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The Monarchist League of New Zealand Inc and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2002-090

Members

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

Complainant

  • The Monarchist League of New Zealand Inc

Dated

25th July 2002

Number

2002-090

Programme

Insight

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Insight – item on the monarchy versus republic debate – unbalanced – unfair presentation – factual inaccuracies

Findings
Principle 4 – range of views presented – no uphold

Principle 5 – Dr Mann of the Monarchist League not dealt with unfairly – no uphold

Principle 6 – no inaccuracies – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] An Insight programme dealing with support for a monarchy and republicanism was broadcast on National Radio on Sunday 17 February 2002 between 8.15–8.45am. The Queen’s impending visit to New Zealand was the catalyst for the discussion.

[2] On behalf of The Monarchist League of New Zealand Inc., Dr Noel Cox, Chairman, complained to Radio New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the programme was unbalanced, factually incorrect and unfairly presented.

[3] In response, RNZ declined to uphold the complaint, stating that the programme was accurate, balanced and fairly represented the views of both sides.

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

For the reasons given 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 listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

The Broadcast

[6] An Insight programme dealing with support for a monarchy and republicanism was broadcast on National Radio on Sunday 17 February 2002 between 8.15–8.45am. The Queen’s impending visit to New Zealand was the catalyst for the discussion.

The Complaint

[7] On behalf of The Monarchist League of New Zealand Inc., Dr Noel Cox, Chairman, complained to Radio New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the programme was unbalanced, factually incorrect and unfairly presented. The League maintained the programme gave undue weight to the proponents of republicanism.

[8] The League stated that the programme was factually incorrect on two accounts when it claimed:

that the 100 or so members of the Monarchist League would oppose a republic; and

the Monarchist League would mark the Royal Visit with pomp and circumstance.

[9] The League argued that the majority of New Zealanders, not just the League, would oppose a republic. Further, it advised, the League had deliberately chosen not to mark the Royal Visit.

[10] The League also argued the size of its membership was not relevant, and that the item had dismissed that membership in a mocking fashion. This had occurred when the item compared the League with the Republican Movement. The League argued that the Republican Movement had fewer members.

[11] The item presented the views of a number of people asked off the street. The League considered that this did not accurately reflect public opinion. It was concerned that the results of formal opinion polls on the subject were not used.

[12] The League also expressed concern that the Republican Movement president, Dave Guerin, was given more air-time than Dr Robert Mann of the Monarchist League.

[13] In summary, the League stated the programme gave an entirely false impression. It said:

Republicanism has minority support, as the Prime Minister and others have attested. To listen to Insight one would be forgiven for thinking that the idea had majority support and only a handful of “die-hards” were opposed.

[14] The League enclosed with its formal complaint an information sheet about its organisation, its aim, and its response to a series of claims in favour of republicanism.

The Standards

[15] RNZ assessed the complaint against Principles 4 and 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Principles and relevant guidelines 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.

Guidelines

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

4b  Broadcasters may have regard, when ensuring that programmes comply with Principle 4, to the following matters:

An appropriate introduction to the programme; and

Any reasonable on-air opportunity for listeners to ask questions or present rebuttal within the period of current interest. Broadcasters may have regard to the views expressed by other broadcasters or in the media which listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of.

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

6a  Broadcasters will not use deceptive programme practices.

6b  In the event of an allegation of inaccuracy, broadcasters will act promptly to check the allegation against the original broadcast, and will broadcast with similar prominence a suitable and appropriately scheduled correction that that is found to be justified.

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

6d  Broadcasters shall ensure that the editorial independence and integrity of news and current affairs is maintained.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[16] RNZ responded that the programme presented a cross-section of opinions to ensure balance. It rejected the League’s contention that the programme “gave an entirely false impression of support for republicanism”.

[17] RNZ said that the programme heard from four people in favour of the Monarchy. It then featured four pro-republican speakers. The item also included the views of four people which, RNZ said, did not fall into either camp.

[18] Dealing specifically with the League’s concerns regarding inaccuracies and imbalance, RNZ said:

the statement regarding the opposition by the League towards a republic was factually correct;

Dr Mann of the League advised the presenter the League had 100 or so members;

the League’s size was relevant because the programme focussed on support for the Monarchy;

the League was not dismissed in a mocking fashion, its views being given the same attention as the other interviewees;

Dr Mann told the presenter the League would mark the Royal Visit, but would not say how;

there was no justification for the use of the cliché “pomp and ceremony”, but its use did not threaten the standard of accuracy as envisaged by the broadcasting standards and did not affect listeners’ perception of the issue being explored;

the opinion polls indicate that the public’s interest in the Monarchy has diminished, and this was a valid reason for seeking the views of those on the streets of Auckland; and

Mr Guerin’s comments were 2 minutes 27 seconds long. Dr Mann’s occupied 2 minutes 47 seconds.

