BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Garrett and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2017-006 (19 April 2017)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • David Garrett
Number
2017-006
Programme
Nine to Noon
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Summary

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

A segment on Nine to Noon discussed raising the youth justice age. The presenter interviewed a human rights lawyer, a youth worker and the director of JustSpeak. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the segment was unbalanced. While the interviewees featured all supported raising the youth justice age, the presenter referred to the existence of alternative views on a number of occasions during the item. The issue was also canvassed in detail in other media coverage during the period of current interest, therefore audiences would be aware of a variety of perspectives beyond those put forward by the interviewees. It was not necessary, in the interests of balance, for the segment to feature a detailed examination of the opposition to raising the youth justice age, and listeners would not have been left uninformed on the issue as a result of the item.

Not Upheld: Balance


Introduction

[1]  A segment on Nine to Noon discussed raising the youth justice age. The presenter interviewed a human rights lawyer, a youth worker and the director of JustSpeak.1

[2]  David Garrett complained that the segment was biased and unbalanced, as all three interviewees were strongly in favour of expanding the jurisdiction of the Youth Court to include 17-year-olds.

[3]  The issue raised in Mr Garrett’s complaint is whether the broadcast breached the balance standard as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The segment was broadcast on Radio New Zealand National at 9.10am on 25 November 2016. 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 item sufficiently balanced?

[5]  The balance standard (Standard 8) 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 about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.

The parties’ submissions

[6]  Mr Garrett submitted:

  • The proposal to raise the youth justice age was a controversial issue of public importance, therefore the broadcaster was obliged to feature at least one interviewee to present the alternative point of view, ‘rather than... merely provide a platform for three speakers to expound one point of view only’ which was in favour of raising the youth justice age.
  • The presenter’s brief reference to a counterbalancing view (that of the Police Association, who opposed raising the youth justice age) and her use of ‘devil’s advocate’ questioning did not provide the balance required by the standard. These references formed no more than two or so minutes during a 19-minute segment.

[7]  RNZ submitted:

  • The item was clearly presented from the perspective of those in favour of raising the youth justice age, which is a legitimate approach to a topic and allowed for under the balance standard.
  • The segment acknowledged the existence of other points of view.
  • The broadcaster could rely on the audience having some familiarity with the range of views on the issue from other media reports, within a reasonably long period of current interest.
  • To suggest that the participants should not have been able to express their opinions, or that the opportunity to express those opinions should have been curtailed by a need for ‘stopwatch journalism’2 thereby giving other points of view increased time, despite the clear introduction to the programme, would amount to an infringement of the right to freedom of expression.

Our analysis

[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

[9]  The issue of whether or not to raise the youth justice age (in other words, whether or not to expand the jurisdiction of the Youth Court to include 17-year-olds, who had been previously been dealt with in the adult courts) had the potential to significantly affect New Zealanders, and attracted considerable debate. We are satisfied that this amounted to a controversial issue of public importance that was discussed during the Nine to Noon segment.

[10]  Finding that the requirements of the balance standard were triggered in this case, the next question is whether alternative viewpoints on the issue were provided either in the same programme, or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[11]  Balance can be achieved during a broadcast in a number of ways. It may not always be necessary for an item to feature an interviewee who advances a certain perspective. In some cases, it may be sufficient for the existence of alternative views to be acknowledged during the programme (for example, by ‘devil’s advocate’ questioning), or for alternative views to be explored in other programmes or in other media during the period of current interest. A consideration of whether sufficient balance has been provided is highly fact and context dependent, and may take into account the following factors, where relevant:

  • the nature of the issue
  • the nature of the discussion
  • whether listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage, including coverage in other media
  • the likely expectations of the audience as to content.4

[12]  In this case, we acknowledge that all three interviewees featured in the item strongly supported raising the youth justice age. We also acknowledge that the broadcast occurred prior to the announcement that the youth justice age would be raised to include 17-years-olds in the jurisdiction of the Youth Court,5 therefore at the time of the broadcast this was an issue that was still subject to ongoing debate and speculation.

[13]  However, we consider the presenter’s acknowledgment of alternative views, and the detailed media coverage of this issue during the period of current interest, fulfilled the requirements of the balance standard. During the item, the presenter referred to the views of those opposed to raising the youth justice age on a number of occasions. For example, the presenter stated:

  • Referring to a written statement from the Justice Minister, Hon Amy Adams: ‘A spokesman says Cabinet will make a decision in due course and the bottom line for her is what is going to give the best results not only for the 17-year-old cohort, but for their current and future victims’.
  • ‘The Police Association has its position. A recent study that it has done showed that nearly three quarters of its membership were against the proposal [to raise the youth justice age]. Is this in part about strained resources? Is this in part about where Youth Aid is at, where youth police officers are at, whether they would struggle to cope with another whole year’s worth of young offenders in their area?’
  • ‘Is there a counter-petition running? Because there is the other side to this argument as well.’
  • ‘A lot of this argument is taking accountability... for your offending. As the Minister’s office said this morning, this is not only about a group of 17-year-olds or those who are going to become 17-year-olds and enter the adult system, it’s about their current and future victims.’
  • ‘That discretion [to move a 17-year-old offender into the adult court] is left with a judge though – and again, for others who might be saying what about the offending, what about the victim, what if the victim wants to see the full weight of the law brought to bear on an offence?’
  • ‘Would be good to talk to the Justice Minister Amy Adams about what the thinking is on this, and I’m sure there will be differing opinions and different issues being taken into account.’

[14]  While the presenter did not expand further on the reasons for opposing the raising of the youth justice age during the item, this issue was canvassed in detail in other media coverage during a reasonably extensive period of current interest – from April 2016, when it was first announced that raising the youth justice age would be considered, until December 2016 when the decision to raise the age was announced.

[15]  During this time, multiple perspectives on the issue were available to audiences in a variety of different media.6 Other RNZ coverage featured views opposing raising the youth justice age, included an item titled ‘Petition against higher age for Youth Court’7 and discussion of the Sensible Sentencing Trust’s opposition to the age change.8 Given the nature of the issue and the wide media coverage, we do not think it was necessary in the interests of balance to include another interviewee who had a different perspective. Alternative perspectives were available in a variety of other media, and we are satisfied that listeners would not have been left uninformed on the issue of raising the youth justice age as a result of this item.

[16]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 8.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
Member
19 April 2017

 

Appendix

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

1     David Garrett’s formal complaint – 30 November 2016
2     RNZ’s response to the complaint – 9 January 2017
3     Mr Garrett’s referral to the Authority – 10 February 2017
4     RNZ’s response to the Authority – 23 February 2017

 


1 JustSpeak is a ‘network of young people speaking up for a fair and just Aotearoa’: http://www.justspeak.org.nz/

2 ‘Stopwatch journalism’ refers to the Authority’s previous finding that ‘balance need not be achieved by the “stopwatch”, meaning that the time given to each competing party or viewpoint’ does not have to be mathematically balanced.’ See, for example, Keren and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2014-144.

3 For 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)

4 Guideline 8c

5 Lower risk 17-year-olds included in youth jurisdiction: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/lower-risk-17-year-olds-included-youth-jurisdiction (7 December 2016) 

For example, see Raising youth justice age to 18 raises the ire of small business owners, police (1 October 2016, TVNZ); NZ Indian Association: Raising youth justice age asking for trouble (13 June 2016, Stuff). 

7 http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/316808/petition-against-higher-age-for-youth-court (29 October 2016) 

8 Govt urged to speed up Youth Court age change (8 December 2016)