BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Stranaghan and NZME Radio Ltd - 2021-041 (21 July 2021)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Edwin Stranaghan
Number
2021-041
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB # 2

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about a broadcast on the criticism faced by London Police following their actions in stopping a vigil for murdered woman Sarah Everard, as participants were not abiding by the COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time. The Authority found the item was not unfair to the London Police Chief or the London Police. It did not actively encourage non-compliance or seriously undermine law and order. The balance standard was not applicable as the item did not amount to a ‘discussion’.

Not Upheld: Fairness, Law and Order, Balance


The broadcast

[1]  A broadcast of Early Edition with Kate Hawkesby on 15 March 2021 on Newstalk ZB included the following in its news bulletin at 5.08am:

Host: The London Police Chief is facing calls to resign, after the way her force handled the vigil for a murdered 33-year old. Sarah Everard was walking home at night when she was kidnapped and murdered. The man accused is a serving member of the London police force. The vigil was aggressively broken up by police who say it wasn’t safe with lockdown restrictions and attendees had been asked multiple times to leave.

Activist: People are angry. They're angry that we were silenced in this case about women being silenced and women having violence against them.

[2]  Later in the programme, the broadcaster’s UK correspondent was interviewed in further detail about the vigil and the police response.

The complaint

[3]  Edwin Stranaghan submitted the broadcast breached the law and order, balance and fairness standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Standards. Mr Stranaghan said the broadcast was inclined to incite unlawful actions because it was presented in an anti-police manner. He said the broadcast was not fair or balanced as it did not include reference to the unlawfulness of the gathering or the non-compliance with COVID-19 requirements.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  NZME Radio Ltd did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • The host and correspondent’s comments did not actively promote serious anti-social or illegal behaviour as is required by the standard.
  • The balance standard only applies to news and current affairs programmes. While the issue of police management of protests during the COVID-19 pandemic is an important and topical issue the comments made were during a talkback show which is not subject to the balance standard.
  • ‘We reject the complainant’s claim that the host by her comment “presented the article in a anti police manner”. The police had been criticised for the manner in which they had dealt with those attending the vigil and it was reasonable for the host to note this.’
  • The host referred to ‘the fact that the vigil did not adhere to lockdown restrictions’.
  • The vigil was covered in more detail ‘later in the same show, during her interview with [the] UK correspondent…[who] pointed out that the vigil was contrary to COVID lockdown restrictions and referred to the criticism directed at the police for the heavy-handed way in which some officers had dispersed those attending the vigil’.
  • The London Police were not treated unfairly by the comments of the host or correspondent, which ‘merely noted that she was facing calls to resign’ and therefore the comments were not in breach of the fairness standard.
  • It was noted that in a subsequent broadcast the host expressed support for the London Police Chief Dame Cressida Smith.

The relevant standards

[5]  The fairness standard1 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in any broadcast.2 It ensures individuals and organisations are dealt with justly and fairly and protected from unwarranted damage. A consideration of what is fair will depend on the nature of the programme, the context of the programme and the nature of the individual.3 For example, a public figure familiar with dealing with the media, is a relevant factor when considering what is fair.4

[6]  The law and order standard5 states that 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. It is concerned with broadcasts that actively undermine, or promote disrespect for, the law or legal processes. It does not require broadcasters to promote law and order, or prevent genuine criticism – even provocative criticism – of laws or their enforcement by the courts and police. Context is crucial in assessing the programme’s likely practical effect and the level of public interest in a programme will be a significant factor for consideration.6

[7] The balance standard7 states 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.8 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.9

Our analysis

[8]  We have listened to a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[9]  The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy and it is our starting point. Our task when we consider a complaint is to weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm that may have been caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified, in light of the actual or potential harm caused.

[10]  In this case we consider the fairness standard is the most relevant to the complainant’s concerns about the broadcast. Therefore, we have focused our determination on that standard.

Fairness

[11]  The purpose of this standard is to protect the dignity and reputation of those featured or referred to in broadcasts.10 The complainant is concerned that the broadcast was unfair to the London Police as it was presented in an ‘anti-police manner’.

[12]  We are satisfied the London Police were not treated unfairly taking into account:11

  • The reporting on Police actions would not have resulted in listeners being left with an ‘unduly negative’ impression of Police. It was clear from the 5.08am news bulletin that Police had stopped the vigil on safety grounds in light of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and that participants had previously been asked ‘multiple times’ to leave.
  • Later in the programme, in the interview with the UK correspondent, it was explained that Police had stopped the vigil as they were enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.
  • The item was not overly critical of Police actions, the focus of the item was on the public reaction in London to Police actions.
  • Given the role of the Police in society it is reasonable that the Police are subject to such scrutiny.

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:

  • Law and order: The broadcast which reported on Police actions in stopping a vigil did not encourage illegal activity, nor undermine or promote disrespect for the law or legal processes. Accordingly we find the law and order standard was not breached.
  • Balance: This standard only applies to situations where a ‘controversial issue of public importance’ is ‘discussed’ in ‘news, current affairs or factual programmes’.12 We have previously found that brief, straightforward news reports like this do not amount to ‘discussions’,13 so the standard does not apply.

[14]  Accordingly, we do not find a breach of the above standards.

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

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair
21 July 2021


 

Appendix

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

1  Edwin Stranaghan’s original complaint to NZME – 15 March  2021

2  NZME’s response to Mr Stranaghan – 14 April 2021

3  Mr Stranaghan’s referral to the BSA – 29 April 2021

4  NZME’s further information on the broadcast – 5 May 2021

5  Mr Stranaghan confirming section of broadcast heard – 6 May 2021

6  NZME’s comments on the referral – 21 May 2021

7  Mr Stranaghan’s final comments – 3 June 2021


1 Standard 11 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
3 Guideline 11a
4 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
5 Standard 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
6 Commentary: Law and Order, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 15
7 Standard 8 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
8 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
9 As above
10 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
11 With reference to the factors for consideration outlined in Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
12 Guideline 8a
13 See, for example, Rose and Television New Zealand, Decision No. 2018-078 at [20]