Newstalk ZB – Transmission Gully – talkback host’s comments criticised politicians – callers putting contrary views cut off – unbalanced – unfair
Principle 4 – talkback robust – no evidence of lack of balance – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
The defeat of a private member’s Bill supporting a road through Transmission Gully was addressed during talkback on Newstalk ZB broadcast in Wellington between 8.30 and 11.00am on 3 May 2001. The host (Justin du Fresne) criticised the loyalty of the MPs from Wellington who had voted against the Bill.
Arnold Sabine complained to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, that the programme, by ridiculing politicians and not allowing callers to present a contrary point of view, was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair.
In response, TRN described the host’s attitude as "robust" but said that callers with a contrary point of view had been given the opportunity to express their opinions. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TRN’s decision, Mr Sabine 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 listened to an edited tape of the talkback programme complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
The defeat of a private member’s Bill, promoted by Hon Peter Dunne MP and providing for a road through Transmission Gully, was one of the topics discussed during a talkback session broadcast on Newstalk ZB in Wellington between 8.40 and 11.00am on 3 May 2001. The host (Justin du Fresne) criticised the Labour and Alliance MPs from the greater Wellington region for not supporting the Bill.
Arnold Sabine complained to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN) that the broadcast was unbalanced, unfair and inaccurate. The host, he said, had criticised the loyalty of the MPs who voted against the Bill, and had cut short the callers who disagreed with him. Expressing the view that talkback hosts were in a privileged position, Mr Sabine argued that they should treat people who disagreed with them with respect.
TRN assessed the complaint under Principle 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Principle and guidelines read:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
4a Broadcasters will respect the rights of individuals to express their own opinions.
4b Broadcasters may have regard, when ensuring that programmes comply with Principle 4, to the following matters:
(i) An appropriate introduction to the programme; and
(ii) Any reasonable on-air opportunity for listeners to ask questions or present rebuttal
within the period of current interest.
Broadcasters may have regard to the views expressed by other broadcasters or in the
media which listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of.
TRN acknowledged that the host had taken "a strongish line" on the issue, and that the majority of callers agreed with him. Nevertheless, it added, anyone who wanted to express a contrary view could have done so. Describing talkback as a "robust arena", TRN said that it was in the nature of talkback for some calls to be terminated. It declined to uphold the complaint.
When he referred his complaint to the Authority, Mr Sabine reported that he had telephoned the programme to present his opinion. He maintained that the host had been "unnecessarily rude and very biased" when he had cut him off from expressing his views on the private member’s Bill.
In its submission to the Authority, TRN reiterated that talkback was a "robust" format, and calls were of varying lengths with varying methods of termination. Mr Sabine, it said, had made his point, and had been terminated at the end of a sentence to enable another call to be taken.
In his final comment, Mr Sabine maintained that he had been "cut off" before any robust debate could occur. He stated that he had thought he was still on air when he presented his view. The treatment he had received, he contended, proved his point that the host had only allowed points which agreed with his perspective.
The Authority accepts the broadcaster’s contention that callers to talkback must expect a robust environment and that it is an arena where hosts may cut-off callers for a variety of reasons. It notes, in the discussion on the morning of 3 May, that while Mr Sabine might have intended to elaborate on a number of aspects raised that morning, he was given the chance to complete his point about Mr Dunne’s loyalty.
Having listened to a tape focussing on the Transmission Gully issue broadcast on Newstalk ZB between 8.40 and 10.30am on 3 May 2001 where a range of views were advanced, the Authority concludes that Principle 4 of the Radio Code was not contravened.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
19 July 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Arnold Sabine’s Formal Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (through Broadcasting Standards Authority) – 7 May 2001
- TRN’s Response to Mr Sabine – 22 May 2001
- Mr Sabine’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 29 May 2001
- TRN’s Response to the Authority – 5 June 2001
- Mr Sabine’s Final Comment – 10 June 2001