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Acland and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-172

Members

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

Complainant

  • Luke Acland of Nelson

Dated

29th March 2011

Number

2010-172

Programme

Close Up

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – viewers’ poll questioning whether the New Zealand Government should have apologised to India for Paul Henry’s controversial remarks – included edited footage from a debate on an Indian television network – allegedly in breach of controversial issues and accuracy standards

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues) – did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – editing of the Indian programme was not misleading – excerpt included comments both for and against Mr Henry – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]   An episode of Close Up, broadcast on TV One at 7.30pm on 8 October 2010, included a poll asking viewers whether they agreed with the New Zealand Government’s apology over Breakfast presenter Paul Henry’s recent controversial remarks. The presenter introduced the poll stating:

Well it’s gone global, the Paul Henry race row. Shortly we’ll take a look at how heated the debate has become and we want your view. Our government has apologised after India complained about Paul Henry insulting Delhi’s Chief Minister [Sheila Dikshit] – an appropriate response or overreaction? Should our government have apologised? Text Yes or No to 8875. Now you may wish to vote right now or you might like to wait until you’ve seen this. It’s an edited version of a very heated 20-minute debate on CNN-IBN in India.

[2]   Edited footage from an Indian network was then shown, debating Mr Henry’s comments. The footage included the following remarks:

  • “Should the New Zealand TV host be sacked? ...We also need to take the moral high ground...”
  • “...an accident has occurred...”
  • “If an Indian anchor on a programme were to call an African a ‘Hajji’ or call someone from East Asia a ‘chinky’ would your government sack him?”
  • “We would... We would sack him.”
  • “This remark shows intellectual impoverishment. It shows another famine in taste and style, and you know I think suspension is really not sending out the right message.”
  • [referring to Mr Henry’s comments about Sheila Dikshit] “Now this is unacceptable kind of language isn’t it?”
  • “Of course it’s unacceptable and it’s stupid and it is uncalled for, but remember something else, sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt them.”
  • “The New Zealand anchor, the kind of statements he made about Sheila Dikshit, suggesting that her name suggested that in some way India was, dare I use the word, a shitty country...”
  • “I think India has overblown the whole matter. Frankly speaking, this was intended as a joke. College students in India have been making jokes of Mrs Dikshit’s name for decades.”
  • “There have been a number of incidents not quite like this on the BBC in recent years and strong action has been taken.”
  • “The bottom line is this is not the first time this gentleman Paul Henry has made similar comments. He had problems with the former Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand, said he did not look or sound like a New Zealander. This man seems like a racist and you can’t have racists on TV.”
  • “Let’s first remember that we in India are probably amongst the most racist in the world. ...So let’s first look at ourselves before we start throwing stones at others.”
  • “Don’t you think we have a right to be agitated in this country?”
  • “We can’t actually go and get rid of him or force him to be sacked. Are you suggesting we do something to take diplomatic steps against New Zealand? That would clearly be absurd. I don’t know what you’d really like us to do about it.”
  • “Let’s take things in perspective. This is an anchor in New Zealand making a silly joke. His whole country thinks that in fact he’s crossed the boundary of propriety and decorum and let’s leave it to the New Zealanders to sort out themselves. Let’s not start frothing and getting worried for no reason because you’re overreacting.”
  • “I don’t really understand why we’re getting our knickers in a twist about the fact that this remark has been made...
  • “Doesn’t it reflect a mindset? ...It reflects a mindset.”
  • “Absolutely... What worries me is the feedback that this gentleman got to his remark from millions of viewers in New Zealand who said that you know, what he’s saying is actually what we have on our minds but we’re just too afraid to say it so we really don’t want our talk show host going away.”

[3]   Returning to the studio, the presenter stated, “okay a very emotive debate in India, but what do you think? Our government has apologised to India. Is that an appropriate response or an overreaction? Should our government have apologised? Text Yes or No to 8875”. The poll results were presented at the end of the programme. The presenter said:

Right, time now to find out the results of tonight’s poll. Should the government have apologised to India for Paul Henry’s behaviour? Well, just under 20,000 votes, 82 percent of you think the government was wrong to apologise, shouldn’t have apologised to India. 18 percent think yes they should. That’s the result of our poll, that’s what you were thinking, love to hear from you...

Complaint

[4]   Luke Acland made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards relating to controversial issues and accuracy.

[5]   Mr Acland argued that Close Up had edited the excerpts shown from the CNN-IBN programme “in a way that failed to present a balanced representation of opinion on that... programme”, and so that it appeared that the panellists believed New Zealand’s response to Mr Henry’s comments was an overreaction. In particular, he said:

  • Close Up primarily showed the comments of a journalist whose opinion was that India and the Indian Government were overreacting to Mr Henry’s comments.
  • Close Up did not show another panellist’s opinion that Mr Henry’s comments were racist and especially harmful coming from New Zealand’s state broadcaster.
  • Close Up did not show the “Editor’s Take” which stated, “Any self-respecting Indian who watches the Paul Henry tape on CNN-IBN will be infuriated. The truth is this is not a harmless slip of the tongue, but part of Henry’s consistent anti-Indian remarks. The man is a racist and deserves to be sacked, not suspended. New Zealand has a large immigrant Indian population and Henry has let each and every Kiwi down.”
  • Close Up did not report the programme’s ultimate viewpoint that Mr Henry’s comments were racist and offensive to Indians, and that he should be fired.

