BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Calcinai and Adams and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-051

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainants
  • Brian Calcinai
  • Mane Adams
Number
2005-051
Programme
One News, Tonight
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News and Tonight – allegations of gang-related bullying at Taradale High School – item reported that petition given to school board by students – reported that petition was against bullying and sought to have students responsible removed – One News referred to troublemaking students as “Black Power bullies” – Tonight referred to them as “Black Power babies” – allegedly in breach of standards relating to balance, accuracy, fairness and children’s interests

Findings
Mr Calcinai’s complaint
Standard 5 (accuracy) – item implied that Board of Trustees took no action until presented with students’ petition – inaccurate – petition did not request board to remove students referred to as “Black Power babies” – inaccurate – situation described as “bullying” – was in fact two conflicting parties – not made clear in item – inaccurate – upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – unfair to school’s reputation to suggest gang-related bullying taking place – upheld – five other complaints not upheld

Mr Adams’ complaint
Standard 4 (balance) – competing perspectives offered on controversial issue under discussion – balance achieved – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – implication that troublemaking students were gang members corrected in body of item – not inaccurate – majority of Authority considers file footage of gang members not inaccurate as provided visual context – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – unfairness allegedly arising out of inaccuracies – not inaccurate, and thus not unfair – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – no exploitation, humiliation or unnecessary identification – not upheld

Order
Costs to the Crown of $1500

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] On 15 April at 6.00pm One News broadcast an item about alleged gang-related bullying at Taradale High School. The item was repeated – with a different introduction from the presenter – on Tonight, at 10.40pm.

[2] The item reported the concerns of students at Taradale High about gang-related bullying in the school grounds. The item also reported that “hundreds” of students had signed a petition seeking to remove the troublemakers, and that as a result the school’s Board of Trustees had expelled four students. One News referred to the troublemakers as “Black Power bullies” and “Black Power babies”; Tonight referred to them in the introduction to the piece as “Black Power babies”.

Complaint

[3] Brian Calcinai, Chair of the Taradale High School Board of Trustees, and Mane Adams, a Black Power member and parent interviewed in the item, complained separately in respect of these items.

Mr Calcinai’s complaint

[4] Mr Calcinai complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about both the One News and the Tonight items, alleging that they breached standards relating to accuracy and fairness.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[5] In respect of Standard 5 (accuracy), Mr Calcinai considered that the item implied that the Taradale High School’s Board of Trustees had done nothing until a group of students demanded action via a petition. He said that this was “totally wrong” and that five students had been suspended, with the petition (or letter, as he referred to it) being tabled as part of the defence at one of those hearings. He emphasised that the petition did not prompt the board’s action.

[6] Mr Calcinai also alleged that the item’s description of the content of the letter was a “blatant fabrication”. He said that the petition did not refer to “Black Power babies”, ask for the removal of any group of students or mention bullying. The petition, he noted, stated that the conflict between two small groups of students had changed the feeling in the playground.

[7] Mr Calcinai considered that the story gave the impression that the situation was a one-sided case of bullying by the “Black Power babies”, which he contended was untrue. He pointed out that the school’s investigation had found that two small groups of students were at fault, and that the aggressive behaviour dealt with by the Board of Trustees involved both Māori and Pakeha students.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[8] Mr Calcinai submitted that the reference to bullying was unfair. He considered that the situation at Taradale High School was better described as a “conflict”, as both sides had acted in an aggressive and intimidating manner. He noted that the petition referred to in the news item did not use the words “bully” or “bullying”.

[9] The complainant also submitted that the inclusion of file images of Black Power members in full regalia making offensive gestures implied that such people were relevant to the events at the school. To the contrary, he wrote, at no time in the last fifteen months had gang members entered the school or congregated outside the gates. Mr Calcinai considered that these images distorted the truth and were unfair.

[10] Mr Calcinai also pointed out that there was no mention by the journalist of the following matters:

  • the date of the conflict (in the week of March 21), implying that the events were current (the broadcast was not until 15 April)
  • that all parties to the conflict had, in the interim, attended a meeting at which differences were reconciled
  • that the meeting had been facilitated by the school and was attended by a majority of the children involved and their extended families
  • that the meeting resulted in solutions being brokered, and unreserved apologies made by all parties. Mr Calcinai also noted that phone numbers were exchanged between parents to improve the communications among the parties.

