BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Signer and Bailey and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2011-111

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Urs Signer and Emily Bailey
Radio New Zealand Ltd
National Radio

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Morning Report and RNZ News – items reported findings of Waitangi Tribunal report into WAI 262 claim – included interview with Don Brash and Paul Moon – reported Mr Brash’s opposition to the report’s recommendations – allegedly in breach of broadcasting standards

Standard 4 (controversial issues) – Waitangi Tribunal’s findings on WAI 262 claim was a controversial issue of public importance – RNZ News bulletin did not amount to a “discussion” – Morning Report item amounted to a “discussion” and contained balancing perspectives – alternative viewpoints provided in other coverage within period of current interest – not upheld

 This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An item on Morning Report, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National at 8.09am on 4 July 2011, reported on the Waitangi Tribunal’s report into the Flora and Fauna (WAI 262) claim, which recommended wide-ranging reforms to laws and policies affecting Māori culture and identity. The item was introduced as follows:

The Act Party leader Don Brash says the government should move quickly to dismiss some of the key recommendations in a landmark Waitangi Tribunal  report published at the weekend. The WAI 262 claim began 20 years ago as an attempt to protect Māori rights over flora and fauna, but grew to include the wider aspect of culture, identity and resource management.

[2]  The item included comment from the Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson, who said that the government would need to spend time considering the report. The director of the Waitangi Tribunal explained the report’s finding:

Unless government values Māori culture and identity and everything it says and does, and unless Māori are welcomed into the very centre of the way we do things in this country, Māori will continue to be perceived, and know they are perceived, as an alien and resented minority, and as a problem. We can’t carry on this way.

[3]  This was followed by an interview with Don Brash and Auckland University Māori Development Professor Paul Moon. The interviewer asked Professor Moon to give an overview of the tribunal’s findings in terms of the key message to New Zealanders. He responded:

Well as far as the tribunal is concerned, they’ve made it very clear, they say this isn’t about past grievances so much as it is about a future direction for the country, one that involves a much stronger, more direct partnership between various hapu and iwi and the Crown.

[4]  Professor Moon said that the form of the partnership had not yet been determined and that the report was a “bit vague” in that respect. He discussed some of the tribunal’s recommendations and expressed his concern that the report did not specify ways of giving Māori a larger role in decision-making. Later in the interview, he said that the report would not enhance New Zealand’s national identity or race relations, nor have any major social impact.

[5]  The interviewer asked Mr Brash whether he had a “problem” with the report’s key message, “move past the grievance mode”, and he responded:

I don’t have a problem with that per se, but it is important to remember that the Resource Management Act already gives iwi very considerable powers to control and potentially veto all kinds of developments. If the recommendations in the tribunal’s report were adopted... iwi would have greatly increased powers of veto of almost every kind of development, and I think that is totally inappropriate and indeed inconsistent with any reasonable interpretation of Article 3 of the Treaty.

[6]  Referring to the tribunal’s recommendation to further involve Māori in resource management decisions, Mr Brash said that this was a “recipe for slowing down any kind of development... giving iwi the authority to veto... almost any kid of development. I don’t think New Zealanders want that at all.” The interviewer stated, “I guess the tribunal though, is inviting you to look at that as a positive thing, and not a negative thing”. Mr Brash said that it was difficult to see it as a positive given past experience with delay as a result of consultation requirements under the Resource Management Act.

[7]  Towards the end of the interview, the following exchange took place:

Interviewer:    ...the report says there is a growing realisation that New Zealand wins when Māori culture
                      is strong. What do you say to that?

Brash:            Well, I think there is no doubt at all that Māori culture is an important part of New Zealand
                      culture, but that is quite different from giving iwi a power of veto potentially...


                      ... what I am basically saying to the Minister is “[for] goodness’ sake rule out some of the
                     more far-fetched recommendations of the report, otherwise you are going to have a great
                     deal of resentment building up over the next five months to elections”.


                      I think that the Treaty of Waitangi makes it abundantly clear that all New Zealanders
                      should have the rights and privileges of British subjects.

Interviewer:    But it also talks about the recognition of Māori being able to protect their own cultural
                      treasures, doesn’t it?


Moon:            I have no problem with treating all people equally, I think that is admirable of course, but
                     there are areas where there might need to be some protection... for example in the case
                     of flora and fauna, a particular way of managing it... and there is no harm in having
                     Māori involvement in this, in fact it is probably beneficial...

[8]  The interview was referred to in an RNZ News bulletin, broadcast at 9am, which was introduced by the newsreader who stated, “The Act Party leader Don Brash wants the government to immediately dump what he describes as far-fetched findings from a long awaited Waitangi Tribunal report.” After outlining the WAI 262 claim, the news reader continued:

Dr Brash says some of the findings are far-fetched and must be rejected, otherwise a great deal of resentment will fester between now and November’s general election. He says they’re a recipe for slowing down any kind of development.

[9]  An excerpt from the interview was broadcast, in which Mr Brash outlined his opinion regarding the report’s recommendations (see paragraph [5] above).


[10]  Urs Signer and Emily Bailey made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging the items breached broadcasting standards.

[11]  With regard to the item broadcast on Morning Report, Mr Signer asked “Where is the Māori voice?” He considered it “extremely disappointing” that the programme chose to interview two Pakeha on the topic – Mr Brash who was the leader of a right-wing political party and Professor Moon who had written on Māori issues but was by no means a spokesperson for Māori and “has received much criticism from Māori for his racist comments”.

[12]  The complainants contended that the 9am RNZ News bulletin confirmed their initial concerns as “the only voice left was Don Brash”, who expressed his opposition to iwi having more say on Resource Management Act issues. The bulletin did not explain the tribunal’s recommendations, nor did it contain comment to counter Mr Brash’s viewpoint, they argued.

