BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Sleeth and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-067

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Murray Sleeth
One News

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item about arming police officers referred to police “force” – allegedly in breach of accuracy standard

Standard 5 (accuracy) – complainant received adequate response from the broadcaster – complaint frivolous – decline to determine under section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 5 April 2011, reported on the issue of whether police officers should carry guns. The item contained two references by the reporter to the police “force”. The reporter said, “The most explosive issue facing our force: should every cop have a gun on their hip?” and that the new Police Commissioner would “like to see more women in the police force”.


[2]  Murray Sleeth made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards relating to law and order, controversial issues, accuracy, fairness, discrimination and denigration, and children’s interests. He maintained that “The Police are not a part of New Zealand’s Armed Forces” and that the word “force” in relation to the police was removed from policing legislation in 1958.


[3]  Mr Sleeth nominated Standards 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. These provide:

Standard 2 Law and Order

Broadcasters should observe standards consistent with the maintenance of law and order.

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.

Standard 5 Accuracy

Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:

•        is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or

•        does not mislead.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[4]  Looking first at Standard 2, TVNZ said that to find a breach of the standard, a broadcast needed to not only implicitly condemn a particular law, but also actively promote disrespect for it. It maintained that the item did not glamorise crime or condone the actions of criminals, and it declined to uphold this part of the complaint.

[5]  With regard to Standard 4, the broadcaster accepted that the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance, namely whether New Zealand police should be armed with guns. However, it said, referring to the police as a “force” was not such an issue. It argued that appropriate viewpoints were sought and presented on the issue of arming the police, including the perspectives of the Police Commissioner and the Police Association President, who had differing views. It declined to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

[6]  TVNZ maintained that the item did not contain any material errors of fact and that it was not misleading. It noted that the Concise Oxford Dictionary defined “force” as “body of police”. It therefore considered that the use of the phrase “police force” was not inaccurate, and that this was an acceptable term. Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.

[7]  TVNZ argued that the use of the phrase “police force” was not pejorative and was not unfair to the New Zealand police. It said that it had not received any complaints from police about the use of the term. TVNZ therefore declined to uphold the fairness complaint.

[8]  Looking at Standard 7, the broadcaster maintained that the two references to the “police force” were not intended to be offensive or to denigrate the New Zealand police. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item encouraged denigration or discrimination.

[9]  Finally, with regard to children’s interests, TVNZ argued that the use of the term “police force” would not have disturbed or alarmed child viewers and it declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 9.

Referral to the Authority

[10]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Sleeth referred his Standard 5 complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that the references to the police “force” were inaccurate. He reiterated that any references to “Force” were removed from legislation in 1958, and noted that section 7 of the Policing Act 2008 clearly stated the name of the police to be “New Zealand Police”. He therefore considered that the only accurate ways to refer to the police were “New Zealand Police” or “the Police”.

Authority’s Determination

[11]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[12]  The accuracy standard relates only to “material points of fact”. In our view, the use of the word “force” in relation to the police was clearly not material to the overall focus of this item, which considered whether or not police officers should be armed. We note in this respect that Mr Sleeth acknowledged in his referral that “this [the use of the word ‘force’] is obviously a very minor issue”.

[13]  We also consider that Mr Sleeth received an adequate response from the broadcaster, addressing all of the standards that he nominated in his original complaint.

[14]  Section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 allows the Authority to decline to determine a complaint which it considers to be frivolous, vexatious, or trivial. Pursuant to this section we consider it appropriate to decline to determine Mr Sleeth’s complaint on the grounds that it was frivolous.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
9 August 2011


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

1                  Murray Sleeth’s formal complaint – 5 April 2011

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 4 May 2011

3                 Mr Sleeth’s referral to the Authority – 12 May 2011

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 1 July 2011