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Powell and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2002-146

Members

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

Complainant

  • Robin Powell of Auckland

Dated

26th September 2002

Number

2002-146

Programme

Insight

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Insight – item on issues facing foreign students in New Zealand – allegation of rape by student in home-stay situation – no evidence presented to substantiate allegation – inaccurate

Findings
Principle 6 – participants' contribution – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] An Insight programme broadcast on National Radio on 12 May 2002 considered some of the issues facing overseas students living in New Zealand, including the implications on the export education industry for this country. The programme included a claim that a student had been raped while living in a home-stay situation.

[2] Robin Powell complained to Radio New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the claim of rape by the student had not been substantiated, and it was therefore irresponsible to have broadcast such a claim.

[3] When the broadcaster failed to respond to his formal complaint, Mr Powell referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[4] In its response to the Authority, RNZ stated that the issue of overseas student safety had been raised because there were claims being made about the issue. It also pointed out that the programme discussed the issues surrounding the reluctance of overseas students to lodge complaints.

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 item 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 was broadcast on National Radio on 12 May 2002. The item considered the issues facing foreign students living in New Zealand, including the implications on the export education industry for this country.

[7] A number of people involved in the export education industry were interviewed, including Sue Kensington, a home-stay mother. Ms Kensington discussed some of the concerns facing overseas students, including one student’s claim of having been raped in a home-stay situation.

The Complaint

[8] Mr Powell complained to Radio New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the allegation of rape discussed on the programme had not been substantiated. Therefore he said it was irresponsible to include such a claim in a programme, without factual evidence.

[9] Mr Powell wrote:

The claim of rape was featured all week in promos and led the programme. To cap it off the programme finished stating this type of incident could ruin the overseas students industry. It certainly could if irresponsible and unsubstantiated claims like this are going to be aired on our national station.

[10] Mr Powell expressed concern that the claim might have no truth to it and questioned the integrity of the student and the home-stay mother. He argued such a claim could unsettle female students in home-stay situations or promote students as easy targets for such crime.

[11] Mr Powell concluded:

The Asian students business is good business for all involved. A lot of us are putting in a lot of hard work and giving top service to this industry. We don’t need sensation-seeking reporters running around airing this sort of claim with no evidence.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[12] As Mr Powell failed to receive a response to his formal complaint from RNZ within 20 working days, he referred his complaint to the Authority.

The Standards

[13] After the Authority had referred the complaint to it, RNZ assessed the complaint under Principle 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

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.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14] Dealing first with its failure to respond to the formal complaint, RNZ said that it had not received the formal complaint. It maintained its systems ensured that all complaints received were forwarded on to the correct department for processing. In this case, it advised, either it had not received the complaint, or it had been received but had not been processed correctly.

[15] Dealing with the programme specifically, RNZ wrote:

The programme presenter interviewed a number of people involved in dealing with overseas students including those who have undertaken post-graduate research. Both a homestay mother and researchers were interviewed with regard to the area of rape accusations and other concerns. It was the actuality of the homestay mother Sue Kensington and researcher speaking that was broadcast, not the report of someone’s comments. The difficulties surrounding such an issue namely the victims’ reluctance to lodge complaints was also canvassed in the programme. Part of the objective of the programme was to highlight the dilemma that is involved when a victim will not lodge a complaint about such incidents as well as canvassing a number of other issues arising from the number of foreign fee paying students attending institutions in New Zealand.

[16] RNZ disputed Mr Powell’s contention that the rape claim was unfounded. It argued that there was no doubt about the "credibility of those participating or of what they said." It pointed out that the researcher’s thesis paper was publicly available information. RNZ also maintained that neither the researcher nor the home-stay mother had anything to gain from disclosing the details broadcast. It advised that the home-stay mother had been reluctant to participate in the programme.

[17] In relation to the rape issue, RNZ wrote:

The issue was approached in a dispassionate manner and was not sensationalist in any sense. Far from suggesting that there was no evidence of such claims, it was only as a result of such evidence coming to light that the matter has been raised in a number of media and other forums. An example of this is the Education and Science Select Committee which considered a number of submissions on the introduction of a compulsory code of practice to the industry for education providers.

[18] RNZ said it had assessed the complaint against Principle 6 of the Radio Code. It argued that the Insight programme was a documentary and that the Principle was not applicable, but in any event it concluded that the item had not breached Principle 6.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[19] Mr Powell maintained that he had correctly addressed his complaint to RNZ, and disputed its contention that his complaint had not been received. Referring to RNZ’s response, Mr Powell said it had failed to address his concerns regarding the "damage done" by reporting the rape claim of an overseas student in a home-stay situation.

The Authority’s Determination

[20] 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 first question for the Authority is whether or not Insight is a "current affairs programme". It is the Authority’s view that on this occasion the documentary style of programme comprised elements of current affairs, in that it dealt with a topical issue of current interest, and therefore does fall within the ambit of Principle 6.

[21] The Authority concludes that the broadcast did not breach Principle 6. The Authority notes that the programme canvassed a variety of perspectives on some of the concerns facing overseas students, and the ramifications for New Zealand’s export education industry. Included among these perspectives were a number of recollections and comments made from anecdotal experiences or conversations. Central to this complaint is the rape allegation, which was included in the comments. The Authority considers that it was one of a number of experiences and comments which were discussed within the context of issues facing overseas students and was therefore appropriately included as one participant’s contribution.

[22] To the extent it was the interviewee’s genuine belief, albeit hearsay, that one student had been raped in a home-stay situation, was a point of fact in respect of which the broadcaster was required to be truthful and accurate. The Authority is satisfied that the Principle 6 requirement of truth and accuracy was not breached on this occasion.

[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 given above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
26 September 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Robin Powell’s Formal Complaint to Radio New Zealand Limited – 14 May 2002
  2. Mr Powell’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 18 June 2002
  3. RNZ’s Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 8 July 2002
  4. Mr Powell’s Final Comment – 26 July 2002