[19] Arguing that the item was neither inaccurate nor biased, RNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Authority

[20] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, the League said when it referred its complaint to the Authority:

Although advocates for the status quo were represented, the programme gave undue weight to the proponents of republicanism. In the service of this cause, a number of significant factual errors were made.

[21] The League argued that the bias against it was evident in many places in the programme. The League in its referral also cited a breach of Principle 5. The Principle and relevant Guideline state:

Principle 5

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

Guideline

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.

[22] The League gave a number of examples in support of its complaint.

Principle 4:
the reasons for continuing the New Zealand Monarchy were provided to the presenter, but nearly all were omitted by the editing.

Principle 5:
there was no mention of the virtues and accomplishments of the Monarch, and no reasons provided by the presenter for continuing the New Zealand Monarchy; and

the presenter failed to address the League’s spokesperson as Dr Mann, and incorrectly referred to “the Monarchists’ League”.

Principle 6:
Helen Clark was not New Zealand’s first republican prime minister, Mr Bolger also openly advocated republicanism;

it was biased to refer to Dr Walker as working for Auckland University, when he is retired, while not mentioning that Dr Mann was also a retired academic. The League said Dr Walker, a republican supporter, was accorded a higher status than he actually held, while Dr Mann was presented as if not particularly educated or qualified; and

RNZ did not mention that the Republican Movement had only a small fraction of the League’s membership numbers, and in claiming that the size of the League was relevant, the programme should also have mentioned the size of the Republican Movement.

[23] The League requested that a response to its complaint should not be delayed to ensure that any publicity was contemporary with The Queen’s visit.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[24] In its final comment the League said that RNZ had not only failed to address any of its complaints, it also described the League incorrectly as the “Monarchists’ League”.

The Authority’s Determination

[25] Principle 4 requires broadcasters 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.

[26] The item dealt with the republicanism versus the monarchy debate. In the Authority’s view, this is an issue of controversy to which Principle 4 applies. The Authority notes that a range of views was heard from four speakers who were in favour of the monarchy, and four pro-republican speakers. Four others expressed views that did not fall into either camp.

[27] The League contended that the item was biased in favour of republican advocates. In the Authority’s view, this claim is not substantiated. The Authority considers that the item adequately dealt with a variety of perspectives from both sides, thus satisfying the requirements of Principle 4. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the aspect of the complaint that the broadcast breached Principle 4.

[28] Principle 5 requires the broadcaster to deal justly and fairly with Dr Mann as a person taking part in the programme. While the Authority considers that the item was not explicit as to the issues being addressed, it does not accept that Dr Mann was treated in such a way as to amount to a breach of the requirement for fairness, for example by referring to him as “Mr” rather than “Dr”.

[29] The Authority considers that Dr Mann was given adequate time to express his views, noting that RNZ said Dr Mann’s comments were of 2 minutes 47 seconds duration compared with 2 minutes 27 seconds for Mr Guerin of the Republican Movement. In any event the Authority does not accept that a precisely unequal allocation of time between speakers is necessarily an indication of “unfairness”. In the Authority’s assessment, the views of Dr Mann were fairly represented in the broadcast and there was nothing unfair about the manner in which Dr Mann was treated in the item. The Authority declines to uphold the aspect of the complaint that Principle 5 was breached.

[30] Principle 6 requires broadcasters, in the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, to be truthful and accurate on points of fact. The Authority notes that the two facts identified by the League as being incorrect were the level of support for the monarchy; and that the League would commemorate the royal visit with “pomp and circumstance”.

[31] The Authority notes that the item contained a number of comments to the effect that the large majority of citizens prefer the monarchy, and that the Queen is “still overwhelmingly popular with New Zealanders”. Dr Mann cited the results of an opinion poll which reflect that “two thirds of New Zealanders are in favour of a constitutional monarchy”, and that while there maybe fewer people who now come to see the Queen compared to the 1950s, “it is not the case that the monarchy is still anything less than popular”. In the Authority’s view, therefore, while the item discussed the public’s declining interest in the Queen, it considers that the item did not suggest that support for the Queen was confined to members of the Monarchist League, and that it was not inaccurate regarding the level of support for the monarchy.

[32] With respect to the second inaccuracy raised, the Authority notes that RNZ conceded that the characterisation “pomp and circumstance” was unjustified. The Authority also considers that while the observation was inappropriate, it was not material, and therefore it did not reach the threshold to breach the accuracy standard. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

[33] 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 above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
25 July 2002

Appendix

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

  1. The Monarchist League of New Zealand Inc.’s Formal Complaint to Radio New Zealand
    – 18 February 2002
  2. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 7 March 2002
  3. The League’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 13 March 2002
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 16 May 2002
  5. The League’s Final Comment – 2 June 2002