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Boyce and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2002-148

Members

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

Complainant

  • Simon Boyce of Paraparaumu

Dated

26th September 2002

Number

2002-148

Programme

Nine to Noon

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Nine to Noon National Radio – review of events – political editor’s comment – inaccurate

Findings
Principle 6 – editorial opinion – principle not applicable – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] RNZ’s political editor (Al Morrison) reviewed events during the week of 6–10 May in a segment broadcast on Nine to Noon between 9.45–10.00am on 10 May 2002. The review is broadcast weekly and, on this occasion, he referred to a speech by the Minister of Labour in which, he said, the Minister said that "the basic shape of the income system" had not changed for some years.

[2] Simon Boyce complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was factually inaccurate. The Minister, he said, had in fact referred to the "income support system" which was a different system to the one which the editor had referred to in the broadcast.

[3] As RNZ did not respond to the complaint within 20 working days, Mr Boyce 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 questioned whether the complaint was trivial. Nevertheless, it declined to uphold the complaint as the item was a programme of editorial opinion rather than news or current affairs.

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 programme 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] Nine to Noon is broadcast each weekday on National Radio. It includes news stories, current affairs, music and other matters of interest. The broadcast on 10 May 2002 included the regular weekly interview with RNZ’s political editor (Al Morrison) in which recent political events were reviewed.

The Complaint

[7] Mr Boyce complained that, on 10 May 2002, the political editor’s had made a factual error by misquoting the Minister of Labour’s speech when the editor said the Minister referred to the "income system", rather than the "income support system". Because these concepts were very different, Mr Boyce considered that the editor’s comment was factually inaccurate and breached the standard which required factual accuracy in news and current affairs.

[8] As RNZ did not reply within 20 working days, Mr Boyce referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. In his letter of referral, Mr Boyce maintained that the political editor’s omission of the word "support" would be confusing to the listener who might not be aware of the system to which the Minister was referring.

[9] Mr Boyce also commented about some aspects of the broadcast which he perceived as indicative as a lack of professionalism on RNZ’s part. He also noted that these matters were not necessarily a question of broadcasting standards. In addition, he referred to another complaint about an item on Nine to Noon on 17 May to which he had not yet received a response.

The Standard

[10] Mr Boyce complained that the item breached Principle 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice which reads:

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

[11] RNZ advised the Authority that the political editor’s comments were not "strict news and current affairs". Rather, the segment was one of "editorial opinion". Moreover, RNZ wrote, the broadcast did not breach the standards as the comment:

…did not derogate in any way from the overall meaning or impression that the RNZ Political Editor was conveying.

[12] In view of the complainant’s comments about aspects of the broadcast which did not raise matters of broadcasting standards, RNZ reported that considerable time and effort had been spent in locating the broadcast which was the subject of the specific complaint. Furthermore, it argued that the matter raised in the complaint was "trivial", and it asked the Authority to make "some determination in this regard".

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[13] In his final comment, Mr Boyce emphasised the point that his initial complaint focused solely on the matter in which the Minister’s speech had been referred to on Nine to Noon. RNZ’s comments, he stated, referred to another complaint which he had made. He commented:

It is also odd to say that the complaint is trivial and not a question of standards. Anyone should expect to be quoted accurately on a radio programme, especially a Minister of the Crown being quoted by a political editor on a programme such as Nine to Noon, which is widely believed to include current affairs. RNZ are also wrong to say that the misquote did not ‘derogate’ from the impression being given, because this assumes that the speech had something specifically to do with the snap election. In fact, the speech had nothing to do with a snap election, as opposed to coalition management, and it was only Mr Morrison’s habit (at that point) of linking everything to the July 27th date that makes it relevant to an election.

[14] Mr Boyce disputed RNZ’s argument that Nine to Noon was not a current affairs programme, pointing to the changes in programming currently occurring because of the forthcoming election.

[15] Mr Boyce attached to his final comment, RNZ’s letter in response to his formal complaint dated 12 June, which appeared to have crossed in the mail with his referral to the Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Act.

[16] In addition to the points dealt with in paras [11] and [12] above, RNZ emphasised that the weekly programme, while it might address issues of current affairs, contained what Mr Boyce described as the political editor’s "pontification". It also noted that the Minister’s speech was referred to as it was "highly provocative" in the context of the speculation about an early election. The other issues dealt with were not relevant to the specific complaint contained in Mr Boyce’s letter of 11 May.

