BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Faithfull and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2012-046

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Barbara Faithfull
Number
2012-046
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Checkpoint and RNZ News– the Executive Director of the Rape Prevention Education Group, Dr Kim McGregor, stated, “I think our focus has to be on the safety of our children, and we know that approximately one in four girls and one in eight boys are likely to experience some form of sexual violence before the age of 16” – news item later reported Dr McGregor “claims”, before repeating the figures – figures allegedly inaccurate

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – Dr McGregor’s comment was not a statement of fact but reflected her views and experiences, and was presented from an advocacy perspective – the figures were approximates and while contentious, were supported by some independent research – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  The Executive Director of the Rape Prevention Education Group, Dr Kim McGregor, was interviewed during Checkpoint, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 23 January 2012. The context of the interview was a call by Rape Crisis, in the aftermath of a rape case in Turangi, for the Government to reinstate a Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence. The interviewer asked Dr McGregor, “Isn’t this rather opportunistic of you, using this attack in Turangi as the focus… [when] the taskforce is actually about family sexual abuse and violence?”

[2]  Dr McGregor responded:

I think our focus has to be on the safety of our children, and we know that approximately one in four girls and one in eight boys are likely to experience some form of sexual violence before the age of 16, so that’s a huge problem for our society, and we need our specialist sector to be working with more than one ministry and government. We need a whole-of-government approach to this, so I am calling for the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence to be reinstated...

[3]  During an RNZ News bulletin broadcast at 10pm the same day, the newsreader stated:

A rape prevention agency is calling on the Government to reinstate a taskforce on sexual violence… The group’s executive director, Kim McGregor, claims sexual violence in New Zealand affects one in four girls and one in eight boys under the age of 16…

[4]  Barbara Faithfull made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the Checkpoint and RNZ News broadcasts were inaccurate. She argued that Dr McGregor repeated “long-discredited” sexual abuse figures, which went “entirely unquestioned [and] unchallenged by the interviewer”.

[5]  The issue is whether the broadcasts, and specifically Dr McGregor’s comment, breached Standard 5 (accuracy) of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[6]  The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Nature of the items and freedom of expression

[7]  The statistics complained about (see paragraph [2]) were referenced by Dr McGregor in the context of a live discussion about reinstating the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence (and were later attributed to her in the news item). The taskforce was established in July 2007 to lead and coordinate efforts to address sexual violence and advise the government on future action to prevent and respond to this crime.1 Dr McGregor used the statistics to support her view, on behalf of the Rape Prevention Education Group, that there was a significant need for government action in the form of reinstating the taskforce.

[8]  Dr McGregor conveyed the opinion of a community group on an important social issue. She questioned what was being done to address sexual violence in our society and invited debate about how the government should respond to that issue. There was a high level of public interest in the item, which the courts have suggested is an indicator that the speech is socially important.2

[9]  We acknowledge the importance of the values underlying the right to freedom of expression. This includes the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form. Any restriction on free speech must be justified. We therefore think we should be cautious about interfering with the items’ broadcast and reception.

Were the items, and specifically Dr McGregor’s comment, inaccurate or misleading?

[10]  Standard 5 (accuracy) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.3

[11]  Ms Faithfull provided the Authority with copies of emails she sent to RNZ following the broadcast. The emails referred to an article in the Auckland Sun (June 1988) and an editorial in Broadsheet (July/August 1988), which apparently supported her view that the figures given in the item were “guesstimates”. She asserted that the “decades-old bogus sex abuse ‘statistics’” were “persistently quoted by people with an ideological axe to grind”.

Were the references to the figures “material points of fact” to which Standard 5 applied?

[12]  In assessing the alleged breach of Standard 5, our first task is to determine whether Dr McGregor’s comment and the references to sexual abuse statistics amounted to a “material point of fact”, as opposed to analysis, comment or opinion, which are exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a.

[13]  RNZ argued that the figures provided by Dr McGregor about the likelihood of boys and girls being exposed to some form of sexual violence, amounted to Dr McGregor’s personal opinion on the extent of a serious societal problem. It maintained that the figures were preceded by the words “I think”. In any event, it contended that the figures were not material to the focus of the item which was the call by Rape Crisis to reinstate the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence, and not a factual analysis of the rates of sexual violence experienced by people under the age of 16.

