Holmes – Employment Relations Bill – unbalanced – unfair
Standard G6 – no standards issues raised – vexatious – decline to determine
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
The introduction of the Employment Relations Bill was the subject discussed on Holmes broadcast on TV One on 14 March 2000 beginning at 7.00pm. The Minister of Labour, a trade union representative, an employer representative and the Opposition spokesperson debated some of the issues.
Simon Boyce complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the discussion simplified the highly complex legislation so much that many important concepts, such as collective bargaining, had not been explained. Furthermore, he complained that the participants had not received equal time.
TVNZ responded that it did not believe the absence of an explanation about collective bargaining was a breach of broadcasting standards. As for the complaint that participants had not received equal time, TVNZ noted that balance was not achieved by a stop-watch approach. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Boyce referred the complaint 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 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. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
The introduction of the Employment Relations Bill was debated on Holmes broadcast on TV One on 14 March 2000 between 7.00–7.30pm. The Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson, former Minister and Opposition Spokesperson Max Bradford, trade union representative Maxine Gay and employers’ representative Peter Tritt discussed the legislation and its likely implications.
Simon Boyce complained to TVNZ that there were several breaches of broadcasting standards in the broadcast. He objected to the fact that the complex legislation had been reduced to simple terms which he said ignored such matters as the role of collective bargaining and whether the proposed legislation complied with International Labour Organisation conventions. He also contended that the overall contributions of the participants did not involve equal time and that the programme was therefore unbalanced. In addition he expressed a concern that the Minister had not been respected, citing as an example the presenter calling her by her first name.
As requested, TVNZ assessed the complaint under standard G6 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which requires broadcasters:
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
In TVNZ’s view, it had been presented "with a ‘newsletter’ of personal opinion, rather than a considered assessment of how the item as broadcast breached statutory standards." It responded first that the absence of an explanation about collective bargaining did not amount to a breach of broadcasting standards. It was, it said, a matter of editorial discretion. Secondly, it wrote, the use by the presenter of first names was not in any way relevant to the requirements of standard G6. Further, it maintained that the absence of a reference to International Labour Organisation conventions did not contribute to any imbalance or demonstration of impartiality. As a final point, it responded that balance could not be achieved by the stop-watch, but by ensuring points made were balanced by other participants. It declined to uphold the complaint.
When he referred the matter to the Authority, Mr Boyce reiterated that in his view the failure to mention collective bargaining was an issue of balance, particularly as he considered it was the critical point of difference between two of the interviewees. He also maintained that reference should have been made to the fact that the Employment Contracts Act appeared to be inconsistent with the conventions of the ILO.
As for his complaint about the relative length of the various contributions, Mr Boyce explained that his concern was that only the Minister could provide any real insights into the legislative process. He contended that TVNZ was "obviously unconcerned" about the familiarity of the presenter with one of the MPs. He concluded with some general comments about other broadcasts.
TVNZ advised that it had no further comment.
Having considered the matters raised by the complainant, the Authority finds that no breaches of broadcasting standards were adduced. Indeed, it agrees with TVNZ that the complaint represented a commentary relating the complainant’s personal views about the proposed legislative change and its expected impact. For this reason, the Authority concludes that the complaint was vexatious, and it declines to determine it under s.11(ab) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to determine the complaint.
The Authority may award costs against the complainant under s.16(1) and (2) where, in its opinion, a complaint was frivolous or vexatious or one which ought not to have been made. It invited submissions from the parties in relation to such costs. TVNZ submitted that a penalty was not appropriate. It suggested that the complainant should refrain from articulating his various opinions on the issues and instead confine his complaints to identifiable breaches of the standards. Mr Boyce submitted that the Authority had ignored his complaint and had an "agenda of punitive action" against him.
The Authority rejects Mr Boyce’s accusation that its decision is subjective. It repeats that, in its view, no issues of broadcasting standards were raised by the complainant and that it considers the complaint vexatious. On this occasion, the Authority decides against imposing a penalty, but reminds the complainant that it has the power to do so should it receive a similar complaint in the future.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
29 June 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Simon Boyce’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 15 March 2000
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 3 April 2000
3. Mr Boyce’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 5 April 2000
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 12 April 2000
5. Mr Boyce’s Submission on Penalty – 25 May 2000
6. TVNZ’s Submission on Penalty – 30 May 2000