BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Cowie and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-021

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • David Cowie
Number
2005-021
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast, One News Promo and One News – announcement that President George W. Bush named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” – remarks that Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Mikhail Gorbachev had previously held that title – allegedly unfair

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – no unfairness – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] A news item on Breakfast on TV One at approximately 7.40am on 20 December 2004 announced that US President George W. Bush had been named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year”. One of the presenters went on to say:

Wasn’t it interesting that Time magazine voted George Bush their “Man of the Year” – they don’t always get it right…in 1938 Hitler was Time magazine’s “Man of the Year”.

[2] A promo for One News on TV One at approximately 5.30pm on 20 December 2004 introduced items that were to be featured on the 6pm news, including “what George Bush has got in common with Adolf Hitler and former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin”.

[3] The item on One News at 6pm on the same day also reported on Time magazine’s announcement, and the item noted that previous choices had included Adolf Hitler and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Complaint

[4] David Cowie complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that he was concerned about statements comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler. He said that the comments on Breakfast appeared to suggest that Time magazine had made a mistake naming Hitler “Man of the Year” as they did with President Bush.

[5] The complainant asserted that aligning President Bush with Hitler, or implying that there was a similarity between the two men, crossed the line of acceptable journalism and was “deeply offensive”. Mr Cowie argued that saying “what George Bush has got in common with Adolf Hitler and former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin” without further and immediate explanation was outrageous and offensive.

Standards

[6] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7] In response to the complaint, TVNZ dealt separately with each of the three programmes.

Breakfast

[8] The broadcaster noted that the remarks were made outside of the news programme in the context of “light-hearted banter” between the two presenters. TVNZ noted that Breakfast employed a more informal style than other news programmes, isolating its hard news components in clearly delineated segments.

[9] In TVNZ’s view, the presenter’s remark that “they don’t always get it right” seemingly implied that Time had been wrong to include Hitler as their 1938 choice. The other presenter had then corrected her by pointing out that a judgement on whether Time was right or wrong depended on the criteria the magazine had used.

[10] TVNZ did not find any anti-President Bush sentiment in the conversation.

One News Promo

[11] TVNZ did not find that the promo had breached Standard 6 (fairness). It pointed out that the purpose of such a headline is to “tease and intrigue”, and to arouse sufficient interest among viewers so that they would watch the news bulletin. There had been no suggestion of a sinister link between President Bush, Stalin and Hitler, TVNZ argued.

One News

[12] TVNZ asserted that the point of referring to Hitler was to show that the accolade “Person of the Year” was made, not necessarily on the basis of a positive contribution by that person, but on the basis of the influence they have had for good or ill during the year under review.

[13] The broadcaster maintained that there was no suggestion that President Bush shared any of the characteristics of Hitler or Stalin; it was merely an “interesting and quirky historical fact” that they had also been awarded the title. The item, TVNZ said, had stated unequivocally that President Bush had been named “Man of the Year” because of his bold leadership and clear-cut win in the presidential election.

Referral to the Authority

[14] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Cowie referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. In addition to reiterating the points made in his original complaint, Mr Cowie alleged that the broadcast had also breached Standards 4 and 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[15] Mr Cowie argued that TVNZ had not shown balance or impartiality, and said that the items had misled, offended and unnecessarily alarmed viewers. He also asserted that the broadcaster had not recognised the humiliation that the statements could have caused President Bush’s family.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[16] TVNZ added nothing further to its original reply to the complainant.

Authority's Determination

[17] 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.

Procedural Matters

[18] The Authority notes that Standards 4 and 5 were raised by the complainant in his referral to the Authority. The Authority’s task under the Broadcasting Act is to review the broadcaster’s decision. On this occasion, the complainant did not raise issues of balance and accuracy, either explicitly or implicitly, in his complaint to the broadcaster, and so the broadcaster’s decision did not consider those matters. The Authority is therefore unable to accept Mr Cowie’s complaint that the broadcast was unbalanced and inaccurate. Accordingly, it has only considered the complaint under Standard 6 (fairness).

Breakfast

 

[19] The complainant has alleged that the presenter’s statement that “they don’t always get it right” was unfair to President Bush. However, the Authority considers that the presenter was referring to Time magazine’s decision to include Hitler as its 1938 choice. The remark was also then put into context by the co-presenter, who pointed out that a judgment on whether Time was right or wrong depended on the criteria the magazine used.

[20] In the Authority’s view, Mr Cowie’s inference that “President Bush was the wrong choice”, taken from the presenter’s statement, had no reasonable foundation in the words or tone used.

[21] Having found nothing in the item that was unfair to President Bush, the Authority considers that Standard 6 was not breached.

One News Promo

[22] The Authority notes that the promo was introducing an upcoming news item with the phrase “what George Bush has got in common with Adolf Hitler and former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin”. The Authority agrees with TVNZ that the purpose of such a headline is to arouse interest among viewers. The Authority finds that the promo did not imply any sinister link between the men, and was not unfair to President Bush. It does not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

One News

[23] The Authority notes that the One News item stated that President Bush had been named “Man of the Year” because of his bold leadership and clear cut win in the presidential election. Although the item noted that previous choices had included Adolf Hitler and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, it did not imply that President Bush had anything in common with these men other than the Time magazine title. The Authority finds that this item did not raise any issues of unfairness.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
11 May 2005

Appendix

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

  1. David Cowie’s formal complaint – 28 January 2005
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 8 March 2005
  3. Mr Cowie’s referral to the Authority – 15 March 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 30 March 2005