[11] Mr Calcinai also alleged that one of the journalists acted unprofessionally by questioning students as they attempted to enter the school grounds, resulting in complaints from the students in question. He stated that the Acting Principal spoke to the journalist about this, and was assured that no more interviews with students would be done and no footage of student interviews would be used in the item.

[12] The complainant observed that contrary to these assurances, the item included interviews with the students. He noted that this was despite an assurance that the visit to the school would occur after 9am when students were already in class.

[13] The complainant was also concerned about the reference to the school’s connection with a high profile sexual violation case (the “broomstick” case). He considered that the reference to that case implied that the sexual violation incident had taken place at the school, when in fact it had occurred at a private party.

[14] He wrote that the journalist concerned had told him that the focus of the story would be on the increasing trend of violence in schools on a national level. He also said he had been assured that the sexual violation case would not be mentioned. He noted that that case had had a devastating and distressing effect on the lives of all who were involved, and to have this thrust back into the media spotlight without justification was clearly in breach of Guidelines 6a and 6e.

Mr Adams’ complaint

[15] Mr Adams complained in respect of the One News item. He considered that TVNZ had breached its responsibility to maintain standards of balance, fairness and accuracy. He also alleged that it had failed to protect the interests of children.

[16] Mr Adams wrote that there were no gang members or gang prospects (initiates) at Taradale High School, and that this had been confirmed to reporters by both gang leaders and school authorities. Despite this, he alleged, file footage was used in such a way as to suggest gang members were gathered outside the school, and interacting with students.

[17] He wrote that to associate 13-year-olds with gangs, and to contextualise this news item with images of actual gang members, was potentially dangerous to the children concerned. Mr Adams argued that this stigmatised the children and reaffirmed a negative self image at a vulnerable time in their lives. He considered that the One News item “hyped up” a complex issue, and represented it in such a way as to cause potential public and social harm.

Standards

[18] Television New Zealand Ltd assessed the complaints under Standards 4, 5, 6 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining 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.

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Guideline 5b

Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guidelines

6a Care should be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure that the extracts used are a true reflection, and not a distortion, of the original event or the overall views expressed.

6f Broadcasters should recognise the rights of individuals, and particularly children and young people, not to be exploited, humiliated or unnecessarily identified.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times, broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

While Mr Calcinai also referred to Guideline 6e, TVNZ considered that it was not relevant to the complaint.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainants

Mr Calcinai

[20] In its response to Mr Calcinai’s complaint, TVNZ noted that it was the prime responsibility of a news broadcast to serve the democratic concept of freedom of expression. TVNZ referred to s14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and highlighted its inclusion in the Free-to-Air Television Code.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[21] TVNZ considered that the item did not imply that the board took no action against the troublemakers until prompted. It asserted that the chronology of events was traced and Mr Calcinai himself gave a very clear message regarding student safety and the firm line taken by the board.

[22] TVNZ contended that the contents of the petition had been faithfully reported. It also asserted that it was the petition which had pointed out that a knife had been pulled on school grounds. It wrote that the reporter’s direct enquiries over the petition revealed concern over the “Black Power babies”, which, it claimed, was how some people had described the group. TVNZ denied any invention of “spurious details”, as alleged. It asserted that the words used by the reporter combined the sense of the petition with first hand descriptions provided by interview subjects. This, it observed, was normal news gathering procedure.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[23] The broadcaster did not agree with the complainant that the term “bullying” was unfairly used in the context of the event being described. It contended that Mr Calcinai’s choice of the word “conflict” implied recognition that a serious situation had arisen, and also noted his acknowledgment that “threatening and aggressive behaviour” had occurred. It contended that four students had been “expelled”, which, it argued, was surely the most extreme punishment the school could hand out.

[24] TVNZ considered that it was unfortunate that reference to “bullies” rather than “babies” was given in the introduction to the One News item. However, it did not consider that this was inappropriate given the behaviour described by the students.

[25] TVNZ noted that interviews had been offered to school staff and to Mr Calcinai himself. It noted that Mr Calcinai had elected to read a prepared statement, as was his right. It considered that the most significant part of the statement was included in the item. Viewers were left in no doubt as to the action taken by the board on the matter.

[26] It considered that the item had covered the “bi-directional” action of the Board of Trustees by pointing out that two Māori and two Pakeha students were sent home. It considered that this statement negated the complainant’s claim that the item placed all the blame on children linked to Black Power.

