Hamilton and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2022-034 (21 June 2022)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- John Gillespie
- Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
- Aroha Beck
- Peter Hamilton
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a Morning Report item stating ‘Protesters occupying Parliament grounds have been calling for reinforcements…’ breached the law and order standard. The Authority found in the context the item did not actively encourage or promote illegal behaviour. In any event, the public interest in the item meant the right to freedom of expression outweighed any potential harm.
Not Upheld: Law and Order
 During Morning Report broadcast on 2 March 2022 on RNZ National, a newsreader summarised the day’s headlines at 7am, including:
Protesters occupying parliament grounds have been calling for reinforcements. They say they’re worried Police plan to remove them sometime in the next 48 hours. The protesters have occupied the area around lower Molesworth Street since February the eighth.
 Peter Hamilton complained the broadcast breached the law and order standard because:
- ‘[The broadcast was] likely to encourage a surge of new or additional supporters to converge on Parliament’s grounds thus making the task of the Police more difficult to restore order.’
- ‘[The broadcast] endangers the safety and welfare of police attempting to restore order and end the illegal occupation of Parliament’s grounds.’
- The broadcast was ‘tantamount to a call on behalf of the protest[e]rs for new and additional support.’
- ‘There was no attempt to provide context to the item’, for example which of the protesters were calling for reinforcements.
The broadcaster’s response
 Radio New Zealand Ltd did not uphold the complaint under the law and order standard on the basis:
- The story was factually accurate.
- The report did not encourage anyone to behave illegally or inappropriately.
- ‘News that protest[e]rs had been using their various communications networks to call for reinforcements was a matter of considerable public interest at the time.’
 The law and order standard1 states broadcasters should observe standards consistent with the maintenance of law and order, taking into account the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast. Its purpose is to prevent broadcasts that encourage the audience to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity.2
 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. Our task is to weigh the value of the programme, in terms of the right to freedom of expression and the public interest in it, against the level of actual or potential harm caused by the broadcast. The harm alleged here is that listeners may be encouraged to join the protest occupation of Parliament grounds, which was illegal and subject to ongoing Police operations at the time of the broadcast.
 The key question is whether the broadcast would have had the effect of promoting, glamorising or condoning criminal or serious anti-social behaviour. The law and order standard does not stop broadcasters from discussing criminal behaviour or other law-breaking, even if they do not explicitly condemn that behaviour.3 The context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast are important considerations when assessing complaints under this standard. The level of public interest in a programme is also a significant factor in this determination.4
 The context in this case was the ongoing occupation of Parliament grounds by anti-mandate and anti-vaccine COVID-19 protesters, who occupied Parliament grounds for 23 days during February and March 2022.5 The protest was ended by Police after violent rioting and fires on Parliament grounds on the day of the broadcast.6
 This was a very brief headline item – fewer than 20 seconds long – which simply reported a development in the occupation: that protesters at Parliament were ‘calling for reinforcements’. The broadcast contained no further discussion of this and did not itself actively encourage protesters to join the occupation.
 Widespread media coverage of this protest had been ongoing across New Zealand media outlets for weeks at the time of the broadcast.7 During that period RNZ aired several programmes and published articles where illegal actions of protesters were discussed and many condemned the actions of protesters.8
 In this context, we do not consider the statement in the item that protesters were calling for reinforcements by itself would be likely to have had the effect of encouraging, promoting or glamorising illegal or anti-social behaviour.
 Further, there was significant public interest in news developments concerning the protests including those reported in this item. Protesters requesting reinforcements and reports of an impending Police operation to remove them from Parliament carried public interest as it signalled an escalation of events at Parliament was imminent. On the day of the broadcast, police removed protesters, their campsite and their vehicles from Parliament grounds. Rioting and violence by protesters followed this, generating live media coverage and significant public interest.
 Overall, the high level of public interest in this item and the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression in this context outweighed any potential harm. We do not find any breach of the law and order standard and do not uphold the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
21 June 2022
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Peter Hamilton’s complaint to RNZ – 2 March 2022
2 RNZ’s decision on the complaint – 25 March 2022
3 Hamilton’s referral to the Authority – 28 March 2022
4 RNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 2 May 2022
1 Standard 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Law and Order, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 15
3 As above
4 Guideline 5b
5 “Parliament grounds 'reclaimed': Police operation ends 23-day protest” RNZ (online ed, 4 May 2022)
6 As above
7 “As it happened: Latest on Parliament protest, COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, March 3” Newshub (online ed, 3 March 2022); Toby Manhire “The day the grounds of parliament burned” The Spinoff (online ed, 3 March 2022); “Covid 19 Omicron convoy Parliament protest: Calls for mayor to 'step up' as police backtrack on towing, focus on 'de-escalation'” NZ Herald (online ed, 19 February 2022)
8 Checkpoint “Businesses near Parliament increasingly frustrated at protest” RNZ (23 February 2022); Mediawatch “Parliament protest: Making sense of extreme scenes and unsavoury stories” RNZ 27 February 2022; Checkpoint “Dangerous conflict between police, protesters around Parliament” RNZ (2 March 2022) “Overall security arrangements for Parliament to be reviewed following anti-mandate protest - Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson” RNZ (online ed, 3 March 2022); “Police preparedness questioned as Parliament protest turned violent” RNZ (online ed, 22 March 2022)