One News: Waitangi Day Special – New Zealand flag used to cover tables where participants sat – disrespectful – intention to dishonour flag
Standard G2 – acceptable visual centrepiece – no uphold
Standard G5 – no disrespect for the principles of law – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Maori-Pakeha relationships, the Treaty of Waitangi, and issues of nationhood were debated during a One News: Waitangi Day Special broadcast on TV One at 9.45pm on 6 February 2001. The participants sat at tables which were covered with the New Zealand flag.
Thomas Morgan complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the use of the New Zealand flag as a table cloth was offensive and dishonourable.
Arguing that the use of the flag was symbolic and that there was no intention to dishonour it, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Morgan 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.
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 the complaint without a formal hearing.
On 6 February 2001, Waitangi Day, a One News: Waitangi Day Special was broadcast on TV One at 9.45pm. It involved a debate about Maori-Pakeha relationships, the Treaty of Waitangi, and issues of nationhood. During the programme, the New Zealand flag was used to cover three of the tables in the studio where the participants sat.
Thomas Morgan complained to TVNZ that the use of the New Zealand flag to drape the tables was contrary to the Flags, Emblems and Names Protection Act 1981.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard G5 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which requires broadcasters:
G5 To respect the principles of law which sustain our society.
In regard to standard G5, TVNZ acknowledged that the Act referred to made it an offence to display the New Zealand flag "with the intention to dishonour it" (s.11(1)(b)). As the flag had been used for symbolic reasons, without any intent to dishonour it, TVNZ considered that neither the Act nor the standard had been contravened.
In subsequent correspondence with TVNZ, Mr Morgan maintained that it was disrespectful that the national flag covered the tables, and was leant on by the participants in the debate, especially given the issues under discussion. Mr Morgan also maintained that standard G2 was the appropriate standard. G2 requires broadcasters:
G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.
While not considering the complaint under this standard explicitly, TVNZ later advised that it found no breach of this provision. In its report to the Authority, TVNZ advised that it did not accept that standards G2 or G5 had been breached. The flags, it wrote, were used as part of the set.
In his final comment, Mr Morgan emphasised the need for the Authority to assess the impact of the use of the flag to cover the tables through the entire programme.
Mr Morgan complained that the use of the New Zealand flag "as a table cloth" breached, first, the Flags, Emblems and Name Protection Act 1981, and secondly, the requirement for standards of good taste and decency. He maintained that the use of the flag in this way was disrespectful to it. He argued that standards G2 and G5 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice were contravened.
The Authority has viewed the manner in which the flag was used during the programme and considers that it was a visual and symbolic centrepiece. It agrees with TVNZ that there was no evidence of disrespect for the law or to community standards of good taste and decency.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
4 June 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: