BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Morrissey and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-191

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • R Bryant
  • Brent Morrissey

Holmes – visual essay on the campaign of Winston Peters MP – suggested supporters were bewildered, bigoted and elderly – unfair

Standard 6, Guideline 6g – elderly as a group not dealt with unfairly – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] Aspects of the campaign of the leader of New Zealand First, Winston Peters MP, during the recent general election were dealt with in an item broadcast on Holmes at 7.00pm on 30 July 2002. Mr Peters was shown campaigning while attending meetings and being questioned on radio and television.

[2] Brent Morrissey complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item portrayed elderly voters as racist and intolerant of immigrants. That stereotype, he wrote, was incorrect.

[3] Describing the item as, a "visual essay", TVNZ said it showed Mr Peters using what it described as unconventional techniques of campaigning. It denied that the views of the elderly voters interviewed represented the views of elderly voters generally, and declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Morrissey referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

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


[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] An item on Holmes was described by TVNZ as a "visual essay" of the general election campaign of Winston Peters MP, leader of New Zealand First. The presenter described Mr Peters as one of the main winners of the campaign and he was shown campaigning while attending meetings and being questioned on radio and television. The item was screened at 7.00pm on TV One on 30 July 2002.

The Complaint

[7] Pointing out that the item included some interviews with elderly voters in Tauranga, Brent Morrissey complained that the item portrayed elderly people in general as racist and intolerant in their attitudes to immigrants and Maori.

[8] Given the number of people who voted for New Zealand First, Mr Morrissey maintained that New Zealand First attracted a broadly based constituency. Mr Morrissey explained that he was Chair of the Counties Manukau District Health Board Disability Advisory Committee and that he had a direct interest in the welfare of elderly people. That included, he wrote, protection from ageist or discriminatory behaviour from any source.

The Standards

[9] In view of the matters raised in the complaint, TVNZ assessed it under Standard 6, Guideline 6g of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. It provides:

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.


6g  Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work,

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] In view of the revival of Winston Peters’ political fortunes during the recent election, TVNZ said what it described as a "visual essay" was an appropriate method of showing the techniques of a politician who defied political conventions. It wrote:

It was not an examination of his policies and the comments of the elderly people who attended the rally in Hamilton (not Tauranga) were included to reflect the impact the man has on the hustings.

[11] TVNZ denied that the comments denigrated the elderly. Rather, the item showed a number of elderly people who were interviewed advancing their views on a number of matters. TVNZ did not consider that the comments broadcast represented the views of the elderly generally any more than comments from anyone about political issues reflected the views of all within that socio-economic group to which the person belonged.

[12] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 6, adding that, in terms of Guideline 6g, the comments recorded were the genuine opinions of those interviewed.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[13] When he referred the complaint to the Authority, Mr Morrissey wrote:

I have absolutely no doubt that the intent of the item was to portray Winston Peters voters as bewildered and bigoted old people. Evidenced by the fact that only elderly people were interviewed and that the item concentrated solely on their views about immigrants and Maori.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14] TVNZ reiterated the point that elderly voters were entitled to express their opinions. It noted that given the campaign issues advanced by Mr Peters, it was inevitable that they would attract comments from people who attended his meetings.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[15] Mr Morrissey argued that the item "deliberately attempted" to identify elderly people as the principal support base for New Zealand First. As a consequence, it implied widespread support among the elderly for New Zealand First’s immigration and treaty policies.

The Authority’s Determination

[16] Mr Morrissey complained that the item reviewing the campaigning practices of Winston Peters MP, leader of New Zealand First, suggested that his main support base was "bewildered and bigoted old people". That approach, he argued, was ageist and encouraged discrimination against the elderly.

[17] The item included comments from a number of people, some of whom were elderly, who went to a campaign meeting for New Zealand First in Hamilton which Mr Peters attended. Those comments indicated both strong views about the undesirability of immigrants, and racist attitudes towards Maori.

[18] The comments were made by a small number of people, some of whom could be regarded as elderly, and the Authority does not accept that the views expressed could be taken as representing views of the elderly generally.

[19] The Authority has ruled that a high threshold applies before a broadcast contravenes Guideline 6g. The elderly was the section referred to in the complaint. As the comments broadcast were not presented as the views held by elderly people generally, the Authority considers that the comments did not encourage the denigration of or discrimination against the elderly and declines to uphold the complaint.

[20] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Cartwright
28 November 2002


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

  1. Mr Morrissey’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 9 August 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 5 September 2002
  3. Mr Morrissey’s Reply to TVNZ – 15 September 2002
  4. Mr Morrissey’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 15 September 2002
  5. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 25 September 2002
  6. Mr Morrissey’s Final Comment – 7 October 2002