Toovey and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2005-046
- Joanne Morris (Chair)
- Diane Musgrave
- Paul France
- Tapu Misa
- Richard Toovey
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Morning Report – item on changing population statistics of New Zealand – introduced with reference to the possibility of New Zealand becoming a republic – allegedly unbalanced
Principle 4 (balance) – topic of republicanism not the controversial issue of public importance covered by the item – balance on that issue not required – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 On 26 April 2005 at 7.20am on National Radio, an item on Morning Report covered changing population statistics in New Zealand, noting the expectation of continuing increases in Asian, Māori and Pacific Island communities. The introduction to the item included the statement “some believe this will fuel arguments to ditch the Queen as the head of State”.
 The report included comments from spokespersons from the Asian studies department at the University of Auckland, the Republican Movement, the Pacifica unit at the Auckland University of Technology and the Auckland Chinese Community Centre.
 Richard Toovey complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, that the item breached standards relating to balance and fairness. He alleged that the programme raised the “spurious argument” that the growth in the non-Pakeha population over the next 20 years would increase calls for a republic.
 Mr Toovey considered that despite the rise in other ethnic groups, two thirds of the population would remain Pakeha. He also noted that Britain was a largely multi-cultural society. The complainant asserted that these facts presented an equally compelling case that the monarchy would remain.
 Mr Toovey also contended that the consequences of cultural diversity went beyond the matter of republicanism.
 The complainant wrote that an argument could have been raised that, in the circumstances predicted by the item, a stable monarchy would be essential. Further, he considered that the point could have been raised that New Zealanders might regret the removal of the Privy Council as a court of appeal. Mr Toovey stated that these matters were “conspicuous by their absence”.
 Radio New Zealand assessed the complaint under Principle 4 and 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:
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.
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 In its response, the broadcaster noted that the complainant had not specified to whom the coverage was allegedly unfair. Noting that Principle 5 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with “any person taking part or referred to”, RNZ found that no breach had occurred.
 Turning to Principle 4 (balance), the broadcaster noted that for Principle 4 to be applied, there must have been a controversial issue of public importance discussed in the broadcast. RNZ did not consider that the topic of the changing ethnic mix of the New Zealand population, or of New Zealand becoming a republic, was a controversial issue of public importance at the time of broadcast.
 The broadcaster further considered that the period of current interest for both topics (New Zealand becoming a republic, and the changing ethnic mix of New Zealand) was open-ended at the time of broadcast. It contended that a finding could not be made at that point, and declined to uphold the complaint.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Toovey referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He also enclosed a letter that he had sent to RNZ. Mr Toovey accepted that Principal 5 (fairness) was not breached and did not refer this aspect of his complaint.
 The complainant submitted that New Zealand’s move towards becoming a republic was a controversial issue of public importance, especially in election year. He reiterated that the item did not cover the issue in a balanced way.
 Mr Toovey argued that the broadcaster’s response seemed to indicate that where the overall topic was not controversial, it was appropriate for the state-owned broadcaster to select commentators exclusively representing Government or pro-republican views.
 The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 Principle 4 provides that where a controversial issue of public importance is discussed, broadcasters must ensure that that discussion is balanced. In the present case, the Authority considers that to the extent that a controversial issue was discussed in the item, that issue was the changing ethnic mix of New Zealand society.
 The Authority is of the view that, while the item twice alluded to the idea of New Zealand becoming a republic, it did not purport to be an examination of the wider debate around this issue. Rather, republicanism was raised as an incidental sidebar and as an interesting potential consequence of the main issue under discussion.
 As the issue of republicanism was not the controversial issue of public importance discussed in this programme, the Authority determines that balance on this topic was not required.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
18 August 2005
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Richard Toovey’s formal complaint – 26 April 2005
- RNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 17 May 2005
- Mr Toovey’s referral to the Authority – 20 May 2005
- RNZ’s response to the Authority – 14 June 2005