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Easton and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2009-082

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa

Complainant

  • Benjamin Easton of Wellington

Dated

17th September 2009

Number

2009-082

Programme

Nine to Noon

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand National

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Nine to Noon – host spoke to a number of women about their experiences with dowry abuse in New Zealand – allegedly in breach of controversial issues, accuracy and discrimination and denigration standards

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – programme did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – highlighted problem of dowry abuse and presented experiences of a few women – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – complainant did not identify any inaccurate statements – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – complainant did not identify any group or section of the community – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   During Nine to Noon, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National between 9am and 12pm on 28 May 2009, the host introduced the following item:

Our next guests join us to explain the growing concern among those providing refuge services to Asian, African, Middle Eastern women living in New Zealand. It is dowry abuse and our guests are calling for the dowry system to be outlawed in this country as it is in India. The Shakti women’s shelter has found the number of Indian women calling its crisis line over dowry abuse has nearly doubled in the past year, and that one in every three or four cases it’s dealing with relates to dowry abuse or to forced marriage. Shortly we’ll hear from one woman about her own experience, but first I’m joined by the founder of the Shakti Community Council which runs the refuges...

[2]   The host then discussed with the founder what dowry abuse can involve, and spoke to another woman about her personal experience with dowry abuse.

Complaint

[3]   Benjamin Easton made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached standards relating to the discussion of controversial issues, accuracy and discrimination and denigration.

[4]   Mr Easton argued that the broadcast was unbalanced, because it discussed a matter of Indian culture in New Zealand, without presenting a countering response. He cited a previous decision by the Authority which he considered set a precedent requiring broadcasts to be balanced rather than protective of one view.

[5]   The complainant considered that “men and fathers (in particular)... would find the implication that all of the points raised in the interview were accurate, to be offensive”.

[6]   Mr Easton said he had also sent his complaint to the Race Relations Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, with reference to racial disharmony.

Standards

[7]   RNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. 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.

Standard 5 Accuracy

Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming

is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or

does not mislead.

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8]   Looking at Standard 4 (controversial issues), RNZ considered that, while the topic discussed in the programme “is of interest to [RNZ’s] audience there is nothing to suggest that the topic has reached the elevated level of one of public controversy”. It maintained that Standard 4 envisages that a particular aspect of a topic would be explored in depth across other programmes and other media. It declined to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

[9]   With regard to Standard 5, RNZ noted that Mr Easton had not specified which parts of the programme he considered to be inaccurate. It considered that, “from time to time matters that are canvassed or facts and points of view that are broadcast may offend our audience but that in itself should not prevent the broadcast. Some facts by their nature are offensive but that does not make them inaccurate”. RNZ declined to uphold the accuracy complaint.

[10]   Because Mr Easton sent the complaint to the Race Relations Commissioner, RNZ also assessed it under Standard 7. It noted that Mr Easton had not stated who he thought had been discriminated against. RNZ maintained that the broadcast had not discriminated against the Indian community, as it “did nothing to lessen their standing in our society”. The broadcaster considered that the programme “highlighted the plight of certain individuals in the community but was not denigratory of the community as a whole”. RNZ said that, if Mr Easton was implying that the programme discriminated against men, it rejected this assertion as the programme merely highlighted women’s experience with the dowry system and explained the scope of the dowry system in New Zealand. It declined to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[11]   Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr Easton referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[12]   Mr Easton disagreed that the programme did not discuss a matter of controversy. He said there were some who would argue that alleged “victims” of the dowry system were not necessarily always victims, and there were other cases where the system was being used improperly by women with ulterior motives. Other people who could highlight that controversy should have been allowed to present their views, he said.

[13]   The complainant considered that his complaint should also have been addressed under Standard 6 as “part of a community/culture [was] not being treated ‘fairly’ where the absence of that point of view allowed the audience to take the matter as verbatim and uncontested”.

[14]   Mr Easton invited RNZ to provide examples of the other programmes it alluded to as providing balance over a period of time.

[15]   Referring to the broadcaster’s decision under the accuracy standard, the complainant argued that RNZ “maintains and protects a patronising ‘culture’ of gender discrimination”. Mr Easton emphasised that he did not want the broadcast prevented, but wanted RNZ to present another point of view. This request had not been considered in RNZ’s decision, he said.

[16]   Mr Easton maintained that “the broadcast alienated Indian culture in New Zealand claiming alone a victim status of women relative to Dowry Law implicating without issuing or researching a balance in reply that the law itself was denigrating to women”. He considered that RNZ had ignored the Authority’s previous decision referred to in the original complaint.

Authority's Determination

[17]   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.

Preliminary Matter

[18]   The Authority notes that, in his referral to the Authority, Mr Easton raised Standard 6 (fairness). The Authority’s task is to review the broadcaster’s decision. Due to the fact that the complainant did not raise the fairness standard in his original complaint to RNZ, either explicitly or implicitly, the Authority does not have jurisdiction to consider this part of the complaint. However, even if Mr Easton had raised Standard 6 in his original complaint, because he did not identify an individual or organisation he considered had been treated unfairly, the Authority would have had no basis upon which to uphold the fairness complaint.

Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints)

[19]   Standard 4 requires broadcasters to make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in a programme.

[20]   In the Authority's view, the programme did not discuss a controversial issue of importance. It consisted of interviews with two women who highlighted concerns with the incidence of dowry abuse in New Zealand, and who called for the dowry system to be outlawed here as in India.  One of the women noted an increase in the number of Indian women calling her refuge's crisis line because of dowry abuse, and the other related her personal experience of dowry abuse. 

[21]   The Authority has previously found that Standard 4 does not apply to programmes focusing on individual stories (see Egg Producers Federation and TVWorks1). Further, it considers that the issue of dowry abuse is not controversial, because it is not a topic currently under debate on which there are opposing views. In this respect, the Authority considers that an alternative view on the stories was not required.

[22]   The Authority therefore concludes that the programme did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance as envisaged by Standard 4, and that the standard does not apply in the circumstances. It declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[23]   Standard 5 requires that news, current affairs and other factual programmes are truthful and accurate on points of fact, and impartial and objective at all times. The Authority notes that, in his complaint, Mr Easton did not identify any statements in the programme which he considered to be inaccurate, only saying that some men would be offended by the implication that the programme was accurate. In these circumstances, the Authority has no basis upon which to uphold the complaint that the programme was inaccurate in breach of Standard 5.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[24]   The Authority notes that RNZ addressed this standard even though Mr Easton did not raise it in his original complaint. Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community. Because Mr Easton did not identify a particular group or section of the community in his complaint, the Authority has no basis upon which to uphold this part of the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
17 September 2009

Appendix

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

1.            Benjamin Easton’s formal complaint – 18 June 2009

2.            Radio New Zealand’s response to the complaint – 9 July 2009

3.            Mr Easton’s referral to the Authority – 13 July 2009

4.            Radio New Zealand’s response to the Authority – 3 August 2009


1Decision No. 2009-053