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Right To Life New Zealand and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2020-056 (24 November 2020)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Right To Life New Zealand
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Radio New Zealand


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that an item on Checkpoint covering the Select Committee report on the Abortion Legislation Bill was unbalanced, unfair and discriminated against unborn children. The Authority found: ‘unborn children’ were not a recognised section of the community; the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant viewpoints on the issue discussed; and the item did not result in unfairness to anyone taking part or referred to.

Not Upheld: Balance, Fairness, Discrimination and Denigration

The broadcast

[1]  An item on RNZ’s Checkpoint programme on 14 February 2020 covered the Select Committee’s report on the Abortion Legislation Bill. The item was introduced as follows:

The Abortion Legislation Committee has delivered a much-anticipated report on the Abortion Legislation Bill. Amongst the recommendations, the committee wants safeguards to address sex selection, late-term abortions and removing some of the barriers for women who require the procedure. Here’s our political reporter, Charlie Dreaver.

[2]  The item included the views of Hon Ruth Dyson, the chair of the Select Committee, Terry Bellamak, the president of the Abortion Law Reform Association NZ (ALRANZ) and National MP Agnes Loheni, a member of the Select Committee opposed to the Bill.

[3]  In considering this complaint, we have listened to a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[4]  Right to Life New Zealand (Right to Life NZ) complained the broadcast breached the balance, fairness and discrimination and denigration standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:


  • Two viewpoints were presented in support of the abortion legislation. However, there was no comment provided ‘by any pro-life organisation in New Zealand’.
  • ‘ALRANZ has a national membership of about 45 members…in contrast, Right to Life has a membership of 750 members and Voice for Life, 5,000 members…Radio NZ has a serious duty to inform listeners when broadcasting comments from Ms Bellamak just how many members she is representing.’


  • ‘The report failed to state why Agnes Loheni was opposed to the Abortion Bill proceeding’ including what she stated in her minority report that ‘if enacted (the Bill) will severely breach and irreparably damage the “sanctity of life” principle which had been the cornerstone of New Zealand’s common law.’

Discrimination and denigration

  • The item ‘discriminated against unborn children who are the weakest and most defenceless members of the human family. The objective of abortion is the violent destruction of an unborn child.’

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  RNZ did not uphold Right to Life NZ’s complaint for the following reasons:


  • ‘A number of perspectives were included in this news item, in particular, the view of the select committee member Ms Agnes Loheni who opposed the legislation. She was given significant time to present her opposing views.’
  • ‘The requirement of the broadcasting standards is that listeners be made aware of significant points of view over the period of current interest on controversial topics.’


  • It is not clear who the complainant believes was treated unfairly.
  • ‘Ms Loheni’s comments were well reported in the item, and people would not have viewed her negatively.’

Discrimination and denigration

  • It is not clear whether unborn children would qualify as a section of the community for the purposes of the standard.

The standards

[6]  The balance standard (Standard 8) states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts or give reasonable opportunities to present significant points of view when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs or factual programmes. The purpose of the standard is to ensure that competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion. It allows for balance to be achieved either within the programme or over time within the period of current interest in relation to a particular issue.1  

[7]  The fairness standard (Standard 11) requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in any broadcast. The purpose of the fairness standard is to protect the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes. Individuals and organisations have the right to expect they will be dealt with justly and fairly and protected from unwarranted damage.2

[8]  Under the discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6), broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of any section of the community. Its purpose is to protect sections of the community from verbal and other attacks, and to foster a community commitment to equality. The standard applies only to recognised sections of the community consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993.3

Our decision

[9]  The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy and it is the starting point when we consider any complaint that broadcasting standards have been breached. Our task is to weigh the right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, against the harm that may have potentially been caused by the broadcast complained about. We may only intervene and uphold the complaint when the resulting limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified. For the reasons below we have not found any harm in this case that justifies regulatory intervention or limiting freedom of expression.


