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Voluntary Law Association of India New Zealand Inc and Access Community Radio Inc - 2010-162

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainant

  • Voluntary Law Association of India New Zealand Inc of Auckland

Dated

22nd February 2011

Number

2010-162

Channel/Station

Planet FM

Broadcaster

Access Community Radio Inc


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Radio Punjab – hosts and callers discussed controversy surrounding charges of electoral fraud against a prominent member of the Indian community – caller talked about complaints laid against the police investigating the electoral fraud – allegedly inaccurate and unfair to police

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) –  hosts did not make any unqualified statements of fact – caller’s comments clearly opinion – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – no person or organisation treated unfairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]   Radio Punjab, a talkback programme, was broadcast on Planet FM at 5pm on Tuesday 12 October 2010. During the programme, the hosts invited callers to comment on controversy surrounding charges of electoral fraud against a prominent member of the Indian community. During the first part of the programme, the hosts and a number of callers discussed how the political incident had impacted negatively on that community.

[2]   Later in the programme, the hosts took a call from a spokesperson for the NZ Sikh Society. The caller said that he had received a number of complaints from members of the Society about the actions of the police investigating the electoral fraud. He said that the Society had laid a complaint with the police and outlined some of the allegations that were being made. The hosts questioned the caller on the number of complaints that had been made, the progress made on the investigation, and about the Society’s stand on the electoral fraud. At the end of the call, one of the hosts stated, “This was [name of caller] with his views and we are doing this programme to get your views”.

[3]   The hosts then talked to a number of callers who commented on the operations of the Sikh Society. The hosts stated on a number of occasions that the caller’s comments were their “personal views”.

Complaint

[4]   The Voluntary Law Association of India New Zealand Inc (VLAINZ) made a formal complaint to Access Community Radio Inc, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached broadcasting standards.

[5]   The complainant argued that although the issue under discussion on the programme was electoral fraud and its effect on the Indian community, the spokesperson for the NZ Sikh Society had “successfully used the programme for making serious, outrageous, false, defamatory statements against the New Zealand police”. It argued that, instead of advising the caller to stop making such “unjustified and objectionable” comments, one of the hosts asked him to explain the specific allegations against the police.

[6]   Further, the complainant said, when subsequent callers confronted the comments made by the Sikh Society spokesperson and praised the work of the police, the host “snubbed them and disconnected their calls ... and repeatedly said ‘it’s your personal comments’”. The complainant stated:

Allowing and providing [the Sikh Society spokesperson] an uninterrupted opportunity to make serious, outrageous and palpably false allegations against New Zealand police and then not giving any explanation on those comments, [the host] allowed Planet FM and his programme Radio Punjab to be used as a platform to spread hatred against [the police].

[7]   With regard to accuracy, the complainant argued that the host had allowed one speaker to give “misleading and false information about the role of the New Zealand police investigating the Super City election irregularities”. It argued that the host, by asking the caller to explain the allegations against the police, did not make reasonable efforts to inform listeners that the caller’s comments were his personal views, and not those of the host or the community.

[8]   Turning to Standard 6 (fairness), VLAINZ argued that the host failed to deal fairly with the New Zealand police because the caller was allowed to make allegations of unlawful behaviour against the police, and no reasonable efforts were made by the host to “stop this unfair treatment being given to the New Zealand police”. 

[9]   The complainant stated that the Indian community was “deeply hurt” by the “unwarranted, deliberate and outrageous” conduct of the host.

Standards

[10]   Standards 5 and 6 and guidelines 5a, 5b, 6a, 6c, and 6d of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 5 Accuracy

Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:

  • is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or
  • does not mislead.

Guidelines

5a   The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.

5b   Talkback radio will not usually be subject to the accuracy standard, except where the presenter makes an unqualified statement of fact.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guidelines

6a   A consideration of what is fair will depend upon the genre of the programme (e.g. talk/talk back radio, or factual, dramatic, comedic and satirical programmes).

6c   Contributors and participants in any programme should be dealt with fairly and should, except as required in the public interest, be informed of the nature of their participation.