[27] In respect of the Black Power imagery used in the item, TVNZ reiterated its view that there was nothing wrong with the brief use of archival images of Black Power members in a situation where the fear of gang influences and “playground stand-over tactics” was a central feature of the item.

[28] TVNZ further contended that, despite the knife incident occurring on March 21 2005 (almost four weeks earlier), the item was not out-of-date. One News investigations on the day the item screened revealed that concerns continued to run deep. TVNZ noted that parents spoken to by the reporters spoke of “grave concerns”, and that the Board of Trustees had been discussing the matter as recently as two days before the broadcast.

[29] In respect of the complainant’s allegations of unprofessional conduct by the reporters, TVNZ contended that the journalists acted in a diligent and professional manner. It maintained that both journalists denied giving Mr Calcinai assurances that the “broomstick” case would not be mentioned. TVNZ claimed that one of the reporters said that she had specifically told the complainant that she would be speaking to students.

[30] TVNZ noted that students were interviewed outside the school and outside school hours. It further observed that considerable efforts were made to ensure that the children were not identified, in accordance with TVNZ editorial guidelines on the coverage of school stories. It considered that for this item to have been reported without the inclusion of student comment would itself have been unprofessional.

[31] In respect of the “broomstick” sexual violation case, TVNZ noted that the item referred to the guilty parties as a “group of Taradale students”. It considered that the fact that the crimes occurred at a private party did not alter this fact.

[32] The broadcaster did not accept that the item breached Standard 6 (fairness). Referring to Guideline 6a, TVNZ was confident that the story was a true reflection of the concerns expressed about Taradale High School. In respect of Guideline 6f, it was not of the view that any individuals were exploited, humiliated or unnecessarily identified in the item. TVNZ “could not understand the relevance” of Mr Calcinai’s complaint about Guideline 6e. It did not uphold the complaint.

Mr Adams

[33] In its response to the complaint, TVNZ asserted that the news items reported Mr Adams’ view that there were no gang members or gang initiates at Taradale High School. It considered, however, that the news item also needed to report that some people believed that there was a gang influence at the school. TVNZ noted that in such circumstances, a news report should indicate that there are conflicting views and should not therefore reach a conclusion either way.

[34] In respect of the use of file footage showing Black Power members, TVNZ observed that television is a visual medium. It considered that there was nothing wrong with the use of brief file footage of stereotypical Black Power characters in a situation where the fear of gang influences and “playground stand-over tactics” was a central feature of the item. It considered that there was no suggestion that the archival footage was shot in or around Taradale High School, noting that the gang regalia showed that the members in the images belonged to a Christchurch group.

[35] Accordingly, TVNZ concluded that Standard 4 (balance) had not been breached, noting that a range of opinions had been heard, including comment from students, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, a parent and Mr Adams himself. It considered that the comments reflected, in a balanced way, the various perspectives on the events reported.

[36] Turning to Standard 5 (accuracy), TVNZ found no significant inaccuracies. It acknowledged that the introduction to the One News item used the phrase “Black Power bullies”, but believed that the correction in the item itself made it clear that the group referred to was known among students as the “Black Power babies”.

[37] In respect of Standard 6 (fairness), the broadcaster considered that no-one had been treated unfairly. It considered that perhaps those describing the alleged troublemakers at Taradale High might have been unfair. However, it observed that Mr Adams was given a right of reply, and considered that the item balanced the allegations regarding “Black Power babies”, by reporting the “expulsion” of both Māori and Pakeha students.

[38] Referring to Standard 9, TVNZ considered that children’s interests had not been overlooked. It noted that students who were interviewed had their identities concealed. In response to Mr Adams’ claim that children were stigmatised and negative stereotypes reaffirmed, TVNZ wrote that it was not One News which had introduced the phrase “Black Power babies”. It argued that this phrase was already in circulation whether One News reported it or not.

[39] Finally, it considered that Mr Adams was confusing the message (that some at Taradale High were concerned with gang-related school bullying) with the messenger (One News reporting the situation in Taradale as a genuine matter of public interest). It did not uphold Mr Adams’ complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[40] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, both Mr Adams and Mr Calcinai referred their complaints to the Authority.

Mr Calcinai’s referral

[41] In his referral to the Authority, Mr Calcinai reiterated the points raised in his formal complaint to the broadcaster.

