Balancing Act: A Review of the Balance Provision in the New Zealand Broadcasting Standards, 2007


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Date published: October 2007

Author: Associate Professor Martin Hirst, School of Communication Studies, AUT University, Auckland


  • Provides some insight into the continuing relevance, or otherwise, of the ‘balance’ standard as outlined in the codes of broadcasting practice for free-to-air (FTA) television, pay television and radio
  • Considers the salience of the balance standard in the context of changing media usage and platform development – the shift from broadcasting to a narrowcasting business model
  • Examines this current period of regulatory instability and in the context of other initiatives and recent reports prepared on behalf of the BSA
  • Draws conclusions regarding definitional issues – What is balance? – and to indicate what aspects of both Canadian and British standards regarding balance, fairness, accuracy and bias might be considered useful in the context of proposed changes in the New Zealand regulatory environment


  • Balance is necessary at some level in order for audiences to make informed decisions based on a range of significant viewpoints and on an accurate presentation of available facts, arguments and commentary
  • The distinction between balance and fairness is clear in the codes of practice and perhaps in a consensus view of the Authority
  • The BSA should consider the British concept of ‘due impartiality’, but with some refinement in order to make its meaning explicit and its operation less complex
  • The existence of three related but varied balance standards across free-to-air, pay TV and radio is anomalous
  • The only exception to the need for balance may well be talkback radio, though this is arguable
  • Moving to a due impartiality model may allow for a closer alignment of the standards
  • It is necessary to consider how a balance standard might be applied across other and multiple platforms, often under the same editorial command chain
  • Recommendations forwarded to BSA:
    • The public interest test be included in future codes as a way of making this clearer to audience members and potential complainants
    • If the balance standard is to be retained then it should be rewritten to be consistent across all broadcast media
    • The Ofcom standard of due impartiality may provide an appropriate template for changes in New Zealand broadcasting codes of practice
    • The contextual qualifications provided in the Ofcom Broadcasting Code are also worthy of consideration
    • BSA may wish to consider commissioning a further study of the Ofcom due impartiality standard, in particular an evaluation of complaints resolution as a body of data becomes available
    • In relation to ‘controversial issues of public importance’ (in all three codes) it may be worthwhile to insert a clause promoting the public interest test as a threshold for complaints