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Carapiet and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2002-007

Members

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

Complainant

  • Jon Carapiet of Auckland

Dated

24th January 2002

Number

2002-007

Programme

Eureka

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Eureka Royal Commission on Genetic Modification – GE Free rally – rally participants interviewed – approach assured participants rejected Commission findings – views misrepresented – unbalanced

Findings
Principle 5 – interviewees not treated unfairly – no uphold

Principle 6 – factual reports and opinion distinguished – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] An interview with one of the Commissioners from the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, and comments from participants at a GE-Free rally, were included in the edition of Eureka broadcast on National Radio on 9 September 2001 and repeated on 10 September. Eureka is a science magazine programme broadcast weekly.

[2] Jon Carapiet complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme’s approach was unbalanced as the item sought to represent those at the rally as ill-informed. Consequently, he said, their views were misrepresented.

[3] In response, RNZ said that the Commissioner, when interviewed, had expressed the view that the report had been rejected by some people who had not read the report. RNZ stated that the item had disclosed that the rally participants, who were interviewed, acknowledged that they had not read the report. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr Carapiet 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] Eureka is a magazine programme of science items broadcast weekly on National Radio. The edition broadcast at 2.00pm on Sunday 7 September, and repeated at 7.00pm on Monday 10 September, dealt with the recently released report from the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. It included an interview with one of the Commissioners, Dr Jean Fleming, and comments from participants at a GE-Free rally recently held in Auckland.

The Complaint

[7] Jon Carapiet complained that the item was unbalanced as a result of the programme’s unusual format of "pseudo-interviews fitted into a ‘lead’ interview". Mr Carapiet argued:

There was a basic bias in the premise of the programme that sought to orientate, and confine all discussion to a theme fabricated by the journalist. That "theme" was the aim of representing the GE-Free rally in Auckland on 1st September as one founded in ignorance and targeted at the Royal Commission and against all aspects of the Commission’s report rather than a positive expression of a shared vision for New Zealand.

[8] Mr Carapiet elaborated by explaining that the participants at rally were presented as rejecting the Commission’s report. However, he added, the participants had accepted a number of aspects of the Commission’s report. Because of the approach taken in the programme, he contended, there were no contributions from scientists and others who had read the report and could clarify the areas of agreement and contention. He concluded:

I hope you will recognise the flaws in the approach taken by this programme which I contend have resulted in the breach of standards. I believe it is your responsibility to address the impact of these breaches by formulating a more balanced programme to address the misleading content of the first.

The Standards

[9] RNZ assessed the complaint under Principles 5 and 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. These principles and relevant guidelines provide:

Principle 5

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

Guidelines

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.

Principle 6

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

Guidelines

6c  Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, shall be clearly distinguished.

The Broadcaster's Response to the Complaint

[10] RNZ maintained that awareness of the contents of the Commissioner’s report, and the implications of some of the recommendations, were the programme’s themes.

[11] One of the questions to the Commissioner interviewed, RNZ noted, was to ask about the apparent rejection by many of the recommendations. The Commissioner responded:

I wonder how many of them have actually read the report.

[12] RNZ continued:

This then provided the "springboard" for the remainder of the interview which examined some of the content of the report and contrasted that with "vox pops" from the GE Free Rally to see to what extent participants had informed themselves by reading the report, a legitimate question to pose journalistically.

The programme producer asked two questions of the different people that he approached at the rally, namely that he was "looking for someone who has read the report" and as a follow up to the largely negatively response "…do you think you might?"

[13] RNZ also noted that the Commissioner in her replies to questions had said among other points, that the groups at the opposite end of the spectrum were "talking past each other", and repeated the Commission’s finding that the "anti GM scientific evidence fell apart under cross examination".

[14] Turning to the requirements regarding editing in Guideline 5b, RNZ said the "vox pops" approach was a legitimate journalist practice to gather people’s views, and maintained that sufficient rally participants were interviewed to obtain a representative sample. Accordingly, RNZ argued, editing had not distorted the process.