Mr Adams’ referral

[42] Mr Adams reiterated his complaint in respect of Standards 4, 5, 6 and 9, and expanded considerably upon the arguments he presented in his original complaint. In respect of Standard 4 (balance), he contended that One News had “deliberately and knowingly taken an extreme and sensationalist position”, by reporting that children at Taradale High School were using Black Power connections for “nefarious reasons”. He considered that this was unbalanced.

[43] Mr Adams argued that a more balanced approach to the story would be to note that there had been a number of bullying influences at the school, but that the children involved, along with their parents, senior students, school staff and police had come together and discussed the issues, incidents and outcomes.

[44] He noted that the children involved in various undesirable behaviours had apologised to each other, to parents and to the school and community at large. He also observed that some students had been excluded from the school, and that a programme was put in place to support at-risk children at the school, to build a capacity to avoid similar incidents, and to put in place a Māori Achievement Plan.

[45] Mr Adams considered that the item was screened without regard for balance or the facts, with consequent harm to the school, students and the community.

[46] In respect of Standard 5 (accuracy), Mr Adams alleged that the item was inaccurate in implying that some of the children involved in the situation at Taradale High School were members of Black Power, despite his clear statement to the contrary. He noted that he was the president of the local Black Power chapter, and a parent of past and present Taradale High students.

[47] Mr Adams said that he had stated as a fact that there were no gang members at Taradale High School; children were not allowed to be members of Black Power. Mr Adams considered after canvassing students that the phrase “Black Power babies” was invented by the One News reporters. He noted that the only involvement that Black Power had with the school was in trying to ensure that the children stayed at school, and in supporting the school in managing adolescent behaviour.

[48] Mr Adams disagreed with TVNZ’s argument that as television is a visual medium it was acceptable to show stereotypical images of Black Power members. Noting the broadcaster’s point that the Black Power members shown were from Christchurch, Mr Adams responded that there were no members of Black Power, from Christchurch or otherwise, at Taradale High. He considered the only relevance of the images was to “perpetuate the sensationalist tempo of the item”.

[49] In respect of Standard 6 (fairness), Mr Adams considered that the impact of the story was to unfairly position a group of 13-year-old children as gang members. He considered that this was “bullying of an entirely new dimension”.

[50] Turning to Standard 9 (children’s interests), Mr Adams noted that the “seminal notion” of the standard was the impact on child viewers, but considered that this item had a negative impact on its child subjects. He considered that labelling a child as a “Black Power baby” or “Black Power bully” created the potential for a self fulfilling prophecy. He noted that it was in the interests of these children to keep them engaged with the school system and society at large, and maintained that the “damaging myth promulgated by TV did the reverse”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

Mr Calcinai

[51] The broadcaster added nothing further in its response to Mr Calcinai’s complaint.

Mr Adams

[52] TVNZ noted, in respect of Mr Adams’ complaint, that his formal complaint to TVNZ was considerably shorter and less detailed than his referral to the Authority. Consequently, it requested that the Authority confine its review to Mr Adams’ original formal complaint to TVNZ dated 18 April 2005.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[53] In his final comment to the Authority, Mr Adams expressed surprise at the broadcaster’s request that the Authority consider only his formal complaint and not his referral.

[54] He considered that the process of considering complaints regarding broadcasting standards involved testing and arguing respective perspectives. He pointed out that the more evidence that was put before the Authority, the better for it to be able to make an informed decision.

[55] Mr Adams noted that the purpose of complaints of this nature was to help define and create acceptable standards of public television so as to “support and grow an informed, resilient, and healthy community”. He considered that the broadcaster was relying on a technicality, rather than acknowledging and treating the substance of his letter.

Further Information Requested by the Authority

[56] The Authority asked Mr Calcinai to provide a copy of the students’ petition.

[57] The petition was supplied. It referred to:

  • problems between two groups of students at the school
  • the unsafe atmosphere in the school’s grounds
  • anxiety caused by the gang connections of some students
  • alleged threats of violence made by some Māori students.

[58] In response, TVNZ stated its belief that the contents of the petition supported the version of events outlined in the item.

Authority's Determination

[59] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Preliminary matters

[60] The Authority notes that while two items were complained about – One News at 6.00pm, and Tonight at 10.40pm – in material respects the items were identical, and can be treated as a single broadcast. The items had slightly different introductions but this difference, in all the circumstances of the complaint, was immaterial.

[61] The Authority also wishes to clarify a number of factual matters material to its determination. First, in paragraph [22] above, TVNZ referred to an incident in which a knife was pulled. The Authority records that it accepts, based on the information provided by Mr Calcinai, that the knife was not pulled by one of the “Black Power babies”, but instead by one of the students alleged to have been in conflict with this group.

