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Wilson and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2003-090

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa

Complainant

  • Colin Wilson of Lower Hutt

Dated

21st August 2003

Number

2003-090

Programme

Nine to Noon

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Nine to Noon – interview with Daniel Goldhagen author of book which suggested Catholic responsibility for the Holocaust – called for annotations to the New Testament – unbalanced – unfair

Findings
Principle 4 and Principle 5 – author’s opinions challenged by interviewer – discrimination not encouraged – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Daniel Goldhagen, the author of a book which alleged Catholic complicity in the persecution of Jews during the Second World War, was interviewed on Nine to Noon. This programme is broadcast on National Radio between 9.00am–12 noon each weekday. Mr Goldhagen called for annotations to the New Testament to mitigate the effect of those passages which he said were offensive to Jews.

[2] Colin Wilson complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was unfair and unbalanced. He contended that the New Testament and the Talmud each contained passages which could now be regarded as offensive, but the attack on the New Testament had not been matched with a similar attack on the Talmud.

[3] In response, RNZ argued that the period of current interest in regard to the debate about the alleged complicity of Catholics for the Holocaust was ongoing, and that it was not possible to cover all views within one programme. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s decision, Mr Wilson referred the complaint 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 complaint.

Decision

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

The Programme

[6] Nine to Noon, broadcast on National Radio between 9.00am–12 noon each weekday, is a magazine programme which includes music and items ranging from current affairs to book reviews. Daniel Goldhagen, author of "A Moral Reckoning : The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfilled Duty of Repair", was interviewed on Nine to Noon broadcast on 3 April 2003. During the interview, he said that he wanted Christians to annotate the New Testament to mitigate the effect of the passages which he said were offensive to Jews.

The Complaint

[7] Colin Wilson complained to RNZ that the programme involved an attack on the New Testament without a similar questioning about the contents of the Talmud. Both documents, he noted, were about 2000 years old and both contained what he said was now considered to be "offensive material’. Moreover, he stated, Mr Goldhagen had not been asked about the contribution made by Jews to their own downfall.

[8] Mr Wilson contended that there were extreme difficulties when two religions existed side by side in a single community and, moreover, that Jewish leaders were at the forefront of the communist revolutions in Europe. He concluded:

In discussing the Jews and Europe in the twentieth century, there is always a temptation to accept the Jewish point of view and not subject it to normal critical analysis. I feel that in the interview with Goldhagen [the presenter] yielded to that temptation.

The Standards

[9] RNZ assessed the complaint under Principles 4 and 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

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.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] RNZ advised that the interview consisted of a lengthy two-way discussion between Mr Goldhagen and the presenter. In dealing with the aspect of the complaint that the item was unbalanced, RNZ noted that Principle 4 applied to controversial issues of public importance, and that significant points of view were required either within the same programme or within the period of current interest.

[11] Turning to the interview complained about, RNZ considered that the alleged Catholic complicity in the persecution of Jews in the Second World War was a controversial issue. It also considered that the period of current interest was ongoing and that the programme complained about was a contribution to the debate.

[12] As for the aspect of the complaint that the programme was unfair and in breach of Principle 5, RNZ stated that the presenter, on a number of occasions, had acted as a Devil’s Advocate and had challenged the views advanced by Mr Goldhagen. RNZ also stated that Mr Goldhagen, in expressing his views, had called for a number of actions on the part of the Catholic Church. Whether listeners considered his opinions fair, RNZ argued, was not a matter of broadcasting standards per se.

[13] RNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[14] Describing RNZ’s arguments as specious, Mr Wilson said his complaint focused on Mr Goldhagen’s call to annotate the New Testament to satisfy the views of Jews. That call, he said, opened up a new field of controversy. Mr Wilson asked whether RNZ had broadcast an attack on the Talmud similar to that on the New Testament. Mr Goldhagen’s attack on another religion’s "Holy Book", he maintained, required a proper response.

[15] Mr Wilson accepted Mr Goldhagen found problems with the New Testament but, he added, Jewish religious writings were no better. He maintained:

It is hardly fair of Radio New Zealand to broadcast the Jewish point of view and refuse to carry an opposing view. As I said in my letter to Radio New Zealand neither the New Testament nor the Talmud meet today’s ideas of political correctness but [the presenter] did not point this out in her interview.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[16] RNZ pointed out that it had never refused to broadcast the opposing view, as Mr Wilson claimed. In the programme complained about, the author, making use of his statutory right to freedom of expression, had responded to a number of questions. It was not possible, RNZ asserted, for every interview to canvass a full range of views on the topic under discussion.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[17] Mr Wilson contended that the interview with Mr Goldhagen differed from most others with a religious theme in that it involved a member of one religious group throwing "heavy rocks" at believers of another creed. Referring to the adage that people in glass houses should not throw stones, Mr Wilson expressed the opinion that Mr Goldhagen lived in a glasshouse "the size of Crystal Palace".

[18] In view of Mr Goldhagen’s attack on the New Testament, Mr Wilson argued that the Talmud should be appraised as "parts of the Talmud are deeply offensive to damned near everybody who is not Jewish". Mr Wilson then disputed Mr Goldhagen’s contentions about the work of Pope Pius XI and concluded:

The Goldhagen interview, by itself, was very unbalanced. I very well know that taking a hard line on the Talmud is likely to get shoved into the "too hard" basket. But making an official complaint is really the only way that those of us who do not share Goldhagen’s views can have at least a fighting chance of being heard.

The Authority’s Determination

[19] In the Authority’s view, Mr Goldhagen put his views forcefully and debated the contentions advanced robustly by the interviewer who appeared to have been well-briefed. Indeed, the Authority concluded that the interviewer, by presenting as the Devil’s Advocate, made it abundantly clear that Mr Goldhagen’s views were contestable. In view of the discussion which developed, clearly it was apparent that there were other significant views about the matters which Mr Goldhagen had covered in his book and put forward during the interview. Accordingly, the Authority considers that the balance requirement in Principle 4 was not contravened.

[20] RNZ assessed Mr Wilson’s complaint that the broadcast was unfair as an alleged breach of the fairness requirement in Principle 5. The Authority agrees with RNZ that Principle 5 was not transgressed. However, it is of the view that Mr Wilson’s complaint could more appropriately be seen as an alleged breach of Guideline 7a of Principle 7. It provides:

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:

i) factual; or

ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion; or

iii) by way of legitimate humour or satire.

[21] The Authority has examined the complaint under this provision. It concludes that while Mr Goldhagen questioned those who regarded the New Testament as a "Holy Book", his comments did not amount to encouraging denigration or discrimination. Moreover, the Authority accepts that Mr Goldhagen’s views were the genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion. Accordingly, the Authority finds that the broadcast did not breach Principle 7.

[23] 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 and applies them in a manner which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
21 August 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Colin Wilson’s Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 17 April 2003
  2. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 21 May 2003
  3. Mr Wilson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 6 June 2003
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 26 June 2003
  5. Mr Wilson’s Final Comment – 14 July 2003