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Bowers, Patel and Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2012-050

Members

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

Complainants

  • Marlene Bowers of Waiuku
  • Vandana Patel of Auckland
  • Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) of Auckland

Dated

24th October 2012

Number

2012-050

Programme

Close Up

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaints under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – reported on the activities of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) which was said to be part of a “Pay and Pray” movement – profiled an ex-member, X, who claimed that she made substantial donations to the church – included hidden camera footage of church service – allegedly in breach of privacy, controversial issues, accuracy, fairness, discrimination and denigration, and responsible programming standards

Findings
Standard 3 (privacy) – X was identifiable and item disclosed private facts about her – however, X was a willing participant and there is insufficient evidence to show she withdrew her consent to the broadcast – item did not breach X’s privacy – Bishop and Pastor were identifiable in hidden camera footage but did not have an interest in seclusion in a church service that was open and accessible to the general public – in any event public interest defence applied – item did not breach privacy of the Bishop or Pastor –  footage filmed on 8 March 2012 was not broadcast – footage filmed on 9 March 2012 did not disclose any private facts and those shown did not have an interest in seclusion in church carpark – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – item critically examined UCKG’s practices, but clearly framed as X’s opinion and included opinions from members in support of the church – insufficient evidence to show X withdrew her consent to the broadcast – terms such as “sect”, “cult” and “brainwashed” were framed as questions and opinion – UCKG was provided with a fair and reasonable opportunity to comment and its statement was adequately summarised in the item – item not unfair to UCKG or its members – not upheld

Standard 4 (controversial issues) – item did not amount to a “discussion” of controversial issue as it was presented as the perspective of X and other women – in any event, broadcaster made reasonable efforts, and gave reasonable opportunities, to present significant viewpoints – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – terms “sect”, “cult” and “brainwashed” framed as questions and opinion so exempt under guideline 7a – comments did not carry level of invective necessary to breach the standard – item did not encourage discrimination against, or the denigration of, any section of the community – not upheld 

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  An item on Close Up, a current affairs programme, reported on the activities of a South Auckland church, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG). It profiled an ex-congregation member (X) who shared her experience at the church, and claimed she made substantial donations to the UCKG which left her in a position of financial hardship. The item was introduced as follows:

They are asked to give to God for their blessings, and some are giving in a big way. Tens of thousands of dollars a year, their cars, even their houses, so that God will answer their prayers. The giving is all part of a “Pay and Pray” movement in some churches that is known as Prosperity Gospel. It’s drawn hundreds of followers to one church in South Auckland, but has left others disaffected and angry. [Our reporter] canvassed the divided opinions on the [UCKG].

[2]  The item contained hidden camera footage taken inside a UCKG service which showed a Bishop and Pastor preaching to a large audience about tithes and donations. It also showed footage filmed on church premises, in a carpark, as the reporter sought to interview the Bishop. The item was broadcast on TV One on 15 March 2012.

[3]  The UCKG, Marlene Bowers, and Vandana Patel, made formal complaints to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was unfair to the UCKG and its members, lacked balance, created inaccurate and misleading impressions, and encouraged the denigration of UCKG members. In addition, the complainants argued that the broadcast breached X’s privacy, and the privacy of other members captured in footage filmed on church premises.

[4]  Standards relating to privacy, controversial issues, fairness, and discrimination and denigration are most relevant to the complaints, and we have limited our determination accordingly. The complainants also raised standards relating to accuracy and responsible programming. These are not applicable because:

  • the item was clearly framed as the opinion of those interviewed (opinion is exempt from the accuracy standard under guideline 5a), and it is not the role of this Authority, and we are unable to determine, whether the claims made about the church were inaccurate or misleading (accuracy)
  • the item formed part of an unclassified current affairs programme targeted at adults, so the responsible programming standard, which is concerned primarily with classifications and time-bands, is not applicable.

[5]  The issue therefore is whether the item breached Standards 3 (privacy), 4 (controversial issues), 6 (fairness), and 7 (discrimination and denigration) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[6]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The UCKG also provided the Authority with a DVD it produced in support of its complaint, including footage of the reporter on church premises, titled “Behaviour of the TVNZ Close Up reporter” which was said to show “the truth behind the story”. In assessing an alleged breach of broadcasting standards, our determination is usually limited to material that is actually broadcast, although we sometimes request additional field footage from the broadcaster if it is relevant to the complaint, for example relating to matters of fairness. We have considered only those parts of the additional footage that we consider relevant to our determination of the complaints.

