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Harrison and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2002-002

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • B Hayward
  • J H McGregor

Complainant

  • K W Harrison of Auckland

Dated

24th January 2002

Number

2002-002

Programme

Nine to Noon

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Nine to Noon host read out email critical of Whanau series – host highlighted grammatical and typographical errors in email – breach of right of individuals to express own opinions – breach of requirement to deal justly and fairly with person referred to in programme – failure to show impartiality on question of a controversial nature

Findings
Principle 4 – host presented email correspondent's point of view – no uphold

Guideline 4a to Principle 4 – host presented correspondent's opinion – no uphold

Principle 5 – correspondent not treated unjustly or unfairly – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] During the Nine to Noon programme broadcast on National Radio on 14 August 2001, the host read out a number of responses received from listeners via phone, fax or email. One of the emails was critical of National Radio’s recent series Whanau, which had been broadcast in Maori. When reading out the email, the host highlighted various grammatical and typographical errors the writer had made.

[2] K W Harrison complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the host’s comments had "played the man not the ball". He objected to the host’s "attempts to rubbish the writer" which he said gave the impression that the writer’s opinions were of no value. In his view, the broadcast breached standards requiring broadcasters "to respect the rights of individuals to express their own opinions, to deal justly and fairly with any person referred to in a programme, and to show impartiality on questions of a controversial nature".

[3] Declining to uphold the complaint, RNZ said it was not unreasonable for the host to make critical comments when comments of critical review were being read out.

[4] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr Harrison referred his 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 item 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] During the Nine to Noon programme broadcast on National Radio on 14 August 2001, the host read out a number of responses received from listeners via phone, fax or email. One of the emails was critical of National Radio’s recent series Whanau, which had been broadcast in Maori. When reading out the email, the host highlighted various grammatical and typographical errors the writer had made.

The Complaint

[7] K W Harrison complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the host’s comments had "played the man not the ball". He objected to the host’s "attempts to rubbish the writer" which he said gave the impression that the writer’s opinions were of no value.

[8] Mr Harrison framed his complaint in terms of three broadcasting standards contained in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice which existed prior to July 1999. Those standards required broadcasters "to respect the rights of individuals to express their own opinions, to deal justly and fairly with any person referred to in a programme, and to show impartiality on questions of a controversial nature". They correspond to the requirements of Principle 4, Guideline 4a to Principle 4, and Principle 5 of the current Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

The Standards

[9] Radio New Zealand assessed Mr Harrison’s complaint under Principle 5 of the current Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which came into effect on 1 July 1999. The principle reads:

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] In its response to Mr Harrison, RNZ observed that the comments read out from listeners were "of their nature, critical". Accordingly, the broadcaster asserted, it was not unreasonable for the programme’s host to make "comment of a similar genre". RNZ continued:

This is something our listeners have come to expect when comments of critical review are aired on this and other programmes.

In the cut and thrust of listeners’ critical points of view being made known, it could reasonably be expected that the show’s host might respond in kind. That she did, and in the context of levelling criticisms, there is nothing unfair in the approach which the show’s host adopted.

[11] RNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Authority

[12] In his referral to the Authority, Mr Harrison said he objected to the "denigration and dismissal" of the correspondent’s concerns. He said the "off-hand" manner in which the comments were made appeared to "be an attempt to suppress viewpoints antagonistic to National Radio’s programming by ridiculing the person rather than addressing the problem raised".

[13] Mr Harrison said he was also dissatisfied with RNZ’s response to his complaint, because the broadcaster had not considered the aspects of his complaint relating to alleged breaches of the requirements that broadcaster’s respect the right of individuals to express their own opinions, and show balance, impartiality and fairness on questions of a controversial nature.

[14] He said:

By drawing attention away from the opinion and onto the format [the host’s] comments damaged the right of the person to have their opinion considered.

[15] Mr Harrison did not accept RNZ’s response that the host’s comments were of a "similar genre" to the critical responses from listeners. He said:

[I]t must be pointed out that the correspondent did not draw adverse attention to the host’s diction but rather posed a concern about programming – the "cut and thrust" of the listener’s [critical point of view being made known] was addressed to the problems National Radio’s new programme insertion was causing them, it certainly did not attack her linguistic performance.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[16] In his final comment, Mr Harrison reiterated his objection to RNZ not having considered all aspects of his complaint, and his view that the correspondent was "held up to ridicule" and that the broadcast therefore breached the requirement to treat the person justly and fairly.

The Authority’s Determination

[17] The Authority notes that Mr Harrison framed his complaint to RNZ in terms of three broadcasting standards contained in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice which existed prior to July 1999. Those standards required broadcasters "to respect the rights of individuals to express their own opinions, to deal justly and fairly with any person referred to in a programme, and to show impartiality on questions of a controversial nature".

[18] Those standards correspond to the requirements of Principle 4, Guideline 4a to Principle 4, and Principle 5 of the current Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which came into effect on 1 July 1999. Accordingly, the Authority proceeds to determine Mr Harrison's complaint against the current standards. They 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.

Guidelines
4a  Broadcasters will respect the rights of individuals to express their own opinions.

Principle 5

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

[19] The Authority notes that RNZ's response to Mr Harrison's complaint dealt only with a potential breach of Principle 5. Mr Harrison was dissatisfied that RNZ had not responded to the other two aspects of his complaint. The Authority, however, will deal with all three aspects of the complaint.

[20] Dealing first with the aspect of the complaint that the broadcast failed to treat the email correspondent to Nine to Noon justly and fairly as required by Principle 5, the Authority concurs with RNZ that the principle was not breached. While it was apparent that the host did not agree with the message contained in the email, her references to its grammatical and typographical errors were based on what she had in front of her. In the Authority's view, it was neither unjust nor unfair to the correspondent, whose identity in any event was not revealed, to highlight those points.

[21] In relation to the aspect of the complaint that the broadcast was impartial, the Authority observes that Principle 4 requires broadcasters to present a range of points of view when discussing "controversial issues of public importance". In the Authority’s view, the correspondent’s email raised a matter of programming policy, rather than a "controversial issue" as envisaged by the standard. Accordingly the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

[22] The Authority also declines to uphold the aspect of the complaint that the broadcast did not respect the right of the email correspondent to express his/her own opinion. By reading out the email, the host gave expression to the correspondent’s opinion. The Authority notes that the principle does not require the host to agree with the opinion expressed, and it declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

[22] Finally, the Authority observes that to uphold any aspect of the complaint would be to interpret the standards in such a way as to place too great a limit on the broadcaster’s statutory right to freedom of expression in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
24 January 2001

Appendix

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

  1. K W Harrison’s Formal Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 30 August 2001
  2. RNZ’s Response to Mr Harrison – 27 September 2001
  3. Mr Harrison’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 24 October 2001
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 26 November 2001
  5. Mr Harrison’s Further Correspondence – 12 December 2001
  6. Mr Harrison’s Final Comment – 11 January 2002