BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Curran and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-036

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • P G Curran
One News
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item about meeting of the five McCartney sisters with President Bush in Washington – women’s brother had been killed by IRA – item also showed President Bush meeting Irish Prime Minister – item later reported that the President declined to meet with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams – item failed to identify Irish Prime Minister – allegedly unbalanced and inaccurate

Standard 4 and Guideline 4a (balance) – no discussion of controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

Standard 5 and Guideline 5a (accuracy) – Irish Prime Minister identified as such in the script – not inaccurate – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An item on One News covered the visit to Washington of the five McCartney sisters from Belfast, whose brother had been killed by the IRA, and their meeting with President Bush.  The item also showed President Bush meeting the Irish Prime Minister on the same day, and reported that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams had been excluded from the latter meeting.  The item was broadcast on TV One on 18 March 2005 beginning at 6.00pm.


[2] Patrick Curran complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item had not included the name of Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister.  Mr Curran provided details of Mr Ahern’s efforts to bring peace in Northern Ireland and expressed disappointment at TVNZ’s coverage of Irish issues.  He considered the coverage dealt only with issues of sectarian conflict and did not report the excellent relationships which now existed between the British and Irish governments.


[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint under the following standards in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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.


4a   Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality.

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.


5a   Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] Pointing out that television was a visual medium, TVNZ commented that it was not always necessary to identify in the script a well-known international figure.  Further, President Bush’s comment included the words “Prime Minister” and, TVNZ argued:

The [complaints] committee observed that pictures of a person are the best possible way of identifying them.

[5] TVNZ also contended:

… that the down-playing of the political side of the day’s activities in Washington reinforced, and was in keeping with, the observation of the on-the-spot reporter that this was not a time for politicians but rather an occasion when a group of determined women (the McCartney sisters) took the limelight.

[6] Turning to the standards, TVNZ maintained that the item was neither unbalanced nor inaccurate.

Referral to the Authority

[7] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Curran referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[8] Mr Curran acknowledged that the omission to name Mr Ahern could have been an error “of no consequence”.  However, he did not accept that contention on this occasion in view of TVNZ’s approach to Mr Ahern’s actions over the years.  He reiterated what he regarded as TVNZ’s failings in its coverage of events in Northern Ireland over the years.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9] Advising that it had nothing further to add to the specific complaint, TVNZ acknowledged Mr Curran’s “deep knowledge of, and appetite for” news about Ireland.  It noted that the Authority was aware of this interest in view of earlier complaints from Mr Curran.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[10] In his final comment, the complainant made a lengthy submission outlining his views on TVNZ’s reportage of Anglo-Irish events over the past ten years.  He made no further submissions relating directly to the broadcast under consideration in the present case.

Authority's Determination

[11] 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.

[12] When dealing with a controversial issue of public importance, broadcasters are required to ensure that an item is balanced.  The Authority notes that the main point of this item was the news that President Bush met the five McCartney sisters.  The item also reported that the President had met with the Irish Prime Minister but had declined to meet the Sinn Fein leader. 

[13] The Authority considers that this did not amount to discussion of a controversial issue.  The item was simply a factual report and was not presented from a particular or controversial perspective.  Accordingly, it did not require balance.  The Authority declines to uphold the Standard 4 aspect of the complaint.

[14] Mr Curran also complained that the item was inaccurate as the Irish Prime Minister was not identified by name either in the script or by a caption.  The Authority does not accept that the item was inaccurate.  Although the Prime Minister was not identified by name, President Bush clearly referred to him as “Mr Prime Minister”; this was followed by film of the two leaders standing next to each other.  The Authority therefore declines to uphold the Standard 5 complaint. 


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
30 June 2005


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

  1. Patrick Curran’s complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 29 March 2005
  2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 13 April 2005
  3. Mr Curran’s referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (plus attachments) – 9 May 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 17 May 2005
  5. Mr Curran’s final comment – 14 June 2005