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Morse and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2014-094

Members

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

Complainant

  • Valerie Morse of Wellington

Dated

10th October 2014

Number

2014-094

Programme

Morning Report

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand National

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


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

An item on Morning Report reported on a New Zealand Defence Force exercise in Hawkes Bay which involved visiting local schools. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the item was unbalanced and in the nature of ‘propaganda’. This was a brief news report about the army exercise and the school visits, and the fact it reflected positively on the NZDF did not automatically trigger the requirement to present alternative viewpoints.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues


Introduction

[1]  An item on Morning Report reported on a New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) exercise and was introduced as follows:

War has broken out in Hawkes Bay, but the bullets being fired are blanks. Several hundred defence force personnel are conducting war games in different parts of the region as part of an intentional training exercise. Our Hawkes Bay reporter [name] came across a convoy of light-armoured vehicles on a remote central-Hawkes Bay road and followed them to see what’s going on.

[2]  It was reported that NZDF personnel had been visiting local schools as part of the exercise, and a lieutenant commented, ‘[A] part of hearts and minds… is to get out and win the hearts and minds of the locals and that includes obviously letting the school children see what we do’. The item included comment from a school teacher and children who described such a visit in positive terms. The programme was broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 23 May 2014.

[3]  Valerie Morse complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ) that the item was ‘propaganda’ and unbalanced. She received no response from the broadcaster within the statutory timeframe, and so referred her complaint to the Authority. RNZ advised that the email was not treated as a valid formal complaint because it did not specifically raise programme standards. On review, the Authority found that the email constituted a valid formal complaint as it referred to views that were omitted, which should have been included, and so implicitly raised the balance standard. The Authority concluded that Ms Morse’s referral should be accepted.

[4]  The issue therefore is whether the broadcast breached the controversial issues standard, as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

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

[6]  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.1

[7]  Ms Morse said the report was a ‘propaganda piece for the NZDF’ which did not mention ‘that the US Marine Corp is training with the military’ or interview anyone ‘who might think such exercises are not a really fabulous idea’. She also said the item did not unpack ‘what it might mean to some students where the NZDF has been conducting operations in the world to have the military arrive at their school with guns and armoured vehicles’. In her final comment Ms Morse maintained that ‘the visit of military personnel in what they specifically stated was a “hearts and minds” campaign is extremely controversial’.

[8]  RNZ said that the item was ‘a local story reporting on one part of an army exercise being undertaken in Hawkes Bay and the visit of army personnel to a local school’. It argued, ‘The piece did not purport to be an overall review in some way of the [NZDF] involvement with other military personnel… nor did the piece purport to be a review of the behaviour of the NZDF forming relationships with local communities’.

[9]  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’.2

[10]  The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.3 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.4

[11]  This was a brief news report about the army exercise and the fact defence personnel had visited schools. The item did not go into any detail about the exercise, including any involvement with the US military. The reference to ‘hearts and minds’ was very brief, and was made by an interviewee, not the reporter. While the story may have been of interest to listeners, we do not think the fact the exercise was taking place, or NZDF’s visits to schools, would have a ‘significant potential impact’ on, or ‘be of concern to’, the public. Nor had the exercise excited conflicting opinion or public debate. That the item reflected positively on the NZDF does not automatically trigger the requirement for presenting alternative perspectives.

[12]  For these reasons, we find that the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance which required balance, and we decline to uphold the complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

Peter Radich
Chair

10 October 2014

Appendix

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

1                 Valerie Morse’s formal complaint – 23 May 2014

2                 Ms Morse’s referral to the Authority – 1 July 2014

3                 Ms Morse’s responses to the Authority on whether her email was a valid formal complaint – 3 and 9 July 2014

4                 RNZ’s responses to the Authority on whether the email was a valid formal complaint – 3 and 22 July 2014

5                 RNZ’s response to the Authority (following Authority’s acceptance of referral) – 26 August 2014

6                 Ms Morse’s final comment – 29 August 2014

7                 RNZ’s confirmation of no final comment – 1 September 2014


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014
2For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)
3Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-125
4See, for example, Dewe and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-076