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Gibson and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2008-132

Members

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

Complainant

  • Michael Gibson of Wellington

Dated

3rd March 2009

Number

2008-132

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand National

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Radio New Zealand National News – news item broadcast on the night before the General Election reported on upcoming election prediction made by leader of the Labour Party that Labour could still win the election – allegedly in breach of controversial issues - viewpoints and fairness

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – item discussed a controversial issue of public importance – the policies of other political parties were canvassed earlier the same day – appropriate that Prime Minister had the final say – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – item unbiased – not upheld

 This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] A news item, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National at 11pm on Friday 7 November 2008, reported on the upcoming election and a prediction made by the then leader of the Labour Party, Helen Clark, that Labour could still win the election despite the latest polls suggesting otherwise.

[2] The reporter introduced the item by saying:

As the hours count down until polling booths open tomorrow morning, Labour’s leader Helen Clark was predicting her party could still win. Labour has trailed National in the final round of polls ahead of the election, but Ms Clark says the feeling on the ground is tremendous and Labour will have thousands of workers getting its vote out tomorrow.

[3] A sound bite from Helen Clark was broadcast in which she said:

We're putting in a very big effort to turn out those who've enrolled in the past and haven't voted. But our main message is it can be done, and it will be done if people come out and give Labour their two ticks. It's not a time to jump into the unknown.

[4] The reporter concluded the item by stating:

Helen Clark says many voters don’t make up their minds until Election Day. Polls open tomorrow morning from nine o’clock and close at seven.

Complaint

[5] Michael Gibson made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging the item was "unfair and biased" and a "disgraceful manifestation" of the EPMU (Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union) membership of RNZ's staff.

[6] The complainant argued the broadcast was made "at the eleventh hour on the last day before the last General Election and that [RNZ's] employees framed the material so that the political opponents of their trade union would be unable to respond before the black-out imposed by legislation on Election Day".

Standards

[7] RNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4 and 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

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 6 Fairness

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

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8] RNZ noted that the news item was broadcast during the 11pm news on the eve of the General Election and referred to a prediction from the Labour Party leader that her party "could still win", even though Labour trailed National in the final round of polls ahead of the Election.

[9] With respect to Standard 4, the broadcaster stated that in the last news bulletin before the legislated ban on reporting election issues on Election Day came into effect, audio of the Labour Party leader was used in a news item looking forward to the likely voter turnout the next day. Prior to that, during the period of current interest, RNZ had extensively covered the comments of other political party leaders and not just the Labour Party, it said. The broadcaster pointed out that, earlier in the same evening, political statements for all the major political parties were broadcast in an attempt to make sure voters were widely informed about the policies of the parties. It considered the requirements of Standard 4 had been met and declined to uphold the controversial issues and viewpoints aspect of the complaint.

[10] Turning to the complainant's allegation of bias and unfairness, RNZ stated "to focus singularly on the last news report of a multi-week campaign and allege bias is to disregard the extensive prior coverage already given to matters raised during the Election". The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6 (fairness).

Referral to the Authority

[11] Dissatisfied with RNZ's response, Mr Gibson referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He described as "nonsense" the broadcaster's contention that its overall Election coverage was fair and therefore the emphasis on the views of the Labour Prime Minister in the eleventh hour news broadcast was also fair.

Authority's Determination

[12] 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 4 (controversial issues - viewpoints)

[13] Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[14] The Authority finds that the item's report about whether the Labour Party could still win the general election after polls showed that it was trailing the National Party, amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance.

[15] Mr Gibson complained that the item was biased. The Authority disagrees. The item simply reported Ms Clark's statement that Labour intended to make every effort to win the upcoming election. It accepts that earlier the same day, RNZ broadcast statements from all the major political parties and that, during the period of current interest, the broadcaster extensively covered comments made by all the major political leaders. In the Authority’s view, it was appropriate for the then current Prime Minister, Helen Clark, to be given the final say.

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

Standard 6 (fairness)

[17] The fairness standard requires broadcasters to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in an item.

[18] The Authority notes that Mr Gibson did not specify in his complaint who he thought had been treated unfairly, but assumes that he was referring to all other political parties. As noted above, the Authority accepts that RNZ broadcast statements from all the major political parties earlier the same day and extensively covered comments made by all the major political leaders. As a result, the Authority finds that the item was not unfair, because the broadcaster had let all the political parties have their say.

[19] Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breach Standard 6.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
3 March 2009

Appendix

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

1.  Michael Gibson's formal complaint – 7 November 2008
2. RNZ's response to the formal complaint – 2 December 2008
3. Mr Gibson's referral to the Authority – 3 December 2008
4. RNZ's response to the Authority – 19 December 2008