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Ranger and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2002-170

Members

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

Complainant

  • Diane Ranger of Wellington

Dated

17th October 2002

Number

2002-170

Programme

Saturday Morning

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Saturday Morning Interview with David Lane of the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards – SPCS – interviewer harangued Mr Lane – unfair

Findings
Principle 5 – interview abrasive and querulous and subject matter subject to abrupt change – however interviewee is spokesperson for activist group and allowed to express opinion – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Mr David Lane of the Society for the Protection of Community Standards (SPCS) was interviewed on Saturday Morning, at about 8.15am on 13 July 2002, about contentious films.

[2] Diane Ranger complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the interviewer shouted and sneered at Mr Lane, spoke in an insulting manner and prevented Mr Lane from putting his view.

[3] In response, RNZ described the interview as robust, generally good humoured, and challenging. It denied that Mr Lane had been treated unfairly and declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s decision, Ms Ranger referred the 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 programme complained about, have read a transcript of it, and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Mr David Lane of the Society for the Protection of Community Standards (SPCS) was interviewed about contentious films on Saturday Morning, broadcast on National Radio at about 8.15am on 13 July 2002.

The Complaint

[7] Ms Ranger complained to RNZ that the interviewer (Kim Hill) shouted and sneered at Mr Lane, spoke in an insulting manner, and prevented Mr Lane from presenting his view.

The Standards

[8] As the complainant did not nominate a standard, RNZ assessed the complaint under Principle 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It 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

[9] RNZ explained that the interview covered a number of topics, including the SPCS’s views on the censorship laws. It described the interview as "robust" and "generally good humoured and challenging". It added:

A review of the interview indicates that an element of frustration crept in at some parts as the interviewer attempted to direct the interviewee to answering the questioning put to him. Eventually and again in a good natured way, particularly around the area of questioning about the viewing of films by the interviewee, the questions were answered.

[10] RNZ noted that the interviewer, at one stage, described herself as an "arty farty type" and on occasions both the interviewer and interviewee could be heard chuckling. RNZ acknowledged that Mr Lane was interrupted at times, and at other times, it pointed out, he was allowed to speak at length.

[11] RNZ stated that the interviewee was well aware of the scope of the interview before he was interviewed, and maintained that the interview did not lack fairness. It declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[12] When she referred her complaint to the Authority, Ms Ranger denied that there was any "good humour" apparent. The interviewee, she said, shouted Mr Lane down and at times used "coarse disparaging tones".

[13] Ms Ranger said that she had admired the interviewer’s previous work, but her "aggressive manner" was not appropriate for Saturday Morning which she described as "a cultural programme".

The Authority’s Determination

[14] Having listened to a tape of the programme and read a transcript of it, the Authority considers that the interview with David Lane broadcast on Saturday Morning on 13 July was robust and challenging. While RNZ described the interview as "good natured", the Authority believes that the overall tone was abrasive.

[15] Ms Ranger contended that the interviewer shouted at Mr Lane and prevented him from putting his views. The Authority agrees that the interviewer was at times aggressive, while at others Mr Lane was able to speak at length to explain the position of the Society for the Protection of Community Standards.

[16] RNZ assessed the complaint as one in which Mr Lane had been dealt with unfairly. The Authority considers that there were essentially three potential areas of unfairness: the first was the interviewer’s regular interruptions to the interviewee’s answers; the second was the tone of the interview; and the third was the abrupt change of subject matter and tone of questioning at times by the interviewer.

[17] The Authority accepts that a feature of challenging interviews is that interviewees who stray from answering questions are brought back to the topic by the interviewer. In this case, the interviewer made it clear to the interviewee that citing sections of legislation was not helpful in the context of the interview. However, it is apparent from the transcript that the interviewee was given an adequate opportunity to express an opinion. Overall, the Authority considers that he was given those opportunities and concludes that this aspect did not breach Principle 5.

[18] The Authority also notes that Mr Lane has experience of media interviews for the Society and is not inexperienced. While the tone of the interview was at times abrasive and querulous, it also contained banter and exchange between two protagonists, and the Authority finds that this aspect was not in breach of Principle 5.

[19] The abrupt change of subject matter during the interview, while having the potential to disconcert the interviewee, did not, in the Authority’s opinion, constitute a breach of Principle 5. Those involved in lobbying and activism must expect the media to challenge the range of activities in the interests of public information and understanding.

[20] 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
17 October 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Diane Ranger’s Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 15 July 2002
  2. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 25 July 2002
  3. Ms Ranger’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 26 July2002
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 4 September 2002