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Boyce and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2011-163

Members

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

Complainant

  • Simon Boyce of Paraparaumu Beach

Dated

28th February 2012

Number

2011-163

Channel/Station

National Radio

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Afternoons with Jim Mora – panel discussed National Party’s welfare reform policy – panellist expressed his view that there was a “welfare industry” which had an interest in ensuring beneficiaries remained on benefits – allegedly in breach of controversial issues and accuracy standards

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues) – New Zealand welfare system including welfare reform amounted to a controversial issue of public importance – broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant viewpoints in the programme – issue ongoing so listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of alternative viewpoints – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – item did not state that welfare was not a “legal” entitlement – panellist’s statements were his personal comment and opinion and therefore exempt under guideline 5a – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Introduction

[1]  Afternoons with Jim Mora, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 2 November 2011, included a panel discussion about the National Party’s welfare reform policy. During the discussion, one of the panellists, Dr Michael Bassett, expressed his view that there was a “welfare industry”, consisting of those who provided welfare services, with a vested interest in ensuring beneficiaries remained on benefits.

[2]  Simon Boyce made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging that the panellist’s comments were “offensive” and breached standards relating to controversial issues and accuracy.

[3]  The issue is whether the comments breached Standards 4 (controversial issues) and 5 (accuracy) of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the broadcaster present significant viewpoints on the issue under discussion?  

[5]  Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed 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.

[6]  We must first consider whether the item subject to complaint formed part of a news, current affairs or factual programme to which Standard 4 applied. We note that while Afternoons with Jim Mora is a magazine-style programme, it contains segments which discuss news and current affairs issues. As the comments subject to complaint formed part of a serious discussion about welfare and welfare reform, we consider that the item falls within the scope of Standard 4.

[7]  Next, we must consider whether the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance, typically defined by the Authority 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 TVWorks Ltd1).

[8]  In our view, the focus of the discussion was the New Zealand welfare system, and more specifically, proposals for welfare reform by the National Party. We accept that this amounted to a controversial issue of public importance for the purposes of Standard 4.

[9]  We must next determine whether the broadcaster made reasonable efforts, or gave reasonable opportunities, to present alternative viewpoints on the issue under discussion, either in the programme itself, or within the period of current interest.

[10]  The Authority has previously stated that significant viewpoints can be included in a variety of ways, including through the use of “devil’s advocate” questioning.2 On this occasion, we consider that alternative perspectives were provided in the item itself by both the host, who challenged Dr Bassett’s views, and another panellist, John Pagani, whose views on welfare and welfare reform countered those expressed by Dr Bassett. For example:

  • “Is that a fair characterisation of them though, that it’s in their interests not to have welfare go away?” (host)
  • “The countervailing argument though, is that you pay them enough to be dignified, which it’s claimed you don’t pay them enough at the moment...” (host)
  • “Yeah, well, look, anyone who says that has to tell me that welfare is so generous that people would want to go on it. Look, life on welfare is hard.” (Pagani)

[11]  In addition, welfare is an issue that has an ongoing period of current interest. It is accepted that such controversies are open-ended, that the broad issues in the debate are well known to the public, and that different perspectives from both sides of the debate will be offered from time to time. In this respect, listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of alternative viewpoints which countered Dr Bassett’s comments.

[12]  Accordingly, we find that the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view on the issue, and we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Was the programme inaccurate or misleading?

[13]  Standard 5 (accuracy) 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. Guideline 5a states that      the accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.

[14]  In his referral, Mr Boyce asserted that Dr Bassett made a number of inaccurate statements, namely:

  • that the benefit is not a legal entitlement, it is entirely discretionary;
  • people give up work because it is easier to be on the benefit and there is very little incentive to work; and
  • there is a welfare industry which encourages more people to be on welfare and resists changes that reduce beneficiary numbers, and which benefits financially from providing services to beneficiaries.

[15]  RNZ argued that Dr Bassett’s statements were clearly his own comment and opinion and therefore exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a to Standard 5.

[16]  We agree with the broadcaster that the statements were clearly distinguishable as Dr Bassett’s commentary and opinions to which the accuracy standard does not apply. With regard to the complainant’s first point, we have listened to the broadcast, and note that while Dr Bassett stated that welfare was not an entitlement, he did not use the term “legal”.

[17]  Accordingly, 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
28 February 2012

Appendix

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

1                  Simon Boyce’s formal complaint – 3 November 2011

2                 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 29 November 2011

3                 Mr Boyce’s referral to the Authority – 1 December 2011

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


1Decision No. 2005-125

2See, for example, Brooking and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2009-012.