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Lee and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2017-088 (16 February 2018)

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose

Complainant

  • Chris Lee

Dated

16th February 2018

Number

2017-088

Programme

Morning Report

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd

Summary

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

A segment on Morning Report discussed one Auckland individual’s challenge to Auckland Council to open a discussion about removing or altering a monument to Colonel Marmaduke Nixon in Ōtāhuhu. The item briefly summarised Colonel Nixon’s role in colonialism and in the Waikato land wars, including the invasion of Rangiaowhia. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the item lacked balance and was inaccurate in its account of the events at Rangiaowhia. The Authority found the item did not purport to provide a comprehensive examination of what occurred at Rangiaowhia. Rather, the item focused on one individual’s challenge to the Council to consider removing or altering the monument. In this context, it was not required in the interests of either balance or accuracy to present alternative accounts of the historical events. The Authority noted that, following the item, alternative viewpoints were nevertheless acknowledged in further online coverage by RNZ.

Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy 


Introduction

[1]  A segment on Morning Report featured an item by RNZ’s Māori Issues Correspondent, prompted by one Auckland individual’s challenge to Auckland Council to open a discussion about removing or altering a monument to Colonel Marmaduke Nixon in Ōtāhuhu. The item was introduced as follows:

An Auckland man is calling for a colonial memorial in Ōtāhuhu to be removed from public view saying that the man that it honours, Colonel Marmaduke Nixon, is nothing more than a thug. ...[Name] has invited the Auckland mayor Phil Goff to open up a conversation on our history and he has the support of a Waikato Kaumātua whose iwi were the victims of one of Nixon’s assaults. Here’s our Māori Issues Correspondent...

[2]  The item briefly summarised Colonel Nixon’s role in colonialism and in the Waikato land wars, including the invasion of Rangiaowhia and the burning down of a whare that allegedly killed 12 people. It then featured excerpts of numerous interviews with local Kaumātua, academics and local residents about their views concerning whether the monument should be removed. Attention was drawn to the locals’ lack of knowledge regarding the historical events that occurred at Rangiaowhia and the existence of the memorial.

[3]  Chris Lee complained that the broadcast included inaccurate statements of fact about the attack on Rangiaowhia. Mr Lee submitted that the broadcast contained no historical context and was ‘inherently unbalanced’, as RNZ offered no critique of the historical narrative told in the segment and did not present any contrary views.

[4]  The issues raised in Mr Lee’s complaint are whether the broadcast breached the balance and accuracy standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The segment was broadcast on 6 September 2017 on RNZ National. The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Freedom of expression

[6]  When we determine a complaint alleging a breach of broadcasting standards, we first give consideration to the right to freedom of expression. We weigh the value of the broadcast item, as well as the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. We may only interfere and limit the right to freedom of expression where doing so is reasonable and justified.

[7]  In our view the item by RNZ’s Māori Issues Correspondent carried public interest. The item explored a matter raised with Auckland Council, namely, whether the Colonel Nixon monument ought to remain on public display, and sought and presented the views of other individuals in Ōtāhuhu on the topic. The harm alleged by the complainant is that listeners would have been left uninformed by the omission of contextual background related to Colonel Nixon and his involvement in historical events.

Did the item amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance that required the presentation of alternative viewpoints?

[8] The balance standard (Standard 8) 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 about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.

The parties’ submissions

[9]  Mr Lee submitted:

  • The broadcast contained no historical context or background on the attack on Rangiaowhia.
  • The item emphasised the reactions of locals but did not reveal what they were told by the reporter.
  • There were no criticisms or contrary views provided in regards to recounting the attack.
  • A more balanced and accurate presentation would have had a materially different effect on listeners.

[10]  RNZ submitted the balance standard allows for significant points of view to be raised over the period of current interest for a story, and noted that RNZ’s later coverage of this story raised alternative points of view.1

Our analysis

[11]  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

[12]  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

[13]  The complainant’s primary concern is the accurate reporting of events which allegedly occurred at Rangiaowhia, and what he considers to be important information and context about the events that he wished to be included in this item. In our decision on a similar complaint from Mr Lee last year regarding the attack on Rangiaowhia, we said:5

…while a historic event may be of great public interest at the time and may continue to be of historical interest, the later discussion or analysis of such an event will not necessarily be considered a controversial issue of public importance.

[14]  While what occurred at Rangiaowhia is evidently disputed by historians, we do not consider it is an issue that has topical currency or which has excited ongoing public debate, nor was it ‘discussed’ in this item, in the way envisaged by the balance standard.

[15]  The events at Rangiaowhia were referenced only briefly in the context of the item, which focused on one individual’s challenge to Auckland Council to open discussion about whether the Ōtāhuhu monument ought to be either removed or altered, based on that individual’s own view of Colonel Nixon and his involvement in historical events. An inquiry into the events at Rangiaowhia was not the focus of this item. In this context, the broadcaster was not required, in the interests of balance, to obtain and present alternative views on what occurred at Rangiaowhia. Nor would listeners have expected this given the way the item was framed, as being prompted by one individual’s perspective.

[16]  In any event, we note that the broadcaster did acknowledge alternative points of view on the historical background in later online coverage of the story.6 In particular, an article dated 13 September 2017 highlighted that aspects of the history of Rangiaowhia are disputed, and that other views had been raised in listener responses to the initial story. For example, the article included comments from someone whose ancestors were from Rangiaowhia and also from a descendant of Colonel Nixon.

[17]  For these reasons, we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[18]  The accuracy standard (Standard 9) 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 being significantly misinformed.

The parties’ submissions

[19]  Mr Lee submitted:

  • The coverage of the attack on Rangiaowhia contained ‘unsubstantiated and demonstrably false claims’.
  • In contrast to the claim made in the segment, women and children were not hiding in the whare when it was burnt down. There is also evidence that there were no women or children in the whare when the shooting started in the vicinity.
  • A more balanced and accurate presentation would have had a materially different effect on listeners.

[20]  RNZ submitted:

  • RNZ accepted that contested facts around the Rangiaowhia invasion were stated as facts rather than disputed facts, and in this respect aspects of the story could have been handled differently. 
  • This raised an issue under RNZ editorial policies and ‘this matter has been taken up with the staff member involved and has been dealt with’. However, it does not automatically follow that the accuracy standard in the Radio Code was breached.
  • The ‘thrust of the story’ was whether the existing monument should be removed or supplemented, and if so, in what manner that should be presented. Whether the facts stated were contested would not have had a material effect on listeners’ understanding of the story.
  • The issue regarding contested facts was picked up in subsequent RNZ stories where it was acknowledged that there were several versions of the invasion events recorded.

Our analysis

[21]  The first question for the Authority is whether the inaccuracies alleged by the complainant amounted to material points of fact in the context of this item. The accuracy standard is concerned only with points which are material to the programme as a whole. Technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme are not material.7

[22]  We acknowledge that it is apparent that aspects of the events at Rangiaowhia remain in dispute, particularly around the number of people killed in a burning whare, who was killed, and the alleged burning down of the church. The broadcaster has also acknowledged this in its submissions.

[23]  However, as we have noted in relation to the balance standard, the focus of this item was one individual’s challenge to Auckland Council regarding the monument, based on his own views of Colonel Nixon. In the remainder of the item, locals were asked for their views about the monument, and it was evident that many were unaware of the historical events, or even of the existence of the monument.

[24]  In this context, we do not consider that precise details about the invasion at Rangiaowhia – for example, as alluded to in the complainant’s submissions, whether or not women and children were hiding in the whare there – were material to the item as a whole, or would have significantly affected listeners’ understanding of the item. The story did not purport to be a detailed examination of the historical events, but rather was about the status of the monument to Colonel Nixon and a desire to open discussion about its acceptability as a colonial monument on public display.

[25]  Nevertheless, RNZ did acknowledge in its follow-up articles that ‘the version of history given by iwi about the events at Rangiaowhia’, particularly regarding the burning of the village church, is disputed, and that the historical account given in the broadcast is not the only version of events.8

[26]  For these reasons, we find overall that the alleged harm caused by the item did not outweigh the right to freedom of expression, taking into account the objectives of the accuracy standard.

[27]  Accordingly, we do not uphold this part of the complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
16 February 2018

 


Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1      Chris Lee’s formal complaint – 7 September 2017
2      RNZ’s response to the complaint – 5 October 2017
3      Mr Lee’s referral to the Authority – 29 October 2017
4      RNZ’s response to the referral – 30 November 2017
5      Mr Lee’s final comments – 4 December 2017
6      RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 7 December 2017


1  See: https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/338790/call-for-otāhuhu-colonial-leader-memorial-to-go (RNZ, 6 September 2017), https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/339297/changes-proposed-to-marmaduke-nixon-monument (13 September 2017) and https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/340820/mayoral-meeting-over-controversial-statue (RNZ, 4 October 2017)

2  Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18

3  As above

4  As above

5  Lee and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2016-044. See also Axford, Bate and Oldham and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2011-115, and Boyce and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-086

6  See: https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/339297/changes-proposed-to-marmaduke-nixon-monument (13 September 2017)

7  Guideline 9b

8  See: https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/339297/changes-proposed-to-marmaduke-nixon-monument (13 September 2017)