Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sunrise – segment looked at an upcoming documentary called “How to Spot a Cult” – included an interview with an expert on religion and cults, Dr Dennis Green – comments made about Destiny Church and other religious groups – allegedly in breach of controversial issues and fairness standards
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – item did not involve a “discussion” of a controversial issue of public importance as envisaged by the standard – not upheld
Standard 6 (fairness) – people and organisations referred to in the item were treated fairly – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 A segment on Sunrise, broadcast on TV3 at 8.56am on Wednesday 25 November 2009, previewed an upcoming Inside New Zealand documentary called “How to Spot a Cult”. The segment included an interview with an expert on religion and cults, Dr Dennis Green, who also provided expert opinion in the documentary.
 The presenters introduced the item by saying:
Presenter 1: Cult-like groups are on the rise in New Zealand. Now a two-part Inside New Zealand: How to Spot a Cult documentary uncovers what really goes on in these often, more often than not, controversial groups.
Presenter 2: Always, virtually. The two-part documentary consists of ex- believers’ stories and investigates the similarities they say exist between groups including the Exclusive Brethren, Scientology, Centrepoint, Gloriavale and the International Church of Christ.
Presenter 1: The documentary includes abused survivors who have never spoken before and the first airs tonight here on 3 at 9.30pm, it’s going to be a must see.
 The first four minutes of the interview with Dr Green involved a general discussion about cults including why people joined and broke away from them, what they all had in common, and their prevalence in New Zealand. Dr Green stated that all cult leaders were “cut out of the same mould” and were “sociopaths”.
 During the interview, one of the presenters stated, “We’ve had a lot of controversy with Destiny Church just recently, where it seems like it’s going beyond a church towards more of a very stylistic leader”.
 Dr Green responded by saying:
But again, this is a classic example. I wouldn’t define Destiny as a cult yet. I would say however if they continue the way they’re going, and again, it all comes down to the leader. It all comes down to the top dog. Bishop Tamaki is claiming to be the tangible representative of God, or some kind of language like this, I mean what does that mean?
 Referring to Brian Tamaki and Destiny Church, Dr Green went on to say:
The type of people, yeah, and the goons, the goons, I mean this, why, why the goons? I mean Jim Jones as far as I’m aware was the only other religious leader who had this group of security guards that were there supposedly to protect the life of the leader, to protect the congregation from this outside persecution. What they were actually doing was creating fear, creating a growing sense of insular, isolation, fear of the outside world and the thing is that in the end those people who wouldn’t commit suicide, they were killed by these goons; the very people who were supposedly protecting them.
 Towards the end of the interview, Dr Green said, “We don’t seem to learn from our past though. I mean Destiny’s following a script written by Jonestown, written by the People’s Temple, are we not learning?” He concluded by saying that society could not stop people from joining cults and that “all we can do is inform people, try and get people to make the best educated decisions”.
 Yure Radojkovich made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached broadcasting standards relating to controversial issues, accuracy, fairness and discrimination and denigration.
 With respect to Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints), the complainant argued that “none of the extreme views of the scholar were challenged by the hosts of the programme, rather they supported these views entirely”.
 Mr Radojkovich considered that Dr Green’s statement that all cult leaders were “sociopaths” who were “cut from the same mould” was inaccurate. The complainant also argued that Dr Green’s remarks about Jim Jones being the only religious leader with “security guards” was inaccurate, because “he has obviously not seen the security around Jewish Synagogues even in this country”. The complainant believed that, because Dr Green was presented as an expert on religion and cults, his statements were factual and “should not be regarded as opinion”.
 Mr Radojkovich contended that “the item showed no fairness” and that “there was no effort” to present other views in the discussion. The complainant considered that the hosts should have challenged Dr Green’s statements, especially those made about Destiny Church.
 Standards 4 and 6 and 7 and guideline 4b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:
Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints
When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
The assessment of whether a reasonable range of views has been presented takes account of some or all of the following:
- the programme introduction;
- whether the programme approaches a topic from a particular perspective (e.g. authorial documentaries, public access and advocacy programmes;
- whether viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage.
Standard 6 Fairness
Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
 TVWorks stated that Sunrise was a “light magazine-style breakfast programme” and that each Wednesday it previewed the Inside New Zealand documentary which was going to be broadcast on TV3 that evening.
 With respect to Standard 4, TVWorks stated that Dr Green had been interviewed to inform and represent his involvement in an upcoming episode of Inside New Zealand, which looked at groups that exhibit or had exhibited cult-like qualities. It argued that, “This isn’t, of itself, the examination or consideration of a controversial issue of public importance”. As a result, it contended that there was no requirement to present a range of views about the content of the documentary in the segment and that the standard did not apply in the circumstances.
 The broadcaster argued that, even if the standard did apply, “information and opinions about other religious groups could reasonably be expected to be generally well known or found in other coverage”. It considered that viewers “could reasonably be expected to understand that the different religious groups would hold a different perspective or point of view on whether or not they could be regarded as being a cult or cult-like”. It noted that Destiny Church had “recently been the subject of much media coverage”, and that the organisation had been represented in other programmes such as Campbell Live and Close Up. It declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 4 had been breached.
 Dealing with fairness, the broadcaster reiterated that the segment was a regular feature that previewed documentaries, as opposed to a news piece that focused on a particular topic. It contended that “the comments were brief and confined to a general outline of what would be covered in the documentary”, rather than a detailed review of the content.
 In this context, the broadcaster considered that it was unnecessary to invite the religious groups mentioned to partake, as the documentary itself provided the detailed information and opportunities for these groups to participate. It declined to uphold the complaint that the segment breached Standard 6.
 TVWorks also declined to uphold the complaints under Standard 5 and 7.
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Radojkovich referred the controversial issues and fairness aspects of the complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 Standard 4 states that when discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
 In our view, the item focused on Dr Green’s personal views and opinions about cults. The purpose of the segment was to preview the upcoming documentary, in which Dr Green featured, as opposed to providing a balanced examination of the issues discussed in the documentary itself.
 The Authority has previously determined that programmes which focused on individual views, even though they may be connected to a wider issue, did not discuss controversial issues of public importance – for example, the views of one ECPAT representative about a report on child trafficking1. Because of the approach and focus of the item, the Authority considers it did not constitute a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance to which the Standard 4 applies.
 Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the segment breached Standard 4.
 Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.
 The complainant contended that the item was unfair and that the hosts should have challenged Dr Green’s statements, especially those made about Destiny Church.
 In our view, it would have been clear to viewers that Dr Green was providing a brief and dispassionate academic analysis on the various groups and people referred to. While Dr Green touched on various aspects of cult-related issues, he did not examine any particular group in-depth and merely provided his opinion, as an expert, on what characteristics and traits he believed cults, cult-like groups and their leaders had in common.
 With respect to his comments about Destiny Church, we note that the organisation and its leader, Brian Tamaki, are controversial and have received a substantial amount of media coverage over the years. We find that Dr Green was entitled to give his general views on Destiny Church, its leader, and where he thought the organisation was headed.
 We consider that, while the hosts showed some inexperience by simply agreeing with Dr Green rather than putting forward other views, when looked at in the context of a preview for a documentary that was going to examine the issues in-depth, we do not find that the segment was unfair to the groups and people referred to.
 Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 6.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
1 June 2010
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Yure Radojkovich’s formal complaint – 28 November 2009
2. TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 12 February 2010
3. Mr Radojkovich’s referral to the Authority – 12 March 2010
4. TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 19 April 2010
1Bennachie and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-094