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Loder and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2018-041 (10 August 2018)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Mike Loder

Dated

10th August 2018

Number

2018-041

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 that, over the past ten years, reported firearm theft has increased by 35%, and through the comments of three interviewees considered whether the increase of firearm theft is related to issues around their safe storage and registration. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the item breached standards of balance and fairness. The Authority found the item provided sufficient balance through multiple alternative points of view that enabled listeners to form their own opinion on the topic. The fairness standard cannot be applied to licenced firearm owners as they are not an ‘organisation’ for the purposes of the standard. 

Not Upheld: Balance, Fairness 


The broadcast

[1]  An item on RNZ’s Morning Report reported that:

  • ’Almost 3,300 firearms have been stolen over the past five years – a 35% percent increase on the five years before.’ (Presenter)
  • ‘Police would not speak to RNZ but did provide figures… Between 2013 and 2017, 3,298 firearms were reported stolen – a 35% increase on the previous five years. This year 194 firearms have already been reported stolen.’ (Reporter)

[2]  A number of interviewees quoted in the item discussed whether the increase of reported firearm theft is related to issues around the safe storage and registration of firearms. Police Association President, Chris Cahill discussed the legislative limitations on the Police’s ability to check on firearm security and storage and the need for a firearms registry in New Zealand.

[3]  Firearm Safety Specialist Director, Nicole McKee commented that the current Arms Act is fit for purpose and that a registry would not solve the firearm theft issue:

A lot of firearms found by police in possession of criminals have registration numbers ground off them, so we don’t see how registering a firearm is going to benefit the community at the cost that will apply to that registration.

[4]  Finally, Professor Alexander Gillespie from the Waikato law school gave his view that we cannot know whether the current Arms Act is successful without further research. He said:

Our difficulty is we have a large gap of knowledge; we don’t even know how many firearms are in the country. Whereas other countries have more resources to look at these questions, we don’t have answers for them yet, so a lot of our answers come from comparisons offshore.

[5]  The item was broadcast on 18 April 2018 on RNZ. In our consideration of the complaint, the members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[6]  Mike Loder complained that the broadcast breached the balance and fairness standards because:

  • RNZ acted as a ‘mouthpiece’ for the Police Association and let the Association lie by claiming the number of gun thefts is rising.
  • The item should have mentioned the number of firearms recovered each year. Many more guns are recovered each year than are stolen.
  • A 2016 briefing paper from the Police (the front page of which was supplied by Mr Loder) states that the increase in recorded firearm thefts from burglaries was due to a new national recording standard and increased staff compliance. So the past five years and the five years before that cannot be compared as they were in the broadcast.

[7]  Mr Loder also provided the Authority with an article containing points he submitted should have been included in the broadcast, including, for example, that a large number of firearms offenders have multiple individual firearms convictions, and only a small number of firearms offences are committed by licenced firearm owners.1

The broadcaster’s response

[8]  RNZ found no breach of the balance or fairness standards for the following reasons:

  • This was a short news item regarding an increase in the number of firearms being stolen, not a discussion on the wider controversial issue of firearms control.
  • It was not clear from the complaint which other perspectives should have been included in the news item.
  • Comments from Firearm Safety Specialist Director, Nicole McKee, were broadcast and she had an opportunity to raise other points when approached to comment on the topic.
  • Mr Loder did not identify which individual or organisation he believed was treated unfairly. In any event Ms McKee’s comments were included to provide a perspective from firearms owners.

The standards

[9]  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 are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.

[10]  The fairness standard (Standard 11) 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.

Our analysis

Balance

[11]  While this item began by simply reporting the increase of reported firearm thefts, over the course of the broadcast it did discuss the relationship between this increase and firearm storage, monitoring and registration. As such, we think the broader controversial issue of firearm regulation in New Zealand was discussed, so the broadcaster needed to make reasonable efforts to present alternative views.

[12]  The figures that formed the basis of the item were clearly identified as figures provided by Police. It was reasonable for the broadcaster to rely on these figures, which were provided in response to RNZ’s request for comment from Police. So we do not agree that RNZ allowed the Police Association to ‘lie’ about the rise in firearm theft.

[13]  The broadcaster provided a range of viewpoints through the comments of the interviewees, and in particular Ms McKee offered a viewpoint which countered Mr Cahill’s position. The inclusion of these differing views highlighted the importance of firearm regulation issues and the need for public discourse over whether change is needed. In contrast to a previous decision about a similar item featuring Mr Cahill,2 on this occasion we find the broadcaster adequately enabled the audience to form their own opinions on the topic.

[14]  While Mr Loder submitted other points should have been raised in this discussion, such as the number of firearms recovered each year, we find this broadcast was clear in its scope and provided a balanced examination of the possible link between the rise in reported firearm thefts and firearm storage and registration.

Fairness

[15]  While Mr Loder’s submissions on this standard are unclear, upon reading the supporting article he provided, we believe he has identified ‘licenced firearm owners’ as being unfairly treated in the broadcast.

[16]  The fairness standard only applies to individuals or organisations taking part or referred to in a broadcast. The Authority has previously found that licenced firearms owners are not an ‘organisation’ for the purposes of the standard.3

Conclusion

[17]  In our view this broadcast carried a high level of public interest. It explored a topical and contentious issue in a fair and balanced way. Accordingly, we have not identified any actual or potential harm arising from this broadcast which justifies limiting the limiting of the right to freedom of expression.

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

 

 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
10 August 2018

 


Appendix

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

1       Mike Loder’s formal complaint – 18 April 2018
2       RNZ’s response to the complaint – 25 May 2018
3       Mr Loder’s referral to the Authority – 25 May 2018
4       RNZ’s confirmation of no final comment – 3 July 2018


1 What Happened to the 29 Gang Members With Firearm Licenses? (Kiwi Gun Blog, 13 April 2018)

2 Loder and Dennis and MediaWorks Radio Ltd (Decision No. 2018-011)

3 As above, at [37]