Nature of the item and freedom of expression

[7]  The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. In determining an alleged breach of broadcasting standards, we assess the importance of the particular speech and the extent to which the values of freedom of expression are engaged, and weigh this against the level of harm in terms of the underlying objectives of the relevant broadcasting standards.

[8]  The focus of the Close Up item was one woman and her experience at the South Auckland branch of the UCKG, a Brazilian-based Christian Church that operates worldwide and has a presence in many countries.1 The woman, X, contacted Close Up to have her story told and to expose the practices of the church, and in particular, a practice described as Prosperity Gospel, which taught that “the more you give in sacrificial donations, the more they say you will receive in return”. X, along with two other women who were said to have visited the UCKG in 2010, described how the church took advantage of its (mostly foreign) members and pressured them to give financially. For example, they made the following comments:

  • “These people are very brainwashed.” (X)
  • “They are very much deceived.” (other woman)
  • “All the time, every day, [the Bishop] used to talk about money.” (X)
  • “Mostly [UCKG members] are Indians… Tongans, Samoans. Mostly are Indians who hasn’t got Visa [sic]”. (X)
  • “These people do not have the money that this church is asking for.” (other woman)
  • “[The church only cares about] people with money.” (X)
  • “[The Bishop] tells us that you have to sacrifice something which really hurts you… the thing you love you have to sacrifice to God. If you don’t give, you don’t get nothing, you go to Hell.” (X)
  • “They are just terrified, so they give the finance, in any way.” (other woman)

[9]  In the second part of the item, the presenter interviewed an Associate Professor from Massey University, who was introduced as “an expert on religious sects”. He expressed his views and opinions about the UCKG, including that it was a “sect”, and was “strongly preoccupied by making money”.

[10]  In summary, the Close Up item sought to investigate and expose the UCKG’s practices, based on reports from people, including an ex-member, who were disenchanted with the church’s alleged practice of Prosperity Gospel. The item had high value in terms of the underlying objectives of freedom of expression. There is public interest in questioning and scrutinising organisations in our society, especially those which have significant and widespread influence on certain groups, including those who hold particular beliefs, and those who may be vulnerable due to their ethnicity and/or immigration status.

[11]  We therefore think we should be cautious about interfering with the item’s broadcast and reception.

Did the item breach any individual’s privacy?

[12]  Standard 3 (privacy) states that broadcasters should maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual. The privacy standard exists to protect individuals from undesired access to, and disclosure of, information about themselves and their affairs, in order to maintain their dignity, choice, mental wellbeing and reputation, and their ability to develop relationships, opinions and creativity away from the glare of publicity.

[13]  The Authority’s Advisory Opinion set out in Appendix 2 to the code, lists eight privacy principles to assist with interpreting and applying the privacy standard. For the purposes of these complaints, the applicable principles (which we discuss in more detail below, as relevant) are:

  • Principle 1 (prohibits the disclosure of private facts in a manner that is highly offensive)
  • Principle 3 (prohibits an intentional interference, in the nature of prying, with an individual’s interest in solitude or seclusion, in a manner that is highly offensive)
  • Principle 5 (provides that consent is a defence to a breach of privacy)
  • Principle 8 (provides that public interest is a defence to a breach of privacy)

[14]  The complainants argued that the item breached X’s privacy, as well as the privacy of church members shown in hidden camera footage and other footage filmed on church premises.

X’s privacy

[15]  The UCKG asserted that X sought to withdraw her interview and to stop the story from going to air some time after she initially contacted Close Up. The complainants maintained that the failure to adhere to the request, and the subsequent broadcast of the Close Up item on 15 March 2012, amounted to a breach of X’s privacy.

[16]  The first question, in determining an alleged breach of privacy, is whether X was identifiable. X was not pixellated in the interview footage, nor were her husband or children, and she was referred to by her first name. X was clearly identifiable.

