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Knox and The Radio Network Ltd - 2011-069

Members

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

Complainant

  • Paul Knox of Wainuiomata

Dated

18th October 2011

Number

2011-069

Channel/Station

Newstalk ZB

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Larry Williams Drive Show – host expressed his views on the execution of Osama bin Laden – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, law and order, controversial issues and fairness

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues) – comments were clearly host’s personal opinion and did not amount to a “discussion” of a controversial issue of public importance – host referred to alternative viewpoints – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]  During the Larry Williams Drive Show, broadcast on Newstalk ZB on 4 May 2011, the host expressed his views on the execution of Osama bin Laden. He stated:

...The bin Laden photos will not be released, President Obama has announced this today, he said that he didn’t want to hold up a trophy. I think this is the wrong decision. This will just propel the conspiracy theories. Now look, I know that even if they released the photos there would still be those   that would dispute it. But I think that the United States has a responsibility to show some proof, some evidence...

            ...

Academics, lawyers, human rights groups and others are condemning the killing of bin Laden. They claim it was an execution, that it was an    assassination. So? Look, whether bin Laden was armed or not, whether he  used a woman as a human shield, whether it was kill or capture, this is actually all pretty much irrelevant, sideshow stuff. Bin Laden was the world’s most dangerous, most wanted terrorist who was instrumental in thousands of  deaths – callous, cowardly attacks. Now bin Laden’s buddies – these academics and the lawyers and all this sort of stuff – they wanted him brought out alive and taken to trial. Well no, I don’t think so – what was dished out to bin Laden was justice.

Complaint

[2]  Paul Knox made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached standards relating to good taste and decency, law and order, controversial issues and fairness.

[3]  The complainant argued that the host’s perspective – that the execution of Osama bin Laden was justified and acceptable, and that those who disagreed with him were wrong – was not countered by alternative viewpoints. He said that the host did not encourage or request contrary viewpoints or provide any rationale for the views that he expressed.

Standards

[4]  TRN assessed the complaint under Standard 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. Guideline 4a is also relevant. These 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.

Guideline 4a   

The assessment of whether a reasonable range of views has been allowed for takes account of some or all of the following:

  • the programme introduction;
  • the approach of the programme (e.g. taking a particular perspective);
  • whether listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage;
  • the programme type (e.g. talk or talkback which may be subject to a lesser requirement to present a range of views).

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[5]  TRN considered that Standard 4 was the most relevant to the complainant’s concerns. It argued that the content subject to complaint consisted of the host’s views on the execution of Osama bin Laden delivered in the form of an opinion piece, which was a normal feature of the Larry Williams Drive Show.

[6]  The broadcaster accepted that the execution of Osama bin Laden was a controversial issue, but argued that the programme’s regular “current affairs” audience would have been well aware of differing viewpoints. It stated, “Any casual reconnoitre of either electronic or print media would reveal a wide range of opinions”. It considered that the host was well within his rights to present his opinion within the comment piece, especially considering the lesser requirement imposed on talk shows to present a range of views (guideline 4a).

[7]  Accordingly, TRN declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of Standard 4.

Referral to the Authority

[8]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Knox referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He noted that TRN assessed his complaint under Standard 4, and asserted that he had also raised Standards 1, 5 and 6 in his original complaint. The complainant considered that the host’s views were contentious and maintained that the programme did not contain alternative viewpoints, despite “these having been given certainly by me and others either in the form of email, text or phone call”. In his view, the “execution of an unarmed man by foreign soldiers operating in a sovereign territory without permission is illegal and... he should have been captured and brought to trial”. Mr Knox maintained that the broadcast breached “the four standards originally included in the complaint”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9]  TRN maintained that Standard 4 was the most appropriate on this occasion because Mr Knox did not provide any rationale for the standards raised in his original complaint, with the exception of his reference to the programme’s lack of alternative viewpoints. It reiterated its finding that the broadcast did not breach Standard 4.

[10]  The broadcaster noted that Mr Knox made frequent complaints and that it had previously suggested that he listen to another radio station. In this respect, it considered that his complaints were bordering on vexatious.

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.

Preliminary Matter

[12]  We note that, in his original complaint, Mr Knox nominated Standards 1, 2, 4 and 6, but TRN only considered the complaint under Standard 4. In his referral, Mr Knox raised Standards 1, 4, 5 and 6. In our view, the broadcaster acted appropriately in assessing the complaint only under Standard 4, as this was the only standard relevant to the complainant’s concerns.

Standard 4 (controversial issues)

[13]  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.

[14]  We must first consider whether the programme discussed a controversial issue of public importance, defined as something that would have “a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public” (e.g. Powell and CanWest TVWorks1), or a matter which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion, or about which there has been ongoing public debate (for example, MSD and TVNZ2).

[15]  While we accept that the death of Osama bin Laden generated a high level of public interest, we do not consider that the programme purported to be a balanced discussion of the issue of whether he should have been assassinated or captured and brought to justice. The comments subject to complaint formed part of a well known segment of the Larry Williams Drive Show, which in our view is similar in format to an editorial, in that it consists of the host expressing his opinion on topical news issues. In contrast to talkback, the segment format involves the host putting forward his opinions in a thought-provoking manner, but without inviting listener feedback or encouraging discussion.

[16]  In addition, we note that, in expressing his opinion, the host clearly referred to alternative views on whether Osama bin Laden should have been assassinated or brought to trial. For example, he stated, “Academics, lawyers, human rights groups and others are condemning the killing of bin Laden. They claim it was an execution, that it was an assassination,” and “these academics and the lawyers and all this sort of stuff – they wanted him brought out alive and taken to trial”. The Authority has previously noted that significant views can be presented by acknowledging the existence of other perspectives,3 and in this respect we consider that it was not necessary for the host to include alternative views in the form of emails, texts or telephone calls, as asserted by the complainant. Further, given the prominence of the story in other news media, we consider that listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of differing viewpoints (guideline 4a).

[17]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 4.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
18 October 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Paul Knox’s formal complaint – 5 May 2011

2                 TRN’s response to the complaint – 10 May 2011

3                 Mr Knox’s referral to the Authority – 22 May 2011

4                 TRN’s response to the Authority – 24 May 2011


1Decision No. 2005-125

2Decision No. 2006-076

3See, for example Butler and Others and Television New Zealand, Decision No. 2009-063