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Singh and Radio Tarana - 2014-053

Dated

25th September 2014

Number

2014-053

Programme

Radio Tarana News

Channel/Station

Radio Tarana

Broadcaster

Radio Tarana

Mary Anne Shanahan declared a conflict of interest and did not participate in the determination of this complaint.


Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

An item on Radio Tarana News reported on District Court proceedings involving the complainant, a former Fiji government minister, regarding a dispute over rent allegedly owed to the landlord of a building he leased. The Authority did not uphold his complaint that the item was unfair, inaccurate and unbalanced. The item was a straightforward, brief news report, and the complainant’s position was fairly included in the item.

Not Upheld: Fairness, Accuracy, Controversial Issues, Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  An item on Radio Tarana News reported on District Court proceedings involving the complainant, Rajesh Singh, a former Fiji government minister, regarding a dispute over rent allegedly owed to the landlord of a building he leased. The brief report outlined the claim and counter-claim in the proceedings and included audio of Mr Singh giving his position. It was broadcast on Radio Tarana on 25 March 2014.

[2]  Rajesh Singh made a formal complaint to Radio Tarana, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was ‘biased’ and ‘completely omitted my side of the story’. He also argued that the item encouraged discrimination against him as a government minister and against the ‘lawfully elected parliament of 2006 Fiji government’.

[3]  We consider that the fairness, accuracy and balance standards are most relevant to Mr Singh’s concerns, and we have limited our determination accordingly. The complainant also raised other standards which we have briefly addressed at paragraph [21] below.

[4]  The focus of our determination therefore is whether the broadcast breached Standards 6, 5 and 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The members of the Authority have read a transcript of the broadcast complained about (as it was in Hindi) and the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Jurisdictional issues

[6]  Mr Singh complained that Radio Tarana provided the story and information gathered for the story to the Fijian Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), in an effort to ‘tarnish my reputation in New Zealand and Fiji’. He referred to content published on the broadcaster’s and the FBC’s Facebook pages.

[7]  Our jurisdiction under the Broadcasting Act 1989 is limited to television and radio broadcasting within New Zealand; we cannot apply New Zealand legislation to overseas broadcasters operating in other countries. Information published on social networking sites falls outside the definition of ‘broadcasting’ in section 2 of the Act. We therefore have no jurisdiction to consider these issues, and our determination is limited to the news bulletin broadcast on Radio Tarana.

Was the complainant treated unfairly?

[8]  The fairness standard (Standard 6) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. 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.1

[9]  Mr Singh argued that the item ‘did not give my side of the story and did not state what documents I had presented in Court and to [the news presenter]’.

[10]  Radio Tarana said this was a factual report on court proceedings involving ‘a person of high public interest with political connections which is of interest to our audience’. It said the complainant willing put himself in the public eye, so could reasonably expect scrutiny. It maintained that the story was balanced and Mr Singh was given a reasonable opportunity to express his views, which were included.

[11]  We agree. This was a straightforward and balanced news report on court proceedings involving the complainant, which outlined the claim and counter-claim in an unbiased way. Mr Singh is a public figure meaning that a higher threshold for finding unfairness applies, as compared to a lay person.2 There was nothing unfair in reporting that a public figure who was of interest to the audience profile of this radio station was involved in District Court proceedings for rent arrears, especially considering his views were presented in his own words, taken from his interview. In the context of a brief news report, it was not necessary, in the interests of fairness, to provide a more detailed analysis of his arguments, as contained in court documents which are accessible to the public.

[12]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the fairness complaint.

Was the item inaccurate or misleading?

[13]  The accuracy standard (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. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.3

[14]  Mr Singh argued that the story was inaccurate by omission because it presented his landlord’s positon, but did not refer to ‘documents which I showed [the news presenter]’ which were ‘presented to Court in my defence and counter claim’.

[15]  We reiterate that this was a straightforward news item which made brief reference to the claims and counter-claim, and did not present the complainant or the landlord plaintiff as more credible than the other. The report did not contain any inaccurate statements of fact and was not misleading.

[16]  We decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 5 was breached.

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

[17]  The balance standard (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. The standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.4

[18]  Mr Singh reiterated his argument that the story was ‘one-sided’ and ‘did not disclose facts which I had presented to [the news presenter] of Radio Tarana during the interview’. The broadcaster responded that Mr Singh was given a reasonable opportunity to express his views, which were included in the broadcast.

[19]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.5

[20]  As this was straightforward news report about Mr Singh’s proceedings, it did not contain a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance, and the requirement to present alternative viewpoints did not apply. In any event, the complainant’s views were clearly presented. We decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Did the broadcast breach the other standards raised in the complaint?

[21]  The complainant also raised standards of good taste and decency (Standard 1) and discrimination and denigration (Standard 7). These were not breached because:

  • the good taste and decency standard is usually concerned with language or sexual material. The news item did not contain anything that would have offended or distressed the general audience (Standard 1)
  • the discrimination and denigration standard applies to sections of the community, not to Mr Singh as an individual. No mention was made of the previous Fiji government as a political group (Standard 7)

[22]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that these standards were breached.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 


Peter Radich
Chair
25 September 2014

Appendix

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

1                 Rajesh Singh’s formal complaint – 10 April 2014

2                 Radio Tarana’s response to the complaint – 9 May 2014

3                 Mr Singh’s referral to the Authority – 19 May 2014

4                 Further information from Mr Singh – 19 May, 9 and 10 June 2014

5                 Radio Tarana’s response to the Authority (including transcript of broadcast) – 17 June 2014

6                 Mr Singh’s final comment – 2 July 2014

7                 Further comments from Mr Singh – 18 July 2014


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

2See, for example, Kiro and RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-108

3Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036

4Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

5For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010)