[17]  Privacy principle 1 is most relevant to the alleged breach of X’s privacy. This states that it is inconsistent with an individual’s privacy to allow the public disclosure of private facts, where the disclosure would be highly offensive to an objective reasonable person. The item disclosed that X was involved in a marital dispute, had made substantial donations to the church and was struggling financially. This information was highly personal and private, and in our view, its disclosure is something which an objective reasonable person would find highly offensive.

[18]  Privacy principle 5 states that it is a defence to a privacy complaint that the individual whose privacy is allegedly infringed gave his or her informed consent to the disclosure. X contacted Close Up of her own volition, seeking to have her story, and the alleged practices of the church, exposed publicly.

[19]  The key issue here is whether X subsequently withdrew her consent to the use of the interview footage, and more generally, to the broadcast of her story.

[20]  The UCKG referred the Authority to an email written and signed by X’s husband, and apparently made on her behalf, in which she purportedly urged Close Up not to proceed with the story. TVNZ, on the other hand, maintained that X did not withdraw her consent to the use of the footage, and said that she contacted the reporter a number of times both before and after the item was broadcast.

[21]  In our view, one email written and signed by X’s estranged husband does not constitute adequate proof that X sought to have her consent to the broadcast withdrawn. We are therefore satisfied that she was a willing participant, and we decline to uphold the complaints that her privacy was breached.

UCKG members

[22]  The UCKG argued that the hidden camera footage taken inside the church service breached the privacy of those shown. It said there were clear signs prohibiting filming without the UCKG’s permission. It considered that covert filming was unnecessary because information about the church’s tithing processes could have been obtained directly from church members, and, at the time of filming, an interview with the Bishop had not been sought or refused.

[23]  TVNZ considered that only the Bishop and a Pastor who were shown preaching to an audience were identifiable in the hidden camera footage. However, it did not consider that the item disclosed any private facts about either individual (privacy principle 1), or that they had an interest in solitude or seclusion (privacy principle 3) in the circumstances, despite the signage, because it was standard practice for the church to film its services. Nor did it consider that the disclosure of the footage would be highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

[24]  The first question is whether the UCKG members were identifiable. We agree that only the Bishop and Pastor were identifiable because they were the focus of the hidden camera footage and were shown, without their faces pixellated, preaching to a crowd of people. The other church members were shown from behind and often from the waist down, and had their faces blurred. We do not consider that the church members shown would have been identifiable beyond family and close friends who already knew that they attended the service.

[25]  As the footage was filmed using a hidden camera, we consider that privacy principle 3 is the most relevant to an assessment of whether the broadcast breached the privacy of the Bishop or Pastor. This states that it is inconsistent with an individual’s privacy to allow the public disclosure of material obtained by intentionally interfering, in the nature of prying, with that individual’s interest in solitude or seclusion, where the intrusion would be highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

[26]  The first question is whether the Bishop and Pastor had an interest in solitude or seclusion while attending the church service. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines solitude as “the state of being alone”. The Bishop and Pastor were accompanied by many churchgoers at the time they were filmed, and therefore had no expectation of being alone and no interest in solitude.

[27]  Seclusion is a broader concept, defined as “a state of screening or shutting off from outside access or public view”, or a “zone of sensory or physical privacy” which extends to a situation where the complainant is accompanied (CanWest TVWorks Ltd v XY2). In our view, it is questionable whether the Bishop and Pastor had an interest in seclusion while attending, and leading, the church service. We understand that these services are publicly advertised and open to anyone who wants to attend; they are not restricted to church members or in any other way limited by exclusivity. The presence of signs that prohibited filming without permission is not determinative; the question is whether the area was sufficiently open to members of the public generally (as opposed to those with an intention to film), or, alternatively, whether it was shut off from outside access or public view.

[28]  Even if the Bishop and Pastor had an interest in seclusion at the church service, and the cameraperson’s actions amounted to an intentional intrusion in the nature of prying that was highly offensive, we consider that there was sufficient public interest in the footage to justify its disclosure. Privacy principle 8 states that disclosing a matter in the “public interest”, defined as of legitimate concern or interest to the public, is a defence to a privacy complaint.