6d   Broadcasters should respect the right of individuals to express their own opinions.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[11]   Access Community Radio argued that Radio Punjab was a talkback show, and not a news programme to which the accuracy standard applied. Listeners were invited to phone in and express their views on the issues under discussion, it said, which in this case focused on how the Indian community was responding to the controversy surrounding charges of election fraud against one of its prominent members. The views expressed by callers were clearly their personal opinions, it argued, and this was reinforced by one of the hosts who concluded the discussion with the Sikh Society spokesperson by stating, “That was [name of caller] with his views and we are doing this programme to get your views.” The broadcaster stated that the accuracy or otherwise of the allegations against the police was to be decided by police inquiry and could not be determined by the Authority. For these reasons, the broadcaster declined to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

[12]   With regard to fairness, the broadcaster said that the programme provided a platform for the Punjabi community to air their concerns, and that the conduct of the police in pursuing their investigations of electoral fraud was of interest to that community. It said that the events leading to the complaints had caused “considerable discomfort to complainants, their families and the Sikh community”.

[13]   In the broadcaster’s view, the programme hosts made reasonable efforts to gain information from the Sikh Society spokesperson about the complaints made against the police and the investigation resulting from those complaints. It argued that the hosts had questioned the caller about the complaints and said that it was made clear during the Radio Punjab talkback show “that the police were investigating the complaints and no further commentary on the topic was made during the remainder of the programme”. Further, it said, the police response to the investigation had been reported two weeks previously in the New Zealand Herald.

[14]    Accordingly, the broadcaster found that the police had been treated fairly and it declined to uphold a breach of Standard 6.

Referral to the Authority

[15]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, VLAINZ referred its complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[16]   The complainant maintained that the Sikh Society spokesperson made “many outrageous and unwarranted allegations against the New Zealand police” and that, instead of cautioning him, the programme hosts “prompted the caller to make more detailed accusations”. It argued that the hosts failed to make reasonable efforts to ensure the “news” was accurate in relation to all material points of fact, or to gain information about the “outrageous allegations”. VLAINZ argued that the broadcast “crossed all limits of acting impartially and deliberately withheld material facts (the police response as reported in the New Zealand Herald) relating to the allegations”. The complainant disputed the broadcaster’s contention that the hosts were clear that the Sikh Society spokesperson’s comments were his personal views.

[17]   VLAINZ argued that the complaints against the police were not a matter of community interest. It said that they were “wholly unrelated to the topic in discussion in the programme”, which in its view was how the Indian community was responding to the controversy surrounding the charges of electoral fraud. Had the complaints against the police been of interest to the community, a separate discussion could have been held, it said. VLAINZ argued that the hosts had no basis for stating that the events leading to the complaints being made had caused “considerable discomfort to the complainants (unidentified), their families and the Sikh community” because the spokesperson for the Sikh Society had not said this in the phone call.

[18]   VLAINZ reiterated its view that the police should have been contacted and their response to the accusations broadcast. The hosts referred to the police response to the allegations in the New Zealand Herald, but deliberately chose not to elaborate on the contents of that response, it said. The complainant maintained that callers who tried to voice their appreciation of the police “were snubbed by the hosts”.

[19]   For these reasons, VLAINZ maintained that the Radio Punjab programme breached Standards 5 and 6.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[20]   The broadcaster reiterated that Radio Punjab was a talkback show and not a news or current affairs programme to which the accuracy standard applied. With regard to the complainant’s argument that the police should have been contacted and their views included in the programme, the broadcaster maintained that this was not the responsibility of talkback hosts on a live talkback show.

[21]   As a talkback programme, community opinions on controversial issues relevant to that community were sought, it said. The broadcaster maintained that the hosts made it clear that callers’ comments were their personal opinions and again referred to the host’s statement, “This was [name of caller] with his views and we are doing this programme to get your views”.

[22]   Access Community Radio maintained that the hosts did have a basis for saying that that the events leading to the complaints being made had caused considerable discomfort to the complainants, their families and the Sikh community. It referred to a number of comments made by the caller, including that some members of the Sikh Society were afraid to come forward with their complaints.

