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Anderton and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2004-081

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Associate Minister of Health (Hon Jim Anderton)
Number
2004-081
Programme
Morning Report
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio
Standards Breached

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Morning Report – interview with complainant about a possible ban on pseudoephedrine – followed by interview with a GP – interviewer told GP that complainant had suggested that over-the-counter pharmaceuticals containing pseudoephedrine were not the main source of supply for makers of “P” – similar statement made in News item broadcast after the interview – interviewer’s comment and News item allegedly misrepresented Minister’s comments – allegedly unbalanced and inaccurate

Findings
Principle 4 (balance) – different views expressed – not upheld

Principle 6 (accuracy) – Minister’s comment accepted as implication initially – later broadcast as fact – inaccurate – upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] The government’s decision not to ban some popular cold and flu remedies, despite their use in the manufacture of the illegal drug methamphetamine or “P”, was the issue covered in an interview with the Associate Minister of Health (Hon Jim Anderton) on Morning Report broadcast on National Radio between 6.00 and 9.00am on 12 February 2004. The Minister referred to a range of actions which had been taken with regard to methamphetamine, which included increasing substantially the penalties for importing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine and using it for illegal purposes. He also referred to the situation in Rotorua which had banned the sale of cold and flu remedies which contained pseudoephedrine, despite their effectiveness for such common ailments.

[2] The Chair of the Rotorua General Practice Group (Dr Bev O’Keefe) was then interviewed. She was asked to respond to the Minister’s suggestion that over-the-counter remedies containing pseudoephedrine were apparently not the main source of supply of pseudoephedrine for the makers of ‘P’. She said the evidence was that over-the-counter remedies were the main source of pseudoephedrine supply for “P” labs. Had the Minister been telling “fibs”, the interviewer queried, to which Dr O’Keefe said their sources of information were clearly in conflict. An item broadcast during the News section of Morning Report after the interview reported that the Associate Minister had said that most of the pseudoephedrine involved in the illegal drug manufacture was smuggled into the country.

Complaint

[3] The Associate Minister complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that while he had said “huge amounts of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine” were imported, he had not been asked what was the main source of pseudoephedrine for those who made methamphetamine or “P”. Moreover, he had not said that over-the-counter pharmaceuticals were not the main source of supply. The interviewer’s suggestion that he had been telling lies, he complained, was neither impartial nor balanced.

Principles

[4] RNZ assessed the complaint under Principles 4 and 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. They read:

Principle 4

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Principle 6

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] Dealing first with the Minister’s complaint that his comments had been misrepresented in later news bulletins, RNZ said that the 8.00am news contained a “reasonable summary” of the Minister’s replies. He had been reported as saying first, that banning popular cold and flu remedies containing pseudoephedrine would not be effective in the fight against methamphetamine, and secondly, most of the pseudoephedrine used to manufacture illegal drugs was smuggled into the country.

[6] RNZ said that it was difficult to understand the Minister’s complaint that he was not asked about the main source of the ingredients used to manufacture “P”. Further, RNZ did not accept the complaint that the Minister was accused of telling lies in relation to a question he had never been asked. The interviewer’s reference to “fibs”, it wrote:

… was not an accusation of lying but a colloquially phrased follow-up question to Dr O’Keefe on what seemed to be quite opposed views held by yourself and Dr O’Keefe on the main source of pseudoephedrine for making “P” and how it should be dealt with.

[7] Dr O’Keefe’s response, it added, showed that her views and those of the Minister were diametrically opposed. RNZ continued:

Radio New Zealand believes that [the interviewer] was justified in his approach in his interview with Dr O’Keefe because he felt you were choosing to talk about customs control rather than the central issue of a local ban by doctors and pharmacists on the sale and availability of certain drugs.

[8] With regard to the complaint that the item was not balanced, RNZ said that balance was not the issue in dispute and it declined to uphold that aspect.

[9] As for accuracy, RNZ reiterated the point that the summary which was broadcast was accurate and it declined to uphold that matter as well.

Referral to the Authority

[10] When he referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Minister disagreed with RNZ’s contention that the 8.00am news item contained a reasonable summary of his answers to the questions. He quoted RNZ’s response when it said:

“The 8am news reported you as saying that banning some popular cold and flu remedies containing pseudoephedrine would not be effective in the fight against the use of methamphetamine or “P”. Further it quoted you as saying that most of the pseudoephedrine involved in the illegal drug manufacture is smuggled into the country”.

[11] The Minister then referred to the transcript of the interview when, in response to a question about the effectiveness of a ban on the sale of pharmaceuticals containing pseudoephedrine, he had said:

“Well not sure about no effect; probably have some effect for a short period of time, but the truth is that huge amounts of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine are actually imported across the border… .”

[12] That answer, he wrote, was not reflected in the news item. Moreover, he added, the transcript disclosed that he had not said that “most” pseudoephedrines were smuggled into New Zealand.

[13] Reiterating the point that he was not asked what he considered to be the main source of “P”, he noted that the interviewer suggested that he and Dr O’Keefe had opposing views.