[62] Further, the Authority notes that the petition (or letter, as Mr Calcinai called it) was written and presented to the Board of Trustees by the sister of the boy alleged to have pulled the knife. The petition was presented during the boy’s disciplinary hearing, and was signed by approximately 200 students.

Mr Calcinai’s complaint

[63] In essence, Mr Calcinai was concerned that the items in question had fundamentally misrepresented the events at Taradale High School. Mr Calcinai called the news items a “piece of fiction”.

[64] Looking at the overall impression created by the items, the Authority considers that Mr Calcinai’s concerns in this regard are justified. The unambiguous overall thrust of the items was that a group of students with gang connections were bullying other students at the school; the bullied students were so concerned that they presented a petition to the board seeking the removal of the gang-associated students, and as a result a number of those students were excluded from school.

[65] There was no information provided, either in the items or subsequently by TVNZ, to establish this position. Instead, it appears that this particular situation was one where two groups within the school were in a situation of conflict. This culminated in an incident in which a student produced a knife. Disciplinary action resulted, and at the hearing of the student who pulled the knife, his sister produced a letter she had written, signed by many other students, asking that the board do something about this situation of conflict. The petition was critical of Māori students, but the items failed to point out that its author was the sister of one of the main protagonists in the conflict. The petition did not request the removal of students from the school.

[66] In light of this general observation about the item, the Authority goes on to examine Mr Calcinai’s specific complaints.

Standard 5 (Accuracy)

[67] Mr Calcinai complained that three specific aspects of the items were inaccurate, in that the items:

  • suggested that action taken by Board of Trustees at Taradale High School in respect of the conflict was prompted by the students’ petition
  • wrongly described the contents of the petition
  • suggested that the conflict was a case of one-sided bullying.

[68] The Authority upholds all three complaints, for the following reasons.

[69] First, the Authority agrees with Mr Calcinai that the items implied that the Taradale High Board of Trustees took no action regarding the situation until it was presented with the students’ petition. The implication was clear in the following passage:

  • Reporter: So concerned were the students that two hundred signed a petition to have the small group, labelled the “Black Power babies”, dealt with by the school’s board. The girl who started the petition, saying she felt unsafe and threatened by a small group at the school won’t speak publicly. But her mother says she supports what her daughter has done.
  • As a result, four students were expelled, two Māori and two Pakeha.

[70] In the Authority’s view, this implied a direct causal connection between the presentation of the petition, and the disciplinary action taken against students.

[71] As noted above, the Authority understands from the information provided by Mr Calcinai that the petition was in fact presented to the board during the disciplinary hearing of one of the then-suspended students. Accordingly, accepting Mr Calcinai’s evidence in this regard, it is clear that the board had taken disciplinary action against the students involved before the presentation of the petition.

[72] Second, the Authority also agrees with Mr Calcinai that the description of the content of the petition was inaccurate. The items stated that the petition actively sought to remove a group of students from the school. This was incorrect, as the petition at no time called for the removal of students.

[73] Finally, the Authority agrees that the items represented the events at Taradale High School as bullying, and implied that the tensions at the school were caused by the unilateral actions of a group of students associated with Black Power. The items referred to “Black Power babies” and in referring to them as “bullies” clearly suggested that it was this group alone which was responsible for the unsafe environment. The only mention of other potentially culpable students was the passing reference to two Pakeha students who were also expelled. The Authority considers that this was not sufficient to dispel the implication that students allegedly associated with Black Power were primarily at fault.

[74] The Authority considers that the items’ implication that the Black Power-associated students were solely at fault was aggravated by the item’s reference to the playground incident in which a student produced a knife. The clear implication from the item – focussing as it did on the “bullying” behaviour of the “Black Power babies” – was that one of the allegedly gang-associated students was responsible. The Authority accepts the evidence from Mr Calcinai that the student responsible was in fact from the opposing group.

[75] The Authority accepts Mr Calcinai’s assertion that both sides to the conflict were to blame. First, the petition itself referred to the fact that there were “problems within the school … between two parties, [B]’s group and [N]’s group”. Second, four students were excluded as a result of the hostilities, two from each party to the conflict; the disciplinary sub-committee of the board, after a formal investigation, acknowledged that fault lay with both parties. The item, however, reported that the situation was one of unilateral bullying by the students allegedly associated with Black Power.

[76] The Authority acknowledges that some people associated with the school may not share the board’s view of the situation (which the Authority accepts). The Authority observes, however, that TVNZ has not been able to provide any evidence to suggest that the version of events suggested by the item was correct. Accordingly, Mr Calcinai’s accuracy complaints are upheld as a breach of Standard 5 (accuracy).

Standard 6 (fairness) – allegations of bullying

[77] Mr Calcinai also complained that as well as being inaccurate, the items’ focus on “bullying” was unfair. The Authority agrees.

[78] To the extent that the item was inaccurate in describing the situation referred to by the writer of the petition as one of “bullying”, it was also unfair to the reputation of Taradale High School. To characterise a situation – incorrectly – as one of gang-related bullying is damaging and potentially prejudicial to a school’s reputation. Parents and the community at large are sensitive to allegations of bullying, and the detrimental effects on its victims. For these reasons, the items’ focus on “bullying” was unfair, as well as being inaccurate.

Standard 6 (fairness) – other matters

[79] Mr Calcinai claimed that five other aspects of the items were unfair. These complaints were that:

  • the date of the conflict was not mentioned, suggesting that the conflict was more recent than it actually was
  • the reference to the earlier “broomstick” incident was unfair, as it was unrelated to the current situation
  • the items unfairly used file footage of Black Power members, suggesting that they were in some way related to Taradale High
  • the items did not mention the successful reconciliation meeting facilitated by the school
  • the reporter interviewed school students despite assurances that this would not happen.

[80] The Authority does not uphold these five complaints, for the following reasons.

[81] First, the complainant alleged that it was misleading to omit the date of the actual conflict (almost four weeks before the item was broadcast). The Authority is of the view that at the time of broadcast, the issue was ongoing; while the incident giving rise to the item had taken place some time earlier, the wider issue was still of concern both to the school and some parents. This was evidenced by concerns expressed by the anonymous parent in the item. TVNZ also noted – and this was not denied by the complainants – that the school board had been discussing the matter only two days prior to the broadcast.

[82] In these circumstances, the Authority considers that the omission was not misleading.

[83] Second, the Authority considers that it was not unfair to refer to Taradale High School students convicted of sexual offences in relation to the broomstick incident three years earlier. While the Authority understands the school’s desire to move on from that event, it was nonetheless a relevant addendum to the items. The items did not suggest that the broomstick incident was related to the current situation, and in the view of the Authority it was newsworthy to note that it involved students from the same school.

[84] Third, the Authority is divided on the issue of whether the archival footage of the Christchurch gang members was unfair.

[85] A majority of the Authority (Joanne Morris, exercising her casting vote as Chair, and Paul France) considers that the images served merely to contextualise the items’ reference to the Black Power organisation, and did not suggest that the gang members shown were related to Taradale High School. The items were not misleading in this respect, and nor were they unfair.

[86] A minority (Tapu Misa and Diane Musgrave) considers that the inclusion of this footage was misleading and thus unfair, creating the impression that gang members gathered near or around the school.

[87] Fourth, the Authority is also divided over whether it was unfair not to mention the comprehensive reconciliation process undertaken by the school. A majority (Tapu Misa, Diane Musgrave, and Paul France) considers that the inclusion of Mr Calcinai’s statement about the “firm line” taken by the Board of Trustees, and the reference to parents working together to resolve the situation, was sufficient to avoid any unfairness. In the majority’s view, the items made it clear that the school had taken appropriate disciplinary action to respond to serious concerns, and worked with interested parties. While it may have provided a more complete picture for the school’s detailed response to the incident to have been explained, a majority of the Authority does not consider that the omission rendered the items unfair.

[88] A minority (Joanne Morris) considers that neglecting to mention such an important step by the Board towards resolution was misleading and unfair.

[89] In the minority’s view, the reconciliation meeting brokered by the board was a constructive response to a situation of tension and conflict, which met with apparent success. Such a response, however, was not suggested by the broadcaster’s bald statement that the Board of Trustees had taken a firm line on the issue. The only reference to any sort of conciliatory process was Mr Adams’ reference to parents, which did not suggest that the school or the board had been involved. In circumstances where the items had focussed primarily on the problems at the school, the minority considers that the items’ failure to mention the board’s constructive response was unfair.

[90] Finally, the Authority notes that there is a conflict in the evidence as to whether the reporters gave assurances that students would not be interviewed. While Mr Calcinai maintains that such an assurance was given, TVNZ denies this, and states that Mr Calcinai was specifically told that students would be interviewed for the item.

