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Hunt and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-002

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa

Complainant

  • Alwyn Hunt of Auckland

Dated

18th February 2005

Number

2005-002

Programme

Flipside

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Flipside – item reporting on Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian refugee, having his birthday in a New Zealand prison – allegedly unbalanced

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – balance provided during period of current interest – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.

 


Broadcast

[1] An item on Flipside on TV2 at 5pm on 7 December 2004 reported on Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian refugee, who was having his birthday in a New Zealand prison. Flipside was a news and current interest programme delivered in a style that appealed to a youth audience.

[2] The item comprised video showing Mr Zaoui’s supporters holding a “birthday party” outside the prison, comments from his supporters and a studio interview with his lawyer.

Complaint

[3] Alwyn Hunt complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was “a one-sided whitewash of Mr Zaoui and a plea for his release”. Mr Hunt alleged that the programme’s producer was “promoting her own beliefs”.

Standards

[4] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] In its response to Mr Hunt, TVNZ noted that the story of Ahmed Zaoui was a “long-running one, and one that seems likely to continue for some time yet”. Furthermore, it stated that balance on long-running issues is “necessarily achieved over a period of time, adding:

It is not possible to tell the whole story every time the issue is raised; indeed much of the story is not known in the early stages of a controversy – and in the Zaoui case it is obvious that, even now, there is much to come out.

[6] Referring to Standard 4 (balance), the broadcaster observed that balance can be achieved “within the period of current interest”. It contended that this period began with Mr Zaoui’s arrival in New Zealand and would not end “at least until his final status is determined”.

[7] TVNZ contended that Flipside had provided regular updates on this issue which “contributed to a fair and balanced coverage”; and recognised that both supporters of Mr Zaoui, and those opposed to him remaining in New Zealand, felt that their viewpoints had not been adequately represented. It said:

This always happens when issues of controversy are discussed. It was the [complaints] committee’s opinion that the extensive media coverage of the Zaoui case means that there can be few New Zealanders who by now are not fully familiar with both sides of the argument as it is presently understood.

[8] The broadcaster argued that the item had a limited focus, concentrating on a gathering of supporters outside the prison on Mr Zaoui’s birthday. While the complainant had implied that an “anti-Zaoui” voice should have been heard, it said, such a voice was unlikely to be found at a celebration party of his supporters. TVNZ asserted that the camera team would have had to go elsewhere and “artificially generate an ‘anti-Zaoui’ argument built around the birthday celebrations, when in fact none existed”.

[9] TVNZ referred to the interview with Mr Zaoui’s lawyer as “largely a human interest interview”. Rather than concentrating on the “complexities of the case”, it said, the lawyer spoke more about her impressions of the man whose birthday was being marked.

[10] The broadcaster found that Standard 4 (balance) had not been breached on this occasion. It argued that the item was “just another episode in a long running issue of controversy”, stating that Flipside and TVNZ’s other news programmes had achieved balance within the period of current interest.

Referral to the Authority

[11] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Hunt referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that the programme lacked balance, and was “emotive and underhand”. Mr Hunt said:

I cannot accept that Flipside was unable to find anyone to give balance to this programme by stating the view held by a large number of New Zealanders that Mr Zaoui is not welcome in our country and is possibly a security risk.

[12] The complainant was particularly concerned that Flipside was a programme aimed at a youth audience, as he felt that balance was “vital when dealing with a young and impressionable audience”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[13] TVNZ added nothing further to its original reply to the complainant.

Authority's Determination

[14] The members of the Authority have viewed 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.

[15] Standard 4 (balance) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes. TVNZ described Flipside as “a miscellany of news, current affairs and items of general interest aimed at young people”. Given the format of the series, the Authority considers that it was a news or current affairs programme within the scope of Standard 4.

[16] The standard also requires that balance be provided when “controversial issues of public importance” are discussed. In this case, the item focussed on the continued incarceration of Ahmed Zaoui in a New Zealand prison. The Authority finds that this was a controversial issue of public importance to which the standard applies.

[17] The Authority is of the view that the item was essentially one-sided, because it only presented the views of Mr Zaoui’s supporters and his lawyer. However, it also notes that this issue has received extensive media coverage over a lengthy period of time, and that it continues to receive attention. The Authority considers that the “period of current interest” for this issue is ongoing.

[18] Given that Standard 4 allows for balance to be achieved “either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest”, the Authority observes that the broadcaster has frequently reported on the incarceration of Mr Zaoui in other news and current affairs programmes.

[19] The Authority accepts the broadcaster's assertion that it has achieved balanced coverage of the matter across all of its programmes within the period of current interest. In any event, because the period of current interest is ongoing, the broadcaster still has the opportunity to present significant points of view in other programmes.

Accordingly the Authority finds that Standard 4 was not breached on this occasion.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
18 February 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Alwyn Hunt’s formal complaint – 7 December 2004
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 5 January 2005
  3. Mr Hunt’s referral to the Authority – 6 January 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 13 January 2005