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Easton and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2008-029

Members

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

Complainant

  • Benjamin Easton of Wellington

Dated

4th June 2008

Number

2008-029

Programme

Nine to Noon

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand National

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


An appeal against this decision was dismissed in the High Court:
CIV 2008-485-1465  PDF
165.64 KB


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Nine to Noon – interview with legal commentator about the Ministry of Justice’s review of the Domestic Violence Act 1995 – referred to women when talking about the victims and men when discussing the abusers – allegedly unbalanced

Findings
Principle 4 (balance) – not necessary to expressly acknowledge that men could be the victims of domestic violence – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item broadcast during Nine to Noon on Radio New Zealand National on 27 February 2008 featured an interview with a legal commentator, Catriona McLennan. Ms McLennan discussed a review, published by the Ministry of Justice, of implementation aspects of New Zealand’s Domestic Violence Act 1995.

[2]   During the interview, Ms McLennan used terms such as “the respondent”, “the abuser”, “an alleged abuser”, “victims”, and “the person”. When discussing the implementation and effectiveness of protection orders, and the situations of victims of domestic violence, she sometimes referred to “the woman”, “the woman and children”, and “women”. For example:

...the woman would have an instant order, she and the children can stay at home rather
   than having to go to a refuge...
           
...the woman might end up dead...

...if a woman obtains a protection order...

...the woman has no protection at all...

[3]   Ms McLennan then referred to “he” and “men” when discussing the alleged abusers seeking help:

...stopping violence services can provide more programmes to men... perhaps the man’s been charged... that’s the time when he’s the most motivated to change... but if he goes seeking out the stopping violence programmes himself he’ll have to pay for it... so often he’s going to fall by the wayside...

Complaint

[4]   Benjamin Easton wrote to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster with regard to the interview, inquiring:

...whether or not you feel in balanced journalism that Catriona McLennan should have been entitled to continually, directly discriminate against men through her assumption men commit all notable domestic violence in New Zealand?

Principles

[5]   RNZ assessed the complaint under Principle 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It provides:

Principle 4 Balance
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain 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

[6]   RNZ maintained that gender-neutral language was used in many of the examples cited by Ms McLennan and responded to by the host, including “victim”, “alleged offenders”, “the person”, “the alleged abuser”, “the respondent”, “the abuser”, and “bail applicant”. With regard to the references to women, it said:

There were also references to women in women’s refuges and judges needing to satisfy themselves as to a woman’s safety. However, all these references were in context of the implementation of the legislation.

[7]   The broadcaster argued that the programme did not address the objectives of the legislation. It said that, even if a procedural review of the legislation was controversial, discussing one particular aspect of that legislation did not constitute a breach of the balance standard. RNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

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

[9]   The complainant argued that RNZ had overlooked “the proper answer”, which was that women are as able to commit domestic violence as men. Mr Easton maintained that the item, by exclusively discussing the protection of women, portrayed men as the only perpetrators of the violence. He argued that the interview imparted the sentiment that this was an accepted and reasonable fact.

[10]   The complainant disagreed with RNZ that the majority of the language was gender-neutral. He said that it had not considered how many times in the overall interview men were portrayed as the violent offenders, and women as the victims.

Authority's Determination

[11]   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.

[12]   Principle 4 requires broadcasters to provide balance when discussing controversial issues of public importance. The item complained about discussed the release of a report by the Ministry of Justice, which contained recommendations to improve the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act 1995. The programme offered the opinions of one lawyer, Ms McLennan, regarding some of the more noteworthy recommendations in the report.

[13]   The Authority finds that this broadcast did not constitute a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance to which the balance standard applies. The programme did not purport to be a general discussion about domestic violence and who was responsible; it simply gave information about the Ministry’s review and offered the opinions of one lawyer based on her own experiences.

[14]   Even if the balance standard did apply, Mr Easton’s complaint is that the programme portrayed men as the only perpetrators of domestic violence, and women as the victims. In the Authority’s view, it was not necessary for either the interviewer or Ms McLennan to expressly acknowledge that men could also be victims of domestic violence.

[15]   The Authority also notes that the language used by Ms McLennan made it clear that her references to women were generally in the context of her recalling her own experiences in relation to practical difficulties with the implementation of protection orders, and expressing her personal opinion as to how the recommendations in the report might remedy those difficulties. For example:

“...that’s just something that I’ve often dealt with... you get the order and you just can’t serve the respondent and the whole process has just been a complete waste of time and the woman has no protection at all...”

“I mean, I for instance was amazed when I discovered a few years ago that one judge... the woman’s affidavit said that she and the children were in a refuge, he automatically did not grant an immediate order because his view was that if they were in a refuge they were safe... whereas I thought...”

“...that’s another difficult issue because what you quite often get is a woman come into your office... and you can have this fairly strong suspicion that she’s under pressure from the abuser... and they’ll be wanting to come into your office when you’re talking to the woman...”

“...the woman would have an instant order, she and the children can stay at home rather than having to go to a refuge...”

[16]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4.



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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 June 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Benjamin Easton’s formal complaint – undated
2.           RNZ’s response to the complaint – 26 March 2008
3.           Mr Easton’s referral to the Authority – 26 March 2008
4.           RNZ’s response to the Authority – 31 March 2008