BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Basham and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2017-061 (21 September 2017)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
Dated
Complainant
  • Cyrus Basham
Number
2017-061
Programme
The Project
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

An item on The Project interviewed Muslims in New Zealand about their views on Islamic extremism. The item featured a short excerpt of a phone interview with the complainant, who considers himself an ex-Muslim. The presenter said that the ‘stigma of Islamic extremism’ was ‘enough for him [the complainant] to turn on his own religion’. In the sound clip played the complainant said: ‘I changed my first name from Mohammad to Cyrus. I just don’t want to be related to Islam anymore’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint from Mr Basham that this excerpt was misleading, by misrepresenting his reasons for leaving Islam. Taking the item as a whole, of which Mr Basham’s comment formed only a very brief part, the Authority found that audiences would not have been misled or materially misinformed at a level that warranted finding a breach of the standard. However, the Authority acknowledged that the complaint raised issues more appropriately considered under the fairness standard, and noted the importance of ensuring those featured in broadcasts are quoted correctly and that their words are not taken out of context.

Not Upheld: Accuracy 


Introduction

[1]  An item on The Project interviewed Muslims in New Zealand about their views on Islamic extremism. The item featured a short excerpt of a phone interview with the complainant, considers himself an ex-Muslim. The presenter said that the ‘stigma of Islamic extremism’ was ‘enough for him to turn on his own religion’. The item then featured a sound clip from the complainant’s interview, in which he said: ‘I changed my first name from Mohammad to Cyrus. I just don’t want to be related to Islam anymore’.

[2]  Cyrus Basham complained that the use of this clip, taken from his interview, was misleading as it implied that he had changed his name out of fear and the stigma of terrorism. In fact, Mr Basham claimed he left Islam because it was ‘harmful’ and ‘dangerous’. Further, the introduction and content of the segment implied that all of the interviewees featured were Kiwi Muslims, when the complainant considered himself an ex-Muslim.

[3]  The issue raised in Mr Basham’s complaint is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item was broadcast on 6 June 2017 on Three at 7pm. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Scope of complaint

[5]  Following MediaWorks’ response to Mr Basham on the accuracy complaint (in which the complaint was not upheld), Mr Basham lodged a second formal complaint with the broadcaster under the fairness standard. This complaint was not made within the 20-working-day timeframe required under the Broadcasting Act 1989 (it was made 24 working days after the broadcast), and was therefore not accepted by the broadcaster. Mr Basham also raised fairness in his referral to the Authority.

[6]  The Authority’s jurisdiction is limited to standards raised either explicitly or implicitly in the original complaint to the broadcaster. Our determination of Mr Basham’s complaint is therefore limited to the accuracy standard only, and we are unable to also consider the fairness standard.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[7]  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

[8]  Mr Basham submitted that:

  • The interview clip used during the item implied that he had left Islam due to the stigma of terrorism. In his full interview, Mr Basham explained that he had left Islam because he thought it was ‘harmful and dangerous’, and he did not wish to ‘share the name of a man who married a 9 year old girl’.
  • The item implied that all of the interviewees featured were practising Muslims. The complainant considered himself to be an ex-Muslim, and submitted that the item was therefore inaccurate.

[9]  MediaWorks submitted that:

  • An on-screen graphic clearly stated that the complainant was an ‘ex-Muslim’.
  • It accepted that the broadcast misrepresented Mr Basham’s reasons for leaving Islam. It therefore agreed that the broadcast was inaccurate on that point and apologised for the offence caused to Mr Basham. The Project’s producer also called Mr Basham to apologise.
  • However, it did not uphold the complaint, as it considered that the broadcast’s characterisation of the complainant’s views would not have significantly affected the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole.

Our analysis

[10]  Our task in determining this complaint is to weigh the value of the news item, as well as the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and the audience’s right to receive information, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. In this case, Mr Basham has submitted that, due to the way his words were presented during the item, audiences would have been misled as to his reasons for leaving Islam.

[11]  This item was prompted by NZ First leader Winston Peters’ call for Islamic communities to ‘clear house’ and turn in potential Islamic extremists. The purpose of the item was to promote understanding about the Islam faith, by interviewing Muslims in New Zealand who spoke about their views on Islamic extremism, or their reasons for no longer practising Islam. The overall message of the item was that terrorism and Islamic extremists were not representative of the Muslim faith. Exploring this topic carried public interest and value in terms of the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

[12]  Moving to the complainant’s concerns, we first note that an on-screen graphic shown during the complainant’s interview excerpt clearly described Mr Basham as an ‘ex-Muslim’, meaning viewers would have understood the complainant had left Islam. We therefore do not consider the item was misleading in this respect, and have focused our deliberations on the excerpt of Mr Basham’s interview which was played.

[13]  We acknowledge Mr Basham’s concerns about the way his views were allegedly misconstrued during this item. We also note the importance of ensuring, when members of the public are quoted during interviews, that any edited excerpts broadcast maintain the integrity of the interviewee’s comments and the context in which they are said.

[14]  In this case, the broadcaster has accepted that the broadcast misrepresented Mr Basham’s reasons for leaving Islam. Mr Basham’s reasoning was introduced by the presenter as an effort to avoid the stigma of extremism, which Mr Basham has submitted was not the case (and that he elaborated on his reasons in the full interview). While we consider that the quote used during the broadcast accurately reflected Mr Basham’s desire not to be associated with Islam, we also acknowledge that it did not provide the full context for his decision, which he felt was misleading.

[15]  However, taking the item as a whole, we do not consider that the general audience would have been misled or materially misinformed at a level which warrants finding a breach of the accuracy standard. The complainant’s comment formed only one very brief part of the item, which totalled approximately five minutes in duration. Mr Basham’s concern that Islam was ‘harmful’ and ‘dangerous’ was reflected in the item’s discussion of the public’s perception of Islamic extremism and the radicalisation of the religion. Given Mr Basham’s comment amounted to a soundbite only, and he was not featured in the same way as the other interviewees, we do not think it materially impacted the overall message of the item, which as we have noted above, aimed to promote understanding about the Muslim faith.

[16]  We therefore do not uphold the accuracy complaint. We record however our view that Mr Basham’s concerns may be better addressed under the fairness standard, which requires that participants be afforded reasonable protection of their reputation and dignity. As we have said above, because the fairness standard was not raised in Mr Basham’s original complaint and was raised with the broadcaster out of time, it is not within our jurisdiction to consider it as part of this determination.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
21 September 2017  

Appendix

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

1      Cyrus Basham’s formal complaint – 8 June 2017
2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 6 July 2017
3      Mr Basham’s second formal complaint raising fairness – 10 July 2017
4      MediaWorks’ response that second complaint out of time – 21 July 2017
5      Mr Basham’s referral to the Authority – 28 July 2017
6      MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 18 August 2017