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Leonard and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-098

Members

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

Complainant

  • Bill Leonard of Grey Lynn

Dated

25th November 2008

Number

2008-098

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item about US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to New Zealand – allegedly unbalanced and unfair

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 26 July 2008, reported on US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice’s visit to New Zealand. The reporter stated that relations between New Zealand and America were “warming”, and that Dr Rice had “[described] the two countries as allies for the first time in 20 years”. Footage was shown of press conferences held with Dr Rice, Winston Peters (the then Minister of Foreign Affairs) and Helen Clark (the then Prime Minister), in which they made positive comments about the countries’ relationship.

Complaint

[2]   Bill Leonard made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that it had breached broadcasting standards. He argued that, “despite any commitment it may have as a quasi-public entity to provide fair and balanced reporting”, TVNZ had failed to report on demonstrations against Condoleezza Rice’s visit that had taken place the same afternoon and involved up to 100 protestors.

Standards

[3]   Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to the determination of this complaint. It provides:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining 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.

Guideline 4a         

Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4]   TVNZ maintained that the item was balanced. The main thrust of the item was to report on the substance of Dr Rice’s visit to New Zealand, it said, and appropriate views were canvassed in that regard, including comment from Winston Peters and Helen Clark.

[5]   TVNZ said it was alerted to numerous demonstrations every year from a variety of sources and for a wide variety of causes, and that the decision whether to report on a particular demonstration was “a balancing act of editorial judgement for each story, analysis of how newsworthy a demonstration may be and what resources are available on the day”. On the day of the broadcast, storms had been described as the worst in ten years and were having a dramatic impact on the lives of many New Zealanders, it said. Further, the scandal surrounding Mr Peters and his political funding was topical, and was referred to in the item.

[6]   The broadcaster argued that the demonstration mentioned by Mr Leonard contained “no special ‘angle’ for the TVNZ One News team”. The decision not to cover it, TVNZ said, was “simply one of a news judgement – the demonstration was not considered newsworthy enough to warrant the resources of a camera crew and journalist to attend or the subsequent air time”. TVNZ concluded that Standard 4 had not been breached and declined to uphold Mr Leonard’s balance complaint.

[7]   TVNZ also considered Mr Leonard’s complaint under Standard 6 (fairness). It reiterated that the decision not to cover the demonstration was editorial. TVNZ considered that all individuals and parties referred to in the item were treated justly and fairly, and found that Standard 6 was not breached.

Referral to the Authority

[8]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Leonard referred his balance complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He noted that students from the University of Auckland had announced a cash reward for a citizen’s arrest of Dr Rice as a war criminal for her role in the Bush Administration’s illegal actions in the Middle East. Despite this and the size of the demonstration, he said, One News chose not to mention any opposition to Dr Rice’s visit.

[9]   Mr Leonard disagreed with TVNZ that the demonstration could be considered a separate event from Dr Rice’s visit. The demonstration could not stand alone, he said; the visit was the catalyst for the demonstration. Therefore, the complainant considered that TVNZ had deliberately breached Standard 4 by failing to report the opposition to Dr Rice’s visit.

Authority's Determination

[10]   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 (balance)

[11]   Standard 4 requires broadcasters to provide balance when discussing controversial issues of public importance. In the Authority’s view, the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The story reported on Dr Rice’s visit to New Zealand, which of itself was not controversial.

[12]   The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that this focus was an editorial decision, and that it was not necessary, in the interests of balance, to include mention in the item of the demonstration against Dr Rice’s visit. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the balance complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
25 November 2008

Appendix

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

1.           Bill Leonard’s formal complaint – 31 July 2008
2.          Letter from TVNZ to Mr Leonard regarding standards nominated – 11 August 2008
3.          Mr Leonard’s response to TVNZ – 13 August 2008
4.          Letter from TVNZ to Mr Leonard – 14 August 2008
5.          TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 28 August 2008
6.          Mr Leonard’s referral to the Authority – 7 September 2008
7.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 6 October 2008