[29]  In regard to public interest, TVNZ advised us that, “In the face of the alleged cases of financial hardship due to church tithes, it was decided the only practical way to establish the truth and get past the issue of ‘he says-she says’ was to go undercover into the church to gain an objective, unimpeded insight from the organisation.”

[30]  We agree. The item dealt with allegations that the UCKG leadership were employing high-pressure techniques to convince members to give large amounts of money and other valuables to the church. We accept that hidden camera was the only practicable way to obtain information about the techniques, and that it was in the public interest to show this aspect of the UCKG’s practices which had caused concern for a former member and others. The footage was introduced by the reporter as follows:

Their Pastors talk to the devil in people, and through God they say their hands can heal, but it comes at a price. This footage obtained through a hidden camera shows one of the church Pastors claiming that giving gives great reward.

[31]  The Bishop and Pastor were shown in the footage making comments about tithing and donations, which were audible and accompanied by subtitles, as follows:

  • “We have hundreds and thousands of testimonies of people who after being faithful to God in their tithes they achieved their blessings.” (Pastor)
  • “Amen, people who after giving their tithes they were promoted, who after giving their tithes they open business, after giving their tithes they got their Visa, amen.” (Pastor)
  • “As soon as your pay goes into your account what you do is draw your tithe before you spend anything.” (Pastor)
  • “You give it to him and he’s going to honour you… and this week you’re going to find a job.” (Bishop)
  • “How much would you pay for you to transform your life? $1,000 your best, $500, $300, $10,000, $50,000, $100,000, one million?” (Bishop)

[32]  The footage showed that there was clearly a financial element to the church’s message, and a heavy focus on the benefits members would receive for giving tithes, as well as the types of donations required to transform members’ lives. We agree that the only way to obtain an unimpeded and objective insight into this aspect of the church’s practices was to use a hidden camera. We reiterate our views outlined at paragraph [10] with regard to the public interest in disclosing such information.

[33]  Overall, we find that the Bishop and Pastor did not have an interest in seclusion at the church service and therefore that the footage did not breach their privacy. In any event, the public interest in the information disclosed clearly outweighed the competing privacy rights of the Bishop and Pastor, and there was no other reasonable way for Close Up to obtain the information through a more open approach.

[34]  We therefore decline to uphold this part of the Standard 3 complaints.

Non-surreptitious filming on church premises

[35]  In addition to the hidden camera footage, the UCKG argued that the reporter and a cameraperson entered the church on 8 March looking for the Bishop and filmed without permission. The following day, they returned to the church carpark and effectively stopped the Bishop and others from leaving the premises by standing in front of their vehicle.

[36]  The footage taken on 8 March was not broadcast, and we therefore find that it does not raise any issues of privacy. Part of the footage filmed on 9 March was included in the item, and the Bishop, Pastor and others who were shown, including X’s husband, were identifiable. However, the footage did not disclose any private facts (principle 1), and those shown did not have an interest in seclusion while in the church carpark which was in full view of the public (principle 3).

[37]  We therefore decline to uphold this aspect of the privacy complaints.

Was the UCKG and its members (including the Bishop) treated unfairly?

[38]  Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

[39]  One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.3

[40]  The complainants argued that the item was unfair to the church and its members. We summarise the key aspects of the fairness complaints, as follows:  

  • the item created an unfair impression that X’s complaint was “current” 
  • the item exaggerated the nature and extent of donations, i.e. it suggested that donations were obligatory and that members donated their houses
  • the item created an unfair impression that the church was a “sect” and a “cult” and that it “brainwashed” its members
  • the church was not provided with an adequate opportunity to comment, and its response was not fairly summarised in the item
  • the methods used by the reporter to gather information were unfair
  • the Bishop was unfairly portrayed as avoiding an interview such that an “ambush” was necessary.

[41]  TVNZ argued that the UCKG was not an “organisation” to which Standard 6 applied. It referred to previous decisions in which the Authority found that religions were not “organisations”.4

[42]  We disagree. A religion, as a set of beliefs, is different to the administration under which the followers of that religion reside. A particular church is an “organisation” for the purposes of the standard.

