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Gray and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2011-064

Members

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

Complainant

  • Godfrey Gray of Christchurch

Dated

9th August 2011

Number

2011-064

Programme

Te Ahi Kaa

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) and (ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Te Ahi Kaa – discussed post-earthquake relief efforts in Christchurch – included audio extract from a previous news bulletin reporting on the earthquake – allegedly in breach of accuracy and responsible programming standards – broadcaster upheld complaint under responsible programming standard – action taken allegedly insufficient

Findings
Standard 8 (responsible programming) – action taken by the broadcaster was sufficient – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – use of audio extract not inaccurate or misleading when considered in context – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]  Te Ahi Kaa, a programme broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on Monday 14 March 2011 just after the 1am news bulletin, discussed some of the post-earthquake relief efforts in Christchurch. The following audio extract from a previous news bulletin was broadcast:

Radio New Zealand news at one o’clock... There have been reports of a huge earthquake in Christchurch. We don’t have official details yet but our reporter... joins us now from Christchurch. ...What’s happened?

[2]  As the audio faded, the programme presenter stated, “Over a fortnight ago on Tuesday February 22nd at 12.51pm, Christchurch was once again rocked with a 6.3 earthquake some six months after a 7.1 earthquake in September.”

Complaint

[3]  Godfrey Gray made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached Standards 5 (accuracy) and 8 (responsible programming).

[4]  The complainant said that he went to sleep listening to the radio, and that at approximately 1.10am on 14 March he was awakened by the broadcast announcement that there had been a huge earthquake in Christchurch. He wrote, “this was a frightening arousal from sleep, prompting immediate fear for family members and friends living in Christchurch”.

[5]  Mr Gray argued that, in broadcasting the audio extract just after 1am, RNZ had failed to give proper consideration to the time of transmission, “when elderly people and people on the verge of sleep may be listening”. In addition, it failed to consider the likelihood of the broadcast disturbing people, particularly those in Christchurch who were “living on the edge of their nerves”, he said. In the complainant’s view, the broadcast breached guideline 8e to Standard 8, as it was presented in such a way as to cause panic, unwarranted alarm or undue distress. He said, “By presenting the programme in this way, you endangered my life, affected my health, and caused anxiety and upset to my family [and] friends”.

[6]  The complainant argued that the audio extract was inaccurate and misleading when broadcast as part of Te Ahi Kaa because there was no earthquake at that time. He considered that the whole statement was a “lie”, included in the programme for “shock value”.

Standards

[7]  Standards 5 and 8 and guidelines 8b to 8e 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 8 Responsible Programming

Broadcasters should ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible.

Guidelines

8b   The time of transmission and the audience profile of the station are important considerations in the scheduling of programmes which contain violent themes.

8c   If a programme is likely to disturb, an appropriate warning should be broadcast.

8e   Programmes should not be presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[8]  RNZ agreed that the broadcast breached Standard 8 of the Radio Code, as well as its own editorial policies, and upheld Mr Gray’s complaint under the responsible programming standard. The broadcaster acknowledged the distress that the broadcast had caused to the complainant and his family, and said that this was not the intention of the programme. It said that, in the normal course of events, it was legitimate to use excerpts from earlier news and current affairs coverage in later programmes. However, it said that the incident had highlighted that where a news topic was still “live”, there was a heightened need for vigilance and care on the part of the programme makers. On this occasion, it considered that the use of the extract was exacerbated by the reference to “one o’clock” when the item was broadcast just after 1am.

[9]  The broadcaster said that it had raised the complaint and Mr Gray’s concerns with the programme makers involved and that the matter had been “dealt with”. It reiterated that the incident had highlighted the need for vigilance in the use of excerpts from earlier news and current affairs recordings, and apologised to the complainant for the distress that the item had caused him.

Referral to the Authority

[10]  Dissatisfied with the response and the action taken by the broadcaster having upheld a breach of Standard 8, Mr Gray referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) and (ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[11]  The complainant disputed RNZ’s contention that it was a legitimate programme-making technique to use excerpts from earlier news and current affairs coverage in later broadcasts. Mr Gray considered that RNZ’s claim to “legitimacy” had industry-wide implications, and asked that it be carefully examined by the Authority to consider whether imposing some restrictions on the use of earlier news recordings was necessary. On this occasion, he argued that there was no justification for using the earlier recording, in particular when accompanied by the standard RNZ news bulletin introduction. The complainant maintained that the broadcast breached Standard 5.

[12]  Mr Gray questioned exactly what had been done by RNZ to prevent a similar re-occurrence. He considered that the broadcaster was vague in its decision, which said that the matter “has now been dealt with” and that the complaint and surrounding circumstances “have been raised” with the senior manager and programme makers involved.

[13]  The complainant concluded that the action taken by RNZ with regard to upholding a breach of Standard 8 was insufficient, and maintained that Standard 5 had been breached.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14]  RNZ said that, having carefully considered the complaint, it had found the broadcast to be in breach of its own editorial policies, and had upheld a breach of Standard 8 of the Radio Code.

[15]  The broadcaster contended that it was not necessary, as far as the complaints process was concerned, to divulge details with regard to its internal processes for dealing with employment related issues. It said that the complainant could be reassured by the wording of its initial response that the matter had not been “brushed under the carpet”.

[16]  RNZ asserted that the Authority’s function was not to determine what a broadcaster may or may not broadcast, but rather to consider whether what was broadcast complied with the broadcasting standards set out in the Radio Code. It argued that neither the programme in its entirety, nor the use of the particular extract subject to complaint, were subject to the accuracy standard. RNZ considered that the programme was a “magazine format ‘behind-the-scenes’ style of programme and is hardly what can be considered news or current affairs” to which the accuracy standard applied.

[17]  In any event, the broadcaster argued that the extract was not a material point of fact. It said that the audio extract was placed in the context of a programme which addressed a number of relief effort initiatives undertaken in response to the Christchurch earthquake of 22 February 2011. It contended that, while the topic being discussed on the programme (earthquake relief efforts) was directly related to the 22 February earthquake, the programme was not about the earthquake. The extract was used only by way of illustration to introduce an item, it said. On this basis, the broadcaster argued that, while the examples of the relief efforts undertaken and discussed were material to the programme, the audio extract was not. For these reasons, the broadcaster said that it had not considered the complaint under Standard 5, and maintained that this was appropriate.

[18]  In summary, the broadcaster submitted that it would be unreasonable for the Authority to consider upholding the complaint under Standard 5, and maintained that it was open to the Authority to disagree with RNZ’s assessment that the programme breached Standard 8.

Authority’s Determination

[19]  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.

Action Taken: Standard 8 (responsible programming)

[20]  Our task on this occasion is to determine whether the action taken by RNZ, having upheld Mr Gray’s complaint, was sufficient.

[21]  We note that the broadcaster upheld the complaint under Standard 8 and spoke with the senior manager and programme makers involved. RNZ said that the incident had highlighted that there was a heightened need for vigilance and care on the part of programme makers when using extracts from previous news bulletins in circumstances where the topic was still “live”. The broadcaster apologised for the distress that the item had caused to the complainant and his family.

[22]  Taking into account the minor nature of the breach, we find that the action taken by RNZ was appropriate and sufficient in the circumstances. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the action taken complaint.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[23]  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.

[24]  Mr Gray argued that the extract was inaccurate and misleading when broadcast as part of Te Ahi Kaa because there was no earthquake at that time.

[25]  While we agree that the programme was factual as envisaged by Standard 5, and that the extract was material, we do not consider that its inclusion in the programme amounted to a “material point of fact”, or was misleading. The extract was very brief, being approximately 13 seconds in length, and was immediately followed by the statement, “Over a fortnight ago on Tuesday February 22nd at 12.51pm, Christchurch was once again rocked with a 6.3 earthquake some six months after a 7.1 earthquake in September.” In this context, we consider that it was obvious that the extract was from a previous news bulletin and we do not consider that listeners would have been misled.

[26]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 5 was breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
9 August 2011

Appendix

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

1                 Godfrey Gray’s formal complaint – 17 March 2011

2                 RNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 14 April 2011

3                 Mr Gray’s referral to the Authority – 7 May 2011

4                 RNZ’s response to the Authority – 20 June 2011