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Chand & Others and Radio Tarana - 2014-115

Members

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

Complainants

  • Pradeep Chand
  • Asheelta Kumar
  • Ashok Kumar
  • Kamta Prasad

Dated

1st May 2015

Number

2014-115

Programme

Radio Tarana

Channel/Station

Radio Tarana

Broadcaster

Radio Tarana

Summary

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

Radio Tarana reported on the Sanil Kumar Medical Fund, which had been set up for the treatment of a young Fijian-Indian man in New Zealand who had subsequently been deported to Fiji and died. There were allegations by the immediate family of Mr Kumar and others that the fund was being misused by its directors. The Authority declined to uphold a complaint that the broadcasts were unbalanced, inaccurate, unfair, denigrating and caused panic among the public. The broadcaster made reasonable efforts to provide balance and fairness, no inaccuracies could be identified, the discrimination and denigration standard was not applicable and the broadcasts were not presented irresponsibly.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Fairness, Accuracy, Discrimination and Denigration, Responsible Programming 


Introduction

[1]  Radio Tarana reported on the Sanil Kumar Medical Fund, which had been set up for the treatment of a young Fijian-Indian man in New Zealand who had subsequently been deported to Fiji and died. There were allegations by the immediate family of Mr Kumar and others that the fund was being misused by its directors. The broadcasts featured interviews with Mr Kumar's father and with Fund committee members.

[2]  Fund committee members Pradeep Chand, Asheelta Kumar, Ashok Kumar and Kamta Prasad complained that the broadcasts did not give them a reasonable opportunity to present their views, presented inaccurate information about the Fund and caused panic among the public.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcasts breached the controversial issues, fairness, accuracy, discrimination and denigration and responsible programming standards, as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. In our view the controversial issues and fairness standards are the most relevant so we have focused our determination accordingly. We briefly address the remaining standards from paragraph [19] below.

[4]  The items were broadcast on 13 July 2014 and 20 July 2014. The members of the Authority have read transcripts of the broadcasts complained about (as the items were broadcast in Hindi) and the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the items discuss a controversial issue of public importance which required the presentation of alternative viewpoints?

[5]  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

[6]  The complainants argued that the opposing viewpoints of Mr Kumar's father and brother were adequately presented but the Fund's was not, and Fund committee members were not given reasonable opportunities to present their case. Radio Tarana argued that it gave the Fund committee members many opportunities to present their perspective.

[7]  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

[8]  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

[9]  We consider Radio Tarana's broadcasts on this topic fell within the category of news, current affairs and factual programming to which the balance standard applied. Additionally, from the evidence before us, it appears that the issue of the Fund was controversial and of public importance to the community that makes up Radio Tarana's audience. The Fund had collected $128,000 from this community, a substantial sum. The controversy around the use of the Fund appears to have generated a large amount of feedback from listeners in the form of phone calls and text messages, and we were directed to articles from community newspapers that had also featured the story.5

[10]  We therefore find that the items amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance, meaning Radio Tarana was required to make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant alternative viewpoints.

[11]  During the broadcasts, the Fund committee members were asked questions such as, 'Why won't the committee give the funds to Sanil's parents?' and 'What will the committee do now?' The Fund committee members appear to have been given reasonable opportunities to respond and explain their position, which they did adequately and fully. For example, committee members commented that:

  •  'The family claims they asked for funds in May but nobody approached us, our whole committee is here.'
  •  'We only got [a] request for funds on the 25th and no other request. If you want other members of the fund committee are here you can talk to them.'
  •  'The funds will not be sent to Fiji but will be used in New Zealand for others who may need help'.
  •  'We told Sanil's dad we won't release any funds because he is looked after by the authorities in Fiji. We told [Sanil's dad] if need be we are ready to give funds if anything happens during his treatment.'

[12]  For these reasons we are of the view that Radio Tarana gave reasonable opportunities to present significant alternative viewpoints, and we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Was any individual or organisation taking part or referred to in the broadcasts treated unfairly?

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

[14]  The complainants argued that although the Fund was given the opportunity to state their case, 'continued interruptions and questions in between by Radio Tarana did not give sufficient time to the members to answer each question.' They also said that despite being asked to contact only nominated representatives of the Fund, Radio Tarana contacted other members of the Fund for comment.

[15]  Radio Tarana argued that it 'provided ample opportunity for the committee to present their opinion and if they feel that they failed to present their case, then it's their fault'. It also said the Fund committee members were not clear on who should be contacted for comment.

[16]  In the transcripts of the broadcasts we have before us, it appears that the key issues under discussion were fairly put to the Fund, and the Fund's representatives were able to respond to questions adequately and fully. The Fund committee members' various responses were up to five or six sentences in length and do not appear to be interrupted, so we consider this was a fair and reasonable opportunity for them to put forward their position.

[17]  The correspondence also shows that it was unclear who should be contacted in relation to the Fund. Some correspondence said that any questions should be directed to one committee member, but in the same correspondence the Fund committee members argued that 'Tarana was told many times that Mr Kamta Prasad was the spokesperson'.

[18]  Overall we are satisfied that the Fund was treated fairly, and we decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Were the broadcasts inaccurate or misleading?

[19]  The complainants raised many alleged inaccuracies in other broadcasts that were not subject to a formal complaint, so we are not able to consider those now. They also raised inaccuracies that they later conceded were accurate. For example, the complainants alleged that Radio Tarana had inaccurately stated that the Fund committee members were not answering multiple phone calls from Radio Tarana, when in fact Radio Tarana had only called one Fund committee member once, but they also said that Radio Tarana had called the committee members many times. The Authority was not pointed to any specific statement from the broadcasts complained about that was inaccurate.

[20]  Accordingly we decline to uphold the complaint that the broadcasts were inaccurate.

Did the broadcasts encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, the Fund committee members and their families as a section of the community?

[21]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

[22]  The complainants said that Fund committee members and their families were 'publicly humiliated and ridiculed by misrepresentation of facts'. They said that the broadcasts 'tarnish[ed] the image of the members of the [Fund]'.

[23]  In our view these concerns fall more properly under fairness, which we have addressed above.

[24]  In any case, the Fund committee members and their families are not a 'section of the community' as envisaged by this standard. The sections of the community specified in the standard are consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993.7

[25]  We therefore decline to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Did the broadcasts breach the responsible programming standard?

[26]  The responsible programming standard (Standard 8) requires broadcasters to ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible.

[27]  The complainants argued that the hosts 'caused panic and unwanted alarm in the public' by not presenting the facts. As an example, they referenced disparaging texts about the Fund that were received by Radio Tarana and read out on air which called the Fund committee 'crooks', among other things.

[28]  Again, these concerns – about 'disparaging' remarks and the Fund being referred to as 'crooks' – are really matters of fairness. Nothing in the broadcasts was presented in a way that would cause unwarranted alarm or undue distress, in the context of a news/current affairs discussion about a legitimate issue in the community. The broadcaster made efforts to fairly present both sides of the story and was not alarmist.

[29]  Accordingly we decline to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
1 May 2015

 

Appendix

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

1      Complainants' formal complaint – 23 July 2014
2      Complainants' referral to the Authority – 12 September 2014
3      Radio Tarana's response to the Authority – 4 November 2014
4      Complainants' further comments on the referral – 26 November 2014
5      Radio Tarana's correspondence with the Authority relating to broadcast translations – 25-27      February 2015
6      Complainants' comments on the broadcast translations – 20 March 2015

 

 


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

2 For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)

3 Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-125

4 See, for example, Dewe and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-076

5 For example, http://www.indiannewslink.co.nz/family-feud-brews-over-medical-fund/

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

Section 21