Complaints under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Holmes – interview with Winston Peters MP about free dinner in restaurant partly owned by Peter Simunovich – meal occurred while Parliamentary Select Committee investigated Simunovich Fisheries – Mr Peters member of that committee – possibility of corruption suggested by others interviewed – allegedly unbalanced, impartial and unfair
Standard 4 (balance) and Guideline 4a – Mr Peters given ample opportunity to answer allegations – not upheld
Standard 5 (accuracy) – “free” fish dinner allegation acceptable basis for programme – not upheld
Standard 6 (fairness) and Guideline 6b – Mr Peters given ample notice of expected contribution – devil’s advocate approach acceptable in view of serious allegation – Mr Peters given ample time to respond – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An item on Holmes broadcast on TV One on 22 January 2004 between 7.00–7.30pm followed up a news item which stated that Winston Peters MP had received a free dinner in a restaurant partly owned by Peter Simunovich. The Holmes item noted that the dinner took place while Mr Peters was a member of a Parliamentary Select Committee investigating Simunovich Fisheries and had been described by a senior law lecturer (Bill Hodge) as involving possible corruption. The item included interviews with Mr Peters, Mr Hodge, the chair of the Select Committee (David Carter) and Mr Simunovich.
 Don Picken complained formally under the Broadcasting Act 1989 to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster. Contending that Mr Peters, unlike Mr Hodge, had been continually interrupted, Mr Picken complained that the broadcast contravened the standards relating to balance, impartiality and fairness. He posed nine questions which, in essence, asked whether the standards were maintained in each of the interviews with Mr Peters, Mr Carter, Mr Hodge and Mr Simunovich.
 John Marchioni also complained formally that the item was unbalanced in that it amounted to a campaign by one political party to destroy another. It was “grossly unfair”, he wrote.
 In a second letter of complaint, Mr Marchioni contended that Mr Peters was not shown respect, especially when he was asked about “everyday minor” events which had occurred some months earlier. The item, he argued, involved TVNZ and Mr Carter “versus” Mr Peters, and he could not understand why airtime had been given to “something trivial”.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 4 and Guideline 4a, Standard 5, and Standard 6 and Guideline 6b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which read:
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.
4a Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality
Standard 5 Accuracy
News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.
Standard 6 Fairness
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
6b Contributors and participants in any programme should be dealt with fairly and should, except as required in the public interest, be informed of the reason for their proposed contribution and participation and the role that is expected of them.
 The role of the media in matters of controversy was the first issue dealt with by TVNZ in its response to each complainant. Pointing out that a law lecturer had referred to the possibility of corruption in this instance, TVNZ argued that “one fundamental role” of news journalism was to hold accountable those who held elected office. The public’s right to know, TVNZ added, was specifically affirmed in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (freedom of expression).
 Turning to the complaints, TVNZ contended that Mr Peters had been allowed “generous” time to answer the questions and that “he had made the most of it”. His comments were challenged by the interviewer who adopted a “devil’s advocate” role, but his position would have been clearly understood by viewers.
 TVNZ also questioned how viewers would have responded if it had not followed up the news item.
 TVNZ said that two matters were of particular public interest on this occasion:
 As for the standards, TVNZ maintained that the item was balanced given the range of views advanced by the different interviewees. Moreover, and pointing out that Mr Peters had been approached two days before the interview took place, TVNZ said that he had been given ample time to prepare and had not been treated unfairly. Noting that Mr Marchioni had not identified any inaccuracies, TVNZ said it was not able to locate any aspects of the item which were not factually accurate.
 TVNZ declined to uphold the complaints.
 When he referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, Mr Picken considered that while TVNZ had provided some background information, it had not dealt with the core of his complaint which focused on the way the interview itself had been conducted.
 In his referral, Mr Marchioni agreed that it was the duty of the media to investigate matters of controversy. On this occasion, however, he believed that viewers had been manipulated by an issue involving political personalities and their relationships with the media.
 Expressing the view that TVNZ’s reply was a “put-down”, Mr Marchioni said that it was obvious that his accuracy complaint referred to the allegedly “free” fish dinner. The allegations advanced by TVNZ, he argued, were fully countered by Mr Peters within a few minutes and the subsequent balance had not been necessary. He also questioned what TVNZ was implying when it advised him that Mr Peters, a person who had complained in the past, had not complained on this occasion.
 Noting that its responses to the complaints were directly relevant as to whether the broadcast breached the nominated standards, TVNZ had nothing further to add in its response to Mr Picken. Its response to Mr Marchioni, TVNZ wrote, was not intended as a “put down”.
 Pointing out that he was not complaining about TVNZ’s right to conduct the interview, Mr Picken reiterated his point that the complaint focused on the way the interview was conducted. He again referred to the extent to which Mr Peters had been interrupted and spoken over, and asked the Authority to contrast that part of the programme with the amount of time that the other interviewees had been allowed to speak and were not interrupted.
 Mr Marchioni reiterated his points that Mr Peters was not given an ample opportunity to answer the first question – whether he received a free meal – and that he was not shown due respect. The balance of the interview was based on an allegation of “deep seated corruption”, while it overlooked the issue of what Mr Peters stood to gain from such “corruption”.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendices. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.
 TVNZ reported to the complainants that Mr Peters came to the studio knowing what he was to be asked, and that he was given ample time to prepare. It elaborated by explaining that Mr Peters was first approached on Tuesday and the interview complained about occurred the following Thursday.
 The Authority has recorded those points as they are relevant to its determination of the Standard 6 (fairness) aspects of the complaints. Guideline 6b states that, except when a different approach is justified in the public interest, participants should be informed of the reason for their participation and the role expected of them. The Authority considers that TVNZ complied with its obligation under this Guideline. The Authority also notes TVNZ’s observation that:
Mr Peters was allowed generous time to answer the questions that arose from the free dinner and … he made the most of it. There can be no viewer who, by the end of the programme, was in any doubt about Mr Peters’ position and viewpoint.
 These remarks are also relevant to the balance aspects of the complaints. Mr Picken contended that the broadcast was unbalanced as Mr Peters was frequently interrupted and spoken over. He contrasted the interviewer’s approach to Mr Peters with the approaches to Mr Hodge and others. The other interviewees, he wrote, were not interrupted.
 TVNZ contended that the “devil’s advocate” approach to Mr Peters was appropriate in view of the comment from Mr Hodge that corruption might be involved, and the interviewer, it added, was entitled to take action when Mr Peters’ answers were oblique or unclear. TVNZ argued that the line of questioning had not hindered Mr Peters in his efforts to tell his side of the story.
 The Authority agrees with TVNZ that the item was not unbalanced either in the approach adopted or in the way the questions were put and issues covered. Mr Peters was given ample opportunity to respond to the points made by the interviewer and to the comments from Mr Carter and Mr Hodge. It considers that Standards 4 (balance) and 6 (fairness) were not breached. The item dealt with an issue of major public importance – an allegation that a politician might be corrupt. It did so, the Authority concludes, in a way which complied with the standards.
 Mr Marchioni also alleged that the item was inaccurate in that it was based on the incorrect assumption that Mr Peters had received a free fish dinner as a guest of Mr Simunovich. While the Authority accepts that Mr Simunovich’s late contribution to the programme by telephone, supporting Mr Peters’s explanation, seriously challenged that premise, it notes that the information contained in the first part of the broadcast was sufficient to seek a response from Mr Peters. Accordingly, it does not accept that the item contravened the accuracy requirement in Standard 5.
For the above reasons, the Authority does not uphold the complaints.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
6 May 2004
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined Mr Picken’s complaint:
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined Mr Marchioni’s complaint: