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Supreme Sikh Society, Kalgidhar Sports Club & Majinder Singh Bassi and Planet FM - 2018-040 (24 August 2018)

Dated

24th August 2018

Number

2018-040

Programme

Panthic Vichar

Channel/Station

Planet FM

Broadcaster

Access Community Radio Inc

Summary

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

The Authority has upheld one aspect of a complaint from three complainants about a segment of Punjabi talkback programme Panthic Vichar, broadcast on community radio station, Planet FM. During the programme, host Kuldip Singh made a number of allegations against the complainants, regarding use of grant money and cheating or ‘unjust’ behaviour at a kabaddi tournament. The Authority found that the host’s comments reflected negatively on the complainants and as such, they should have been given an opportunity to respond to the allegations. The Authority did not uphold the remaining aspects of the complaint. The Authority acknowledged the limited resources available to the broadcaster, but reminded it of its obligations under the Broadcasting Act 1989 to receive and consider formal complaints through a proper process, including where the broadcast subject to complaint is in a language other than English. The Authority did not make any orders.

Upheld: Fairness. Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Programme Information, Children’s Interests, Violence, Law and Order, Discrimination and Denigration, Balance, Accuracy, Privacy. No Order.


Background

[1]  We found the following background information helpful in making our decision on this complaint, and we were assisted by both the broadcaster and the complainant in understanding the events and cultural background.

[2]  Our understanding is that the Takanini Gurudwara is a temple or Sikh religious place of worship in the Takanini suburb of Auckland. It is operated by the Supreme Sikh Society, one of the complainants.

[3]  On 11 March 2018, the Takanini Gurudwara celebrated its 13th anniversary. Thousands of people from the Sikh community attended the week-long celebrations, which included preaching and kirtan sessions1 led by an international Sikh preacher, and sports events, including touch kabaddi.

[4]  We understand that kabaddi is a contact sport originating in India and very popular in Punjab. It involves two teams of seven players, with a single player known as a ‘raider’, who scores points for their team. At the Takanini Gurudwara anniversary tournament, ten teams from around New Zealand participated, with 38 players and officials also participating from India.

[5]  One of the teams participating in the tournament was the Kalgidhar Sports Club (KSC). At the time of the broadcast, the complainant, Majinder Singh, was a member of this club and secretary of the New Zealand Kabaddi Federation, which was responsible for the tournament rules.

[6]  During the anniversary, we understand that the Takanini Gurudwara appealed to the community to raise funds to pay off a loan for the establishment of the Supreme Sikh Society and the temple.

The broadcast

[7] On 12 March 2018, Planet FM (Auckland Community Access Radio), broadcast Punjabi talkback programme, Panthic Vichar.

[8]  As this programme was broadcast in Punjabi, we sought an independent translation and transcription of the relevant segment. According to the translation we have been provided, during this broadcast segment, host Kuldip Singh made a number of allegations against the complainants, regarding use of grant money and cheating or ‘unjust’ behaviour at the kabaddi tournament described above.

[9] For example, according to the Punjabi transcription provided to us by the Translation Service at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), the host said:

Supreme Sikh Society Planet FM 2018 040 image 1

Supreme Sikh Society Planet FM 2018 040 image 2

[It’s fine to take money if government gives, but have we spent this on our mother sport kabaddi and on our players? If a player gets injured, nobody takes care of him, they grab a bowl and start begging from public that a player has been injured. Even a facility of ambulance is not provided in the ground and they have eaten the grant of 86,000 dollars in the name of players.]

[10]  The complainants are primarily concerned about the following issues discussed by Mr Singh during the broadcast:

  • As detailed in the transcription above, according to Mr Singh, the KSC received grants from the Akarana Community Trust totalling $86,0002. Mr Singh read the receipt numbers and total amounts granted to the KSC by the Trust on-air and alleged that, despite the funding, the KSC still requested donations from the community (for example, when a player was injured).
  • During the Takanini Gurudwara anniversary kabaddi tournament, the host implied that the KSC cheated or pressured referees to change the winning team in the semi-final match, so that the KSC could play in the final.

[11]  During the broadcast, the host asked callers to phone in to the programme to clarify the situation for him and to comment in response. One caller, representing the New Zealand Kabaddi Federation, spoke to the host and gave his perspective on the events at the tournament, claiming that no cheating or unjust behaviour occurred.

The complaint

[12]  The complainants initially contacted Planet FM regarding their concerns about this broadcast. Given the broadcast was in Punjabi, Planet FM asked the complainants to identify the broadcast extract they were concerned about and also offered the complainants an opportunity to respond to the allegations in a future programme. Planet FM advised one of the complainants that it did not have the resources to consider the full broadcast material, and that the Authority would be in a position to undertake a full translation of the programme if the complainants wished to refer their complaints.

[13]  The complainants chose to refer their complaints to us. They submitted that:

  • The broadcast contained false and misleading accusations of serious fraud against the complainants (named in the broadcast) and spoke about them in a derogatory way.
  • They were not contacted prior to broadcast to explain or give their side of the story.
  • A caller to the programme (representing the New Zealand Kabaddi Federation) attempted to correct the misinformation broadcast, but was not given a fair opportunity to speak by the host.
  • The complainants agreed generally with the independent translation of the broadcast, provided by DIA.

The broadcaster’s response

[14] In response to the complaint referral, Planet FM submitted:

  • The host informed Majinder Singh Bassi of his intent to discuss the matters on air, prior to broadcast.
  • He also invited the complainants to phone in to the radio programme at the time of broadcast, to clarify how the grant money was being spent. The broadcaster accepted that the complainants were not given a formal opportunity to respond to the allegations on air, so a further offer was then made by the broadcaster for the complainants to speak on a future programme.
  • The host considered that the actions of the KSC at the tournament were unfair and unjust. He argued that the events discussed were factual, took place in a public setting and were in the public domain.
  • The host disputed the use of the word ‘cheat’ in the independent translation relied on by the Authority, and replaced it with ‘unjust’ in his alternative translation.

Our findings

[15]  We value the right to freedom of expression in New Zealand. This means that we value the right of individuals to express opinions and ideas, even where those ideas might be critical or unpopular, provided they do not cause undue harm. When we make a decision on a complaint that broadcasting standards have been breached, we therefore weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm that is alleged to have been caused by the broadcast. In this case, the complainants have submitted that the host’s comments were inaccurate, reflected negatively on them and adversely impacted on their reputation, and they were not given an opportunity to present their side of the story in response.

Accuracy

[16]  When we considered this complaint, we first looked at the accuracy standard (Standard 9). This is because in order for us to decide whether the complainants were treated fairly, we first wanted to know whether the broadcast was consistent with the accuracy standard. This does not require us to decide whether the allegations made by Mr Singh were in fact true. The accuracy standard requires broadcasters to ‘make reasonable efforts’ to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to material (or important) points of fact, and does not mislead. The standard does not apply to statements of analysis, comment or opinion.3

[17]  The amount of money received by the KSC by way of grants from the Akarana Community Trust was factual information. The host relied on receipts as evidence for the total amount of money received by the KSC, and these amounts were not disputed by the complainants.

[18]  The remainder of the discussion largely comprised the host’s analysis, comment or opinion. The host questioned where the money was being spent, based on his observation that the KSC continued to request donations from the community. This was presented as speculation, rather than fact, and was reinforced by the host’s invitation to a representative to call in to clarify the situation for him.

[19]  Similarly, based on the decision about which team won the semi-final game at the kabaddi tournament, the host alleged that unjust behaviour or cheating had been demonstrated by the KSC and Majinder Singh Bassi, both of whom were named in the broadcast. Again, his comments were posed as questions to the audience, asking, for example, why this decision was not made earlier. He did not make assertions of fact.

[20]  We therefore do not consider that this broadcast was in breach of the accuracy standard, and we do not uphold the accuracy complaint.

Fairness to the complainants

[21]  This discussion likely carried public interest for its target audience and we recognise that the expression of ideas, however critical, on matters of public interest to the community is fundamental to free speech principles.

[22]  However, the fairness standard (Standard 11) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. Where the expression of critical ideas might adversely affect individuals or organisations referred to in a broadcast, a key principle of the fairness standard is that those individuals or organisations referred to should be given an opportunity to comment in response.

[23]  We consider that the host’s comments reflected negatively on the complainants. He implied that money granted to the KSC was not being spent for the benefit of the community and that the KSC (and by implication, the Supreme Sikh Society) and Majinder Singh Bassi – all of whom were named in the broadcast – either cheated, or unfairly influenced the referees at the kabaddi tournament.

[24]  We therefore consider that the KSC should have been given an opportunity to respond to the host’s comments about its use of grant money. Given their collective positions, a representative of the KSC, Supreme Sikh Society and/or Majinder Singh Bassi should also have been given an opportunity to respond to the host’s comments about the kabaddi tournament, prior to the broadcast (not only after the complaint was raised). As we discuss further below, inviting the complainants to call in to the programme at the time the adverse comments were made is not sufficient under the fairness standard.

[25]  Planet FM submitted that Majinder Singh Bassi was informed of the likely content of the programme, but it was not convinced he had been given a reasonable opportunity to respond and invited him to comment for a later programme.

[26]  The second caller to the programme, representing the NZ Kabaddi Federation, provided some balancing comments on the issue of the kabaddi tournament. He said, for example, that ‘No one tolerates cheating’ and clarified the rules around international players on the teams. However, it appears that he only called in to the programme at the time it aired, and was not invited to respond beforehand, so this did not satisfy the broadcaster’s obligations under the standard.

[27]  As we have noted above, the Authority has previously found that it is not enough for talkback hosts to invite callers to call in to the programme if they have different views.4 While the host asked callers to phone him if they disagreed with his opinions, this does not provide a fair and reasonable opportunity for those adversely affected (in this case, the complainants) to provide their response and is not sufficient under the fairness standard.

[28]  In order to comply with the standard, the broadcaster was required to seek the complainants’ views prior to broadcast and to include those views in the broadcast at the time the allegations, or adverse comments, were made.

[29]  We are satisfied that upholding this aspect of the complaint does not represent an unreasonable or unjustified limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. We believe that the host was entitled to express his opinions. However, where his comments had the potential to adversely affect the complainants, who were named during the broadcast, the complainants should have been given an opportunity to respond to the negative comments made about them.

[30]  We therefore uphold the complaint under the fairness standard.

Remaining standards raised

[31]  We do not uphold the complaint under the remaining standards raised, for the following reasons:

  • Good Taste and Decency: The broadcast did not contain any material, such as offensive language or sexual material, in breach of this standard.
  • Programme Information: The broadcast did not require an audience advisory.
  • Children’s Interests: This broadcast did not contain material likely to disturb or distress children.
  • Violence: While the host’s comments were provocative, they did not encourage or incite violence or brutality.
  • Law and Order: The host did not actively promote or encourage antisocial or illegal behaviour.
  • Discrimination and Denigration: The complainants and their respective organisations are not ‘a section of the community’,5 to which this standard applies.
  • Balance: The balance standard does not apply to talkback programmes.6 In any event, while the issue discussed was likely of importance to the target audience (the Sikh community), some balancing comment on the issue of the kabaddi tournament was provided by a caller from the NZ Kabaddi Federation.
  • Privacy: We acknowledge that Majinder Singh Bassi was identified during the broadcast, however we do not consider that any private information, over which he could have a reasonable expectation of privacy, was disclosed. Mr Singh Bassi’s concerns are better dealt with as a matter of fairness, which we have considered above.

[32]  We therefore do not uphold these aspects of the complaint.

Final comments

[33]  Under the Broadcasting Act 1989, broadcasters have a duty to receive and consider formal complaints about any programme broadcast, where a complaint alleges the broadcaster has failed to comply with broadcasting standards.

[34]  All broadcasters in New Zealand must have in place a procedure for dealing with complaints, even where the broadcasts subject to complaint are in a language other than English. We appreciate that Planet FM is a small, community broadcaster with limited resources. However, it is required to respond appropriately to complaints, even where translation might be required. Authority staff are available to assist the broadcaster in this process, if needed.

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Planet FM of Panthic Vichar on 12 March 2018 breached Standard 11 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[35]  Having upheld one aspect of the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[36]  We do not intend to do so on this occasion. We consider that publication of this decision is sufficient to publicly notify and remedy the breach of standards. The decision also provides guidance to the broadcaster around the importance of ensuring standards are maintained and the requirement to have processes in place to respond to formal complaints, even where complaints concern broadcasts in languages other than English.

 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
24 August 2018


Appendix

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

1     Translation of Panthic Vichar, broadcast 12 March 2018 – Translation Service, Department of Internal Affairs
2     Initial correspondence between the complainants and Planet FM – 31 March – 27 April 2018
3     Complainants’ referral to the Authority – 17 May 2018
4     Complainants’ clarification of the standards raised – 7 June 2018
5     Complainants’ comments on translation – 28 June 2018
6     Planet FM’s comments on translation – 4 July 2018
7     Planet FM’s response to request for further information – 18 July 2018
8     Complainants’ final comments – 22 July 2018
9     Planet FM’s final comments – 15 August 2018


1 Devotional song and performance.

2 The Akarana Community Trust is a gaming society in New Zealand which grants applications for funding that supports the local Indian community. Organisations can apply for grants which must detail how the Indian community will benefit from the grant. According to its website, the Akarana Community Trust has held a gaming licence since 2012 and is subject to full audits by DIA (https://www.akaranacommunitytrust.co.nz/)

3 Guideline 9a

4 Singh and Radio Virsa, Decision No. 2017-001, at [20]

5 The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) 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.

6 Parlane and MediaWorks Radio Ltd, 2018-017 at [20]