Anderson and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2018-091 (4 February 2019)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Paula Rose
- Wendy Palmer
- Susie Staley
- Bruce Anderson
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
A complaint about an interview between Kim Hill and Rt Hon Winston Peters regarding the relationship between New Zealand First and the Labour Party was not upheld. The complainant submitted the interview was unbalanced because Kim Hill’s interviewing of Mr Peters was ‘biased, rude and condescending’. The Authority found that, while Ms Hill asked Mr Peters challenging and critical questions, Mr Peters had a reasonable opportunity to put forward his competing point of view. Given the level of public interest in the interview, Mr Peter’s position and his experience with the media, the Authority also found Ms Hill’s interview style did not result in Mr Peters being treated unfairly.
Not Upheld: Balance, Fairness
 On RNZ’s Morning Report programme Kim Hill interviewed Rt Hon Winston Peters about the relationship between New Zealand First and the Labour Party, how the coalition government was working and whether Mr Peters was exerting undue influence over the leadership of the Government. The interview ran for approximately 9 minutes. It was broadcast on 17 September 2018 on RNZ National.
 Bruce Anderson complained that the interview breached the balance and fairness standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:
- Ms Hill was ‘condescending’ and talking over Mr Peters.
- Ms Hill was biased in her interviewing, as she started from the premise that Mr Peters had undue influence and did not shift from that point of view.
- The interview was ‘biased, rude and condescending.’
The broadcaster’s response
 RNZ submitted the broadcast did not breach the balance or fairness standards for the following reasons:
- The complaint mischaracterised the broadcast, which took part in a cordial manner without raised voices or unnecessary interruptions.
- Any interruptions were either Mr Peters speaking before a question was finished or where he was interrupted to return to the question asked.
- At times Mr Peters spoke at length. He is an able media performer and was not fazed by the questions put to him during the interview.
 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.
 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. 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.
 In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. So when we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we weigh the value of the programme, and the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. We recognise the value of robust political discourse in the media and the role of media in holding to account those in positions of power. This contributes to an informed and engaged public, which is critical to a free and democratic society.
 When we consider a balance complaint the first question we look at is whether the broadcast discussed a controversial issue of public importance. An issue of public importance is something that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public.1 A controversial issue will be one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.2
 We accept that a discussion of the relationships between coalition parties in New Zealand’s elected government is an issue of public importance, given the high value and public interest in the effective operation of government. Therefore the balance standard applied.
 The next question is whether the broadcaster made reasonable efforts in the circumstances to allow significant viewpoints to be presented. Taking the following contextual factors into account, we are satisfied that the requirements of the balance standard were met in this case:3
- The introduction and framing of the item made it clear Mr Peters was being interviewed to respond to allegations of the Opposition leader Simon Bridges (that the Government’s united front was a ‘sham’ and that Mr Peters ‘knows he’s the real boss in this relationship’).
- The nature of the interview was robust which was in line with audience expectations of RNZ and Ms Hill, given that it was a political interview involving a prominent political figure with extensive media experience.
- Mr Peters was given the opportunity to speak at length several times throughout the interview.
 As discussed above, the purpose of the balance standard is to ensure that competing viewpoints on significant issues are presented to enable listeners to arrive at their own informed and reasoned opinions.4 Considering the relevant contextual factors, particularly Mr Peters’ extensive media experience, we find that this interview did not breach the balance standard.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.
 Turning now to the fairness standard, the broadcast that is the subject of this complaint involved a public figure being interviewed and the views he expressed being challenged. It is well established that the threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to public figures and politicians (who are familiar with dealing with the media) is higher than for a layperson or someone unfamiliar with the media.5
 The interviewing of politicians by journalists is an important feature of life in a democratic society and an important feature of the exercise of freedom of expression. We do not consider Ms Hill’s questions or comments went beyond the level of robust scrutiny and political analysis that could reasonably be expected in an interview with a politician or that this resulted in Mr Peters being treated or portrayed unfairly. We are satisfied that any potential harm caused to Mr Peters in this respect did not outweigh the importance of the right to freedom of expression.
 Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under the fairness standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
4 February 2019
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Bruce Anderson’s formal complaint – 17 September 2018
2 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 16 October 2018
3 Mr Anderson’s referral to the Authority – 22 October 2018
4 Mr Anderson’s further comments – 29 October 2018
5 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 2 November 2018
1 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
2 Commentary: Balance, above, page 18
3 Guideline 8c
4 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
5 See, for example: Holland and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2017-048