BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Spring and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2020-072 (24 November 2020)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Ray Spring
RNZ News
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Radio New Zealand


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an RNZ News item covering anti-racism protests in Washington and London. The item reported that after ‘a largely peaceful day’, some of the British protesters threw bottles at police, mounted officers charged at the protesters, and an officer ‘required hospital treatment after falling from her horse’. The complaint was that this characterisation of the events breached broadcasting standards as the protest was not ‘peaceful’ and other reports noted the horse bolted after a firework or similar was thrown from the crowd. The Authority found the item was materially accurate, and that the remaining standards raised were not applicable to the complainant’s concerns.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Balance, Fairness, Law and Order, Discrimination and Denigration

The broadcast

[1]  On 7 June 2020, an RNZ News item at 11am reported:

Tens of thousands of people are marching against racism and police brutality in Washington DC, as protests sparked by George Floyd’s death enter a 12th day. Crowds gathered near the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and Lafayette Park, where security forces blocked any approach to the nearby White House. Earlier, British anti-racism protesters briefly clashed with mounted police after thousands gathered in central London to voice their anger at police brutality. After a largely peaceful day, small numbers of protesters near the Prime Minister's Downing Street residence threw bottles at police, and mounted officers charged at protesters to push them back. One officer required hospital treatment after falling from her horse.

The complaint

[2]  Ray Spring complained the segment reporting on the London protest breached the accuracy, balance, fairness, law and order, and discrimination and denigration standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, for the following reasons:

  • ‘[T]his was not a peaceful protest. It quickly became quite violent.’
  • ‘[O]ther reports wrote that a firework or similar was thrown from the crowd, the horse bolted and the policewoman fell/hit a traffic light/and came off her horse. The horse continued bolting and seriously injured another woman.’
  • ‘[S]he did not know how to ride the horse is the very clear indication of [the] report,’ which ‘clearly denigrated the policewoman’.
  • If the broadcaster did not have ‘time to provide a fairly accurate report’ during the broadcast complained about, then it should not have reported on the event until it did have time.

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  Radio New Zealand (RNZ) did not uphold Mr Spring’s complaint, saying the broadcast did not simply state that the policewoman ‘fell off her horse’, but provided context for the statement, namely that the police were responding to a violent protest and bottles were being thrown at them. Therefore the audience would have understood what was meant by the concluding sentence about the policewoman.

The relevant standard

[4]  In this case we consider the accuracy standard is the most relevant to the complainant’s concerns about the broadcast item, so we have focused our determination on that standard. The accuracy standard (Standard 9) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. The purpose of the standard is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.1

[5]  We have briefly addressed the remaining standards at paragraph [13] below.

Our decision

[6]  In considering this complaint, the members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about, and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[7]  We have also considered the important right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where we find the broadcast caused actual or potential harm such that limiting the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.


[8]  Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two steps. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading. The second step, if applicable, is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure the programme was accurate and did not mislead.2 To ‘mislead’ in the context of the accuracy standard means ‘to give another a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.3

[9]  The standard is also concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or unimportant points that are unlikely to significantly affect listeners’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.4

[10]  We do not consider the report was inaccurate or misleading in the way it characterised the UK protests. The choice of language describing a ‘largely peaceful day’ reflected analysis that was consistent with reports of the protests across international media platforms.5 The broadcast made it clear that things had escalated, stating protestors and police ‘briefly clashed’, ‘small numbers of protesters near the Prime Minister’s Downing Street residence threw bottles at police, and mounted officers charged at protesters to push them back’. In this context we do not agree the item suggested the police officer ‘did not know how to ride the horse’ or that the precise cause of her ‘falling from her horse’ was material to listeners’ understanding of the events.

[11]  As noted by RNZ, it was clear from the surrounding context that as a result of the protestors throwing bottles, mounted officers had to charge at them and the officer ultimately required hospital treatment. The amount of detail to be included is a matter of editorial discretion for the broadcaster, and we do not consider the short segment (approximately 20 seconds) was likely to mislead listeners or give them a wrong impression of the overall facts.

[12]  Therefore, we do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.

Remaining standards

[13]  The remaining standards raised in the complaint are in our view either not applicable, or have not been breached, for the following reasons:

  • The balance standard does not apply, as the item was a brief, straightforward news report rather than a discussion of a ‘controversial issue of public importance’ that required the presentation of alternative viewpoints (Standard 8).
  • The fairness standard is designed to ensure fair treatment, and protect against undue harm to the reputation and dignity of programme participants or those referred to in a broadcast. Listeners would not have been left with an unfairly negative impression of the police officer referred to and there is no evidence to suggest she has suffered harm as a result of this brief news item (Standard 11).
  • The broadcast, which briefly reported on protests in Washington and the UK, did not encourage illegal activity, nor undermine or promote disrespect for the law or legal processes (Standard 5).
  • The discrimination and denigration standard only applies to recognised sections of the community and so it does not apply to the police officer as an individual (Standard 6).

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  Ray Spring’s formal complaint – 7 June 2020

2  RNZ’s response to the complaint – 3 July 2020

3  Mr Spring’s referral to the Authority – 8 July 2020

4  RNZ’s response to the referral – 17 August 2020

5  Mr Spring’s final comments – 20 August 2020

6  NZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 20 August 2020

1 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
2 As above, page 19
3 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110 at [98]
4 Guideline 9b
5 Dan Sabbagh and Severin Carrell “Mass anti-racism protests take place in cities across UK” The Guardian (online ed, United Kingdom, 7 June 2020); Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge “Tens of Thousands Join Black Lives Matter Protest in London” U.S. News (online ed, United States, 7 June 2020); “George Floyd: London anti-racism protests leave 27 officers hurt” BBC News (online ed, United Kingdom, 7 June 2020).