standards in this instance.
 The requirement for accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.7 The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracy. For example, technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.8
 The statement complained about was made by an MP during a parliamentary debate and directed at opposition MPs. It was framed as part of an item covering ‘explosive scenes’ and was noted as the MP coming to the defence of the Speaker. Ms Prime’s statement addressed her opinion of the other MP’s statements and what they ‘sounded like’ to her. Her statement was subject to parliamentary privilege. In this context, listeners would have understood this was an accusation levelled at the National Party and not statement of fact to which the accuracy standard applies.
 The omission of Ms Prime’s withdrawal and apology was not material to the overall item, which was reporting on ‘explosive scenes’ and focused on the ongoing disagreement between the Speaker and opposition MPs. Listeners would not have been misled by the omission of the withdrawal.
 Therefore, we do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.
 The balance standard applies only to ‘news, current affairs and factual programmes’ which discuss a ‘controversial issue of public importance’.9 The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.10 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.11
 The item was a report on disagreements between the Speaker and opposition MPs in the House. We consider the conduct of the Speaker to be an issue of public importance; however, the complaints were directed at the comment by Ms Prime and the issue of what National MPs had said in the debate reported upon. This does not constitute a controversial issue of public importance.
 For these reasons, the balance standard does not apply.
 A consideration of what is fair will depend on the nature of the programme (eg, news and current affairs, factual, dramatic, comedic or satirical). Context should also be considered, for example, the public significance of the broadcast.12 It is well established that the threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to public figures and politicians (who are familiar with dealing with the media) is higher than for a layperson or someone unfamiliar with the media.13
 Mr Hector was concerned the broadcast was unfair to the National Party. The Authority has previously recognised that it is an essential element of free speech that criticism of public figures, in their professional capacity, be allowed. The broadcast of comments made during a parliamentary debate are unlikely to result in unfairness to a political party.
 The framing of the broadcast also made it clear, as discussed above, that the comments were opinion or accusations from one MP concerning opposition MPs, consistent with the standard of criticism typical of parliamentary debates which are subject to parliamentary privilege. In this context, listeners are unlikely to have been left with an unduly negative impression of the National Party.
 Therefore we did not find the broadcast unfair to the National Party.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaints.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
2 August 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Martin Hector’s complaint to RNZ – 5 May 2021
2 RNZ’s decision – 26 May 2021
3 Mr Hector’s referral to the Authority – 26 May 2021
4 Mr Hector’s final comments – 4 July 2021
5 Anna Casey’s complaint to RNZ – 5 May 2021
6 RNZ’s decision – 26 May 2021
7 Ms Casey’s referral to the Authority – 28 May 2021
8 Ms Casey’s final comments – 8 July 2021
9 RNZ’s response to the referral – 1 July 2021
10 RNZ’s final comments – 7 July 2021
1 Standard 9 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Standard 8 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
5 Standard 11 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
6 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
7 Guideline 9a
8 Guideline 9b
9 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
10 As above
11 As above
12 Guideline 11a
13 See, for example, Hagger and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2020-032 and Marra and MediaWorks Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2019-023