[13]  The complainants concluded that the items amounted to “serious misreporting” which used Mr Brash’s “racist opinions” to gain listeners at the expense of Māori. They argued that the broadcaster should have included a Māori perspective to counter his “racist rhetoric”, and maintained that Professor Moon had “no authority” to speak for Māori.


[14]  The broadcaster assessed the complaint under Standard 4 and guideline 4a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance 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.

Guideline 4a   

The assessment of whether a reasonable range of views has been allowed for takes account of some or all of the following:

  • the programme introduction;
  • the approach of the programme (e.g. taking a particular perspective);
  • whether listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage;
  • the programme type (e.g. talk or talkback which may be subject to a lesser requirement to present a range of views).

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[15]  RNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 4 (controversial issues). It accepted that the items subject to complaint discussed a controversial issue of public importance. With regard to the requirement to present significant viewpoints, the broadcaster asserted that this could be done in a variety of ways, including directly interviewing a representative of a significant viewpoint, referring to significant points of view, or alerting listeners to other viewpoints through “devil’s advocate” questioning. It said that the standard did not require “stopwatch journalism” whereby balance is achieved by presenting opposing viewpoints at the same time or in equal amounts of time.

[16]  On this basis, the broadcaster noted RNZ’s extensive coverage of the WAI 262 report throughout the day on Monday 4 July. It said that this commenced at about 6.30am with the lead item in the Manu Korihi News bulletin opening with the Waitangi Tribunal saying that New Zealand could not carry on allowing Māori to be perceived as a problematic and resented minority. It also noted that an item on Morning Report, broadcast at 7.19am, reported on a number of Māori who supported the claim and who stated that the Waitangi Tribunal’s long-delayed report on cultural grievances could radically change New Zealand for the better. Other coverage included a 22-minute discussion on Nine to Noon about the implications of the tribunal’s findings, which included views from Moana Jackson, a lawyer who helped draft the original claim, Rob McGowan, an ethno-botanist specialising in traditional Māori medicine who was a witness for the claimants, and Michael Smythe, a Fellow of the Designers Institute of New Zealand who convened its submission on the claim, it said. In addition, RNZ News at midday included comments from Māori MP Rahui Katene, who said that it was “hypocritical” of Mr Brash to call for parts of the report to be “dumped” without having read the report.

[17]  While RNZ considered that the period of current interest was still open, given its extensive coverage of a range of viewpoints on the morning in question, it found that it had complied with the requirements of Standard 4.

[18]  Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[19]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, the complainants referred their complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Mr Signer said that he was not listening to the radio for the whole morning and maintained that the omission of significant viewpoints in the 9am news bulletin was an indication of unbalanced reporting. He argued that RNZ was trying to be balanced in this particular time-slot by using Professor Moon to represent a “voice for Māori”, but failed to recognise that this choice was inappropriate.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[20]  RNZ provided the Authority with a copy of the broadcasts referred to in its decision in order to assist with the determination of the complaint.

Authority’s Determination

[21]  The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about as well as recordings of the additional items referred to by RNZ, and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[22]  Standard 4 states that 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.

[23]  Our first consideration in determining an alleged breach of Standard 4 is whether the items discussed a controversial issue of public importance, typically defined by the Authority as something that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public (e.g. Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd1).

[24]  On this occasion, the items focused on the Waitangi Tribunal’s findings and recommendations with regard to the WAI 262 claim. We accept that this amounted to a controversial issue of public importance to which Standard 4 applies.

[25]  However, the RNZ News bulletin, which was approximately 1 minute in length, did not amount to a “discussion” of that issue as envisaged by the standard. Rather, it was a straightforward news report which outlined Mr Brash’s stance on the tribunal’s recommendations, and did not purport to be a balanced examination of the different perspectives on the issue.

[26]  The Morning Report item contained a more substantive discussion of the report’s findings, including comment from Mr Brash and Professor Moon. Leaving aside the question of whether Professor Moon was the appropriate person to provide a perspective to counter that put forward by Mr Brash, we consider that the viewpoints included in the item represented differing perspectives. We note that, in addition to Professor Moon’s comments, the item also included comment from the director of the Waitangi Tribunal who explained the report’s findings, stating that “Unless government values Māori culture and identity... Māori will continue to be perceived... as an alien and resented minority. We can’t carry on this way.” We also draw attention to the interviewer’s comments, “I guess the tribunal, though, is inviting you to look at that as a positive thing, and not a negative thing”, and “the report says that there is a growing realisation that New Zealand wins when Māori culture is strong...” We therefore consider that the item adequately referred to significant points of view and alerted listeners to other viewpoints through “devil’s advocate” questioning. 

[27]  Further, we consider that balance was provided during the period of current interest with extensive coverage on the issue throughout the day on Radio New Zealand National (see RNZ’s response at paragraph [16] above). For example, a discussion on Nine to Noon included comment from Moana Jackson who helped draft the claim, and another news item reported Māori MP Rahui Katene’s criticism of Mr Brash for opposing the report’s findings without having read the report.

[28]  In these circumstances, we are satisfied that RNZ made reasonable efforts and gave reasonable opportunities to present significant points of view on the controversial issue under discussion, within the period of current interest. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
22 November 2011


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

1                  Urs Signer and Emily Bailey’s formal complaint – 4 July 2011

2                 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 29 July 2011

3                 Mr Signer and Ms Bailey’s referral to the Authority – 16 August 2011

4                 RNZ’s responses to the Authority (including additional broadcasts) – 12 and 26
                  September 2011

1Decision No. 2005-125