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Boom and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-215

Members

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

Complainant

  • Robin Boom of Hamilton

Dated

18th February 2005

Number

2004-215

Programme

Sunday

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sunday – item profiling the Destiny Church and its pastor – interviews with the pastor, former members of the Church, a university lecturer and the director of Cultwatch – allegedly unbalanced and unfair to the Destiny Church

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – sufficient opportunity given to the Church and its pastor to present its views on the controversial issues – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – Church given opportunity to respond to issues raised – not unfair – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] An item on Sunday shown on TV One at 7.30pm on 3 October 2004 profiled the Destiny Church and its leader, Pastor Brian Tamaki. The segment gave background information about the church and its recent march to Parliament protesting the Civil Union Bill.

[2] Interviews were conducted with Pastor Tamaki, Rev Dr Phillip Culberston (lecturer in Theology at Auckland University), Mark Vrankovich (the director of Cultwatch), and two former members of the Destiny Church.

Complaint

[3] Robin Boom complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was unbalanced in that it “tried to find flaws in the church and its leader and made an effort to find and interview people who had gripes with the church”. Mr Boom questioned the emphasis placed on the church’s practice of tithing its congregation, which he argued was common practice among many religious groups.

[4] The complainant felt that the programme had made a point of “trying to cast Destiny in a bad light”. He suggested that the broadcaster should have interviewed some of those “ex-criminals and lost souls” who have been making a positive contribution to society since joining the church.

[5] Mr Boom felt that the Destiny Church had been subject to “mud-slinging from all elements of the media” due to its opposition to the Civil Union Bill, and he challenged the broadcaster “to do some positive reporting” on the church.

Standards

[6] Television New Zealand Ltd assessed the complaint under Standards 4 and 6 and Guideline 6g of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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 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.

Guideline 6g           

Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i)    factual, or

ii)   the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii)  in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7] In its response to the complainant, TVNZ observed that the Destiny Church and Pastor Tamaki had placed themselves in the public arena following the street march through Wellington, and by making “disparaging statements” about gay and transgender politicians and same-sex relationships. It said:

…it is the prime role of journalism that, acting in the public interest, it applies close scrutiny to organisations and individuals who place themselves in the public spotlight – for whatever reason.

[8] TVNZ took the view that its journalists would be “failing in their freedom of information obligations to the public” had they not asked serious questions about the church and its leader.

[9] Considering Mr Boom’s allegation of bias, the broadcaster contended that journalists are expected to probe and ask challenging questions. This did not mean, it said, that the journalist was “bigoted against them” as the complainant alleged. TVNZ added:

[10] Rather, the journalist, acting on the public’s behalf, is testing the assertions of his subject. If the assertions stand up to such scrutiny they are strengthened in the minds of the public; but if the questioning exposes any weaknesses the public is well-served by receiving that information.

[11] Noting the complainant’s reference to “ex-criminals and lost souls”, the broadcaster contended that a journalistic investigation was warranted because the church was attracting such members.  TVNZ argued that it seemed clear that many Destiny Church followers were vulnerable, either through their financial circumstances or because they had strayed in the past into crime or other anti-social behaviour. The question raised, it said, was “is Destiny Church treating these people fairly, or are they being exploited?”.

[12] TVNZ acknowledged that the tithe exists in many churches; but argued that the tithe is not always applied as rigorously in other congregations as it is in Destiny. Given that the church was populated by vulnerable people, the broadcaster argued, it was important to ask questions about it.

[13] With respect to Standard 4 (balance), TVNZ did not consider that the item was unbalanced. It argued that while questions were raised by former Destiny members, a Cultwatch member and the reporter; balance was provided by Pastor Tamaki himself. TVNZ added:

The point was made by Pastor Tamaki and the reporter that Destiny is a church with a single leader – apparently answerable only to God. Thus Pastor Tamaki as that leader was the appropriate person to provide balancing comment, and he was given the right of reply on every key issue touched upon during the programme.

[13] The broadcaster also argued that additional balancing comment was provided by Rev Dr Culbertson, who is himself a “devout Christian”. It concluded that Standard 4 (balance) had not been breached on this occasion.

[14] Turning to consider Standard 6 (fairness), TVNZ did not find that any breach had occurred. The church had put itself in the public eye, it said, and it was not unfair of the media to “explore and analyse what Destiny church is, what it stands for, and what it aspires to be”. Referring to Guideline 6g, TVNZ did not consider that asking “legitimate questions” equated with denigrating the church, nor were viewers encouraged to discriminate against it.

Referral to the Authority

[15] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Boom referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He reiterated his concern that the broadcaster’s coverage of the Destiny Church was “loaded with prejudice”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[16] TVNZ added nothing further to its original reply to the complainant.

Authority's Determination

[17] 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.

[18] Mr Boom was concerned that Sunday had set out to find flaws in the Destiny Church, and that this critical approach resulted in unbalanced and unfair reporting. 

[19] In terms of balance, the first issue is whether the item dealt with a controversial issue of public importance.  The focus of the item, in the view of the Authority, was the workings of the Destiny Church, and in particular its leadership style and the practice of tithing.  Given the high public profile of the Church and its leader, and its outspoken position on social issues, the Authority considers that these aspects of the Church do constitute such a controversial issue.

[20] The Authority notes that the item did critically examine the Church’s practices.  It agrees with TVNZ, however, that a journalist’s role is to do just this – scrutinise organisations and individuals who put themselves in the public eye.  The issue for the Authority is whether sufficient opportunity was given to present other significant perspectives.

[21] The Authority considers that Pastor Tamaki was given sufficient opportunity to address the issues raised about the way in which the Church works.  Pastor Tamaki openly discussed the issue of leadership within the Church and candidly agreed that he was “chosen by God” to be the absolute leader.  He was also given the opportunity to explain his position in relation to the practice of tithing.  A significant portion of the programme was dedicated to interviewing the pastor.  In the view of the Authority, far from being a one-sided criticism, the programme in fact provided a platform from which Pastor Tamaki could present his position on these matters.

[22] Nor does the Authority consider that Pastor Tamaki or the Destiny Church was treated unfairly.  While the programme did critically examine some of the Church’s practices, this does not of itself amount to unfairness.  As noted above, Pastor Tamaki was given an opportunity to present his views on the issues being discussed and there is nothing, in the view of the Authority, to suggest that either he or the Church was unfairly treated.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
18 February 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Robin Boom’s formal complaint – 5 October 2004
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 24 November 2004
  3. Mr Boom’s referral to the Authority – 12 December 2004
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 22 December 2004