Omission to broadcast news about Invercargill businessman – unbalanced – deceptive programming practice
Complaint about omission to broadcast – editorial judgement – decline to determine
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Brent Procter complained that local news bulletins on Newstalk ZB and Classic Hits Invercargill had failed to cover the activities of an Invercargill businessman who had been charged with fraud. He contended that in this omission the broadcaster had failed to show balance and had used deceptive programming practice in its broadcasts during the period of newsworthiness, notably between 6 March and 10 March 2000.
The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, responded for both stations that broadcasting standards were not breached as the story in question had not been broadcast.
Dissatisfied with TRN’s response, Mr Procter referred the complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below the Authority declines to determine the complaints.
The members of the Authority have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.
Brent Procter complained that local news bulletins on Newstalk ZB and Classic Hits Invercargill had neglected to provide ongoing coverage concerning an Invercargill businessman who had been charged with fraud, during the period between 6 March and 10 March 2000.
Mr Procter contended that in failing to cover this story TRN had breached standards R9 and R10 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Code cited by Mr Procter is no longer in force and the equivalent provisions in the current Radio Code are Principle 4 and Principle 6, Guideline 6a, which read: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.
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.
Mr Procter contended that what he called the "disgraceful" conduct of each of the stations in this regard "should be admitted by the broadcast of a suitable, culpability-accepted apology", and:
There should be a public assurance to never again describe, promote or advertise your erstatz local informational product as news.
As broadcaster, TRN responded for both of the stations Mr Procter complained about. It contended that broadcasting standards were not breached as the story in question had not been broadcast.
In its initial response to the complaints TRN conceded that it had missed a story and would take this up with its journalists. In its subsequent response, TRN asserted that as the story had not been broadcast it did not consider it had breached broadcasting standards, and Mr Procter was advised that his complaints had not been upheld.
When Mr Procter referred his complaints to the Authority, he said that TRN was "sheltering behind a literal wall of silence because nowhere in the Radio Code is self-censorship addressed". In Mr Procter’s view, it was not socially responsible to neglect to broadcast the story. Mr Procter also cited Principle 6, Guideline 6d in his referral, which he considered was relevant to his complaints.
In TRN’s response to the referral, it stood by its response to the complaints. It repeated its contention that the non-broadcast of a story did not breach broadcasting standards, commenting that "[i]n the end, The Radio Network has editorial control over what it chooses to place in its news bulletins."
In Mr Procter’s final comment, he reiterated his concerns about the quality of local news coverage.
In an earlier decision (Decision No: 1993-112) the Authority accepted that the non-broadcast of an event is not usually a matter to which the complaints process is applicable, and that, in most cases, it is a matter of editorial discretion whether an item is considered to be worthy of broadcast as a news item by a broadcaster. The Authority sees no reason to depart from this precedent on this occasion. As there was no broadcast and no issue of broadcasting standards was raised in the complaints, and having considered all the circumstances, the Authority declines to determine the complaints under s.11(b) of the Broadcasting Act.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to determine the complaints.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
1 June 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Brent Procter’s Formal Complaint to The Radio Network – 16 March 2000
2. TRN’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 30 March 2000
3. Mr Procter’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 17 April 2000
4. TRN’s Response to the Authority – 26 April 2000
5. Mr Procter’s Final Comment – 18 May 2000