BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

The Monarchist League of New Zealand Inc and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2002-147

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • The Monarchist League of New Zealand Inc
Number
2002-147
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio

Complaint
National Radio – Insight edited highlights of a panel discussion on republicanism and the Treaty of Waitangi – unbalanced – lack of editorial integrity

Findings
Principle 4 – not a controversial issue – no uphold

Principle 6 – not news or current affairs – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] An Insight programme broadcast on National Radio on 3 June 2002, comprised edited highlights of a panel discussion on republicanism and the Treaty of Waitangi.

[2] Dr Noel Cox, on behalf of The Monarchist League of New Zealand Inc, complained to Radio New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the programme was unbalanced, its timing inappropriate, and it lacked editorial integrity.

[3] Declining to uphold the complaint, RNZ said that the programme was a contribution to the ongoing public discussion of the topic, and while the speakers had been edited, the programme was a reliable representation of the views advanced.

[4] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, the League referred its complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the item complained about, and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

The Broadcast

[6] On 3 June 2002 the edited highlights of the "Te Papa Debate" were broadcast on National Radio. The programme had been recorded at Te Papa on Waitangi Day 2002, and it featured a number of speakers presenting a range of views on the topic "Republicanism and the Treaty – are they mutually exclusive?"

The Complaint

[7] Dr Noel Cox, on behalf of The Monarchist League of New Zealand Inc, complained to Radio New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the programme was unbalanced because it promoted only one view, and did not include the views of any pro-monarchy organisation. It also considered that the item lacked editorial integrity and because the broadcast was on the Queen’s Birthday commemoration, its timing was inappropriate.

[8] The League wrote:

…[RNZ] are responsible for airing a documentary, which they should have known was controversial because of the way the panel was stacked, at such a time [and] as a responsible broadcaster, they should have been aware of its imbalance.

Radio New Zealand broadcast this "debate" which they knew to be mainly anti-monarchist, on the Queen’s Birthday observance. This was carefully planned, with many promos during the previous week.

[9] In relation to Principle 4, the League said RNZ had failed in its responsibility to present a balanced programme. The League argued that the programme "particularly as it was edited - was actually promoting one particular view."

[10] The League argued that RNZ "did not show integrity", thus breaching Principle 6 Guideline 6d. In its view, the programme particularly given its timing, was inappropriate without an explanation that it was not representative of public opinion, and included an avowed advocate for one position but not for the other.

[11] The League noted that the item was broadcast on the Queen’s Birthday commemoration and at a time when the Queen’s Golden Jubilee was being celebrated. It considered it a "deliberate attack on our constitution".

The Standards

[12] RNZ assessed the complaint against the principles from the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice nominated by the League. Principles 4 and 6 and the relevant guidelines read:

Principle 4

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Guidelines

4a  Broadcasters will respect the rights of individuals to express their own opinions.

4b  Broadcasters may have regard, when ensuring that programmes comply with Principle 4, to the following matters:

An appropriate introduction to the programme; and

Any reasonable on-air opportunity for listeners to ask questions or present rebuttal within the period of current interest. Broadcasters may have regard to the views expressed by other broadcasters or in the media which listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of.

Principle 6

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

Guidelines

6a  Broadcasters will not use deceptive programme practices.

6b  In the event of an allegation of inaccuracy, broadcasters will act promptly to check the allegation against the original broadcast, and will broadcast with similar prominence a suitable and appropriately scheduled correction that that is found to be justified.

6c  Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, shall be clearly distinguished.

6d  Broadcasters shall ensure that the editorial independence and integrity of news and current affairs is maintained.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[13] RNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It noted that the topic was about republicanism and the Treaty of Waitangi, and explained that although the programme was described as a "debate" it was a "panel of speakers offering a range of perspectives on the topic".

[14] Turning to Principle 4, RNZ noted that the "whole of the Principle needs to be applied when considering whether or not there has been a breach" (its emphasis). RNZ first argued that the programme had not discussed a "controversial issue of public importance" or even if it had then the "period of current interest" was still open. Therefore, it claimed if "balance" had not been achieved in one programme it could still be "through other programmes in the period of current interest" and so it could not make a finding at this time.

[15] Then RNZ considered the issue of whether "significant points of view" were presented in the programme. RNZ argued that although a League representative was not on the panel, it did not mean that it’s viewpoint was not presented. However, RNZ stated, what was more relevant was the topic being addressed. It wrote:

The issue in question which the programme broadcast was not whether New Zealand should evolve its constitutional arrangements to a republic, but rather it was whether or not the Treaty of Waitangi would survive in a republican environment should such an environment come about. Notwithstanding that, the fact that one person advocated for a republic and one person advocated against a republican environment, while incidental to the topic in question, would suggest that "balance" was achieved on this tangential issue. Notably the other four members of the panel did not advocate for either a change or the status quo. That was because that was not the focus of their speeches.

[16] RNZ concluded that it could not rule on whether the programme was balanced regarding the promotion of support for a republic, as argued by the League, because that was not the topic addressed by the programme. As a result it found no breach of Principle 4.

[17] In relation to Principle 6, RNZ reiterated its earlier comment that the principles must be considered as a whole, when assessing the relevant complaint. It submitted that the programme was not a "news" or a "current affairs" programme. However, RNZ went on to consider the issue of "integrity" raised by the League, if the programme did fall within the ambit of Principle 6. It wrote:

The word integrity is also used in Guideline 6d in association with the words editorial independence which suggest that information is attributed to its source when used. With regard to the programme being considered, Radio New Zealand clearly identified each of the six speakers and their views were given a "completeness" in their treatment even though some editing occurred. It is fair to say also that the programme reliably represented that which occurred at the public discussion of the topic. In all senses of the word then, there was no lack of "integrity" in the programme which went to air.

[18] RNZ concluded that Principle 6, Guideline 6d had not been contravened.

The Referral to the Authority

[19] The League, dissatisfied with RNZ’s decision, referred its complaint to the Authority as it considered RNZ did not "adequately address the substance of the original complaint."

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[20] RNZ said it had reviewed its decision and maintained that it had addressed all aspects of the League’s complaint. It stated it was "placed in a difficult situation" because the League had not specified any reasons for its dissatisfaction. RNZ said it found no grounds to "depart from the conclusions already communicated to the League."

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[21] The League said its formal complaint to RNZ outlined the grounds for why it considered the programme breached broadcasting standards.

The Authority’s Determination

[22] Principle 4 requires broadcasters to maintain standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[23] In its determination of this aspect of the complaint, the Authority has to decide whether the programme’s content constituted a "controversial issue of public importance" to which the principle applies. The item comprised edited highlights of a panel discussion, where the speakers offered their views on the topic of whether the Treaty of Waitangi would survive the establishment of a republic. The moderator, Dr Michael Bassett, in his introduction referred to the lighthearted manner of the proceedings. The Authority considers that the programme format on this occasion was one that included entertainment as well as information.

[24] On balance, the Authority concludes that the topic was not a "controversial issue of public importance". In the Authority’s view, the topic envisaged a conjunction of two themes and was neither solely about the Treaty of Waitangi nor about republicanism, but explored the relationship between the two. The Authority notes that an issue of controversy usually refers to a subject, issue or topic that has topical currency, excites conflicting opinion and often requires a right of reply of an alternative perspective. In this item a panel of speakers offered their views on a possible eventuality which may or may not evolve. Furthermore, the Authority notes that Guideline 4a requires that broadcasters respect the rights of individuals to express their own opinions. Having reached the conclusion that the topic is not controversial, as envisaged by the standard, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint. However, the Authority notes, even if the issue discussed did constitute a "controversial issue of public importance" then it is of the view that the "period of current interest" is still open. Therefore, the Authority considers that there is an ongoing obligation on broadcasters to make reasonable efforts, and to give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view regarding the topic.

[25] Principle 6 requires broadcasters, in the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, to be truthful and accurate on points of fact. In the complainant’s view the broadcaster "did not show integrity", thus breaching the standard. Turning to the application of Principle 6, the Authority considers this standard is not relevant to the complaint, as the item was not a "news or current affairs" programme. It is the Authority’s view that the programme did not contain any of the elements of news and current affairs journalism to which the various traditional notions of editorial independence and integrity of news and current affairs apply. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the aspect of the complaint that the broadcast breached Principle 6.

[26] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards and applies them in a manner which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
26 September 2002

Appendix

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

  1. The Monarchist League of New Zealand Inc.’s Formal Complaint to Radio New Zealand Limited –
    12 June 2002
  2. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 27 June 2002
  3. The League’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 4 July 2002
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 25 July 2002
  5. The League’s Final Comment – 5 August 2002