[14]  In our view, Dr McGregor’s comments during the Checkpoint broadcast, including the figures on sexual violence, did not amount to a statement of fact to which Standard 5 applied. The comments were presented as her professional opinion and analysis based on independent research (discussed further below at paragraph [18]), and from the perspective of an advocate for sexual violence victims, with considerable experience in this area. The figures “one in four” girls and “one in eight” boys were used to support Dr McGregor’s position as a representative of the Rape Prevention Education Group, and to garner public support and encourage affirmative action. We note that Dr McGregor was introduced as follows:

Rape Prevention Education Group says the taskforce made recommendations before it was scrapped in 2009, but the Government hasn’t done enough. The group’s Executive Director, Dr Kim McGregor joins us now.

[15]  In our view, reasonable listeners would have understood that Dr McGregor was expressing her views from an advocacy perspective and based on her own experiences, as opposed to being an expert source of information on sexual violence statistics.

[16]  In addition, Dr McGregor, in presenting the figures, used language that was not absolute – the figures were preceded by “approximately”, and followed by “likely to experience some form of sexual violence” [our emphasis]. Dr McGregor was not making an unqualified assertion that the figures were precise or universally accepted. The Authority has previously held that references by Dr McGregor to figures relating to sexual violence, prefaced by “approximately”, did not amount to statements of fact.4 We disagree with the complainant that the words “we know”, which preceded the figures, transformed the comment into an “unequivocal, unambiguous and indisputable advocating of those decades-long discredited ‘statistics’”. We consider that “we know” was a reference to the perspective and experiences of the Rape Prevention Education Group, rather than purporting to present a universal view.

[17]  Turning to the RNZ News bulletin, we note that the item clearly stated that Dr McGregor “claims”, before repeating the statistics. The comment was clearly attributed to Dr McGregor as her opinion, and therefore exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a.

Further comments

[18]  We are conscious of the complainant’s concern that the figures cited by Dr McGregor are contentious and have been the subject of ongoing debate. However, we are satisfied that there is some basis for the figures in independent research. RNZ advised that the figure “one in four girls” came from research conducted in 2007 at Auckland University in a World Health Organisation based study which had been replicated in other countries.5 The broadcaster also said that it had been advised by Dr McGregor that, while there were few studies on sexual abuse in males, international research supported the figure of around “one in eight”, as stated in the item.

[19]  In addition, the government cites very similar figures to support its campaign for action on family violence (“It’s not OK” campaign), a community-driven effort to reduce family violence in New Zealand. The campaign webpage reports that around one in four girls and one in ten boys in New Zealand has experienced sexual violence.6

[20]  We are also conscious that the subject matter under discussion – sexual violence – is one which is difficult to record in a way that is entirely precise or consistent, for a variety of reasons (for example varying definitions of “sexual violence”, and the rate of reporting of instances of sexual violence). The results of studies on the prevalence of sexual violence may also vary, due to the nature and parameters of each study.

Conclusion

[21]  In these circumstances, we are satisfied that the potential harm caused by the broadcast in terms of the objectives of Standard 5, did not outweigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. The potential harm to the audience in hearing the figures was not significant. The figures had some basis in independent research, and as noted above, we consider that RNZ’s target audience would have understood that Dr McGregor was speaking about her experiences, and from an advocacy perspective.

[22]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
21 August 2012

Appendix

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

1                  Barbara Faithfull’s formal complaint (including informal emails to RNZ) – 15 February 2012

2                 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 10 April 2012

3                 Ms Faithfull’s referral to the Authority – 16 April 2012

4                 RNZ’s response to the referral – 18 May 2012

5                 RNZ’s response to the Authority’s request for further information – 6 July 2012

6                 Ms Faithfull’s response to further information provided

1http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/supporting-victims/enhancing-victims-rights-review/taskforce-for-action-on-sexual-violence

2See, for example, Tipping J in Hosking v Runting PDF317.33 KB [2003] 3 NZLR 385 (CA).

3Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036

4Francis and TVNZ, Decision No. 2007-041

5Fanslow, J., Robinson, E.M., Crengle, S., & Perese, L. 2007 'Prevalence of child sexual abuse reported by a cross-sectional sample of New Zealand women.' Child Abuse and Neglect, 31(9)1, p.935-945.

6www.areyouok.org.nz