Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Morning Report – interview with Larry Baldock about the citizens-initiated referendum on smacking – host asked the interviewee a question nine times challenging him to give an answer – host interrupted interviewee on several occasions – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, controversial issues, accuracy, fairness and discrimination and denigration standards
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – host played the role of devil’s advocate – significant points of view presented – not upheld
Standard 5 (accuracy) – item did not mislead – not upheld
Standard 6 (fairness) – interviewee was robustly challenged and given an adequate opportunity to express his views – not upheld
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – standard not applicable – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An episode of Morning Report, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National at 6.45am on 17 June 2009, contained a pre-recorded interview with Larry Baldock, the organiser of a petition that triggered a citizens-initiated referendum on the issue of smacking children.
 The host questioned Mr Baldock on a number of issues including whether the result of the referendum was going to make politicians take action to change the law, whether the referendum was worthwhile considering its cost, whether the referendum’s question was confusing, and whether it would achieve any meaningful result.
 Mr Baldock provided his opinion that most New Zealanders did not want a change in the previous law, which provided a defence of reasonable force for the purposes of correction, and that the new amended legislation did not deal with the real causes of child abuse. Mr Baldock argued that the referendum’s question was not confusing and that people would understand what was being asked.
 During the course of the interview, Mr Baldock stated, “It is absolutely clear...that if a parent uses any reasonable force right now to correct their child, they are breaking the law”. The host responded by asking, “Could you give me a single example of that having been, that having happened?”
 Mr Baldock said that there were examples and that he was going to make them available for people to look at. The host persisted and again asked Mr Baldock, “Could you give me a single example of that having happened please?”
 Mr Baldock stated that a grandfather had spent a weekend in a jail cell after tipping his grandson out of a chair after the child refused to get off. The host responded by saying, “Was he convicted and was that a smack Mr Baldock?” Mr Baldock replied, “No, it was tipping him out of a chair”, to which the host replied, “So what’s it got to do with the referendum?”
 After further discussion, the host again asked, “Okay, can you point to anyone who has been criminalised for smacking their child?” Mr Baldock replied “Yes, we can”, to which the host again asked, “Please could you give me an example?” As Mr Baldock began to explain that he had a list, the host interrupted saying, “Could you give me a single example off the top of your head Mr Baldock?” Mr Baldock said that he could not.
 As the interview continued, the subject of parents being criminalised for smacking came up again and the host again asked Mr Baldock, “Can you give me an example – I come back – can you give me an example of a parent who’s been criminalised for smacking their child please?” Mr Baldock replied that he could and the host said, “Okay, go ahead”. As Mr Baldock stated that he could not provide accurate details over the phone, the host interrupted saying, “Just one name would do”.
 The interview ended with the host asking Mr Baldock, “Would you, if this fails, look for another question to put and go for another referendum?” Mr Baldock replied, “Well, I think the next best referendum will be the elections in 2011”.
 Malcolm Rickard made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the host had breached broadcasting standards.
 With respect to good taste and decency, the complainant argued that the host had been “aggressive, loud and rude” to Mr Baldock.
 Dealing with Standard 4 (controversial issues), Mr Rickard contended that the host made “no reasonable effort” to “hear” Mr Baldock’s point of view and only sought to “ridicule” and hector him.
 In terms of accuracy, the complainant considered that the host had “sought only to mislead” by constantly omitting any reference to the fact that the law, as it stood, was the issue and not whether people had been prosecuted.
 Mr Rickard argued that the host had treated Mr Baldock unfairly because he was loud, shouted at the interviewee and had a threatening attitude.
 The complainant also contended that the host had denigrated Mr Baldock on the basis of his political beliefs.
 RNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:
Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.
Standard 4 Controversial Issues - Viewpoints
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.
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 6 Fairness
Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
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.
 With respect to good taste and decency, RNZ stated that the standard “generally refers to the language or theme of a programme neither of which in this particular instance is relevant”. It declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.
 Turning to Standard 4 (controversial issues), the broadcaster accepted that the referendum had generated a large amount of public controversy. However, it argued that the period of public interest had not yet concluded and that it could not reach a decision on this aspect of the complaint. In any event, it said, the range of coverage in its reports indicated that “balance” had been achieved at the time of the complaint.
