Holmes – studio discussion about Police Education Child Protection Scheme – bullying tactics – unbalanced – biased
Standards G3, G4 and G6 – interviewee given opportunity to voice concerns – dealt with fairly – issue not dealt with in unbalanced manner – no uphold
Standard G13 – not relevant
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
A studio discussion on the Holmes programme, broadcast on TV One at 7.00pm on 14 November 2000, centred around the controversial Police Education Child Protection Scheme. The scheme encouraged schools to teach even their youngest pupils the names of intimate body parts, and aimed to assist children to talk unashamedly about issues such as unwanted touching.
W T Lewis complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was "offensive and biased" because the presenter had "verbally bullied" one of the participants in the studio discussion.
TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It said it was not a breach of standards for an interviewer to interrupt or to interject a subject and that the interviewee had been able to get his "central message" across.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Lewis referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
An item on the Holmes programme broadcast on TV One at 7.00pm on 14 November 2000 centred around the controversial Police Education Child Protection Scheme. The scheme encouraged schools to teach even their youngest pupils the names of intimate body parts, and aimed to assist children to talk unashamedly about issues such as unwanted touching.
The item involved a studio discussion between a parent concerned about the scheme, a member of a school Board of Trustees, and a Family Planning Educator.
W T Lewis complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was "offensive and biased" because the presenter had "verbally bullied" the parent and had given him "no time to present his views opposing the use of body part names to five-year-old children." He said the other two participants in the studio discussion had been given "plenty of time" to present their views in support of the scheme.
In a further letter to TVNZ, in which the complainant confirmed that he wanted his complaint to be the subject of a formal investigation, Mr Lewis said he wanted to make it clear that he was not complaining about the item’s subject matter, "just the way it was presented".
Mr Lewis complained that the broadcast breached standards G3, G4, G6 and G13 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
Those standards require broadcasters:
G3 To acknowledge the right of individuals to express their own opinions.
G4 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any programme.
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
G13 To avoid portraying people in a way which represents as inherently inferior, or is likely to encourage discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation or the holding of any religious, cultural or political belief. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:
- factual, or
- the expression of genuinely-held opinion in a news or current affairs programme, or
- in the legitimate context of a humorous, satirical or dramatic work.
In its response to the complainant, TVNZ’s Complaints Committee observed that its role was to decide whether or not an item breached broadcasting standards. Its role, it noted, did not extend to "passing judgement on the style an interviewer may adopt", unless that style impinged upon broadcasting standards. TVNZ said:
A viewer’s perception of style is, more often than not, a matter of preference and in the case of prominent personalities such as Paul Holmes, such preferences can become polarised. Many viewers are devoted followers of his programme; others (presumably like yourself) dislike his approach to interview subjects.
The broadcaster said that section 5(c) of the Broadcasting Act made it clear that matters of preference were not, in general, capable of being resolved by a complaints procedure.
According to TVNZ, it was not a breach of standards for an interviewer to interrupt or to interject, especially if the interviewer believed the interview subject was evading a question or had wandered off the topic. TVNZ said:
Items in news and current affairs programmes have a finite duration and a skill required of interviewers is that they keep the topic in focus, and fulfil the devil’s advocate role of challenging opinions put forward by the interview subjects.
TVNZ argued that the parent "did wander from the point" quite early in the interview, and that it was "not unfair of [the interviewer] to interrupt him and bring him back to the topic under discussion." It argued that the parent had not been impeded in getting across his central message, which was that children should be allowed to be children.
According to the broadcaster, the interviewer had mainly interrupted the parent when he "moved away from the topic of the discussion" which, it said, was the teaching of the names of body parts.
TVNZ considered that, under standard G3, the parent had been given the opportunity to express his opinion. It said:
The [Complaints] Committee does not believe that the standard implies that a participant in a programme should be allowed to make comments without having them challenged, nor that it is an infringement of G3 for a presenter to interrupt in order to keep the discussion within the terms of the debate being undertaken.
In relation to standard G4, TVNZ said it had found no evidence that the parent had been unfairly treated. It was not a breach of standards for an interviewer to adopt a "devil’s advocate" position, and to seek justification from a participant when controversial views were being expressed, TVNZ said.
Under standard G6, the broadcaster said the arguments for and against the teaching of the names of body parts had been clearly heard. If the parent had not been there, the programme would have lacked balance, TVNZ said.
The broadcaster said it could not understand why the complainant had cited standard G13 as having been breached. In its view, there was no suggestion that anybody referred to in the programme was "inherently inferior", and it could find no example of any encouragement being given to discriminate against any person or group.
Accordingly, it declined to uphold the complaint.
In his referral to the Authority, Mr Lewis said TVNZ appeared to have taken the view that his complaint was based on a dislike of the Holmes programme. He said this was "only their opinion and not fact."
Mr Lewis asked the Authority to investigate and review the complaint, as he was not satisfied that it had been fairly considered.
I stand by my original comments that the programme of 14 November was biased and that the parent … was verbally bullied and prevented from presenting his case by the tactics of [the interviewer].
The complainant contended that the Holmes item breached standards G3, G4, G6 and G13 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. In the complainant’s view, the standards were transgressed because the parent who objected to aspects of the Police Education Child Protection Scheme had been "verbally bullied" and prevented from presenting his views.
The Authority notes that the item consisted of a studio discussion in which the presenter put questions to and sought comment from three people: a parent who had raised concerns about the scheme; a member of a School Board of Trustees; and, a Family Planning Educator. It notes that all three participants had a particular point of view to advance. A range of concerns were raised and a variety of views expressed. In the Authority’s view, given the relatively short space of time allotted to a studio debate of this nature, it was inevitable that supporters of a particular perspective would feel frustrated if insufficient emphasis were able to be afforded their perspective.
Dealing first with standards G3, G4 and G6, the Authority points out that the standards are not concerned with the outcome of debates. Rather, they require that each participant is given the opportunity to express an opinion, that each participant is dealt with fairly, and that the topic – if controversial – is dealt with in a manner which is not unbalanced, partial, or unfair.
In the item complained about, the Authority notes that matters for discussion were highlighted at the outset of the debate. It notes that the presenter interrupted the parent to ensure that the issues remained in focus. However, in the Authority’s view this was not done in such a way as to constitute unfairness or partiality. The Authority considers that the parent, along with the other two participants, was given an adequate opportunity to express his views. As such, it declines to uphold the complaint that standards G3, G4 or G6 were breached.
The complainant also raised standard G13 for the Authority’s consideration. In the Authority’s view, the issues raised in this complaint are adequately encompassed in its consideration of standards G3, G4 and G6. The item complained about did not breach standard G13, which the Authority finds does not apply to the complaint.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
8 March 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: