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Hide and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-170, 2003-171

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Rodney Hide MP of Wellington

Dated

19th December 2003

Number

2003-170–171

Programme

Edwards at Large

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Edwards at Large – interview with complainant – host a media adviser to Prime Minister – programme funded by NZ On Air of which host’s wife was a board member – questions about these issues raised in Parliament by complainant – complainant alleged the item unbalanced and partial – broadcaster upheld complaint that programme was partial – written apology – complainant dissatisfied with both extent of complaint upheld and action taken

Findings
Standard 4 – balanced debate – no uphold

Action taken – letter included TVNZ’s Chief Executive’s explanation – sufficient – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Mr Hide MP was interviewed on Edwards at Large about some questions he had asked in Parliament concerning the funding of the programme and the linkages between the host, Dr Brian Edwards, his wife Judy Callingham, the Labour Party, and NZ On Air. NZ On Air is a funder of programmes and Ms Callingham is a board member. The programme was broadcast on TV One at 9.35pm on Saturday 16 August 2003.

[2] Mr Hide complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item, which dealt with a controversial public issue, was neither balanced nor impartial.

[3] In response, TVNZ accepted that the item had dealt with a politically controversial issue and, while declining to uphold the balance aspect of the complaint, acknowledged that the item was not impartial. It apologised to the complainant in writing.

[4] Dissatisfied both that the complaint had not been upheld in full, and with the action taken on the aspect upheld, Mr Hide referred his 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 viewed a video and read a transcript of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The complaints are determined without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Edwards at Large, hosted by Brian Edwards, is described in the “Listener” as a live “easy-going” interview show hosted by a “veteran broadcaster”. It was broadcast on Saturday evenings beginning at about 9.30pm.

[7] Rodney Hide MP was one of the guests interviewed on 16 August 2003. Earlier in Parliament he had raised some criticisms about the programme. One of the criticisms involved the links between Dr Edwards’ role as a host and his role as a media adviser to the Prime Minister and other members of the Government. TVNZ received funding for the programme from NZ On Air and another criticism had been directed at the position of the host’s wife as a NZ On Air board member and as the show’s executive producer.

The Complaint

[8] Mr Hide complained to TVNZ that the show lacked balance and was partial. Pointing to the host’s role as media adviser to the Prime Minister and the Government, Mr Hide maintained that it was impossible for any interviewer, who was on the “Prime Minister’s payroll”, to be balanced and impartial when interviewing an Opposition MP. He added:

The interview technique adopted by Dr Edwards is proof of that.

[9] The item was also unbalanced and lacked impartiality, Mr Hide continued, as Dr Edwards’ wife was on the Board of NZ On Air which had contributed $190,000 by way of funding to Edwards at Large.

[10] The requirement for balance and impartiality applies to programmes which deal “with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature” and Mr Hide maintained that his interview with Dr Edwards clearly covered all three matters.

[11] Mr Hide cited newspaper comment that Dr Edwards and Judy Callingham provided media training to the Prime Minister and a number of Cabinet Ministers. He also referred to a letter from Dr Edwards addressed to the then Minister of Broadcasting (dated 24 January 2000) in which he asked her to support an application for funding from Prime Television to NZ On Air for a regular interview programme on which he would be the interviewer. Dr Edwards also advised in that letter that he was a Labour Party supporter. Mr Hide noted that Dr Edwards acknowledged drafting the letter although there was no record that it had been received by the Government.

[12] Mr Hide said that within two hours of asking questions in Parliament about NZ On Air’s funding of Edwards at Large, he had been approached by the programme’s producer who raised the possibility of appearing on the programme. He later agreed to be interviewed and the producer advised him that the interview could deal with broad questions relating to political bias in the media. Mr Hide also pointed out that Dr Edwards had been interviewed on RNZ’s Morning Report on 14 August and had described the show, Edwards at Large, as a “lifestyle” one. He had also said on Morning Report:

I’m not a current affairs broadcaster and have not been a current affairs broadcaster since the seventies.

[13] In view of these remarks, Mr Hide commented:

I must admit I was somewhat confused as to why Dr Edwards wanted me on his show if it were to be a lifestyle piece. The specific issue that he was having me on his show for was current affairs. I did not see how he was going to handle the interview other than never discuss what I was invited on to discuss.

[14] Turning to the interview itself, Mr Hide said it became apparent that he had been “ambushed” into the show to enable Dr Edwards to pursue his personal interests. Dr Edwards read out the question Mr Hide had asked in Parliament dealing with the linkages noted above and then, Mr Hide contended, he was badgered by Dr Edwards to say something that he had not said so that Dr Edwards could sue him. Referring to other questions in the interview, Mr Hide contended:

Once again, it is clear that I am on Dr Edwards’ show to give him a chance to clear his wife of any implication of impropriety. I would have thought that TVNZ as broadcaster would appreciate that this is a subject that Dr Edwards as interviewer cannot deal with impartially or in a balanced way.

I have established that the interview focussed almost exclusively on Dr Edwards’ show, the funding of his show, his wife’s role as a board member of NZ On Air, his role as media adviser to the Prime Minister, and the fact that he is paid by her.

I have established that the interview was one when Dr Edwards was critical of me as a politician and as a member of the opposition asking [questions of] Ministers that he had provided media advice to. I have established that he attempted to use his position to manoeuvre me into a position where he thought he or his wife might be able to sue me.

[15] Mr Hide repeated his complaint that the interview failed to show balance and impartiality and was a clear breach of the broadcasting standards.

The Standard

[16] TVNZ assessed the complaint against the standard nominated by Mr Hide. Standard 4 and the relevant Guideline of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice provides:

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.

Guideline

4a  Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[17] Dealing first with the issue of balance, TVNZ said the interview was balanced as it involved “two skilled, articulate and experienced debaters” dealing with the criticisms which had been raised. TVNZ denied that Mr Hide had been “ambushed”, contending that he was always in a position where he could have declined to appear on the programme.

[18] TVNZ then considered the issue of “impartiality” and acknowledged that while Edwards at Large was an “easy-going lifestyle” programme for the most part, the interview complained about dealt with current political matters of a controversial nature.

[19] On the basis that Dr Edwards’ links with the Labour Party were well-known, and as he did not promote a partisan political stance during the interview, TVNZ considered that his links to the Labour Party did not constitute a breach of impartiality.

[20] In regard to the questions about Dr Edwards’ wife as a member of the Board of NZ On Air, TVNZ concluded that the interview “demonstrated a lack of personal impartiality”. It referred in particular to the following exchange:

Edwards:    You are not going to answer the question are you? You know why you can’t answer this
                  question? Because the moment you answer this question you are at risk of defamation
                  proceedings. That is why you can’t answer this question.

Hide:          So you have got me on your show for that?

Edwards:    Now, hold on – let me ask the next question…

[21] TVNZ observed:

…. the breach happened during a live, and lively conversation, circumstances which can often produce informative and attractive television but which also inherently carry a risk of unintentional mistakes occurring. This was one such occasion, and it is regretted by TVNZ.

[22] TVNZ concluded:

The [complaints] committee also took notice of the fact that the Chief Executive of Television New Zealand Ltd, Ian Fraser, was consulted before the broadcast in his role as Editor-in-Chief. He was asked to provide guidance on the appropriateness of inviting you to be interviewed on Edwards at Large. Mr Fraser acknowledges that he did not give the matter careful enough attention and that his advice to the effect that it was proper to proceed was ill-judged. Mr Fraser has stated to the committee that he must “share the responsibility for TVNZ’s breach of its duty of impartiality and I do so unreservedly”.

On behalf of TVNZ I am asked to thank you for drawing this matter to its attention and to apologise for any discomfort you felt about the conduct of the interview. The decision to uphold this complaint on grounds outlined above has been passed on to the production team and presenter at Edwards at Large.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[23] Upon receipt of TVNZ’s decision, Mr Hide issued a news release in which he accepted TVNZ’s apology and in which he also said he was looking forward to Dr Edwards’ apology. Dr Edwards then issued a statement and in dealing with Mr Hide’s suggestion advised that hell would freeze over before he apologised to Mr Hide. Mr Hide subsequently advised the Authority:

I originally accepted TVNZ’s apology as sufficient. In light of subsequent events, I now don’t.

[24] To the Authority, Mr Hide gave the following reasons for his change of mind:

The subsequent events are (1) Dr Brian Edwards’ press release which undermined TVNZ’s apology and attempted to justify Dr Edwards’ behaviour; (2) Dr Brian Edwards telling first year political science students that his attempt to get me to defame his wife on his show was deliberate, and was not the “unintentional mistake” that TVNZ claimed; (3) Dr Brian Edwards admitting he doesn’t know what he should be apologising for; and, (4) my reflection on whether apologising for a politician’s “discomfort” is sufficient for a breach of the broadcasting standards.

[25] Attaching a number of appendices, one of which was Dr Edwards’ lecture to students at Auckland University, Mr Hide pointed out that, in the lecture, Dr Edwards acknowledged that he had tried to get Mr Hide to repeat what he had said in Parliament in order to sue for defamation.

[26] Mr Hide argued that a “more formal apology” was clearly called for. He said that he now suggested that the apology should acknowledge the failure of the item to meet broadcasting standards.

