During the New Zealand Tamil Society’s programme broadcast on Access Community Radio Auckland Inc on 5 September 1999 at 8.35pm, a text was read out concerning the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple of Sri Lanka.
A Theva Rajan complained to Access Community Radio Auckland Inc, the broadcaster, that the text contained four factual errors. He said he had pointed them out to the programme’s presenter and asked for a correction to be broadcast, but that was not done.
Access Radio’s response emphasised that the matters complained about were events of historical interest and although the historical findings were in contention among scholars, they were not controversial matters to the general population. The station offered Mr Rajan the opportunity to broadcast a programme of an equivalent length of time.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to determine the complaint.
The members of the Authority have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix (with the exception of the material provided in Tamil script). On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
A broadcast by the New Zealand Tamil Society on Access Radio on 5 September 1999 at 8.35pm included a reading from a text written about the history of the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple of Sri Lanka.
A Theva Rajan complained to Access Radio that the text contained factual errors. He said he had written to the programme’s presenter and pointed out those errors, but they were not corrected. He also objected to the presenter’s having dealt with the complaint himself, instead of the station. In Mr Rajan’s view, his right of expression had been constrained. He sought unconditional apologies from the presenter and a broadcast correction.
As requested, Access Radio considered the complaint under standards R1, R12 and R(A)9 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards require broadcasters:
R1 To be truthful and accurate on points of fact in news and current affairs programmes.
R12 To correct factual errors speedily and with similar prominence to the offending broadcast or broadcasts.
The other standard reads:
R(A)9 Community access broadcasters provide facilities for members of the community to make and broadcast their own programmes. When dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature, community access broadcasters will, if requested, provide equivalent time to alternative points of view under the conditions and guidelines of the station.
In its response, Access Radio pointed out that the requirement for accuracy applied to news broadcasts and that standards R1 and R12 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice were therefore not applicable. Noting the requirements of standard R(A)9, it noted that the item was about events of historical interest. It argued that while the authenticity and accuracy of published findings may still remain in contention among scholars, they "hardly constitute controversy amongst the general populace."
The station advised Mr Rajan that if he wished to broadcast his view, it would, for a nominal fee, provide him with an equivalent amount of air time provided that he complied with its terms and conditions.
In his referral to the Authority, Mr Rajan took issue with the station’s failure to refer the complaint to experts in Tamil affairs. He emphasised that the author of the text was not a Tamil historian and that his views were inconsistent with other historians and scholars, including a professor of history in Sri Lanka who was the author of a paper dealing with the matter.
Mr Rajan said that, as a member of the Tamil community, he could not permit Access Radio to broadcast something which was "factually erroneous and consequently offending and objectionable".
Referring to Access Radio’s application of the standards, Mr Rajan appeared to accept that standard R1 was not applicable. However, he argued, standards R12 and R(A)9 were applicable. He continued:
I have done my duty as a member of the Tamil Community in correcting statements that are historically untrue. It is more obligatory on the part of a Community Radio to respect corrections of facts pertaining to that community.
Mr Rajan submitted that the Authority would appreciate the need for a correction to be broadcast. He suggested that the matter be placed before a panel of three Tamil people of standing in Wellington.
In its report to the Authority, Access Radio clarified the procedure it had followed in dealing with the complaint. It reported that the panel which heard the complaint comprised its Station Manager, Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson. The only member of the Tamil Society who was involved with dealing with the complaint was the presenter, who was asked for his version of the circumstances surrounding the complaint, it submitted.
The station pointed to the article provided by Mr Rajan which acknowledged that some matters had been "the cause of much confusion…in the minds of the Tamil chroniclers and some of their modern interpreters". It also pointed out that the author of the article had used several qualifying phrases which, it suggested, indicated that he was being meticulous about what could be presented as a fact and what may be in doubt. With regard to standard R(A)9, Access Radio said it considered it had fulfilled the terms of that part of the Code by offering Mr Rajan the opportunity to broadcast his point of view, under the conditions and guidelines of the station. Those conditions included becoming a member of the Access Radio society and paying for the air time, as was required of everyone who broadcast in their own language and from their own point of view on the station.
As a final point, the station noted that both the presenter of the programme and the President of the New Zealand Tamil Society had advised that it was their society’s policy to permit only its members to broadcast on the programme. Mr Rajan had been invited to join the society several times but had declined, it added.
In his final comment, Mr Rajan referred to an extract from a paper which he had provided to the Authority which he said supported his contention that the temple which was under discussion was built in the 15th Century and not in 946AD, and that the reference to the site of the destroyed temple was incorrect.
He also objected to the response of Access Community Radio which he maintained should not have confined its consideration of the complaint to standard R(A)9. Mr Rajan also complained that the Station Manager had denied that she had not consulted Tamil Society officials on the substance of the complaint. How, he asked, could she have understood what the complaint was about when it had been spoken in Tamil only, if she had not sought such assistance?
Mr Rajan emphasised that although he was not a member of the New Zealand Tamil Society he should have been entitled to make a broadcast expressing his own views. He maintained that his human rights had been violated because he had been denied the right to freedom of expression and said he held both the New Zealand Tamil Society and Access Community Radio jointly responsible.
In a further comment, Access Community Radio clarified that the Station Manager had not consulted New Zealand Tamil Society members on the matter of the texts relating to the complaint. It emphasised that it made no finding on which of the views was correct, but simply had made the decision not to uphold Mr Rajan’s complaint.
The Authority begins by noting that Access Community Radio stations make available air time for various groups to broadcast to their own community of interest, and that the Tamil Society’s broadcast is by and for members of that community. It also notes that Mr Rajan sought an opportunity to correct what he considered to be incorrect statements made on the broadcast on 5 September but that the programme’s presenter "could not broadcast" the corrections. The station later offered him an equivalent amount of time but he declined that offer.
The Authority’s task is to decide whether a breach of any broadcasting standards occurred as a consequence. It notes that the complaint alleges breaches of standards R1, R12 and R(A)9 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice and observes that that Code has now been superseded by a new Code of Practice which came into effect in July 1999. The corresponding standards in that Code are:
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:
An appropriate introduction to the programme; and
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.
In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.
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 eh 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 Authority turns first to the Code’s requirement for accuracy, (Principle 6) and notes that it is confined to news and current affairs items and therefore, in this context, is not relevant.
It next turns to a consideration of the balance requirement in Principle 4. As a preliminary point the Authority makes no finding on the accuracy of the broadcast itself, noting that it is apparent from the material provided by Mr Rajan that the historical facts are themselves not conclusive and are open to interpretation. On this occasion, the Authority finds that the offer to provide Mr Rajan with an equivalent amount of airtime satisfied the broadcaster’s obligation to provide a balanced view on the matter. Accordingly, it declines to determine the complaint.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to determine the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
10 February 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. A Theva Rajan’s Complaint to Access Community Radio (Auckland) Inc – 5 October 1999
2. Access Community Radio’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 2 November 1999
3. Mr Rajan’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 20 November 1999
4. Access Community Radio’s Response to the Authority – 29 November 1999
5. Mr Rajan’s Final Comment – 18 December 1999
6. Access Community Radio’s Further Comment – 29 December 1999
7. Mr Rajan’s Further Comment – 25 January 2000