[43]  We acknowledge that the item did critically examine some of the church’s practices, based on the information provided, and claims made, by X. It was somewhat sensationalist, and used hyperbole to attract and capture its audience. For example, it exaggerated the extent of donations by making numerous references to houses, and by suggesting that tithes and donations were effectively obligatory. However, this does not in itself amount to unfairness. We express our reasons below for finding that, overall, the item was not unfair to the UCKG and its members, including the Bishop.

[44]  First, we are satisfied that the item was clearly framed as X’s opinion based on her experience at the church, and that viewers were able to make up their own minds about the legitimacy of her claims. The introduction to the item referred to “divided opinions” on the church, and the item included comment from the Pastor and X’s estranged husband, who expressed their support for the church and its practices. For example, they made the following comments:

  • “We have got nothing to hide.” (Pastor)
  • “Everybody knows [what’s happening inside the church].” (Pastor)
  • “There is no such thing as giving so much to [the] church.” (husband)
  • “Who told you that [my children] are hungry – they are never hungry. If [my wife] gave you that information, that’s wrong.” (husband)
  • “[The public] have no right to know what’s in the church. Everything which we have here in the church is in accordance with what the Bible says.” (husband)

[45]  As noted in our consideration of privacy, we find that X was an active and willing participant in the programme and we do not accept that she withdrew her consent to the broadcast. In this sense, it was not unfair for the item to suggest that her complaint against the church was “current”.

[46]  Second, in terms of the complaint about inflammatory language, the terms “cult” and “sect” were used in the second part of the programme, during the interview with the Professor, in the following exchange:

Presenter:        Would you call this a sect?

Professor:        Yes. I think a sect is precisely a group where you’ve got confined controls of certain
                       people, and certain people are in and certain people are out, and the ‘in people’ have a
                       knowledge and control that the others don’t have.

Presenter:        Some people have described this as like a cult.

Professor:        The trouble is ‘cult’ is inflammatory language, and I can see how they will say, ‘well, we
                       are genuinely trying to help people, we are genuinely trying to help the poor’.

Presenter:        Some also call it a con.

Professor:        There has got to be an aspect of a con about this, because if you promise in very strong
                       terms that something is going to happen, and in fact your delivery of that is nothing
                       like what you promised, then you are kidding people…

[47]  The terms “sect” and “cult” were incorporated in questions, and then repeated and expressed as the Professor’s professional academic opinion; he made comments which countered the suggestion that the church was a cult. The term “brainwashed” was used by X to express her opinion of the mind-frame of church members and based on her experience at the church. We consider that viewers would have understood this and interpreted the words in this manner.

[48]  Third, we are satisfied that the UCKG was provided with a fair and reasonable opportunity to comment on the issues raised and the claims made in the programme, and specifically to explain its practice of tithing and donations.

[49]  According to TVNZ, representatives of the UCKG, including the Bishop as the head of the church in New Zealand, were repeatedly asked for comment. The UCKG accepted that it was contacted by Close Up sometime in January or February 2012, at which point the reporter sought an interview and advised the Bishop of the claims made by X. The Bishop sought a delay as he was scheduled to travel overseas for a week. However, the church said that, on his return, the Bishop did not initially contact the reporter because he was “busy with other commitments”. Having received no response from the Bishop, the reporter and a cameraperson went to the church on 8 March, seeking comment, and again on 9 March. The Bishop refused to comment, on his own admission, due to the reporter’s behaviour and “disrespectful attitude”.

[50]  We accept that the reporter’s behaviour, in seeking comment from the Bishop in the church carpark, was aggressive and confrontational, but we are satisfied that the approach was taken as a genuine attempt to obtain the church’s perspective, rather than for the expected visual impact of the confrontation.5 The Close Up editor conceded that the reporter had acted inappropriately and has since apologised to the UCKG in writing.

[51]  A refusal to appear on a programme does not of itself relieve a broadcaster of its obligations under the Code. In this respect, we note the Authority’s comments  in Freedman and TVNZ:6

The Authority understands that a person whose behaviour has resulted in critical media interest may wish to avoid dealing with the media. That is their right. In doing so, however, that person risks that a programme will be aired without their point of view. In circumstances where it is clear that the broadcaster has gone to considerable lengths to obtain an individual’s response, the Authority is unlikely to uphold a complaint on the grounds of fairness or impartiality. 

This, of course, does not derogate from a broadcaster’s responsibility to broadcast available information which would have advanced the criticised person’s point of view…

[52]  Here, the UCKG was provided with several opportunities to be interviewed, but chose not to accept those opportunities for the reasons stated above. Instead, it issued a statement as its chosen method of response. The statement, which gave the UCKG’s position on all of the matters raised in the item, was adequately summarised by the presenter, as follows:

As you may have gathered from that story, many attempts, many arrangements were made to speak to [the Bishop] and the [UCKG], but they all came to nothing. The church, though, has sent us a written statement. It criticises our reporter [name] and what it calls his behaviour and antics, and says this is why [the bishop] wouldn’t front. It says the donation of the car was voluntary, according to Pacific Island custom, and that the Bishop even offered it back to X’s husband [name]. It also says a marital dispute is behind the accusations against the church, and that X phoned the Bishop to say that she didn’t want the car back and that she regretted complaining. Further, they claim the couple have tried to have the complaint withdrawn and it has been distressing for clergy and churchgoers.

[53]  Overall, we consider that the approach taken by Close Up was justified by the public interest, as discussed above, and that fair and reasonable efforts to obtain comment from the church, through the Bishop, were made.

[54]  For these reasons, and giving full weight to the importance of the speech and the requirements of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, we find that upholding the complaint would be an unjustifiable limit on the right to freedom of expression.

[55]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaints. 

Did the item discuss a controversial issue of public importance requiring the presentation of significant viewpoints?

[56]  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.

[57]  The Authority has previously stated that the balance standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.7

[58]  The UCKG argued that the item failed to present a range of views on the issue under discussion. In particular, the item did not present alternative viewpoints on the church’s “tithing and donation” approach, despite being given the names of church members to interview, it said.

[59]  TVNZ considered that “a church tithing congregation members to the point of financial hardship” was an important story that needed to be told, and therefore accepted that this constituted a controversial issue of public importance. It considered that appropriate viewpoints were sought and presented, taking into account the Bishop’s refusal to be interviewed. It noted that the church’s position was summarised in the item, and that it included comments from X’s husband and the Professor.

[60]  The focus of the item was the South Auckland branch of the UCKG and its practice of Prosperity Gospel, and specifically the financial impact of that practice on church members. The Close Up item did not purport to be a comprehensive investigation into the UCKG and its approach to tithing and donations, but was told from the perspective of X and of other women who were disenchanted with the UCKG and its practices.

[61]  The Authority has previously determined that programmes focusing on individual views and the opinions of interviewees, even though they may be connected to a wider issue, did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance.8

[62]  In any event, we agree that the broadcaster made reasonable efforts, and gave reasonable opportunities, to present significant viewpoints, by approaching the church for comment, by including comment from the Pastor, X’s estranged husband, and the Professor, and by summarising the church’s statement.

[63]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the UCKG’s Standard 4 complaint.

Did the item encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community?

[64]  Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community

[65]  The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people (see, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks)9. “Discrimination” has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group to their detriment (see for example Teoh and TVNZ10).

[66]  It is also well established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages discrimination in contravention of the standard (see, for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network 11).

[67]  The UCKG reiterated that the item labelled it a “sect” and a “cult”, and X said that it “brainwashed” its members. It argued that these statements were untrue and led to the church and its members being publicly denigrated.

[68]  TVNZ argued that the item did not state or infer that the UCKG members were inherently inferior or had inherently negative characteristics. It said that the word “sect” was not pejorative or used in an offensive way, and that the Professor disagreed that the UCKG was a “cult”.

[69]  For the reasons expressed above under fairness, namely, that the terms “sect”, “cult” and “brainwashed” were incorporated in questions and/or expressed as opinions, the comments are exempt under guideline 7a. This states that the standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes. 

[70]  In any event, the comments did not carry the level of invective necessary to blacken the reputation of UCKG members, or encourage the different treatment of them, to their detriment.

[71]  Accordingly, we find that the item did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community, and we decline to uphold this part of the complaints.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
24 October 2012