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Knight and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-139

Members

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

Complainant

  • Jacqui Knight of Russell

Dated

4th November 2004

Number

2004-139

Programme

Te Karere

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Te Karere – subtitled version – item on 90th birthday of Northland kaumatua – celebrations held in RSA – subtitles allegedly said that celebrations could not be held on marae because construction of local marae unable to proceed due to objections of local Pakeha – allegedly unbalanced and inaccurate

Findings
Subtitled version of programme not retained by TVNZ – Authority had no evidence to establish what was said in subtitles – unable to determine despite procedural unfairness to complainant – declined to determine complaint pursuant to section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

Observation
Complaint originally only about subtitled version – Māori-language version referred to “Pakeha rednecks” – “rednecks” concern only brought to complainant’s attention in TVNZ’s response to her original complaint – Authority has no jurisdiction to determine concerns about Maori-language version as issue not raised in original complaint

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] On 7 and 8 June 2004, Te Karere contained an item about the birthday of Northland kaumatua Hori Hakaraia. The item concluded with a voice-over from the reporter, stating:

Te awangawanga kei konei mo te kaumatua nei i te ra nei, tu ke tana huritau whakanui ki roto ki te whare Pākehā, i te mea i te tau kua hipa nei, na nga kaaki whero Pākehā no konei i whakakore te hanga i tetahi marae mo te iwi Māori me o ratou kaupapa penei i te ra nei. …

[2] This passage translates as follows:

The concern that this elder has, is that his birthday celebration had taken place in a Pākehā building because last year the red neck Pākehā of this area would not approve the building of a marae for the Māori people to hold their own occasions such as this one today.

(source: Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori / The Māori Language Commission)

Factual Background

[3] In March 2000, the Kororāreka Marae Society lodged an application under the Resource Management Act 1991 for a land-use consent to build a marae at Long Beach Road, Russell. That application was rejected by the Far North District Council. The decision was appealed to the Environment Court, opposed by the Far North District Council, the Russell Ratepayers and Citizens Association Inc and a further individual.

[4] In July 2002 the Environment Court also declined the application, noting that granting the consent for the marae on this particular site would not be consistent with the purpose of the Resource Management Act.

Complaint

[5] Jacqui Knight, the Editor of The Russell Lights, a Northland community newspaper, saw a subtitled version of Te Karere on the morning of 8 June 2004. She stated that the subtitles noted that the birthday celebrations had to be held in the RSA as there was no marae “due to objections of local Pākehā”.

[6] Ms Knight complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, stating that she considered the words used “offensive and objectionable” as what was said was “not the case”, although in her complaint she did not expand further on why she considered the statement to be incorrect. She concluded her complaint by saying:

You have made what should have been a very happy celebration into a contentious and controversial issue, and by raising this matter you showed no attempt to bring any balance into your opinion. You have made a broad generalisation, presumably listening to the opinions of a few people, and your comments have no substance whatsoever.

Standards

[7] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4 and 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those Standards provide:

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.

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. In its response, TVNZ noted that “regrettably” it had not retained a copy of the subtitled version of the programme, and was accordingly unable to confirm what had been shown in the subtitles. Instead, TVNZ provided a translation of the item, made by the editor of the programme. This translation of the final passage complained of by Ms Knight read as follows:

The only concern by the people who gathered here today in celebration of their elder was that his birthday was held in the RSA, because the proposal to build a marae was opposed by local “red necks”.

[9] TVNZ noted that the focus of the story was on the kaumatua’s birthday, rather than the issue of the marae, and thus that balance on the marae issue was not required. Furthermore, TVNZ concluded, there was nothing inaccurate in the report and thus no breach of Standard 5.

Referral to the Authority

[10] Ms Knight was dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response and referred her complaint to the Authority. Ms Knight reiterated her view that it was offensive and objectionable to attribute the lack of a local marae to “the objections of local Pākehā”, and noted that a Resource Management Act hearing had declined the application for the marae on the proposed site.

[11] Ms Knight also noted the reference to “rednecks” in the translation of the item complained about. She pointed out:

Where they stated “Pākehā” on the television item I note this has now been translated to “rednecks”. I am sure that if I approached those who objected to the [marae proposal], they would be horrified to know that they had been described as “rednecks”. They believe that their objections were fair, legitimate and justified, and continue to oppose the siting of the marae. Their objections have already been upheld by a Resource Management hearing – is their “accuracy” being questioned too? Are they also “rednecks”?

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[12] In its response to the referral, TVNZ pointed out that the reference to the controversy surrounding the marae was presented as a “footnote to a story about Hori Hakaraia’s 90th birthday”. TVNZ concluded:

It is important to remember that this programme is directed primarily at people who enjoy hearing news in Māori. To them it would have seemed curious and inexplicable that a man of Mr Hakaraia’s mana was not having his birthday celebrated on a marae. It was necessary then for the reporter to remind viewers of the long-running controversy which is holding up the construction of a new marae at Russell. In using the term “red necks” I am informed that the reporter was trying to encapsulate the feeling of local Māori attending the birthday celebrations towards those they see as holding up the marae proposal.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[13] In her final comment, Ms Knight emphasised that the objections to the marae were “not so much against a marae but against a proposed site”.

[14] Ms Knight also referred to the definition of “redneck”, noting that it is recognised as being an offensive term, referring to “a white person regarded as having a provincial, conservative, often bigoted attitude”. Ms Knight concluded that it appeared either that Te Karere did not appreciate the racial implication of the term, or alternatively chose to use it in a racist manner.

[15] Ms Knight also stated that the split between those who supported and opposed the marae could not be made along purely racial lines; some Pākehā supported it, while some Māori were opposed.

[16] Ms Knight concluded:

If Te Karere wanted to balance the viewers’ curiosity as to why the celebration was being held in the RSA they could have referred to objectors or objections to the proposed site for the marae, and not used the racist term, “rednecks”. …

Look at it another way: What would people domiciled out of Russell, who know full well the importance of a marae in a community, think of the people of Russell?

Authority's Determination

[17] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about (without subtitles) and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority considers the complaint without a formal hearing.

[18] Ms Knight complained about the subtitles used in Te Karere . While much of the correspondence has focussed on the use of the spoken words “kaaki whero” (meaning rednecks), this was an issue that emerged only after the complaint had been lodged with the broadcaster, and did not form part of the original complaint. Accordingly, it is not a matter in respect of which the Authority has jurisdiction.

[19] For this reason, the Authority may formally determine only that part of the complaint that relates to the use of the subtitles.

[20] While TVNZ was able to provide to the Authority a tape of Te Karere as it originally screened, it has no record of the subtitles that were put to the programme on its repeat the following morning.

[21] Ms Knight’s complaint concerned the use of these subtitles, and the determination of her complaint must therefore rest on the exact words that were used. As a result of TVNZ’s unfortunate failure to retain a copy of the subtitled programme, the Authority does not have that information available to it.

[22] In the absence of this information, the Authority is unable to determine the complaint. While Ms Knight has provided her recollection of the subtitles – that they stated that there was no marae due to the objections of local Pākehā – the Authority needs to view the exact words used in order to be able to determine whether they constituted a breach of broadcasting standards. In the present case the context is critical; if the words had simply been reporting the concerns of the kaumatua or the guests, different considerations would apply than if the words were stated as fact by the reporter.

[23] The Authority therefore finds itself without the evidence it requires to be able to determine the complaint. Accordingly, it declines to determine the complaint pursuant to section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[24] Clearly, Ms Knight has been unfairly prejudiced in her request for the Authority’s determination of her complaint by the fact that the critical evidence – the sub-titled tape – is not available. The unfairness is aggravated by the fact that the evidence should have been retained by the broadcaster under the terms of an agreement on tape retention reached between broadcasters and the Authority.

[25] The Authority wishes to record its concern at the lack of availability of a tape of the subtitled version of the programme. Retention of programme subtitles is likely to become a growing issue as the number of subtitled Māori-language programmes increases. Retention of subtitled programmes will ensure that all viewers – whether those who understand te reo Māori, or those who read the subtitles – can have their complaints about the programme fairly considered.

Further Observations

[26] While the use of the term “kaaki whero” (redneck) did not comprise part of the original complaint, and has thus not been formally considered by the Authority, the Authority wishes to comment on its use. The Authority notes that TVNZ, in responding to Ms Knight’s complaint, specifically addressed this issue.

[27] It appears from the translation of the item (both the translation provided by Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori and that from TVNZ) that the reporter was reporting on the concerns held by either Mr Hakaraia or the guests present at the celebration, rather than attempting to provide an objective factual account. Nevertheless, the Authority feels some disquiet about the use of the term “kaaki whero”, meaning “redneck”, given its racially loaded and potentially offensive connotations.

[28] While a programme such as Te Karere is aimed predominantly at a Māori-speaking audience who may not themselves be offended by the term “kaaki whero”, this does not diminish the obligation on the broadcaster to ensure that the programme adheres to the requirements of balance, accuracy, and fairness to all people referred to. The fact that a majority of Pākehā would not understand a reference to “kaaki whero” or other such terms does not of itself imply a broad licence to use these terms in a manner that could potentially contravene broadcasting standards.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to determine the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 November 2004

Appendix

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

  1. Jacqui Knight’s complaint to TVNZ – 9 June 2004
  2. TVNZ’s acknowledgement of Ms Knight’s complaint – 10 June 2004
  3. TVNZ’s response to Ms Knight’s complaint – 8 July 2004
  4. Ms Knight’s referral to the Authority – 18 July 2004
  5. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 13 August 2004
  6. Final comment from Ms Knight – 21 August 2004