[14] Turning to the “telling fibs” comment, the Minister maintained that it was an accusation of lying. The interview was unbalanced as the interviewer had “made things up”. As for the accuracy requirement, the Minister argued that the interviewer had not distinguished between fact and opinion when he said that an answer about the main source of pseudoephedrine had been given.

[15] The Minister supplied the Authority with a report from the Ministry of Health, dated 12 February 2004, which advised that while domestic sources were still the largest source of pseudoephedrine for the manufacture of “P”, the trade in illegally imported material had increased significantly in the previous 18 months.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[16] RNZ argued that a reasonable listener would accept that the material which was broadcast was “a fair and accurate summary” of the Minister’s comments. It pointed to the Minister’s use of the words “huge amount” of smuggled pseudoephedrine and ephedrine which gave the distinct impression that imports were the main source.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[17] Describing RNZ’s contention about the “reasonable listener’s” understanding of his comments as “ludicrous”, the Minister said the broadcaster ignored what he had been actually asked and what he had said in response. He continued:

The interview focus was on the effect on the manufacture of “P” from a ban on the sale of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products in pharmacies in this country. The questions asked related to that focus and so did the answers given. It is clear to anyone especially a reasonable listener that my position was that a ban would only have an effect on the manufacture of “P” in NZ for a short period of time, because it was not the only source of these products. There was another source ie importation across the border. Therefore manufacture would continue here even if a ban on retail sales were put in place.

[18] The words “high amounts” he stated, did not equate with “main source”. He attached a graph prepared by the Ministry of Health which showed that imports were a significant and increasing source.

[19] The Minister repeated his complaint that the item was unbalanced and inaccurate in that it attributed to him a point of view which he did not hold. He had not been asked, he stressed, which of the two sources of pseudoephedrine he regarded as the main source.

Authority's Determination

[20] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the interview complained about, read a transcript of the interview and the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[21] The Authority’s first task is to consider whether or not the Associate Minister, when interviewed on Morning Report, said that the illegal import of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine were the main source of supply of these drugs for the makers of “P”. The alternative view, clearly advanced by the Chair of the Rotorua General Practice Group (Dr O’Keefe), was that over-the-counter pharmaceuticals were the main source.

[22] In response to questions about whether banning the sale of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals would have no effect, the Associate Minister said:

Well not sure about no effect; probably have some effect for a short period of time, but the truth is that huge amounts of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine are actually imported across the border… .

[23] In response to other questions about pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, he again focussed on the importation of “huge amounts of these and bringing it across the border”. The Authority is of the view that there was an implication in the Associate Minister’s responses that the importation of the drugs was the main source of the ingredients of “P”.

[24] The Authority is also of the view that one of the interviewer’s questions to Dr O’Keefe was a fair summary of the Associate Minister’s replies when the interviewer said:

The Minister seemed to suggest, or certainly painted the picture that the purchase of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals containing pseudoephedrine is not the main … source of supply for those who make “P”; What is your take on that?

[25] To Dr O’Keefe’s response that over-the-counter pharmaceuticals were the main source of supply, the interviewer asked “So Mr Anderton was telling fibs?” The Authority considers that the question was more in the manner of a theoretical clarification of the divergence of views than any actual suggestion as to the correctness or otherwise of the Minister’s statements. Also the light-hearted nature of the question ensured that listeners were aware that this was not an allegation that the Minister was deliberately misleading them on the matter. The Authority’s view is that the interviewer was quite properly highlighting what appeared to be a major conflict between the parties on the facts in a matter of some importance to both of them.

[26] In regard to the Associate Minister’s complaint the news item broadcast in the 8.00am news after the interview, RNZ contended that it contained a “reasonable” summary of the interview when it:
Reported you as saying that banning some popular cold and flu remedies containing pseudoephedrine would not be effective in the fight against the use of methamphetamine or ‘P’. Further it quoted you as saying that most of the pseudoephedrine involved in the illegal drug manufacture is smuggled into New Zealand.

[27] The Authority is of the view that the Associate Minister gave the impression, but did not state explicitly, that the main source of the drugs was across the border. Accordingly, the Authority accepts that the use of the word “most” in the news item was not accurate and it therefore upholds the complaint that the item was in breach of Principle 6. It does not consider that the item breached Principle 4 (balance). Accepting that the source of the drugs for the manufacture of “P” is a controversial issue, it points out that divergent, albeit tentative, views were advanced in the item.

[28] For the avoidance of doubt, the Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching this determination. For the reasons given above, the Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Radio New Zealand Ltd of a news item on Morning Report on 12 February 2004 breached Principle 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

It declines to uphold any other aspect.

[29] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose an order. It does not do so on this occasion because of the circumstances of the breach. While the news item was inaccurate, that occurred because the Associate Minister left an impression which could be misinterpreted.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
15 July 2004

Appendix

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

1     The Associate Minister of Health’s Formal Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd –
       undated
2    RNZ’s response to the Formal Complaint – 11 March 2004
3    The Minister’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (plus attachment)
      – 31 March 2004
4    RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 30 April 2004
5    The Minister’s Final Comment (plus attachment) – 6 May 2004