Drinnan and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2021-083 (22 September 2021)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- John Drinnan
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint alleging an interview with Waikato University senior lecturer in psychology Dr Jaimie Veale was inaccurate and unbalanced. While the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance, the selection of a transgender woman to the New Zealand Olympic team, it was clearly signalled as coming from a particular perspective. It focused on one aspect of the issue, the potentially stigmatising effect of the debate on trans people, and was part of a range of media coverage on the issue. The Authority also found there was nothing inaccurate or misleading in the way Dr Veale was introduced.
Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy
 An item on Morning Report broadcast on 22 June 2021 on RNZ National reported ‘the news that New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is the first transgender athlete to be selected for an Olympic squad has re-opened a contentious debate over trans people in organised sport…with us now, Jaimie Veale, a senior lecturer in psychology at Waikato University’. Dr Veale was interviewed about ‘concern that people most exposed to that debate, trans people themselves, could be further stigmatised’, including the question ‘Tracy Lambrechs, former Olympic weightlifter, was on RNZ Checkpoint last night and said if Hubbard wins gold and the second placed winner should also get a gold, what does that say to you?’ Dr Veale made a number of comments about the effect of the debates on transgender people, including:
…these so-called debates, like simply debating a trans woman's right to be actually treated as an equal citizen, and [her right] to compete in a sport in the way that anybody else can – when we're actually having these debates, about taking away her rights – that's dehumanising. And it's only going to cause further prejudice against transgender people. Unfortunately, there's a lot of fear and misinformation in what people are saying in these so-called debates, and it's causing hurtful and harmful things to be said about us.
We've been having these debates since we've been having transgender athletes at the top level since the 80s. And every time people have been raising these fears…the reality is we haven't been seeing trans people coming in these overwhelming numbers…there are barriers that transgender people are facing. And, you know, we actually have evidence of that. In Counting Ourselves, the Aotearoa New Zealand Trans Survey, which I lead, where we surveyed over 100 transgender people…only 14% of trans people had participated in sports competitions or events in the last month, compared with 26% in the general population. 58% had avoided the gym or pool because of how they would be treated and 50% had avoided sports teams. So, yeah, when I'm worried about fairness, these are the issues which I'm concerned about.
 John Drinnan complained the broadcast breached the balance and accuracy standards for the following reasons:
- He alleged RNZ identified Dr Veale as an ‘expert in mental health’ which:
- ‘inaccurately misled by reflecting the view that Veale as an expert spoke for everyone involved in the debate or the mental health issues of the topic being discussed’
- ‘presents her views as facts’
- The ‘interview of Veale was one sided, misrepresented her status, and contained leading questions highlighting the interviewer's personal views’. The interviewer’s questions were ‘soft and accommodating’.
- The item did not identify Dr Veale as a transgender rights activist, which meant listeners lacked context.
- RNZ is biased on the topic of trans activism. It has taken a ‘strong editorial stance on one side of the “debate”’ and has ‘locked out’ groups like ‘Speak Up For Women’ by not allowing them to contribute to the debate.
- RNZ had not clearly separated fact from opinion in the piece.
- ‘The notion that a broadcaster can acknowledge a lack of balance in coverage of a topic, and point to balancing in other media that they do not specify, suggests the rule for balance is difficult for news consumers to win.’
The broadcaster’s response
 RNZ did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:
- ‘Dr Veale is described as a senior lecturer in psychology at Waikato University, which is verifiably true. Your complaint objects to her being described as "an expert in mental health" but that description is not part of the broadcast...’
- ‘While Dr Veale is not specifically introduced as transgender, her perspective is clear throughout the interview. Examples within the first minute of the interview include “I’m so proud of Laurel and everyone I’ve spoken to in the trans community is proud” and “It’s very important for our community, just like any community, to have leaders and role models”. In this way, Dr Veale makes it very clear that she speaks as a member of the transgender community.’
- ‘Dr Veale’s views on the human rights of transgender women are her honestly held opinion. She is entitled to express this opinion under the Bill of Rights Act.’
- ’This interview explored Dr Veale’s view that the debate over transgender competitors in women’s sport might serve to stigmatise those competitors. Importantly, under the Balance standard of the radio code, the interview did not purport to present “both sides” of this debate. The “other side” received considerable prominence across a range of media outlets during the period of current interest.’
 The balance standard1 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.2 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.3
 The purpose of the accuracy standard4 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.5 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.
 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 our starting point when considering complaints. 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, in light of actual or potential harm caused.
