BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Cao and The Radio Network Ltd - 2008-143

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Wendy Cao
Newstalk ZB

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Kerre Woodham Talkback – host started a discussion about whether the Falun Gong organisation should be able to participate in the Auckland City Christmas parade – host stated that Falun Gong had no place in the parade – callers rang in who were both for and against the host’s position – after 90 minutes of discussion, the radio station stopped airing calls from Falun Gong members – allegedly unfair

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant was not “taking part or referred to” in the broadcast –points that complainant wanted to make were made by other callers – Falun Gong not treated unfairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] During the Kerre Woodham Talkback programme, broadcast on Newstalk ZB from 9pm on Thursday 20 October 2008, the host started a discussion about whether the Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa1) organisation should be able to participate in the Auckland City Christmas parade.

[2] The host began the discussion by saying:

Also, the Santa parade. Falun Dafa are back. They are stamping their little bound feet and demanding to be part of the Santa Parade. Why? Push off, have your own parade. Go to the Lantern Festival and parade there.

Why on earth a Chinese group would want to have anything to do with a, you know, what is to all intents and purposes, a Christian festival...But why would any little Chinese group want to be involved in a bloody Santa parade? Push off and shake your mandolins at the Festival of Light that they have in February or March. That’s what I think anyway.

[3] The host went on to explain that the Falun Gong organisation had made an application to the organisers of the parade to participate, but that its application had been turned down. She stated that Falun Gong had initiated judicial review proceedings in the High Court to overturn the organiser’s decision. After taking several calls, the host elaborated on her position by saying:

...It doesn’t even matter how innocent it looks, if there’s an underlying political message, shove off. I don’t want to see the young Nats, I don’t want to see young Labour, I don’t want to see anybody there other than people who want to give kids a great time of their own volition, out of their own hearts. I can accept a little bit of consumerism, a few businesses, you know, sort of handing out, I suppose like Cookie Bear or something. At a pinch, I can accept that. But go away, start your own parade, leave Santa alone.

[4] During the next 90 minutes of discussion, a number of talkback listeners called in and gave their views on whether Falun Gong should be able to participate in the parade. While the majority of callers opposed Falun Gong’s participation, several callers supported Falun Gong taking part.


[5] Wendy Cao, a member of the Falun Dafa Association of New Zealand Inc (the Association), made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, alleging the item breached broadcasting standards. She stated that the host, and many of the callers, wrongly assumed that the Association intended to use the occasion to call attention to the persecution of Falun Dafa practitioners in China.

[6] The complainant said that she had tried to call the talkback programme during the discussion to explain that the Association only intended to have its brass band and float included in the parade, with no political agenda. She said that the programme’s producer had asked her if she was a Falun Dafa practitioner and, after telling him that she was, he refused to let her speak with the host on the programme.

[7] Ms Cao argued that the broadcaster had treated her unfairly and had been discriminatory by not allowing her to take part in the talkback discussion.


[8] TRN assessed the complaint under Standard 6 and guideline 6a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guideline 6a

A consideration of what is fair will depend upon the genre of the programme (e.g. talk/talk back radio, or factual, dramatic, comedic and satirical programmes).

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9] TRN stated that the programme complained about was a talkback show which discussed the rights and wrongs of the Falun Gong organisation participating in the Auckland City Christmas parade. It noted that talkback was a robust and opinionated forum and that the hosts often held strong views on the issues of the day.

[10] The broadcaster said the host was strongly of the opinion that Falun Gong had no right to be in the parade, because they held a political stance. It stated that various opinions were aired and that some of these opinions came from Falun Gong supporters.

[11] TRN went on to say that, “after nearly 90 minutes of this talkback, the phone lines were completely jammed by Falun Gong people and a decision was taken that this represented an unacceptable move to hijack the programme and no more Falun Gong supporters should be put to air”.

[12] The broadcaster argued that the radio station had the editorial right to put to air who it wished and that it had no hesitation in stopping the overflow of calls from the Falun Gong. It argued the programme had dealt fairly, but in a typically robust talkback fashion, with Falun Gong callers until that time. TRN declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[15] TRN said that, since the broadcast, senior members of its st

[13] Dissatisfied with TRN’s response, Ms Cao referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She considered the host had been “very hostile and abusive of Falun Gong” and noted that the host had made several “offensive” remarks about Falun Gong practitioners.

[14] Ms Cao reiterated her belief that it was unfair that the broadcaster had prevented her from being able to speak with the host and to contribute to, and correct many of, the things the host and other callers had said.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[15] TRN said that, since the broadcast, senior members of its staff had met with members of Falun Gong on two separate occasions, for hour-long sessions where their views had been imparted to the station. It stated, “They have no interest in [TRN’s] point of view and explanation of how talkback works.”

Complainant’s Final Submission

[16] Ms Cao maintained that her complaint was justified and that she should have been provided with the opportunity to speak with the host on air. She noted that the broadcaster had confined its response to outlining the reasons why it had not put her on air and that it had not addressed other aspects of her complaint including the “intentionally offensive” remarks made by the host regarding Falun Gong and its practitioners.

Broadcaster’s Final Submission

[17] TRN stated that the complainant was trying to “widen the whole scope of the complaint”. It had nothing further to add to its previous responses.

Authority's Determination

[18] 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.

Preliminary Matter

[19] When referring a complaint to the Authority, complainants cannot nominate additional standards or make submissions on points that were not raised in their original complaint. This is because the Authority’s role is to review the broadcaster’s decision on the original formal complaint. In this instance, Ms Cao complained about “abusive” remarks in her referral to the Authority, but these concerns were not raised, either implicitly or explicitly, in her original formal complaint. Accordingly, the Authority has no jurisdiction to consider that part of the referral, and it confines its determination to the complaint that Ms Cao was not given the opportunity to speak on the programme.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[20] Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with an individual taking part or referred to in a programme. Ms Cao complained that the broadcaster treated her unfairly by not allowing her to take part in the talkback discussion. However, because Ms Cao was not a person “taking part or referred to” in the programme, the Authority finds that the standard does not apply in this respect.

[21] The Authority considers that an implicit part of Ms Cao’s complaint was that the broadcaster had treated Falun Gong unfairly because she was not allowed on air to make various points on behalf of the organisation. The Authority has previously commented that broadcasters are entitled to exercise their editorial discretion to screen calls to talkback shows, provided that such screening does not breach standards relating to balance or fairness (see Decision No. 2001-132).

[22] The Authority notes that, during the discussion, several callers rang in support of Falun Gong and that they were given an opportunity to express their views. The following are extracts from two callers who rang in support of Falun Gong taking part in Auckland’s Christmas parade:

The Falun Dafa Association had actually given an undertaking to the organisers that they would abide by any relevant conditions that governed participation in the parade...I would suggest they do fit with the Christmas parade, after all they've won several prizes...I did see last year’s Auckland Farmers’ Santa Parade, I saw real estate companies there...I also saw a Chinese cultural association there that was promoting the Olympics and waving their flags, and it’s difficult to see that that’s got any relevance to Christmas...It seems, though, the decision makers aren’t really being consistent with the application of the criteria...I think it’s more important perhaps for the Auckland public to be given the opportunity to see the band...six Auckland city councillors have supported their inclusion...

I live in Wellington and we’ve had the Falun [Gong] in the Christmas parade in Wellington for a quite few years now and there’s no political protest associated with it whatsoever. There’s just a bunch of mainly ethnic Chinese who go along and play some pretty horrible music, in my opinion...and they just go around and wish people a merry Christmas and that’s it...the Auckland Christmas parade people have got the wrong end of the stick, these people do not wish to make a political protest...look, they’re in a different country and want to wish people a merry Christmas, what the hell’s wrong with that?...It’s just a group of people who wish to’s a goodwill thing...

[23] In the Authority’s view, the points that Ms Cao wished to make about Falun Gong’s participation and intentions for the parade were clearly made by other callers who rang in and supported Falun Gong’s position. In these circumstances, the Authority concludes that the broadcaster did not treat Falun Gong unfairly.

[24] Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 6 (fairness).


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
26 March 2009


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

1.  Wendy Cao’s formal complaint – 25 November 2008
2. TRN’s response to the formal complaint – 4 December 2008
3. Ms Cao’s referral to the Authority – 24 December 2008
4. TRN’s response to the Authority – 2 February 2009
5. Ms Cao’s final submission – 12 February 2009
6. TRN’s final submission – 27 February 2009

1The terms Falun Gong and Falun Dafa are two different names for the same practice and can be used interchangeably.