Further Submissions

[17] On receipt of a copy of the complainant’s final comment, RNZ responded to the Authority and pointed out that Mr Boyce, when he had referred his complaint to the Authority, had omitted about half of his original letter of complaint. The deleted portion, RNZ observed, commented about other aspects of the political editor’s "pontification", and to the fact that he had interrupted his discourse by a reference to a former presenter of Nine to Noon "who was apparently blowing kisses to him through a window". Mr Boyce had also referred to an earlier programme with the political editor when he had made a derogatory comment about a "mental health facility".

[18] When asked to comment, Mr Boyce argued that his complaint about the reference to the Minister’s speech was identical in both letters, and that was the matter which he had referred to the Authority. He regarded the other two paragraphs – which he had deleted – as "additional comments about the programme and Mr Morrison’s conduct on it". He wrote:

If the Authority feel that I have attempted to mislead, I can only say that this wasn’t my intention. I suggest RNZ have used my editing of the complaint to be tendentious, and claim confusion that isn’t relevant. If they had been able to furbish me with a reply on time, and not used the excuse of editorial opinion, I wouldn’t have referred the complaint.

[19] In response, RNZ said that it accepted the complainant’s statement that the editing of the letter of complaint had not been done in an attempt to mislead the Authority. However, it objected to the complainant’s comment that it was being tendentious. Confusion had occurred, it wrote, and it suggested "that such tampering" should not be tolerated by the Authority.

The Authority’s Determination

[20] In a weekly item broadcast on Nine to Noon, RNZ’s political editor reviews politics for the preceding week. During the broadcast on 10 May, he incorrectly referred to the "income system" when it appeared that he intended to refer to the "income support system". Mr Boyce complained that the factual inaccuracy breached Principle 6 of the Radio Code. As Principle 6 is confined to "news and current affairs programmes", the Authority’s first task is to decide whether the broadcast complained about was in fact a news or current affairs item.

[21] The Authority’s position, established in a number of previous decisions, is that programmes such as Nine to Noon cannot be categorised per se as either news and current affairs, or not news and current affairs. It is a matter of assessing each item, and sometimes, the specific comment complained about. In carrying out this assessment, the Authority looks at the nature of the item itself, and the context in which it is broadcast.

[22] In its assessment of the item complained about on this occasion, the Authority concludes that the item was editorial opinion put forward by an authoritative commentator. The Authority does not consider that there are any relevant contextual factors which could lead to a different decision. Accordingly, it was not a news or current affairs item and Principle 6 does not apply to the inaccuracy complained about.

[23] The Authority notes that while the item was based around topical events, the opinion was personalised, subjective and expressed in the more unstructured format and language that often distinguishes editorial opinion from news and current affairs. The Authority believes that the item had the character of a weekly "fireside chat" that is similar to other radio editorial opinion and not dissimilar to editorial commentary in other media. Moreover, the item, unlike the formality of news and current affairs, did not give sources in support. Rather the sources were referred to and described in support of the editorial opinion advanced.

[24] The Authority also notes that the correspondence between the complainant and the broadcaster and the Authority during the course of the complaint was fractious. At one point, RNZ asked the Authority to determine whether such complaints were envisaged when the formal complaints system was established and that broadcasters would be required to respond to complaints of this nature.

[25] Section 5(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 states that broadcasters are responsible for dealing with complaints, and must establish a proper procedure to do so. While the Authority under s.11(a) of the Act may decline to determine a complaint if it is "frivolous, vexatious or trivial", it does not consider this complaint falls into any of these categories.

[26] 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 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. Simon Boyce’s Formal Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 11 May 2002
  2. Mr Boyce’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 14 June 2002
  3. RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 28 June 2002
  4. Mr Boyce’s Final Comment plus copy of RNZ’s Response (dated 12 June) to the Formal Complaint – 3 July 2002
  5. RNZ’s Response to the Final Comment – 9 July 2002
  6. Mr Boyce’s Response to the Authority – 12 July 2002
  7. RNZ’s Further Response to the Authority – 31 July 2002