[15] In response to the complaint that spokespeople from the GE Free campaign had not been interviewed, RNZ listed a number of representatives from interest groups who had been interviewed on Eureka previously.

[16] RNZ next addressed the complaint under Guideline 6c which requires broadcasters to distinguish factual reports, opinion, analysis and comment. Pointing to the requirement for accuracy in Principle 6, RNZ said that the item had accurately reported the views of one of the Commissioners and a number of the participants at the rally. Further, RNZ stated, the Commissioner had clearly distinguished her factual comments and her opinion. RNZ advised:

While the programme host at times put challenging questions to the main interviewee, there was no question that he was trying to put forward a particular point of view. The content and manner in which the questions were asked were legitimate journalistic practices (even to the point of playing devil’s advocate) to elicit substantial responses from the interviewee.

In the end Radio New Zealand found nothing in the techniques used or the manner in which the item was compiled to suggest that the Principle 6 had been breached in this instance.

[17] RNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

The Complainant’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[18] On the basis that RNZ had not responded to all of the matters raised in his complaint, Mr Carapiet referred the complaint to the Authority for review.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[19] Explaining that it had dealt with the complaint fully in its reply to Mr Carapiet, and noting that he was the sole complainant, RNZ said it had nothing further to add.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[20] Mr Carapiet reiterated his concern that the programme used parody "to unfairly position and simplify the purpose and support for the rally in Auckland". The rally, he contended, was not aimed at the Commission. Rather, it was designed to show support for a GE-Free policy, but the programme’s format portrayed the supporters as "ill informed and unreasoning".

The Authority’s Determination

[21] Mr Carapiet complained that the theme of an item on Eureka on 9 September 2001 was to represent the participants at the GE-Free rally in Auckland as totally opposed to the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, and that their opposition was based on ignorance.

[22] The Authority has listened to the item and does not agree with Mr Carapiet’s interpretation of the theme. In its view, the main theme of the item was an interview with Dr Jean Fleming, one of the Commissioners on the Royal Commission. Her contribution was wide-ranging and examined her response to some of the material with which the Commission had been presented. The item also dealt with her approach to some GE-Free food products.

[23] During the discussion, Dr Fleming expressed a doubt that those who opposed the findings had "actually read the report". To investigate this conclusion, her interview was interspersed with brief interviews with a number of participants at a GE-Free rally in Auckland, who were asked if they had read the report.

[24] As such, the Authority considers that the basis of the item was the interview with Dr Fleming and it was not, nor did it suggest that it was, coverage of the GE-Free rally. Rather, the item used the rally as an opportunity to check Dr Fleming’s claim that the report’s opponents appeared not in fact to have read the report.

[25] The Authority accepts that the rally was an appropriate occasion to verify or disprove Dr Fleming’s claim. Most of those spoken to acknowledged that they had not read the report, as Dr Fleming claimed, although some expressed an interest in reading it.

[28] The Authority acknowledges that the use of the "vox populi" process does not advance a full range of views which might exist on a topic. Nevertheless, it is a practice which journalists use reasonably regularly. If the range of views collected had been edited to restrict the range published to one perspective only, the broadcast would have been in danger of breaching the requirement in Guideline 5b. However, there was no evidence of such an approach on this occasion.

[29] The Authority is aware that there are strongly held views on genetic modification in the community and broadcasts on the issue are analysed carefully. Nevertheless, the complainant on this occasion does not seem to have appreciated fully the item’s theme. The Authority does not accept that the approach adopted in the item was unbalanced or unfair, or in breach of Principles 5 or 6.

[30] The Authority also observes that to find a breach of Principles 4 or 5 would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to place too great a limit on the broadcaster's statutory freedom of expression in s14 of the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990. It prefers to adopt an interpretation of the Principles which is consistent with the Bill of Rights.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
24 January 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Jon Carapiet’ Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 11 September 2001
  2. RNZ’s Response to Mr Carapiet – 28 September 2001
  3. Mr Carapiet’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 1October 2001
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 21 November 2001
  5. Mr Carapiet’s Final Comment – 26 November 2001