BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Family First New Zealand and Right to Life Inc and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2013-095

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Family First New Zealand, Right to Life Inc
Number
2013-095
Programme
Saturday Morning
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National


Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

Radio New Zealand National broadcast an interview with the President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which provides reproductive health and education services in the United States. The Authority did not uphold two complaints that the interview was unbalanced. The interview was clearly focused on the views and experiences of one woman, and the US political landscape as it relates to these health issues is not of public importance in New Zealand so balancing viewpoints were not required.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Accuracy, Fairness


Introduction

[1]  Saturday Morning contained an interview with Cecile Richards, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), an organisation which provides reproductive health and education services in the United States (US).1 The interview was introduced by the host as follows:

Cecile Richards is the woman Barack Obama calls when he needs to know about women’s health. Since taking over the helm of [PPFA] in 2006, she’s transformed it into a political force. Reproductive health was a key issue in the 2012 presidential election, and [PPFA] actively campaigned as it fielded attacks from politicians and the media. In June, Cecile Richards was back in her native Texas as the state senate attempted to pass a bill that would create huge restrictions on abortion… Cecile was in New Zealand for the Family Planning Conference and I asked her what differences she sees between here and the US.

[2]  The programme was broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 2 November 2013.

[3]  Family First New Zealand and Right to Life Inc. made formal complaints to Radio New Zealand Ltd, alleging that the interview was unbalanced.

[4]  The controversial issues standard is most relevant to the complainants’ concerns, and we have limited our determination accordingly. Family First also raised the accuracy and fairness standards, though it did not specify how it considered those standards were breached. We have summarised our findings on accuracy and fairness at paragraph [17] below.

[5]  The key issue therefore is whether the broadcast breached the controversial issues standard, as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

Was the broadcast unbalanced in breach of the controversial issues standard?

[7]  The balance standard (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. The standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.2

[8]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.3

Was the interview a ‘news’, ‘current affairs’, or ‘factual’ programme?
[9]  The first question is whether the content formed part of a ‘news’, ‘current affairs’, or ‘factual’ programme to which the standard applied. RNZ questioned whether Saturday Morning could be categorised in this way, and we note that it is described on the broadcaster’s website as ‘A magazine programme with feature interviews on current affairs, science, literature, music and more’.4

[10]  With the increased convergence of programme content, the Authority has previously said that categorisation depends on the content of the particular broadcast segment, including the segment’s introduction, the subject matter and the nature of the discussion.5 The key criterion is whether a reasonable viewer or listener would expect the information given in the item complained about to be truthful and authoritative, and not just opinion or hyperbole.6

[11]  Here, Ms Richards was introduced as the head of the PPFA, and the focus of the interview was her professional standpoint on the politics of reproductive health and education services in the US. The interview was topical, in that it was broadcast in the context of Mr Richards’ visit to New Zealand to attend a Family Planning Conference. We consider that most listeners would have interpreted the programme as being a factual source of information on a serious subject. We are therefore satisfied that the balance standard applied.

Did the interview contain a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance?
[12]  The next question is whether the item contained a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance. The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.7 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.8

[13]  The complainants argued that the host should have informed listeners of the alleged controversial status of the PPFA and its apparent involvement in fraud and criminal activity. Right to Life argued that the host should have provided information on the issues discussed, and specifically on the Texas anti-abortion law and President Obama’s health care reforms.

[14]  In our view, given the focus of the interview, it was not necessary for the programme to canvass these issues. The interview focused on Ms Richards’ views on the politics of reproductive health (including abortion) and education in the US, and what she described as the dual role of the PPFA as ‘the largest women’s health care provider and sexual reproductive health care provider in the country, but also… one of the strongest advocates and activist organisations to not only make sure that we protect rights but actually advance them’. The Texas law and US health care reforms were merely used by Ms Richards as examples of how reproductive health and education have become political (as well as moral and ethical) issues in the US.

[15]  While abortion has been recognised by this Authority as a long-standing controversial issue of public importance,9 the particular focus of this item – that is, the US political landscape as it relates to abortion and the role of the PPFA – is not an issue of public importance in New Zealand.

[16]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Did the broadcast breach the other standards raised in the complaint?

[17]  Family First argued that the broadcast also breached the accuracy and fairness standards, though it did not specify how. In summary, these standards were not breached because:

  • the content amounted to Ms Richards’ comment and opinion and was therefore exempt from the requirements of the accuracy standard under guideline 5a (Standard 5)
  • no individual or organisation taking part or referred to in the broadcast was treated unfairly (Standard 6).

[18]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that these standards were breached.

                                                                                    

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
1 April 2014

Appendix

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

Family First’s formal complaint

1                 Family First’s formal complaint – 4 November 2013

2                 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 28 November 2013

3                 Family First’s referral to the Authority (including attachment) – 11 December 2013

4                 RNZ’s response to the Authority – 16 January 2014

Right to Life’s formal complaint

1                 Right to Life’s formal complaint – 5 November 2013

2                 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 2 December 2013

3                 Right to Life’s referral to the Authority – 17 December 2013

4                 RNZ’s response to the Authority – 16 January 2014


1http://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/who-we-are-4648.htm

2Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

3For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)

4http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday

5Trussell and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2012-075

6Accident Compensation Corporation and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2006-126

7Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-125

8See, for example, Dewe and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-076.

9E.g. Right to Life New Zealand and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2013-062