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Wilson and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2003-073, 2003-074

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
  • Tapu Misa

Complainant

  • John Wilson of Wellington

Dated

24th July 2003

Number

2003-073–074

Programme

Morning Report

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Morning Report item about industrial accidents in timber mill – interviewer questioned union representative aggressively while appearing cordial with owner’s representative – unfair

Complaint
News Item – later news item included owner’s view only – unbalanced

Findings
Principle 4; Principle 5 and Guidelines 5b and 5c – interviewer’s approach to each spokesperson similar – no uphold

News item at 7.30am balanced by item within period of current interest at 8.00am – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] A recent industrial accident at a timber mill, and the company’s accident record, were dealt with in an item during Morning Report broadcast on National Radio at about 7.25am on 17 April 2003. The item included interviews with representatives from the union and the company. The discussion was referred to in an item during the news bulletin broadcast at 7.30am.

[2] John Wilson complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the interviewer’s approach was biased in that he was "aggressive" to the union representative, while "cordial" with the company’s representative. The news item at 7.30am, he complained, was unbalanced as it included comment from the company’s representative, but omitted the union representative’s remarks.

[3] In response, RNZ denied that the interviewer’s approach differed as alleged by the complainant. Because of time constraints, it wrote, it had not been possible to include audio from the union representative in the 7.30am news bulletin. However, comment from both representatives was included in the news bulletin at 8.00am, and it declined to uphold the complaints.

[4] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr Wilson referred the complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the items complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] A recent industrial accident at a timber mill, and the company’s accident record, were dealt with in an item during Morning Report broadcast on National Radio at about 7.25am on 17 April 2003. The item included interviews with representatives from the union and the company. The discussion was referred to in an item on the news bulletin broadcast at 7.30am.

The Complaints

[7] John Wilson complained to RNZ that the discussion was biased. The interview with the union representative, he wrote, was "aggressive and essentially hostile", while the interview with the company’s spokesperson was "much more cordial and even sympathetic and understanding".

[8] The incident was covered in a news item broadcast at 7.30am. Mr Wilson wrote that, in the news item, the company spokesperson’s explanation "which largely exculpated the firm" was broadcast, while the opposing view from the union was omitted. Mr Wilson considered that the interviewing during the discussion and reporting during the news item had been unfair and unbalanced.

The Standards

[9] RNZ considered the complaints under Principles 4 and 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Principles, and relevant Guidelines, read:

Principle 4

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain 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.

Principle 5

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.

5b  Care must be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure that the extracts used are a true reflection and not a distortion of the original event or the overall views expressed.

5c  Programmes shall not be presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] Dealing first with the interview with the union representative, RNZ denied that the questions were put in a way which could be described as aggressive or hostile. It noted that the news item at 7.30am followed the interviews immediately and, it argued, there was "physically insufficient time to summarise a live interview". RNZ continued:

There was mention of the company official’s statement by reason of the fact that the latter interview was a pre-recorded one and the reporter writing that portion of the news bulletin had an opportunity to summarise. There was in fact a longer item in the 8.00am news bulletin that included audio of both the union and company officials speaking.

[11] In regard to the requirement for balance in Principle 4, RNZ pointed out that the union representative had been interviewed, and his comment had been included in the 8.00am news bulletin.

[12] As for the accuracy requirement in Principle 5, RNZ reiterated its contention that the interview with the union representative was neither aggressive nor hostile. It declined to uphold the complaints.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[13] Expressing surprise that RNZ had not provided him with a tape or transcript of the item complained about, and had judged his complaints on its own behalf, Mr Wilson referred the complaints to the Authority for review.

The Authority’s Determination

[14] Spokespeople for a timber mill and the relevant union were dealt with differently, Mr Wilson complained, in an item broadcast on Morning Report about an accident in the mill and the company’s accident record. The complainant contended that the company representative was dealt with cordially, while the approach to the Union representative was aggressive. In a separate complaint, Mr Wilson contended that the item which dealt with the issue in the news bulletin broadcast at 7.30am was unbalanced.

[15] Having listened to the interviews, the Authority agrees that the interviewer’s approach differed a little. It notes that the interviewer interrupted the union representative more frequently than the company spokesperson. However, the Authority did not regard the interview or the interruptions as "aggressive". Rather, it considered that the interviewer interrupted in order to clarify the issues which were being discussed. Accordingly, the Authority does not consider that the interviews breached the requirements in Standards 4 and 5 relating to balance and fairness.

[16] Shortly after the interviews concluded, the issue in question was covered in the following news bulletin. The news item included extracts from the interviews with the company’s spokesperson and advanced the company’s views about the specific accident and the company’s accident record generally. The item did not include the union’s view. The Authority agrees with Mr Wilson that the news bulletin, by itself, transgressed the requirement for balance.

[17] Nevertheless, Standard 4 explains that significant points of view must be presented in the same programme or in "other programmes within the period of current interest".

[18] The news bulletin at 8.00am, broadcast within the period of current interest, included comments from the spokespeople for both the company and the union. The Authority is of the view that this item dealt with the issue in a balanced way. It also concluded that the news item, 30 minutes after the one complained about, was broadcast within the period of current interest. It therefore declines to uphold the complaint about the news item.

[19] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
24 July 2003

Appendix

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

  1. John Wilson’s Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 17 April 2003
  2. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 7 May 2003
  3. Mr Wilson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 19 May 2003
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 5 June 2003