[27] He also advised that an Official Information Act request, which he had made to TVNZ, had been declined, and he asked the Authority to obtain the papers he sought by exercising its Commission of Inquiry powers contained in s.12 of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Further Correspondence

[28] In regard to that request, the Authority advised Mr Hide that a comprehensive submission was necessary explaining how the material sought under s.12 would be useful to the Authority in determining the complaint. In response, Mr Hide stated that he was pursuing his Official Information Act request with the Ombudsman.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[29] Commenting that the Authority’s role upon receipt of a referral was to investigate and review the broadcaster’s decision, TVNZ questioned the relevance of a number of the enclosures attached to Mr Hide’s letter of referral.

[30] TVNZ also argued that the matters raised by Mr Hide and Dr Edwards after its decision was released, and Mr Hide’s subsequent correspondence with TVNZ’s Chief Executive did not relate to the broadcast. TVNZ wrote:

For the record TVNZ stands by its decision to uphold Mr Hide’s complaint on the basis that the interviewer demonstrated a lack of personal impartiality. TVNZ (as the broadcaster) conveyed its apologies to Mr Hide. As far as TVNZ is concerned that apology still stands and is an all-embracing apology on the part of the broadcaster.

What Dr Edwards had to say subsequently and from outside TVNZ has nothing to do with the formal complaint, or TVNZ’s decision on it, which the Authority is now asked to review.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[31] Mr Hide repeated both that he no longer accepted TVNZ’s apology and that his complaints were against the programme itself. He referred to a comment from TVNZ in regard to another complaint when it had argued that an order was unnecessary given the publicity a decision would attract because Mr Hide was the complainant. Reiterating that his complaints were against the programme itself, Mr Hide wrote:

The same reasoning applied to Dr Brian Edwards. I submit that his press release and public comments undermined TVNZ’s apology.

The Authority’s Determination

[32] Mr Hide complained to TVNZ about a segment on Edwards at Large in which he had been interviewed. He contended that the item breached the requirement for balance in Standard 4 and argued specifically that the item lacked balance and was not impartial. TVNZ upheld the complaint as a breach of the requirement for impartiality, but declined to uphold the balance aspect. Its response to Mr Hide included an apology from TVNZ’s Chief Executive – see paras [17] to [22] above.

[33] Mr Hide accepted TVNZ’s apology initially, but later changed his mind “in view of subsequent events”. Those events, listed in para [24], focused on the actions of Dr Brian Edwards, the host of Edwards at Large.

[34] Dealing first with Mr Hide’s complaint that the item was not balanced, the Authority agrees with TVNZ’s description of the item as involving “two skilled, articulate and experienced debaters”. While the Authority concurs with Mr Hide that the programme was promoted as an “easy-going” interview, it notes that Mr Hide was not unaware of the issues which were likely to be raised and that he responded in a way which indicated that he was neither intimidated nor overawed in any way. The Authority concludes that the item was not unbalanced.

[35] Turning to the complaint that the action taken was insufficient upon upholding the complaint about the item’s partiality, the Authority considers that it is relevant that initially Mr Hide was satisfied with TVNZ’s action. It was only Dr Edwards’ subsequent actions, which could be seen as continuing the debate that occurred on Edwards at Large, which caused Mr Hide to change his mind about TVNZ’s apology.

[36] However, the Authority does not regard these subsequent actions by the host and the complainant as relevant to the item which was broadcast or to the broadcaster’s decision to uphold the complaint that the item lacked impartiality. In the Authority’s opinion, Dr Edwards’ subsequent actions were not broadcasting standards issues.

[37] The Authority’s function is to provide for the maintenance of programme standards in broadcasting in New Zealand, and to determine complaints from complainants who are dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s decision. On this occasion, the Authority achieves this function by acknowledging that TVNZ’s decision to uphold the complaint on the grounds of lack of impartiality was appropriate, as was its action in apologising. It declines to uphold any matter referred to it.

 

For the reasons above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item was unbalanced, or the complaint that action taken by the broadcaster on the aspect upheld was insufficient.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 December 2003

Appendix

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

1.    Rodney Hide’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 20 August 2003
2.   TVNZ’s Response to Mr Hide – 12 September 2003
3.   Mr Hide’s Letter to TVNZ in regard to Dr Edwards’ Response to TVNZ’s Decision –
     16 September 2003
4.   TVNZ’s Response to Mr Hide – 18 September 2003
5.   Mr Hide’s Official Information Request to TVNZ – 18 September 2003
6.   TVNZ’s Response to the OIA request – 22 September 2003
7.   Mr Hide’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (plus attachments) –
      10 October 2003
8.   Mr Hide’s Request to the BSA regarding s.12 – 16 October 2003
9.   BSA’s Reply to Mr Hide regarding s.12 – 16 October 2003
10. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 30 October 2003
11.  Mr Hide’s Final Comment – 19 November 2003