Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi Incorporated and Radio New Zealand Limited - 2021-082 (22 September 2021)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi Incorporated
ProgrammeNine to Noon
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand National
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint under the balance standard about an interview on Nine to Noon. The complaint was that the interview about the subject of the truancy service system in schools only canvassed a single perspective. Considering the interview was signalled as approaching the issue from a particular perspective, the perspectives presented were criticism of the status quo, and the period of current interest is still ongoing, it is unlikely listeners would be left misinformed by the broadcast or unaware there were other perspectives on the issues discussed.
Not Upheld: Balance
 On 20 May 2021, on Nine to Noon, Kathryn Ryan interviewed Patrick Walsh, principal of John Paul College, Ragne Maxwell, principal of Porirua College, and Solomon Ah-Young an attendance officer working on a Ministry of Education pilot project on truancy services. The item discussed the principals’ experiences with truancy and truancy services; what’s happening with truancy in New Zealand; and what the future of truancy services should look like, in the context of the Ministry’s current work to redesign the system.
 The introduction to the interview follows:
Well, first, Ministry of Education figures show more than 60,000 students are classified as chronically absent, missing at least three days of school every fortnight, almost 40 per cent of pupils are not going to school regularly. The National Party's education spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith, is calling the situation a truancy crisis. But the service providers contracted by the Ministry of Education to help return children to school say they're underfunded with the $10 million allocated annually only reaching 20,000 students. The Government has announced it will review the service with the aim to have a new model in place by the start of 2022. Principals want truancy funding to be returned to schools like it was before an overhaul in 2013 and for schools to be able to hire their own truancy officers who know and understand their community.
 The interview was approximately 30 minutes in duration.
 Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi (TOHO) complained the broadcast breached the balance standard for the following reasons:
- ‘Of the three people interviewed (the principal of John Paul College in Rotorua Patrick Walsh, the principal of Porirua College Ragne Maxwell and Solomon Ah-Young, an attendance officer in South Auckland), two are school leaders and one works in a school-based setting. From the interview, all three have a clear agenda to criticize the current model and argue for their preferred option for future service delivery.’
- ‘…only a single perspective was presented (opposition to, and mischaracterisation of, the current model, and advocacy for a specific alternative), which does in itself result in a narrow focus on only one aspect of a larger, complex debate.’
The broadcaster’s response
 RNZ did not uphold TOHO’s complaint for the following reasons:
- The topic of the principals’ views on truancy services is not a ‘controversial issue of public importance’ as envisaged by the standard.
- ‘A careful review of the audio of this item indicates that it was being approached from a principal's perspective...the audience was well aware that the topic was being approached from one particular angle which is something that is allowed for in the standards.’
 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.1 The balance standard ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.2
 We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.3
 A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to ‘news, current affairs and factual programmes’ which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.4
 The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’. A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.5
 This broadcast discussed truancy issues in New Zealand and how truancy services should be designed and funded to best address the current issues. Noting the Ministry of Education’s current review of this area, we are satisfied this constitutes a controversial issue of public importance as contemplated by the standard. Accordingly the balance standard applies.
 The next question is whether the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view. No set formula can be advanced for the allocation of time to interested parties on controversial issues of public importance.6 A key consideration is what an audience expects from a programme, and whether they were likely to have been misinformed by the omission or treatment of a significant perspective.7
 The assessment of whether a reasonable range of other perspectives has been presented includes consideration of:8
- The programme’s introduction and the way in which it was presented, for example, whether the programme:
(a) purported to be a balanced examination of an issue
(b) was clearly signalled as approaching a topic from a particular perspective
(c) was narrowly focused on one aspect of a larger, complex debate.
- The nature of the issue/whether listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage, including coverage in other media
 In this case, we were influenced by the following factors:
- The programme did not purport to be a balanced examination of the issue, but was focused on the experiences and concerns of the interviewees.
- The introduction clearly signalled the issue was being approached from this perspective: ‘Principals want truancy funding to be returned to schools like it was before an overhaul in 2013 and for schools to be able to hire their own truancy officers who know and understand their community.’
- This perspective represented one aspect of a larger, ongoing debate about the truancy crisis. The standard allows for balance to be achieved over a period of time within the period of current interest.
- When criticism to the status quo is presented, listeners can reasonably be expected to be aware of perspectives which support the status quo.9
- Listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware there were alternative views regarding the current system (and to be aware of the complexity and number of factors which contribute to ongoing truancy issues) given truancy issues have been widely canvassed in news media, both by RNZ and other outlets.10
 In addition, given the current system is still under review, we consider the period of current interest is ongoing. These matters will likely receive further coverage.
 In these circumstances, we consider it unlikely listeners would be left misinformed by the broadcast or unaware there were other perspectives on the issues discussed.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
22 September 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 TOHO’s original complaint to RNZ – 14 June 2021
2 RNZ’s response to Mr Britten – 8 July 2021
3 TOHO’s referral to the Authority – 26 July 2021
4 RNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 20 August 2021
5 TOHO’s confirmation of standards referred – 20 August 2021
6 RNZ’s further comments – 1 September 2021
1 Standard 8 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
4 Guideline 8a
5 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
6 Guideline 8b
7 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
8 Guideline 8c
9 See for example Hehir and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-058 at  and Family First New Zealand and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-046 at 
10 “Truancy crisis: MPs launch inquiry into rising student absences from school” NZ Herald (online ed, 8 July 2021); Kate Newton “Marked Absent: The attendance freefall in New Zealand's schools” Stuff (online ed, 28 November 2020); Josephine Franks “Marked Absent: Counting the cost of Covid-19 on school attendance” Stuff (online ed, 29 November 2020); Derek Cheng “School truancy, sickness crisis: New figures reveal barely 60 per cent of kids regularly attend class” NZ Herald (online ed, 6 May 2021); : “The Education Ministry overhaul of truancy services” RNZ (online ed, 17 December 2012); “Principals say the new truancy service is failing” RNZ (online ed, 26 September 2013); “Principals critical of school attendance services” RNZ (online ed, 19 May 2015); John Gerritsen “Difficult times for anti-truancy services” RNZ (online ed,19 May 2015); “Schools frustrated at growing level of ‘middle class truancy” RNZ (online ed, 3 August 2016); “Getting truants out of bed and off to school” RNZ (online ed, 29 August 2016); “Truancy frustration ‘reaching a crescendo’ – principals” RNZ (online ed, 3 July 2020)