Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Newstalk ZB – talkback – complainant expressed opposition to proposal for crematorium in Waikanae – host frequently interrupted with questions and criticisms – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, unbalanced, unfair, and denigrated the elderly
Principle 1 (good taste and decency) – not applicable – not upheld
Principle 4 (balance) – range of views advanced – not upheld
Principle 5 (fairness) – not unfair in robust talkback environment – not upheld
Principle 7 and guideline 7a (denigration) – not applicable – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 The proposal to build a crematorium in central Waikanae was an issue on the talkback session hosted by Justin du Fresne on Newstalk ZB on the morning of 4 December 2006. When he telephoned, Mr Imlach advanced his criticisms of the proposal and he was frequently questioned and interrupted by the host. The host terminated the call before Mr Imlach had fully expressed his concerns.
 Mr Imlach complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, about the host’s behaviour. He objected to what he described as the host’s flippant and biased approach to the serious matter being addressed, and said that the host had denigrated the residents of Waikanae by suggesting that they moved there to die. Mr Imlach said that he had been constantly interrupted by what he described as the host’s “inane” remarks which, he argued, had denied him the right to speak fully on the issue. The host, he added, had criticised Waikanae unjustly.
 Mr Imlach contended that the broadcast breached the standards relating to good taste and decency, balance, fairness and denigration.
 TRN considered that Principles 4 and 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice were the appropriate standards under which to assess the complaint. They provide:
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.
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.
 TRN explained that talkback was based on the exchange of opinions which were sometimes expressed robustly. It considered that the complainant had made his points strongly and that the host had the right to ask questions and to terminate the call when “he felt enough had been said”. As both parties had had their say, TRN wrote, the requirements for balance in Principle 4 had been met.
 As for fairness, TRN said callers to talkback had to accept that the host would disagree with some of the views advanced. It concluded that the fairness requirement (Principle 5) had not been breached.
 Dissatisfied with TRN’s response, Mr Imlach referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Mr Imlach enclosed a letter from another resident of Waikanae who had earlier called the same programme about the same issue. She said that the host had been very rude to Mr Imlach and, during the same call and without reason, had been highly critical of Waikanae and its residents.
 Mr Imlach repeated his complaint that he had not been allowed to make his points, while the host had made his.
 TRN contended that the complainant “in fact had a very fair hearing on-air”. A host, it added, was able to comment on an issue throughout a programme.
 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.
 The crematorium proposal in central Waikanae had been the subject of discussion on Newstalk ZB in Wellington on the morning of 4 December 2006. Mr Imlach called late in the morning to express his opposition. When asked by the host which aspects of the crematorium’s operation he objected to, he focused his concern on its location in the Waikanae shopping centre. The Authority notes that both the caller and the host put their contrasting views forward with some vigour.
 The Authority considers that Principle 5 (fairness) is the appropriate standard to apply to the complaint. The call did not contain any material which threatened Principle 1 (good taste and decency), or material which denigrated the elderly (Principle 7 and guideline 7a). Further, while the complainant refers to a lack of balance, he acknowledges that a range of views was put forward, and his concern focused on the way the host dealt with him when he expressed opposition to the crematorium proposal. For this reason the Authority is of the view that the fairness standard best addresses his concern. It does not uphold the complaints under the other standards.
 Turning to the fairness standard, the Authority accepts that Mr Imlach felt that he was treated rudely and was not given the chance to offer his point of view fully. Nevertheless, the Authority considers that the broadcaster complied with Principle 5.
 The host criticised Waikanae, and by implication its elderly residents, but he put his views in a way that was not unfair to the complainant or to other residents. Although the host was at times challenging and terse, Mr Imlach strongly expressed his views both when explaining his opposition to the crematorium proposal, and when objecting to the host’s manner.
 The Authority has stated on many occasions that talkback radio is a robust environment, and one in which hosts will sometimes behave dismissively or even rudely towards callers. Rudeness is not in itself, however, a breach of broadcasting standards; it is only where hosts cross the line and abuse a caller that their manner and language needs to be considered as a potential breach of Principle 5.
 In the present case, in light of the fact that the complainant was given a reasonable opportunity to speak, and was able to respond to the host on a number of occasions, the Authority concludes that he was not treated unfairly.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
23 March 2007
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Jim Imlach’s complaint to The Radio Network Ltd – 14 December 2006
2 TRN’s response to the complainant – 21 December 2006
3 Mr Imlach’s referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 14 January 2007
4 TRN’s response the Authority – 31 January 2007