 A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to ‘news, current affairs and factual programmes’ which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.6
 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’.7 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.8
 Morning Report is clearly a news and current affairs programme. Coverage of transgender athletes’ participation in sport, particularly at the Olympic level, is of public importance, and is controversial, as discussed in the item, which describes the issue as a ‘contentious debate’. Therefore, we find the balance standard applied to this broadcast.
 In assessing whether a reasonable range of views on the issue have been provided either within the item or within the period of current interest, we considered the following:9
- The item was signalled as approaching the issue from a particular perspective, with the interviewer first asking Dr Veale, ‘When you heard that Laurel Hubbard had made the [Olympic] squad, what was your reaction?’ Dr Veale responded that she was ‘proud’ and ‘everybody I've spoken to also in the trans community are really proud. I think it's really important for our community, just like any group, to have leaders and role models’.
- The item was focused on one aspect of the issue, the stigmatising effect of the ongoing debate on trans people.
- The interviewer signalled the existence of other perspectives by highlighting the views of Tracey Lambrechs, former Olympic weightlifter, who said if Ms Hubbard wins gold, the second placed winner should also get a gold.
 The standard also allows for balance to be achieved over time.10 Broadcasters are not required to present every perspective on a controversial issue within each and every broadcast discussing that issue. Placing such a requirement on broadcasters would itself unreasonably limit their exercise of freedom of expression and editorial control, and in particular their freedom to present programmes or interviews from a particular perspective.
 Ms Hubbard’s selection to the New Zealand Olympic weightlifting team received a variety of coverage from RNZ and other news outlets.11 Given this, it is unlikely listeners would have been unaware of other perspectives.
 Mr Drinnan has expressed concern regarding RNZ’s apparent bias (including its choice of interviewees and the ‘leading questions highlighting the interviewer’s personal views’). However, the balance standard is not directed at bias in and of itself. Provided the standard is not breached, broadcasters are entitled to present stories from particular perspectives or to take a ‘strong editorial stance’ on one side of an issue. Application of the standard must also reflect the present broadcasting environment in New Zealand including the proliferation of broadcast media available to audiences and a more discriminating public.12 For the reasons outlined above, we are satisfied a reasonably discriminating audience member was likely to recognise there were other perspectives on the issues discussed in the programme.
 Therefore we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.
 Audiences may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme as a whole.13 Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.14
 Mr Drinnan did not identify any specific inaccuracy, but alleged it was misleading to identify Dr Veale as an ‘expert in mental health’ and not as a trans rights activist. He considered listeners would lack context for her comments and see her as ‘an expert [speaking] for everyone involved in the debate or the mental health issues of the topic being discussed’ or view her opinions as ‘fact’.
 Dr Veale was not introduced as an ‘expert in mental health’. She was introduced as ‘a senior lecturer in psychology at Waikato University’, which is her role. If listeners perceived her as an expert based on this introduction, that is not misleading. Her work at Waikato University has also involved significant focus on transgender issues.15
 We also disagree with the complainant’s suggestion that the effect of presenting Dr Veale as an ‘expert’ would be that listeners accept her opinions as ‘fact’. Reasonable listeners would appreciate that even experts have personal perspectives and views – and that there are often ‘experts’ on both sides of a debate. Accordingly, it was not necessary to provide further background regarding Dr Veale to avoid misleading listeners.
 In any event, from her comments, it was clear she is part of the trans community (eg ‘it’s really important for our community’). So, the audience were made aware that the issues discussed were likely to have held some personal significance for her.
 For the above reasons, we are satisfied the broadcast was not inaccurate or misleading.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
22 September 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 John Drinnan’s complaint to RNZ – 23 June 2021
2 RNZ’s decision on the complaint – 15 July 2021
3 Mr Drinnan’s complaint referral – 26 July 2021
4 RNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 20 August 2021
1 Standard 8 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 As above
4 Standard 9 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
5 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
6 Guideline 8a
7 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
8 As above
9 Guideline 8c
10 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
11 Grant Chapman, ‘Tokyo Olympics: Former weightlifter Tracey Lambrechs condemns selection of transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard’ Newshub, (online ed, 21 June 2021);
Checkpoint, ‘Lambrechs concerned at lack of research on trans athletes’ RNZ (online ed, 21 June 2021); Sport, ‘Call for two gold medals to be awarded should Hubbard win in Tokyo’ RNZ (online ed, 21 June 2021)
12 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
13 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
14 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110
15 The University of Waikato “Dr Jaimie F. Veale” <www.waikato.ac.nz>