Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Agenda – discussion of recent campaign issues which had arisen in regard to forthcoming general election – commentators were a former president of the National Party, a former president of the Labour Party and a political science lecturer – allegedly partisan and unbalanced
Standard 4 (balance) – most of complaint based on personal preferences – role of minor parties raised issue of broadcasting standards – range of views advanced – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 Agenda broadcast on TV One at 8.30am on 10 September 2005 included a panel discussion about campaign issues relating to the general election then due on 17 September. Specific aspects were covered in different segments of the programme. Commentators in the studio, Michelle Boag, a former National Party president, and Bob Harvey, a former Labour Party president, spoke about the campaign generally and the issues raised in each segment. Comments were also provided by Jon Johansson, a political science lecturer at Victoria University in Wellington.
 Simon Boyce complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was not balanced. The two commentators in the studio, he wrote, made partisan comments and the third commentator, while more objective, was preoccupied with Māori and race issues.
 Questioning aspects of the programme’s production process and the competence of the studio commentators, Mr Boyce argued that the minor parties should have been represented. He maintained that the role of the minor parties was not adequately addressed and, furthermore, that the distribution process of the Exclusive Brethren pamphlets was insufficiently explored.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under the standard nominated by the complainant. 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.
 TVNZ initially considered whether the complaint raised any matters of broadcasting standards. The selection of commentators, it noted, was a matter of editorial discretion and a complaint solely about the persons selected appeared to be a matter of viewer preference rather than standards.
 Nevertheless, TVNZ accepted that the complainant argued that the programme was unbalanced as the participants in a studio discussion were not objective.
 TVNZ rejected the complaint. It said that the two studio guests advancing partisan views were on different sides of the political spectrum, and an academic viewpoint was presented by the lecturer in political science. TVNZ concluded:
The [complaints] committee’s inclination was to rule that your complaint was not valid because it was an expression of an individual preference, rather than evidence of any breach of programme standards. In any case it concluded that Standard 4 was not infringed.
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Boyce referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 Mr Boyce said he would leave to the Authority the issue of whether the selection of studio guests was a standards matter or an issue of editorial discretion. He believed that many complaints involved personal preference, but that did not mean that broadcasting standards were irrelevant.
 Mr Boyce stated that he was not complaining about the fact that each commentator held a particular partisan or philosophical view. Rather, the views advanced by the two commentators were confined to the parties of which each had been president. The views of the minor parties, he wrote, were excluded.
 Expressing his opinion about the similarity of the political parties represented in the programme, Mr Boyce said that it meant that many views from the political spectrum were not advanced during the programme.
 TVNZ said that partisan political panellists were acceptable within the standards, provided that the make-up of the panel provided balance. That had been achieved in the present case, it concluded.
 Mr Boyce dealt with two issues in his final comment. First, he noted that the minor parties had played a significant role in the formation of the new government, but their role had been “brushed over” in the programme. Second, he considered Ms Boag’s comments during the programme about the Exclusive Brethren pamphlets were inadequate as she did not address their legality.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 The Authority agrees with TVNZ that most of the concerns raised by Mr Boyce are not issues of broadcasting standards. As TVNZ explained, the selection of commentators is a matter of editorial discretion. Moreover, the Authority considers that no issue of balance arises in respect of the brief comments about the pamphlets prepared by the Exclusive Brethren. It observes that the breadth of issues and depth in which they are discussed are also matters of editorial discretion.
 In the Authority’s opinion the sole aspect which it is required to determine is the complaint that the programme was unbalanced as it did not adequately address the role of the minor parties.
 The Authority observes that the parts of the programme complained about comprised three commentators offering their personal opinions on a range of topical matters arising from the election campaign. The discussion was wide-ranging, superficial and light-hearted, and did not purport to be a detailed, or particularly serious, examination of any particular issue, including the role of the minor parties. As it did not focus on a controversial issue, as contemplated under the balance standard, and was clearly part of a range of commentaries presented during the election campaign, the Authority finds that no issue of balance arose.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
22 December 2005
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: