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Maclean and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2004-146

Members

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

Complainant

  • Shona Maclean

Dated

15th October 2004

Number

2004-146

Programme

Nine to Noon

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Nine to Noon
– interview with member of United Kingdom National Commission into Islam – presenter referred to young Muslims being recruited by terrorist groups – allegedly inaccurate and denigratory of Muslims

Findings
Principle 6 (Accuracy) – item accurate – not upheld

Principle 7 (Fairness – denigration) – item not denigratory of Muslims – comment by presenter did not refer to Muslims generally – comment was accurate – words used were in context of serious comment about United Kingdom police policy towards Muslims – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] In Nine to Noon, broadcast on National Radio on the morning of 9 June 2004, presenter Linda Clark interviewed Robin Richardson, a member of the United Kingdom’s National Commission into Islam. The Commission had recently released a report concerning institutional racism against Muslims in Britain, and the interview focussed on the key issues arising from this report.

Complaint

[2] Shona Maclean complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the broadcast breached Principles 6 (accuracy) and 7 (fairness) of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, in that:

  • The presenter noted that the report had warned of the possibility of “riots” in the event that discrimination against Muslims in the UK continued. Mr Richardson corrected this, noting that the report referred to disorder, not riots, but despite this the presenter continued to refer to “riots”; and
  • The presenter also stated at one point, “We know young Muslims are being recruited by terrorist organisations”

[3] Ms Maclean considered that the item was both inaccurate and denigrated Muslims as it made it sound as if RNZ knew that this was normal behaviour for young Muslims. She stated:

when a senior broadcaster on a flagship programme, such as Linda Clark on National Radio’s Nine to Noon, hypes up the “possibility of disorder” on behalf of Muslims into “riots” by Muslims and then states that “We know young Muslims are being recruited by terrorist organisations” it is not unreasonable to expect that New Zealand listeners, who were not given any information to the contrary, would be swayed to the view that this is standard procedure for young Muslims.

Principles

[4] The following principles from the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint:

Principle 6
In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

Principle 7
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.

Guideline

7a  Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

  1. factual; or
  2. a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or
  3. by way of legitimate humour or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] RNZ did not uphold the complaint. It said:

RNZ found that the words you complained of in respect of recruiting young Muslims were used in the context of putting a question around the topic of the British Police policy of “stop and search”. The interviewer said
“…in particular you are critical of the stop and search policies, and there’s been something like a 41% increase in stop and search it’s a dilemma though for police because we know that young Muslims are being recruited for terrorist groups and unless you have policies like stop and search how will you ever find them?”
and the Commissioner responded first by saying “…Yes it’s a problem…” and then went on with what was the thrust of the interview at that point which was a discussion of the Police policy.

[6] RNZ noted that as the Commissioner did not challenge the accuracy of the statement there could be no question as to the accuracy of what was said.

[7] RNZ also noted that the threshold for denigration is high, and that the item did not threaten that standard.

Referral to the Authority

[8] Ms Maclean was dissatisfied with this response and referred her complaint to the Authority. She made the following points:

  • When talking about the recruitment of young Muslims, most listeners would have assumed that the presenter was talking on behalf of the RNZ journalistic team, “backed up by Radio New Zealand research and information sourcing abilities”;
  • It is inappropriate to place the onus for accuracy on the interviewee;
  • It is denigratory to call someone a terrorist, which is what this item did to young Muslims;
  • The item “portray[ed] and encourage[d] the belief that young Muslims are being recruited by terrorist groups as a matter of course”

[9] Ms Maclean also reiterated her submission noted at paragraph 3 above.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[10] RNZ offered no further comment in response to the referral of the complaint.

Authority's Determination

[11] The members of the Authority have listened to 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.

[12] The Authority does not uphold the aspect of the complaint that alleges the presenter’s comments were inaccurate. First, the Authority considers that in referring to the possibility of “riots”, the presenter was simply paraphrasing key aspects of the Commission’s report findings, and that this description was not materially inaccurate or indeed disputed by the interviewee. The Authority notes that on this issue the interviewee stated “…we refer briefly to the possibility of major public disorder – what you have called riots and what people do call riots – at some stage in the future”.

[13] Second, in referring to the recruitment of young Muslims to terrorist groups, the presenter was simply adverting to something that is understood to be happening on occasion in some western countries and the complainant has provided no evidence to suggest that this understanding is untrue. In the view of the Authority, the words complained of made no comment about the actions of young Muslims generally.

[14] Finally, the Authority notes that the statements of the presenter were made in the context of a devil’s advocate-type discussion in which the interviewer was being invited to debate the effect of institutional discrimination on Muslims in the United Kingdom, and specifically the merits of the police policy of “stop and search” to the extent that it affected Muslims. The Authority doubts whether the words complained of were even statements of fact to which the accuracy standard could apply, but in any event considers that no issue of inaccuracy arises.

[15] Nor does the Authority uphold that aspect of the complaint alleging that the comments were denigratory of young Muslims generally. The Authority does not agree that the presenter suggested, even in the most oblique way, that young Muslims as a group and as a matter of course engage in civil disorder and terrorism. Accordingly, no issue of denigration arises.

[16] In the view of the Authority, the item was an overtly sympathetic look at the situation faced by Muslims in the United Kingdom in light of the discrimination they face, as outlined in the report of the National Commission on Islam. The item was neither critical of young Muslims nor of Islam generally.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
15 October 2004

Appendix

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

  1. Shona Maclean’s formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – undated
  2. RNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 14 July 2004
  3. Ms Maclean’s referral to the Authority – 2 August 2004
  4. RNZ’s response to the Authority – 10 September 2004