[6]   With regard to accuracy, Mr Acland was of the view that “the failure to edit the clip in a balanced way misrepresented the CNN-IBN Live programme’s viewpoint and as such was an inaccurate illustration of the ‘international reaction’ to Mr Henry’s comments.”

Standards

[7]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4 and 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

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.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[8]   TVNZ first considered whether the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance to which Standard 4 applied. It noted that the Authority had typically defined an issue “of public importance” as something that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public”,1 and a “controversial issue” as one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion, or about which there has been ongoing public debate.2 TVNZ agreed that Close Up discussed such an issue.

[9]   The broadcaster argued that, “While Close Up may have presented a particular perspective on this issue... a range of appropriate viewpoints were sought and presented by TVNZ within the period of current interest.” It noted that the item included both positive and negative viewpoints from the panellists regarding Mr Henry’s comments.

[10]   Further, a number of TVNZ programmes covered the issues, it said. One News on 5 October reported on Paul Henry’s suspension, and included comments from the TVNZ CEO, the Race Relations Commissioner, and various politicians including Opposition Leader Phil Goff and the Prime Minister John Key. This item also included comment from a TVNZ reporter in India who had spoken directly with the Governor-General on the matter, it said. On 8 October, One News reported on escalating events and controversy surrounding Paul Henry’s comments, and included viewpoints from two Indian media commentators, New Zealand’s High Commissioner in India, and John Key.

[11]   TVNZ maintained that the focus of the item was to gauge public reaction as to whether or not it was appropriate for the government to apologise to India. It considered that, “In seeking viewers’ reaction, the programme presented the Indian perspective which they may not otherwise have had the benefit of seeing to aid viewers in making their decision.”

[12]   TVNZ argued that it was appropriate for Close Up to present the Indian perspective in the wider debate occurring about Mr Henry’s comments, and that within the edited footage from CNN-IBN a range of perspectives was shown. The broadcaster disagreed that the footage was selectively edited so that it only presented one viewpoint, as the clips presented comments from each of the panellists, it said.

[13]   The broadcaster concluded that appropriate viewpoints were sought and presented on the issue across TVNZ programmes within the period of current interest. It therefore declined to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

[14]   Turning to Standard 5, TVNZ maintained that the item was not inaccurate and that the editing of the CNN-IBN footage would not have misled viewers. It reiterated its view that the edited footage provided viewers with comment from each of the panellists that appeared on the Indian programme.

[15]   The broadcaster was of the view that the item was not an attempt to canvass all international reaction to Paul Henry’s comments, but rather presented an edited selection of one Indian programme to offer the New Zealand audience a sample of the reaction to the comments in India. It was not practical or required for Close Up to re-broadcast an entire episode of another current affairs programme, TVNZ said, and editing was “the only practical way a snapshot of the programme could realistically be shown in Close Up”. The footage was clearly presented as the debate that occurred on one programme, and viewers would have understood this, TVNZ argued.

[16]   For these reasons, TVNZ declined to uphold the accuracy complaint.

Referral to the Authority

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

Authority's Determination

[18]   The members of the Authority have viewed 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 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints)

[19]   Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[20]   On this occasion, the purpose of the Close Up item was to gauge viewers’ opinions, via a poll, on whether or not the New Zealand Government should have apologised to India for Paul Henry’s comments. As part of the viewer poll, Close Up broadcast excerpts from an Indian television programme on which panellists debated the remarks and New Zealand’s reaction to them.

[21]   The Authority has previously found that a Close Up viewer poll did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance.3 In this case, the programme clearly reflected only the opinions of those viewers who chose to participate in the opinion poll and the panellists shown in the clip; as such, it clearly did not purport to be a balanced discussion of a controversial issue of public importance. We therefore find that Standard 4 does not apply in the circumstances.

[22]   In any event, we disagree with Mr Acland that the editing of the footage from the CNN-IBN was unbalanced because it appeared that the panellists believed New Zealand’s response to Mr Henry’s comments was an overreaction. In our view, it would have been clear to reasonable viewers that there was a range of views expressed during the debate on CNN-IBN, including strong views for and against the New Zealand Government’s public condemnation of Mr Henry’s remarks.

[23]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[24]   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.

[25]   Mr Acland argued that the editing of the footage from the CNN-IBN would have misled viewers because it appeared that the panellists believed New Zealand’s response to Mr Henry’s comments was an overreaction.

[26]   In our view, there is no evidence to suggest that the excerpts chosen inaccurately portrayed the views expressed by the guests on the programme. As outlined above under our consideration of Standard 4, the clips included views supporting both sides of the debate about the offensiveness of Mr Henry’s comments and New Zealand’s actions in response. Further, the Close Up presenter clearly stated that, “It’s an edited version of a very heated 20-minute debate”.

[27]   Accordingly, we do not consider that the Close Up item was inaccurate or that it would have misled viewers, and we decline to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
29 March 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Luke Acland’s formal complaint – 8 October 2010

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 8 November 2010

3                 Mr Acland’s referral to the Authority – 3 December 2010

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 10 February 2011


1E.g. Powell and CanWest TVWorks, Decision No. 2005-125

2For example, MSD and TVNZ, Decision No. 2006-076

3See Rupa and TVNZ, Decision No. 2010-058.