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Brown and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2009-035

Members

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

Complainant

  • James Brown of Wellington

Dated

10th June 2009

Number

2009-035

Programme

Morning Report

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand National

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Morning Report – interview with South African Rugby Union President about the possibility of a rugby game between the New Zealand Māori team and the South African team – allegedly in breach of fairness

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – interviewee had sufficient opportunity to respond and clearly expressed his views – not unfair – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   During Morning Report, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National between 6am and 9am on 20 February 2009, the host spent approximately six minutes interviewing the President of the South African Rugby Union. They discussed the possibility of revising the Union’s rules against playing racially selected sports teams, to allow a rugby game between the New Zealand Māori team and the South African team. The interviewee expressed the following views on the subject:

...we need to look at the situation very carefully, and that is not to say that we will not allow a Māori team to play against our national team, but as you correctly say, we do have issues and a history of racial issues in South Africa and we just have to be very careful that we don’t exacerbate our situation.

...I’m very aware that New Zealand is not South Africa, and South Africa’s not New Zealand. The situation’s not identical, and we’re certainly aware of that fact as well.

I would prefer to talk about South Africa rather than New Zealand. ...I’m not going to criticise New Zealand rugby because we have great mutual respect...

... I think that from South Africa’s point of view we would certainly not like to see South African national teams which are the focus of media attention... as being racially exclusive teams because that may send out the wrong message in our context.

...In our instance we do our damnedest as South African rugby to have non-racial teams, and that is our goal as South African rugby, and we’re working very hard [at] doing that.

...I know that in South Africa a lot of people would love to see the Māori playing in South Africa because there’s a huge respect for the Māori, Māori culture and Māori tradition, so I think there’s nothing wrong with a Māori team playing South Africa...

[2]   The following exchange then took place at the conclusion of the interview:

Guest:     I just wonder what message gets sent out when a national team, that might
               come across as being racially exclusive, tours South Africa with its racial
               history, what message does that send out? If it means that South Africa may
               then start thinking about sending out a national black team or a national
               white team, you know it’s not helping South Africa’s cause towards wanting
               to be a non-racial team and a non-racial society.

Host:       I guess that’s the difference between colour and ethnicity – a difference which
               South Africa has had more problems with than New Zealand has.

Guest:    You know, I think you have your problems and we have ours.

Host:      Yeah, we didn’t have apartheid as far as I know. Thank you for joining us...

Guest:    Well, you might not have it legally but it certainly may exist in a non-legal way.
              But thanks very much for allowing me to sharethese views, I really appreciate it...

Complaint

[3]   James Brown made a complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about the interview. He considered the nature and format of the interview was confused, as the host appeared to be posing serious questions but then attempted to make jokes. He said “such comments were inappropriate for the interview, which touched on some serious and sensitive issues, and were also inappropriate for a programme that portrays itself as an ‘authoritative and comprehensive coverage of local and world events’”.

[4]   Mr Brown said the part of the interview that he found most offensive was the host’s comment at the end of the interview, in response to the interviewee’s point that South Africa and New Zealand had different histories and issues, that “South Africa had apartheid and New Zealand didn’t”. He considered this was a “mindless, aggressive and provocative comment”, and it was obvious that the interviewee had to contain himself. The complainant concluded that the host had failed to “engage in a meaningful interview, to draw out the issues at hand, to engage the interviewee effectively, and... to gauge the mood and cultural differences of his interviewee”.

Standards

[5]   Standard 6 and guideline 6d of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They provide:

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guideline 6d         
Broadcasters should acknowledge the right of individuals to express their own opinions.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   Looking at Standard 6, RNZ noted that the comment actually made by the host was, “yes, we didn’t have apartheid, as far as I know”, and that this followed on from a question by the host about the difference between issues of colour and ethnicity, to which the interviewee gave a “quite curt response”. It disagreed with Mr Brown that the comment was mindless, aggressive or provocative. Rather, “it was an observation and is a fact”. RNZ pointed out that the interviewee was then given an opportunity to respond further, and said it was perhaps unfortunate that he did not speak entirely clearly at that stage of the interview.

[7]   While the interview concluded in perhaps an “untidy” manner, the broadcaster said, it was not unfair to the interviewee who had been allowed to speak at length and was given the opportunity to comment on all the points raised by the host. Accordingly, RNZ concluded that no broadcasting standards had been breached. However, it acknowledged that the complainant had taken offence at the comment made at the end of the interview.

Referral to the Authority

[8]   Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr Brown referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that Standard 6 had been breached, and particularly guideline 6d.

[9]   Mr Brown considered RNZ’s decision was contradictory, in that it found the interview was concluded in an “untidy” manner, but disagreed that the host’s comment was mindless, aggressive and provocative. The way the interview ended was a direct result of the comment, he said. Mr Brown asserted that the argument that the host’s comment “was an observation and is a fact” was not a defence, and that the fairness and appropriateness of comments must be considered in the context in which they were made.

Authority's Determination

[10]   The members of the Authority have listened to 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.

[11]   Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. In his referral, Mr Brown argued that guideline 6d, which protects the right of people to express their own opinions in programmes, had been breached, particularly by the host’s comment at the end of the interview.

[12]   In the Authority’s view, the interviewee was not treated unfairly by RNZ. He had ample opportunity during the interview to speak and respond to the host’s questions and comments, and clearly expressed his views on the topic under discussion. With regard to the comment of particular concern to the complainant – that “we didn’t have apartheid as far as I know” – the Authority notes that the interviewee did respond. He commented, “Well, you might not have it legally but it certainly may exist in a non-legal way. But thanks for allowing me to share these views, I really appreciate it.” The Authority considers that any aggression on the host’s part was deflected by the interviewee’s remark, and the interviewee had the last word on the subject.

[13]   In these circumstances, where the interviewee was given sufficient opportunity to express his opinions and respond to the host, the Authority concludes that he was not treated unfairly. It declines to uphold the fairness complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
10 June 2009

Appendix

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

1.         James Brown’s complaint – 1 March 2009
2.         RNZ’s response to the complaint – 20 March 2009
3.         Mr Brown’s referral to the Authority – 30 March 2009
4.         RNZ’s response to the Authority – 27 April 2009