 Dealing with accuracy, RNZ contended that the fact that the interviewee was asked to identify an instance of prosecution for smacking under the new legislation was not in itself inaccurate. It argued that it was up to the interviewee to clarify matters if he thought there was an ambiguity in the question. It declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 5 had been breached.
 With respect to fairness, the broadcaster argued that the interviewee had chosen not to address the specific question that was repeatedly put to him by the host. It considered that Mr Baldock had been given an adequate opportunity to provide his point of view, even though the host had interrupted him at times. It noted that Mr Baldock was a former politician and contended he was able to present himself well in a live media situation. RNZ declined to uphold the fairness complaint.
 RNZ argued that the host had not denigrated the interviewee, but through persistent questioning had tried to establish exactly what Mr Baldock’s belief was. It considered that Standard 7 was aimed at ensuring that particular groups in society were not discriminated against, as opposed to protecting the right to freedom of speech of a group’s spokesperson. It declined to uphold the complaint.
 Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr Rickard referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 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.
 Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. In the Authority’s view, the host was entitled to robustly challenge Mr Baldock and his views on the referendum. It also finds that the host provided the interviewee with an adequate opportunity to express his point of view and that Mr Baldock’s points came across clearly to listeners. For example, Mr Baldock was able to convey his belief that the change in legislation did not deal with the underlying causes of child abuse and that parents felt criminalised for disciplining their children.
 With respect to the host repeatedly asking Mr Baldock if he could provide an example of a person having being prosecuted for smacking their child, the Authority considers that the question was a legitimate one to which the audience would have wanted an answer.
 The Authority notes that the host did not try to talk over Mr Baldock when he was discussing his views and that the host interrupted him rarely. It considers that, while the host’s adversarial interviewing style may not suit everyone’s taste, it did not breach the fairness standard on this occasion. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 6.
 Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed 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 the Authority’s view, this item discussed the utility of the impending referendum, in light of its controversial wording and the fact that the Prime Minister had already said the law would not be changed irrespective of the outcome. It considers that this amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance to which Standard 4 applied.
 Having found that a controversial issue of public importance was discussed, the Authority must now determine whether the broadcaster made reasonable efforts or gave reasonable opportunities to present significant points of view on that issue. The Authority considers that the host played the role of the devil’s advocate, robustly challenging Mr Baldock’s assertions by putting alternative points of view to him. Further, the host allowed Mr Baldock to respond to his questions and provided the interviewee with an adequate opportunity to present his views such as those mentioned in paragraph  above.
 In these circumstances, the Authority finds that the broadcaster made reasonable efforts and provided a reasonable opportunity for significant points of view to be presented on the controversial issue subject to discussion. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 4.
 Standard 5 states that 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 does not mislead.
 The Authority notes that the complainant did not identify any statements in the programme which he considered were inaccurate, only stating that listeners would have been misled because the host omitted any reference to the fact that the law, as it stood, was the issue and not whether people had been prosecuted.
 The Authority notes that the issues surrounding the referendum had received substantial media coverage and it considers that listeners would have been well aware of the differing viewpoints. Further, Mr Baldock was given ample opportunity to state his position and address any matters that he might have considered needed clarification.
 Accordingly, the Authority finds that the item was not misleading or inaccurate, and it declines to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.
 The Authority has previously stated that the good taste and decency standard is intended primarily to address issues of sex, nudity, bad language and violence (see Lewes and TVNZ1). As the broadcast complained about did not contain any such content – or any other content which could be said to threaten standards of good taste and decency – the Authority finds that Standard 1 has no application. It declines to uphold the good taste and decency complaint.
 The requirements of Standard 7 only apply to “sections of the community”. Mr Rickard’s concerns related to the treatment of Mr Baldock as an individual and, as a result, the denigration and discrimination standard does not apply.
 For the record, however, the Authority considers that even if Mr Baldock represented a section of the community with the same political beliefs, nothing in the interview could be said to have blackened their reputation2.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
17 September 2009
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. M A Rickard’s formal complaint – 17 June 2009
2. RNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 9 July 2009
3. Mr Rickard’s referral to the Authority – 11 July 2009
4. RNZ’s response to the Authority – 3 August 2009
1Decision No. 2008-085
2This test has been outlined in previous decisions including Mace and TVWorks Ltd (2008-115).