[91] Faced with such a direct conflict in the evidence, the Authority is unable to determine what took place. It has no basis on which to prefer the evidence of one party over the other. For this reason, it declines to determine this part of the complaint.

[92] For the above reasons, the Authority finds that the items’ focus on “bullying” was unfair, and breached Standard 6 (fairness). It upholds Mr Calcinai’s fairness complaint regarding this one aspect.

Mr Adams’ complaint

Standard 4 (Balance) – preliminary issue

[93] The essence of Mr Adams’ original balance complaint was that there were no gang members or gang initiates attending Taradale High School, but that the item gave a contrary impression. This implication, he argued, created an unbalanced programme.

[94] In his referral to the Authority, Mr Adams expanded on his grounds of complaint, and argued that the imbalance was the result of the items’ focus on wrongdoing by Māori students, when both Māori and Pakeha students were responsible for the conflict. TVNZ argued that the Authority should disregard Mr Adams’ further submissions.

[95] The Authority observes that its task is to review the decision made by the broadcaster. It may not consider grounds of complaint that are brought up for the first time only on referral to the Authority. For this reason the Authority must consider only the grounds of imbalance alleged by Mr Adams in his initial complaint, and addressed by TVNZ in its decision – the allegation that the items were unbalanced in implying that gang members attended Taradale High School.

Standard 4 (Balance)

[96] Balance is required when discussing controversial issues of public importance. The Authority accepts that a discussion regarding the presence of gang members and gang influences at a secondary school is such an issue. It concludes, however, that the item was sufficiently balanced in relation to this issue.

[97] While the introduction to both items suggested that the students allegedly causing trouble at the school were directly associated with Black Power, Mr Adams himself was also interviewed about this issue. Mr Adams offered a strong denial. He stated that the children involved in the current situation were neither gang members, nor gang initiates and noted that senior members of the gang do not condone young school students being actively involved with the gang.

[98] Mr Adams’ comments provided the necessary balance to any impression, created by the items’ introduction, that the current situation was caused by gang associates. For this reason, the Authority does not uphold Mr Adams’ balance complaint.

[99] The Authority notes that in his referral Mr Adams expressed his concerns that the items portrayed a very one-sided and sensationalist picture of the situation. These issues have, to a large extent, been addressed above in relation to Mr Calcinai’s Standard 6 (fairness) complaint.

Standard 5 (Accuracy)

[100] Turning to the Standard 5 (accuracy) complaints, Mr Adams raised two concerns in his original complaint:

  • the items incorrectly suggested that some students at Taradale High School were gang members
  • the images of Black Power members included in the items misleadingly suggested that they were gathered outside the school and interacting with students.

[101] In his referral, Mr Adams also complained that the item was inaccurate in failing to acknowledge restorative steps taken by the school community. As discussed above, the Authority has no jurisdiction to consider this aspect of the referral, as it did not form part of Mr Adams’ original complaint to the broadcaster.

[102] First, the Authority considers that the items did not definitely state that there were gang members at Taradale High School. It notes that while the introduction to each item may have implied this initially, any such implication was corrected by including Mr Adams’ comments specifically denying that the students involved were gang members or gang initiates. The item was not misleading in this respect, and accordingly the Authority does not uphold this part of Mr Adams’ accuracy complaint.

[103] Second, a majority of the Authority considers that it was not inaccurate to show unconnected file footage of gang members in the context of the items. The majority (Joanne Morris, exercising her casting vote as Chair, and Paul France) considers that the images served merely to contextualise the items’ reference to the Black Power organisation, and did not suggest that the gang members shown were related to Taradale High School, or actively associated with students.

[104] A minority (Tapu Misa and Diane Musgrave) considers that the inclusion of this footage was misleading, as it created the impression that gang members gathered near or around the school.

[105] For these reasons, a majority of the Authority does not uphold Mr Adams’ accuracy complaint.

Standard 6 (Fairness)

[106] Turning to the Standard 6 (fairness) complaints, the Authority notes Mr Adams’ concerns that the items unfairly positioned 13-year-old children as gang members. The Authority has already concluded that the items, seen overall, did not give the impression that the students involved were gang members. The items also included a specific denial from Mr Adams on this subject. Accordingly, the Authority considers that the items were not unfair in this respect, and it does not uphold Mr Adams’ Standard 6 (fairness) complaint.

