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Golden and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2010-167

Members

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

Complainant

  • Allan Golden of Wellington

Dated

22nd February 2011

Number

2010-167

Programme

Morning Report

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand National

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Morning Report – reported that shareholders had questioned the appointment of a former director of Feltex as the new Auckland International Airport chairperson, “even though she left the failed carpet company 15 months before its collapse” – allegedly inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – timing of Feltex’s collapse not a material point of fact – item included comment from Ms Withers referring to the situation at Feltex – item was not inaccurate or misleading – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant did not identify who he thought had been treated unfairly – no unfairness – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]   A news item during Morning Report, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on the morning of 29 October 2010, reported that Auckland International Airport had a new company chairperson. The reporter stated:

The airport’s longstanding chairman Tony Frankham is standing down, and will be replaced by independent director Joan Withers. But some at the meeting questioned her suitability – as she was a former director of Feltex – even though she left the failed carpet company 15 months before its collapse. Joan Withers told investors that even though she’s been cleared of any wrongdoing, the failure still troubles her.

[2]   Ms Withers then commented:

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the Feltex situation and the Feltex experience, because being involved in a company, for whatever reason where shareholder value is lost, is deeply disturbing to any director worth his or her salt.

Complaint

[3]   Allan Golden made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the reporter’s statement in the news item, “even though she left the failed carpet company 15 months before its collapse” breached standards relating to accuracy and fairness. He argued that it was inaccurate because it suggested that “Feltex was going along swimmingly when Ms Withers exited it”, and that it was “a wilful attempt to unfairly minimise Ms Withers’ involvement in the demise of Feltex”.

Standards

[4]   Standards 5 and 6 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.
Standard 6 Fairness

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

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]   RNZ argued that, while Ms Withers’ involvement in a company’s collapse as a board member may be a material fact, the timing of Feltex’s demise was “not a material fact bearing on her appointment to chair a different company’s board”. It therefore considered that the comment subject to complaint was not a material point of fact to which Standard 5 applied. However, RNZ said, even if the timing could be considered a material fact, “it is reasonable to refer to the time that a company goes into liquidation as its collapse”. Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

[6]   With regard to fairness, RNZ noted that it was not clear from Mr Golden’s complaint who he considered had been treated unfairly, and it therefore declined to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[7]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Golden referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He argued that, “The words ‘even though’ in the broadcast suggest that the reporter is minimising the relevance of the objections expressed by certain Auckland airport shareholders to Ms Withers becoming its chairperson because of her involvement with Feltex.”

[8]   Mr Golden disagreed that the timing of Feltex’s demise was not material, because if Ms Withers was a director at the time, “there is a significant possibility that such directors had some or much responsibility for the demise or collapse and perhaps to be on the safe side such a director should not be appointed chair of any large company”.

[9]   With regard to the use of the term “collapse” to refer to a company’s liquidation, Mr Golden asserted that “The time of going into liquidation has nothing whatsoever to do with the time that a company may have collapsed except perhaps that normally the liquidation would follow any collapse.” He considered that the report should instead have referred to “liquidation”, and maintained that the purpose of the phrase in the item was “to give the impression that [Ms Withers] could have no responsibility for Feltex’s failure”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[10]   RNZ reiterated its view that the comment subject to complaint was not material to the item.

Authority's Determination

[11]   The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[12]   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.

[13]   Mr Golden argued that the reporter’s statement in the news item, “even though she left the failed carpet company 15 months before its collapse” was inaccurate. In our view, the timing of Feltex’s collapse relative to Ms Withers’ departure from the company, was not material to the focus of the item, which was her appointment as the new chair of Auckland International Airport.

[14]   In any case, we do not consider that the statement was inaccurate or that listeners would have been misled, particularly as comment from Ms Withers about the demise of Feltex was included in the item, in which she stated that she thought about it daily, and found it “deeply disturbing” that she was “involved in a company... where shareholder value [was] lost”.

[15]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[16]   Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. Mr Golden argued that the reporter’s statement was “a wilful attempt to unfairly minimise Ms Withers’ involvement in the demise of Feltex”. Because Mr Golden did not identify any individual or organisation that he believed was treated unfairly, we have no basis upon which to uphold the fairness complaint.

[17]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 6.

 

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                  Allan Golden’s formal complaint – 30 October 2010

2                 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 17 November 2010

3                 Mr Golden’s referral to the Authority – 30 November 2010

4                 RNZ’s response to the Authority – 15 December 2010