de Boer and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2004-122
- Joanne Morris (Chair)
- Diane Musgrave
- Tapu Misa
- Paul France
- Berend de Boer
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Broadcast on Morning Report on National Radio – referred to MP Richard Prebble’s nickname “mad dog” – allegedly unfair, inaccurate and contrary to children’s interests.
Principle 5 (fairness) – simple reference to widely known nickname not unfair to Mr Prebble – not upheld
Principle 6 (accuracy) – item accurate – not upheld
Principle 7 (children’s interests) – nothing to indicate item injurious to children listening – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 Morning Report, broadcast on National Radio on 28 April contained an item about the resignation of Richard Prebble as leader of the ACT party and the subsequent contest for the leadership. After a brief introduction from one of the hosts, political reporter Jane Paterson opened her report by saying: Known as “mad dog”, Richard Prebble has earned a reputation as a smart and tough politician over the nearly three decades he has been an MP…
 Berend de Boer complained to Radio New Zealand that in referring to Mr Prebble in this way, RNZ had breached Principles 5, 6 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, in that:
- RNZ failed to achieve balance to what was a damning comment on the reforms for which Mr Prebble was responsible in the 1980’s;
- RNZ potentially caused panic, alarm or undue distress as the comment could have exposed Mr Prebble to serious dangers such as the shooting of the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn;
- the piece was deceptive as it was intended to paint as negative a picture as possible;
- calling an elected politician a dog would have a negative effect on children.
 RNZ assessed the complaint under Principles 5, 6 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. These principles provide:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.Guidelines
5b Care must 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.
5c Programmes shall not be presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress.
In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.
6a Broadcasters will not use deceptive programme practices.
Principle 7In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.
7b Broadcasters shall be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted listening times.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 RNZ declined to uphold the complaint. In its response, RNZ did not particularise its reasoning in relation to each of the principles stated above, but instead simply noted that the introduction referred to Mr Prebble’s well-known nickname of “mad dog”, which had arisen from his satirical portrayal in the television series Public Eye. RNZ noted that the reporter had also recognised Mr Prebble’s reputation as a “smart and tough politician” and concluded that the consequences claimed by Mr de Boer in his complaint “cannot be sustained”.
Referral to the Authority
 Mr de Boer was dissatisfied with RNZ’s response and referred the matter to the Authority. In his referral, he noted the following matters:
- It was “nonsense” to justify the broadcast by saying that someone else on television had also called Mr Prebble “mad dog”
- RNZ does not give the leaders of other parties “extremely degrading labels”
- “Mad dog” is not a generally accepted nickname for Mr Prebble
- The label remained unacceptable for children
- RNZ had not addressed his complaint about the dangers the broadcast posed to Mr Prebble.
 Mr de Boer concluded that using the nickname demonstrated a “degree of partisanship that is unacceptable”.
 The members of the Authority have listened to 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.
Principle 5 (Fairness)
 The Authority does not agree that the programme was unfair to Mr Prebble. Public figures, whether they appreciate it or not, are often given nicknames. Some are flattering, others not so. A simple reference to the fact that a politician is known by such a name would be unlikely ever to be unfair; it is simply a fact of public life. To the Authority’s knowledge, Mr Prebble has occasionally been referred to by this epithet for many years, since his satirical portrayal in Public Eye.
 The examples offered by Mr de Boer in support of his argument that the broadcast breached Principle 5 are, in the view of the Authority, unrealistic. The Authority also notes that the item included a compliment to Mr Prebble, as it also referred to him as a “tough and smart politician”.
Principle 6 (Accuracy)
 Nor does the Authority accept Mr de Boer’s assertion that reference to the nickname “mad dog” was deceptive in that it was designed to paint a negative picture of Mr Prebble. The Authority accepts that the nickname is widely known and used and that the reporter was simply alluding to that fact.
 Guideline 6a is not intended to cover matters such as those raised by Mr de Boer. This guideline, about “deceptive programme practices”, covers techniques of gathering and broadcasting information. It is not intended to cover satirical phrases.
Principle 7 (Social responsibility)
 Finally, the Authority rejects the assertion that the broadcast had the potential to have a negative effect on children. The Authority does not consider that reference to a recognised nickname of a politician could have any detrimental effect on children who happened to be listening.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
30 September 2004
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Berend de Boer’s Formal Complaint to Radio New Zealand – undated
- RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – undated
- Mr de Boer’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 10 June 2004
- RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 15 July 2004