[10]  The balance standard only applies where a ‘controversial issue of public importance’ is ‘discussed’ in ‘news, current affairs or factual programmes’.

[11]  We have consistently found abortion and related amendments to legislation amount to a controversial issue of public importance,4 and we also consider the Checkpoint item discussed these issues. Therefore the balance standard applied to this broadcast.

[12]  We understand the complainant’s concern is that the item should have included views from a pro-life organisation, and should have disclosed the membership of ALRANZ.

[13]  The relevant question under the balance standard is whether the broadcaster has made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view on the controversial issue discussed. Who presents those views and how they are presented, are a matter of editorial discretion for the broadcaster.

[14]  In this case we found the broadcaster met its obligations under the balance standard to adequately present balancing viewpoints either within the programme or within the period of current interest, taking into account the following factors:5

  • The programme’s introduction and the way in which the programme was presented. The introduction clearly signalled the item would focus on the Select Committee report on the Abortion Legislation Bill and the committee’s recommendations in particular.
  • The nature of the discussion. This was a short report covering one aspect of the wider issue of abortion, namely the recommendations of the Select Committee on the proposed legislation. In this context listeners would not have expected a full in-depth discussion on the issue or to hear views from all parties that have made submissions. Nevertheless, the broadcaster presented adequate balance in the circumstances, including views for and against the legislation, through three different viewpoints from:
    • The chair of the committee, Ms Dyson, who summarised the key recommendations including the recommendations to include a requirement that the Director-General monitors births to determine if there’s indication of abortion being used for sex selection. Ms Dyson also commented on the need for timely access and equity of access across the country.
    • ALRANZ President, Ms Bellamak, who said ALRANZ welcomed the findings on equality issues but did not agree that sexual violation has not been classed as a medical emergency.
    • National Party MP Ms Loheni, who was opposed to the Bill and outlined her main concerns with the legislation, particularly about late term abortions of more than 20 weeks. She added that the consultation process did not go far enough to offer sufficient safeguard.  
  • The nature of the issue and whether viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage. The issue of abortion and related legislative amendments have been the subject of long-running debate so listeners can reasonably be expected to have a broad understanding of the main perspectives on the issue, including those from a ‘pro-life’ stance. What this means is that the likelihood of harm being caused by any single broadcast or listeners being left uninformed on the topic is reduced.

[15]  For the above reasons, we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.


[16]  The fairness standard is concerned with protecting against undue harm to the dignity and reputation of any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. Right to Life NZ did not explain who it believed was treated unfairly, beyond expressing its concern that the broadcast ‘failed to state why Agnes Loheni was opposed to the Abortion Bill proceeding’.

[17]  The issue of whether or not the report adequately presented significant viewpoints on the issue has been dealt with under the balance standard above. We do not otherwise consider that the item would have left the audience with an unduly negative impression of Ms Loheni or that the omission of particular parts from Ms Loheni’s minority report resulted in any unfairness to her. The degree of detail to be included from her submissions was an editorial decision for the broadcaster and we have found above that what was included was sufficient to convey her key concerns about the legislation, in the context of the item.

[18]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint under the fairness standard.

Discrimination and denigration

[19]  The discrimination and denigration standard only applies to recognised ‘sections of the community’ which is consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in section 21 of the Human Rights Act 1993.6

[20]  We have previously determined in relation to another complaint from Right to Life that ‘unborn children’ are not a recognised section of the community for the purposes of this standard.7

[21]  Therefore the standard does not apply and we do not uphold this part of the complaint.

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


Judge Bill Hastings


24 November 2020



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

1  Right to Life NZ’s formal complaint– 14 February 2020

2  RNZ’s decision on the complaint– 7 April 2020

3  Right to Life NZ’s referral to the Authority – 14 April 2020

4  RNZ’s response to the referral – 9 July 2020

1 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
2 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
3 Commentary: Discrimination and denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
4 Right to Life New Zealand and Mediaworks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2019-041 at [18]
5 Guideline 8c
6 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 15
7 Right to Life New Zealand and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2019-041 at [13]