Good Morning referred to the Alliance Party’s proposal to introduce higher taxes. The presenter asked "Should the rich be taxed more?", and invited viewers to telephone or fax their responses for inclusion in the programme’s Voteline. Responses were provided to viewers in a graph format, and through the presenter’s comments during the course of the programme, which was broadcast on TV One on 29 September 1999, from 10.00–12.00 noon.
Mr Wakeman complained to Television New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the programme’s focus on tax rates was not balanced. He had attempted to participate in the poll, he said, and the broadcaster had advised it would contact him for his view but had failed to do so. He questioned the number of responses received, and also the presenter’s comment at one particular time that the poll was showing a lack of support for tax increases. His fax and call had supported an increase but had not been not included, he wrote.
TVNZ responded that talkback programmes inevitably missed some potential participants when the programme’s time ended. It said the producer had intended to include Mr Wakeman’s call, but was unable to do so. It expressed regret for his disappointment in being denied the opportunity to speak. Noting that views representing both sides of the topic were expressed during the broadcast, it declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Wakeman referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the items complained about, and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.
The taxation policies of various political parties, and particularly the Alliance, were discussed on Good Morning on TV One on 29 September. The presenter asked "Should the rich be taxed more?". She invited viewers to telephone or fax their responses for inclusion in the programme’s Voteline. The responses were provided to viewers, and referred to by the presenter, during the course of the programme, from 10.00am to 12.00 noon.
Mr Wakeman complained to TVNZ that the programme was not balanced in its focus on tax rates. He said he had faxed the programme, but had been unable to speak in support of tax increases. The programme had more than an hour in which to return his call, he wrote, and he had been told that staff would contact him, but they had failed to do so.
Mr Wakeman questioned how many calls and faxes for and against tax increases were received, and recorded. He asked how the presenter could have commented that no faxes supported tax increases, when his fax supporting an increase had not been read. He also asked how the presenter could have commented that the programme wanted to hear from callers who supported a tax increase when, he wrote, the programmers did not return calls "or let them speak in a fair way".
TVNZ replied that at the programme’s end 970 viewers had called, and voting had been split 50-50 on the question. The programme’s producer had intended to call Mr Wakeman and include him in the item, it wrote, but that proved impossible when time ran out. The broadcaster said it had considered the complaint in the context of s.4(1)(d) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, and standard G6 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Section 4(1)(d) provides:
4. Responsibility of broadcasters for programme standards – (1) Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes and their presentation, standards which are consistent with –
(d) 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; …
Standard G6 requires broadcasters:
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
TVNZ said it considered the complaint involved two matters. The first was the way Mr Wakeman had been treated, and the indignation he had felt as a consequence of not being able to express his viewpoint on the programme. The second was the allegation that the programme lacked balance, apparently because Mr Wakeman’s view had not been heard.
The broadcaster regretted that Mr Wakeman had been upset at being denied the opportunity to speak. However, it wrote, it was the reality of live television that programmes must have finite durations, and consequently some people who hoped to air their views on talkback inevitably missed out. The producer had intended to include Mr Wakeman’s call, it said, but was unable to do so when the preceding call lasted longer than was expected. The producer acted properly in bringing the programme to its conclusion at the appointed time, it wrote.
On the balance issue, TVNZ wrote that Mr Wakeman’s letters referred to the presenter’s efforts to encourage calls from viewers who wanted to see higher taxes for the rich. The letters seemed to imply, it submitted, that because his view was not heard, the programme had lacked balance.
The broadcaster observed that support for higher taxes was voiced by Mr Jim Anderton, and by two other callers. The programme could not be accused of imbalance as the view favouring the rich paying higher tax had been put, it contended. A talkback programme should not engineer balance, but should strive to represent a range of views and that was what the programme had achieved, it submitted. The Voteline graph shown throughout the programme had also indicated a steady stream of viewers supporting the higher taxes viewpoint, it wrote, and the poll had ended in a 50-50 split among callers.
TVNZ concluded that, as the programme made reasonable efforts and provided reasonable opportunities for those favouring higher taxes to have their say, there had been no breach of s.4(1)(d). It declined to find a breach of standard G6.
When referring his complaint to the Authority, Mr Wakeman wrote that the reason the programme had lacked balance was that his call and possibly others had not been "allowed on air". He emphasised that his call supporting tax increases had been first made "more than 1 hour and 10 minutes before the program ran out of time". In addition, he said that during the time that the programme’s presenter had stated that no faxes in support of tax increases had been received, and had asked for people in favour of tax increases to call, his fax supporting increases had not been read, and he was not contacted to speak in support of his view.
When asked to respond, TVNZ said that it understood and sympathised with Mr Wakeman’s frustration in not being able to participate in the programme’s talkback section, but that his absence did not result in the programme being unbalanced.
In a final comment, Mr Wakeman emphasised that TVNZ had failed to answer the questions he had posed. He reiterated that the programme was unbalanced in not providing him and possibly a number of others a "fair go due to around 95% of the time [being] given to those who did not support a tax increase". The broadcaster should "apologise for misleading [viewers] when their faxes were not acknowledged, and stopping certain balance from taking place", he wrote.
The Authority has reviewed the broadcast in light of Mr Wakeman’s complaint that it failed to provide a voice to those who supported tax increases. During the item, telephone calls were taken and reported from those supporting both sides of the debate. The Authority notes that Mr Jim Anderton was the first speaker on the issue, and that he spoke in favour of tax increases. Another caller, Wendy, also spoke in favour of tax increases. In addition, the Voteline graph showed that callers were evenly divided on the topic. In the circumstances, the Authority is unable to find any material which would support the comments made by Mr Wakeman, and accordingly it declines to uphold the complaint that the broadcaster failed either to provide reasonable opportunities to callers on both sides of the debate, or to deal with the issue in a balanced way.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
16 December 1999
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Peter Wakeman’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Limited – 29 September 1999
2. Mr Wakeman’s Letter to TVNZ – 7 October 1999
3. TVNZ’S Response to the Formal Complaint – 26 October 1999
4. Mr Wakeman’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 28 October 1999
5. TVNZ’s Response to the Referral – 2 November 1999
6. Mr Wakeman’s Final Comment to the Authority – 16 November 1999