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Collins and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2002-171

Members

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

Complainant

  • Rev D P Collins of Christchurch

Dated

17th October 2002

Number

2002-171

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
News item on National Radio – Padre Pio made a saint – "who is said to be" a stigmatist – cast doubt on accuracy of statement

Findings
Principle 6 – phrase did not make statement inaccurate – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The canonisation of Padre Pio was reported in a news item broadcast on National Radio at 5.00am on 17 June 2002. It was reported that he was said to have borne the bleeding wounds of Christ.

[2] Rev D P Collins complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the use of the phrase "who is said to be" was simply an impression when medical evidence must be available as Padre Pio died in 1968.

[3] RNZ said it relied on reputable international news agencies and the item reported testimony put forward in support of Padre Pio’s case for sainthood. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s decision, Mr Collins 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 and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The papers include a transcript of the item. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Padre Pio was made a saint by the Pope, reported a news item broadcast on National Radio at 5.00am on 17 June 2002. Padre Pio was described as a 20th century mystic monk, "who is said" had "borne the bleeding wounds of Christ".

The Complaint

[7] Rev D P Collins asked RNZ whether the use of the phrase "it is said" indicated gossip, rumour or was simply an impression. Pointing out that Padre Pio, a Capuchin Friar, died in 1968, he complained that the comments "should not be rendered dubious in the interest of easy reporting".

The Standards

[8] As the complainant did not nominate a standard, RNZ assessed the complaint under Principle 6 (and the relevant Guidelines) of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. They read:

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 if 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

[9] Explaining that it relied on reputable international news services, RNZ said that it was believed that the item contained information that was included in the testimony put forward in support of Padre Pio’s case for sainthood. Declining to uphold the complaint, RNZ continued:

As such it was entirely accurate to refer to it in the manner which was used in the news item and there was most certainly no intent to derogate from the significance or the truth of the events leading up to or the report of the actual canonisation.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[10] When he referred the complaint to the Authority, Mr Collins said it was not possible for Padre Pio to "have borne the bleeding wounds of Christ", as the wounds were personal to Christ and incommunicable. What Padre Pio had borne, Mr Collins continued, were "stigmata" which resembled the wounds of Christ crucified. Such stigmata were rare, but not altogether unknown, and Mr Collins noted:

Padre Pio is the first canonized priest to have suffered these visible lesions which bled regularly, failed to respond to any treatment, never got infected, lasted 50 years, and disappeared at death.

[11] Mr Collins stated that whoever prepared the news item did not understand the process of canonisation. He noted the requirements for canonisation, and quoted a source which recorded that stigmata could not be taken as a proof of sanctity.

[12] Acknowledging that it was the first time that RNZ or any modern media had covered the canonisation of a priest who was a stigmatist, Mr Collins said that nevertheless, RNZ "could have made the effort to have done better".

RNZ’s Response to the Authority

[13] RNZ said it understood there was a fine distinction between the use of the words "borne the bleeding wounds of Jesus Christ" and "stigmata", but maintained that, for most listeners, the use of words would not have detracted from the understanding of why Padre Pio was canonised.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[14] Emphasising that the complaint focused on the words "who is said", Rev Collins considered that the phrase cast doubt on the truth of the stigmata. "Facts", he wrote, "always remain facts" which deserve to be presented as such.

The Authority’s Determination

[15] A news item dealt with the canonisation of Padre Pio who, the item reported, "is said to have borne the bleeding wounds of Christ". Rev Collins complained the use of the phrase "who is said" rendered dubious a matter which could have been easily verified.

[16] The Authority accepts that the item was dealing with a matter of fact in a broad and general way. It considers that the use of the phrase "who is said" takes the phenomenon into the area of "lore". The Concise Oxford defines "lore" as:

a body of traditions and knowledge on a subject or held by a particular group.

[17] The Authority regards "lore" as the stuff of mythology which is not necessarily proven in a scientific or medical context. Moreover, it does not consider that the phrase suggested that Padre Pio did not carry stigmata.

[18] As the Authority is of the view that the use of the phrase "who is said" does not render inaccurate the comment about stigmata, it declines to uphold the complaint as a breach of Principle 6.

[19] 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. Rev D P Collins’ Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 18 June 2002
  2. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 28 June 2002
  3. Mr Collins’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 8 July2002
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 25 July 2002
  5. Mr Collins’ Final Comment – 3 September 2002