Standard 9 (Children’s interests)

[107] Mr Adams maintained that the items had a negative impact on its child subjects, by labelling them as “Black Power babies” and “bullies”.

[108] The Authority notes that Standard 9 is intended primarily to protect child viewers, rather than children who are the subject of a broadcast. However, Guideline 9(i) does recognise the rights of children not to be exploited, humiliated or unnecessarily identified. The Authority determines that in the present case, no children were exploited or humiliated, and nor were any specific children identified. For this reason, the Authority determines that the standard was not breached.

[109] Accordingly, for the above reasons, the Authority does not uphold Mr Adams’ complaint.

Bill of Rights

[110] 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 from Mr Calcinai that the broadcast of One News and Tonight by Television New Zealand Ltd on 15 April 2005 breached Standard 5 (accuracy) and Standard 6 (fairness) of the Free-to- Air Television Code.

It does not uphold the complaint from Mr Adams.

[111] Having upheld Mr Calcinai’s complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act. It invited submissions on orders from the parties.

Submissions

[112] TVNZ submitted that a broadcast statement summarising the Authority’s decision would be an appropriate order to impose.

[113] Responding to TVNZ’s submission, Mr Calcinai, on behalf of the Taradale High School Board of Trustees, advised that the Board was reluctant to have the issue raised again on national television. He stated that the news item had caused “immeasurable harm” to the school.

[114] Mr Calcinai submitted that any orders should address the harm caused to the students and the local community. He considered that it would be appropriate for TVNZ to apologise formally to the school community, preferably in person. Failing that, he requested a formal written apology from the broadcaster.

[115] He also submitted that any orders should require relevant parts of the Authority’s decision to be included in a letter to the school community, explaining the outcome of the matter.

[116] In respect of costs, Mr Calcinai noted that the cost of issuing a newsletter to the Taradale High School community immediately following the broadcasts was approximately $480.00. He advised that a further newsletter would be essential following the release of the Authority’s decision. Accordingly, he sought a total of $1000.00 in costs.

[117] In response to Mr Calcinai’s submissions, TVNZ advised that it was fully prepared to write a formal letter of apology to the Board of Trustees incorporating an acknowledgement of the Authority’s decision. TVNZ also advised that it was content for the Board to distribute the letter at its discretion.

[118] TVNZ submitted that an award of costs was neither necessary nor appropriate.

Authority’s decision on order

Statement

[119] As a preliminary matter, the Authority notes that it has no jurisdiction to order TVNZ to apologise privately to Mr Calcinai or to Taradale High School. It notes, however, TVNZ’s offer of a formal apology to the Board of Trustees, and records its view that this would be an appropriate action in the circumstances.

[120] Mr Calcinai specifically requested that the Authority not order that a statement be broadcast. In light of this request, the Authority considers that it would be inappropriate to order such a statement.

Costs to complainant

[121] Mr Calcinai has also sought $1000 costs from the broadcaster, being the cost of informing the school community about the events covered by the item, and of the Authority’s decision.

[122] The Authority interprets its jurisdiction as to costs to refer to legal and other costs directly associated with bringing the complaint. The costs sought by Mr Calcinai do not come into this category, and the Authority is thus unable to make the award sought.

Costs to the Crown

[123] The Authority has found that the item generally misrepresented events at the school, and upheld all three aspects of Mr Calcinai’s accuracy complaint. Accordingly, it considers that an award of costs to the Crown is appropriate to mark the significant breach of broadcasting standards. As a mitigating factor, the Authority notes the broadcaster’s thorough and reasoned response to the formal complaint in the first instance.

[124] Under the circumstances, the Authority considers that $1500.00 is an appropriate award of costs to the Crown.

Order

Pursuant to s.16(4) of the Act, the Authority orders Television New Zealand Ltd to pay to the Crown costs in the amount of $1500, within one month of the date of this decision.

This order shall be enforceable in the Wellington District Court

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
28 November 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Brian Calcinai
  2. Brian Calcinai’s formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 16 April 2005
  3. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 11 May 2005
  4. Mr Calcinai’s referral to the Authority – 26 May 2005
  5. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 22 June 2005

  6. Mane Adams
  7. Mane Adams’ formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 18 April 2005
  8. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 11 May 2005
  9. Mr Adams’ referral to the Authority – 25 May 2005
  10. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 22 June 2005
  11. Mr Adams’ final comment – 3 July 2005