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Robinson and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2006-123

Members

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

Complainant

  • Brian Robinson of Hamilton

Dated

22nd February 2007

Number

2006-123

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sunday Mornings with Chris Laidlaw – programme discussing whether the services available to people who had been sexually abused were adequate, or whether a greater level of care could be provided – allegedly unbalanced

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

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]    The Ideas programme with Chris Laidlaw, broadcast on National Radio between 11am and midday on Sunday 10 September 2006, discussed whether the services available to people who had been sexually abused were adequate, or whether a greater level of care could be provided. The programme included interviews with Dr Charlotte Chapman, a psychiatrist who had worked with survivors of childhood sexual abuse, Lorraine Jans, a sexual abuse counsellor based in Taranaki, Dr Kim McGregor, the director of Rape Prevention Education, Alison Maloney, the manager of Sensitive Claims Unit at ACC, Pat Tuohy, the Chief Advisor of Child & Youth Health at the Ministry of Health, and John Read, Director of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychology at Auckland University.

[2]    Dr Chapman outlined the ongoing effects of abuse and the appropriate action mental health workers could take, and Lorraine Jans commented that the mental health services for children and young people needed to improve. Dr McGregor then discussed the key findings from her study into how much sexual abuse victims had gained from their therapy experiences.  She observed that a problem with receiving ACC-funded therapy was that, in order to lodge a claim and receive funding, women had to disclose their abuse more quickly than they were comfortable with.

[3]    The interviewer then spoke to Alison Maloney, who outlined the ACC-funded therapy process for sexual abuse victims. Pat Tuohy talked about where resources were being directed in the area of sexual abuse and whether there were any gaps in the system.

[4]    John Read discussed his research on the link between sexual abuse and psychosis such as schizophrenia and depression. He also commented on whether front-line mental health staff were trained adequately to recognise sexual abuse victims.

Complaint

[5]    Brian Robinson made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was unbalanced. He identified numerous individual statements in the item which he contended were unbalanced because they did not provide the alternative perspective that there was a real problem of people making false allegations of sexual abuse in New Zealand. He also argued that some of the assertions made by the speakers were not challenged by the interviewer.

[6]    Mr Robinson also disputed the statements made by John Read about the link between psychosis and sexual abuse.

Principles

[7]    Principle 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to the determination of this complaint:

Principle 4

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

[8]    RNZ noted the requirement in Principle 4 to provide balance where controversial issues of public importance were discussed. While the topic of identifying childhood abuse might be controversial, it said, it was difficult to see how the provision of public health services for those who have been subject to childhood sexual abuse was similarly controversial.

[9]    Even if such a topic could be considered controversial, RNZ contended that the period of current interest in the issue was still open. Therefore, it said, a finding as to the achievement of balance could not yet be made. The broadcaster maintained that a range of views were expressed in the programme, adding:

Some programme participants made comments about child abuse, which were contentious in the view of listeners such as yourself, however, those comments were not the main thrust of this programme. The main thrust of the programme was the adequacy of public health services provided for the treatment of victims of childhood abuse. Radio New Zealand observes that if it were to provide reasonable opportunities for points of view on every significant topic raised to be broadcast in the same programme, a programme may never get to air as producers would be required to obtain further comment on other comments made.

[10]    RNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[11]    Dissatisfied with RNZ’s decision, Mr Robinson referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He disagreed with RNZ’s assertion that the programme did not discuss a controversial issue. Mr Robinson wrote:

In summary, all participants either studiously ignored the problem of false allegations of sexual abuse, or actually, as Charlotte Chapman and John Read were guilty of, denigrated concerns about this particular problem.

While such a discussion of false allegations was not the topic of the broadcast, the question of balance immediately arose when the discussion evolved into a discussion of the diagnosis of sexual abuse based on allegations of abuse.

At the very least, one or more of the participants should have acknowledged the issue of false allegations which is a very real possibility at that point of “disclosure”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[12]    In its response to the Authority, RNZ maintained that the item did not discuss a controversial topic. Even if it did, RNZ said, it was legitimate to pursue the stated purpose of the programme without pursuing every aspect of every statement made by the interviewees.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[13]    Mr Robinson contended that the interviewees had made controversial statements in the item that should have been balanced.

Authority's Determination

[14]    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.

[15]    Standard 4 requires that balance be provided when controversial issues of public importance are discussed. On this occasion, the item focussed on the issue of whether New Zealand is providing adequate services for victims of sexual abuse.

[16]    The Authority notes that Mr Robinson’s main complaint was that none of the interviewees acknowledged “the issue of false allegations” of sexual abuse. However, the Authority notes that the discussion was clearly based on the assumption that the interviewees were speaking about genuine allegations of abuse.

[17]    While the Authority agrees that the issue addressed in the programme was of importance to the public, the way in which the topic was approached by the participants did not amount to the discussion of a “controversial” issue. In the Authority’s view, an issue of controversy is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion, and there had not been any ongoing public debate about the issue of whether adequate services were being provided. In these circumstances, the Authority concludes that the requirement for balance did not apply to the broadcast.

[18]    For the record, the Authority notes that Mr Robinson’s concerns about the validity of the statistics and research presented in the programme would have been more appropriately addressed under Standard 5 (accuracy). As Mr Robinson has only raised Standard 4 in his complaint, the Authority declines to uphold these matters.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
22 February 2007

Appendix

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

1             Brian Robinson’s formal complaint – 4 October 2006
2            RNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 24 October 2006
3            Mr Robinson’s referral to the Authority – 17 November 2006
4            RNZ’s response to the Authority – 19 December 2006
5            Mr Robinson’s final comment – 19 January 2007