Bunkley and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2006-060
- Joanne Morris (Chair)
- Diane Musgrave
- Tapu Misa
- Paul France
- Brit Bunkley
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand National
Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Morning Report – lead story on speculation that recently announced tax cuts in the Australian Federal budget could attract an increased number of migrants from New Zealand – allegedly unbalanced in that it omitted to mention New Zealand’s low tax rate by OECD standards
Principle 4 (balance) – controversial issue was whether the cut in tax rates would lead to increased migration – significant points of view presented about that issue – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 The possible attraction to New Zealanders of the recently announced tax cuts in the Australian Federal budget was discussed on Morning Report on 11 May 2006, immediately following the 7.00am news. The item referred to spokespeople from recruitment agencies who said migration to Australia could increase unless there were tax reductions in the forthcoming New Zealand budget.
 The item interviewed a number of people who said that the tax change in Australia would both encourage skilled migrants to leave New Zealand and make it difficult for New Zealand to encourage skilled migrants. While different reasons were acknowledged for migration in some of the interviews, a reduction in the New Zealand tax rate was also suggested as a means of retaining skilled workers.
 The item also included an interview with the National Party finance spokesperson (John Key MP) who said tax rates were an important reason for migration. It was also reported that the Finance Minister (Hon Dr Michael Cullen MP) declined to be interviewed.
 Brit Bunkley complained to Radio New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, about what he described as the “unremitting spin” that the tax rate in New Zealand was high. He pointed out that, overall, taxes in New Zealand were among the lowest in the OECD. Mr Bunkley asked why the media did not present the alternative view to the frequently repeated contention that New Zealanders pay too much tax.
 RNZ assessed the complaint under Principle 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice which reads:
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.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 RNZ said that at the time of the broadcast there had been speculation in New Zealand about tax cuts in the forthcoming budget. The item on 11 May had looked specifically at a possible increase in migration of New Zealanders to Australia in view of the recently announced tax cuts in Australia.
 Principle 4, RNZ wrote, accepted that balance could be achieved in a number of programmes during the period of current interest. It contended, first, that the period of interest was ongoing, and second, that the presenter played the “devil’s advocate” when interviewing the National Party’s spokesperson and had reminded viewers that there was a range of factors to be weighed up when considering migration.
 In addition, RNZ said, other points of view on the controversial budget issues were covered in other programmes in the lead-up to the budget. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with RNZ’s response, Mr Bunkley referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 Mr Bunkley disagreed that it was reasonable to speculate about the inclusion of a tax cut in the budget as the Minister of Finance had explicitly denied that possibility.
 As for the speculation that tax cuts in Australia could increase the number of migrants, Mr Bunkley said the item “endlessly” repeated the contention that paying “too much tax” was the reason for New Zealanders to migrate. That did not acknowledge the possibility that higher wages and better job opportunities might be the reason for migration. Further, the item did not acknowledge the higher costs for some items in Australia, and the possibility that the tax cuts there could lead to an increase in interest rates.
 In response to RNZ’s reference to other programmes, Mr Bunkley stated that recent commentators in the lead-up to the budget had also given the “too much tax” line. He had not heard a programme on the effect of tax cuts in New Zealand on the current policies. He did not consider that the presenter who took the devil’s advocate role had adequately advanced the arguments against a tax cut.
Complainant’s Final Comment
 In a further letter, Mr Bunkley contended that the broadcaster should have provided the Authority with the tax debate items over a two week period to ensure that consideration was given to the “entire animal”. Further, he noted that the tax expert who had been interviewed had not pointed out that the overall tax rate in New Zealand was lower than the overall tax rate in Australia. The tax debate in New Zealand, he added, should also consider the possibility that higher taxes were needed to slow what he described as “overheated” investment in property.
 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 Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 Standard 4 requires that balance be provided when “controversial issues of public importance are discussed”. Mr Bunkley complained that the media, for the most part, unquestioningly accepted the proposition that New Zealanders pay too much tax. He argued that RNZ should have presented material to counter the implication in this item that taxes in New Zealand were too high.
 The item, however, did not focus on the question of whether taxes in New Zealand were too high. Rather, its principal focus was the possibility that the recently announced Australian tax cuts would lead to increased migration from New Zealand. The Authority accepts that this is a controversial issue.
 The Authority considers that the migration issue was covered in a balanced way. While the possibility of increased migration principally in view of the tax cuts was raised by some spokespeople for recruitment agencies and by the National Party finance spokesperson (John Key MP), they also acknowledged that other important factors were relevant to a decision about migration. Some of these other factors, such as lifestyle considerations, were noted and Mr Key agreed with the presenter when he suggested that there were “many and multiple reasons to migrate”. As the item included a range of significant points of view on the migration issue, the Authority finds that Standard 4 was not breached.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
19 September 2006
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Brit Bunkley’s letter to Radio New Zealand Limited – 13 May 2006
- Mr Bunkley’s further letter to RNZ – 16 May 2006
- RNZ’s response to Mr Bunkley – 14 June 2006
- Mr Bunkley’s referral to the Authority – 19 June 2006
- RNZ’s response to the Authority – 7 July 2006
- Mr Bunkley’s final comment – 15 July 2006