[23]   The broadcaster said that there was “no evidence” of callers who tried to voice their appreciation of the police in investigating the election fraud being “snubbed”. It said that it was “concerned about the insistence of the complainant that deliberate and persistent efforts were made by one of the hosts ... to promote the interests of this one caller”. It noted that there were three hosts of the programme and that all of them spoke with the Sikh Society spokesperson.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[24]   VLAINZ said that it understood the difference between talkback and news and current affairs programmes. It accepted that Radio Punjab was a talkback programme, but argued that the statement made by the Sikh Society spokesperson was “news”, rather than comment or opinion. It argued that the caller’s statements about the police contained material points of fact which were inaccurate and that the host failed to correct those errors of fact in breach of guideline 5c to Standard 5. It said that the host also made a material error of fact when he asked the caller to explain the accusations against the police.

[25]   With regard to the broadcaster’s contention that it was not the responsibility of a live talkback show to contact the police for their views, the complainant said that this was “palpably wrong”. It argued that the fact Radio Punjab was a live talkback show did not give “anybody the right to speak libel or slander against the highly regarded and respected police force, without any basis”.

[26]   Again, the complainant reiterated that the hosts had no basis for stating that the events leading to the complaints being made had caused “considerable discomfort to the complainants (unidentified), their families and the Sikh community”. The complainant said that very few of the Sikhs living in New Zealand were members of the Sikh Society and argued that the Sikh community did not have any issues with, or complaints against, the police.

Broadcaster’s Further Comment

[27]   The broadcaster again advised that Radio Punjab was a talkback programme and that the Sikh Society spokesperson phoned in with his opinion. It said that the caller talked about receiving complaints from community members of unsatisfactory police behaviour and argued that the accuracy or otherwise of the events as presented by those members could only be established by police inquiry. The broadcaster maintained that there were three hosts across the period of the programme.

Authority's Determination

[28]   The members of the Authority have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix and transcripts of the broadcast. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[29]   Standard 5 states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact and does not mislead. The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion (guideline 5a). Further, talkback radio is not usually subject to the accuracy standard, except where the presenter makes an unqualified statement of fact (guideline 5b).

[30]   The caller in issue was clearly giving his personal views and opinions on complaints made to him about the conduct of the police involved in investigating the electoral fraud. It was clear that the caller was talking about allegations against the police and was not making any material statements of fact. We consider that listeners would have understood this. It is implicit in the very nature of talkback radio that callers’ comments are their personal views and opinions which will not always be accurate. We consider that this was made abundantly clear by the programme hosts who repeatedly invited people to phone in and give their views on the electoral fraud. The hosts did not make any unqualified statements of fact to which the accuracy standard applied. At no time did the hosts support or validate the callers’ assertions.

[31]   Accordingly, we do not consider that the programme was misleading or inaccurate and we decline to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[32]   Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with all individuals who participate or are referred to in programmes.

[33]   The complainant argued that the police were treated unfairly because the Sikh Society spokesperson was allowed to make allegations of unlawful behaviour against the police and no reasonable efforts were made by the host to stop this. It argued that the police should have been contacted and their response to the allegations broadcast.

[34]   As noted above, we consider that the caller’s comments were clearly his personal opinion. In these circumstances we do not consider that it was necessary, nor practical, in the interests of fairness, for the hosts to contact the police to get their response to the allegations. We decline to uphold this part of the Standard 6 complaint.

[35]   The complainant also argued that when subsequent callers confronted the comments about the police they were “snubbed” by the hosts and their calls were disconnected. We note that the complainant did not specify how callers were “snubbed” and did not dispute that part of the broadcaster’s transcript covering those calls. In our view, the broadcaster’s translation of the programme indicates a strong sense of respect and fairness to all those that took part or were referred to in the programme. We have no evidence of callers being treated unfairly or “snubbed” and we decline to uphold this part of the fairness complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
22 February 2011

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1                  VLAINZ’s formal complaint – 18 October 2010

2                 VLAINZ’s additional submissions – 27 October 2010

3                 Access Community Radio’s response to the complaint (including transcript) –
                   11 November 2010

4                 VLAINZ’s referral to the Authority (including transcript) – 23 November 2010

5                 Access Community Radio’s response to the Authority – 3 December 2010

6                 VLAINZ’s final comment – 10 January 2011

7                 Access Community Radio’s further comments – 18 January 2011