BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

de Villiers and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-163

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Alex de Villiers
Number
2009-163
Programme
Sunday promo
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Promo for Sunday – previewed item on disputed territory of East Jerusalem – presenter stated, “Sunday travels to Israel to bring you Jew against Arab from a truly unique perspective” – allegedly in breach of controversial issues, fairness and discrimination and denigration

Findings
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – phrase was a fair summary of the situation featured in the programme – both sides were represented in the promo – did not reach threshold for encouraging discrimination or denigration – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – standard applies to individuals not groups – not upheld

Standard 4 (controversial issues) – promo did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – standard not applicable – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   A promo for the current affairs programme Sunday was broadcast between 1.30pm and 2pm on Friday 30 October 2009. It previewed an upcoming item looking at the disputed territory of East Jerusalem. A New Zealand man representing “Kiwis for Balanced Reporting in the Mid East” was shown voicing a Jewish perspective on the issue, stating “the Jewish people have been around for more than 3000 years... this land is not Arab. It is the land of Israel”. A young Palestinian woman who had been evicted from her house was shown representing the Palestinian view, saying, “they are trying to do ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem”.

[2]   A voiceover from the presenter stated, “Sunday travels to Israel to bring you Jew against Arab from a truly unique perspective.” He then said to the Jewish man, “but you are New Zealanders”, and the man responded, “Right”.

Complaint

[3]   Alex de Villiers made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the promo breached standards relating to balance, fairness and discrimination and denigration because the presenter spoke of “one group of people by their religious identity and the other by their geo-political grouping”. He argued that the presenter was inciting anti-Semitism, and that he demonstrated bias because not all Israelis were Jewish, not all Jews were Israeli, and some Arabs were Jewish. Mr de Villiers therefore considered that the reference could have offended Jewish New Zealanders.

Standards

[4]   Television New Zealand assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 6 and 7 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 6 Fairness

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

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]   Looking at Standard 4 (controversial issues), TVNZ argued that the promo was not a “news, current affairs or factual programme” to which the standard applied. It asserted that the Authority had previously stated, in relation to a promo, that Standard 4 applied only to news, current affairs and factual programmes.1 The broadcaster also pointed out that “the people in the promo describe themselves in the terms used by the narrator. The Jewish man comes from Wellington though he now lives in the town of Efrat which is inside the West Bank. The young Palestinian woman describes herself and her family as Palestinians.” TVNZ declined to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

[6]   Turning to Standard 6 (fairness), TVNZ maintained that the promo was not unfair to any individual. It said that the Sunday item concerned the forced evictions of Palestinian people in Jerusalem, and two different Kiwi perspectives on the issue, including the man who offered a Jewish perspective. The broadcaster considered that the terms used in the promo were “proper terms and not used in a pejorative way”. It did not uphold the fairness complaint.

[7]   With regard to Standard 7, TVNZ noted that the Authority had, since 1992, consistently defined denigration as blackening the reputation of a class of people, and that a high threshold must be crossed to find a breach, in light of the Bill of Rights Act and the right to free speech. It contended that the Authority had found that a broadcast encourages denigration when it:

  • contains a high level of invective directed against a section of the community
  • portrays a section of the community as inherently inferior, or as having inherent negative characteristics
  • portrays a section of the community in a highly offensive way
  • encourages negative racist stereotypes
  • amounts to hate speech or vitriol.

[8]   TVNZ maintained that comments would not breach the standard “simply because they are critical of a particular group, because they offend people, or because they are rude; the [Authority] recognises that allowing the free and frank expression of a wide range of views is a necessary part of living in a democracy”.

[9]   The broadcaster asserted that, in assessing whether a broadcast had breached the denigration standard, the Authority would consider a number of factors, including:

  • the language used
  • the tone of the person making the comments
  • the forum in which the comments were made, for example talkback radio is recognised as a “robust” forum
  • whether the comments appeared intended to be taken seriously, or whether they were clearly exaggerated hyperbole
  • whether the comments were repeated or sustained
  • whether the comments made a legitimate contribution to a wider debate, or were gratuitous and calculated to hurt or offend.

[10]   TVNZ concluded that “none of the language used in the promo was highly offensive or would lead to the widespread denigration of any particular group and this was certainly not the intention of the promo”. It declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration).

Referral to the Authority

[11]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr de Villiers referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that the promo encouraged “the spread of anti-Semitism”.

Authority's Determination

[12]   The members of the Authority have viewed 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.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[13]   The term "denigration" has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people (see for example Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks2). “Discrimination” has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group to their detriment (see for example Teoh and TVNZ3).

[14]   It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard (see for example McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network4).

[15]   In the Authority’s view, nothing in the promo could be said to have encouraged denigration of, or discrimination against, Jewish people. Nor did it encourage anti-Semitism as argued by the complainant. The Authority considers that viewers would have readily understood “Jew against Arab” to be shorthand for what is a complex and ongoing situation. Further, views from both sides were presented in the promo. Accordingly, the Authority does not uphold the complaint that the promo breached Standard 7.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[16]   Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. Given that the complainant’s concern related to all Jewish people, rather than any individual or organisation, the standard does not apply on this occasion. The Authority therefore declines to uphold the fairness complaint.

Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints)

[17]   Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[18]   In the Authority’s view, Standard 4 does not apply to a short promo for a current affairs programme, as a promo by its very nature could not contain a “discussion” of a controversial issue. The Authority therefore finds that the standard does not apply and it declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
23 March 2010

Appendix

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

1.           Alex de Villiers’ formal complaint – 30 October 2009
2.          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 8 December 2009
3.          Mr de Villiers’ referral to the Authority – 11 December 2009
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 21 January 2010


1Curran and TVNZ, Decision No. 2004-075

2Decision No. 2006-030

3Decision No. 2008-091

4Decision No. 2002-152