BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Genet and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-147

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Wendy Genet
Number
2004-147
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item on celebration of 38th anniversary of coronation of Maori Queen at Turangawaewae marae – item explained that significant part of celebrations included remembering deceased friends and family – comments from Professor James Ritchie as to why this aspect of celebrations significant – commented on Maori and Pakeha attitudes towards death – allegation that item unbalanced and inaccurate in that it portrayed generalised view of spiritual attitudes based on racial lines

Findings
Standard 4 (Balance) – item did not discuss issue of controversial public importance – not upheld

Standard 5 (Accuracy) – comments from Professor Ritchie expression of opinion – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] An item on One News 6:00pm on 21 May 2004 focussed on celebrations at the Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia, marking the 38th anniversary of the coronation of the Māori Queen. The item explained that one of the key aspects of the celebration was remembering loved ones who had died.

[2] In this context, Professor James Ritchie, of Waikato University, was interviewed, and stated:

Death in the Pākehā world happens (snaps fingers) and it’s over and done with. In the Māori world, death is not like that; death is an alternative to living. Its purpose is to move the spirit of a person on to another stage.

Complaint

[3] Wendy Genet complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that Professor Ritchie’s tone of voice and hand movements appeared intentionally dismissive of Pākehā attitudes towards death. Ms Genet was concerned that the item portrayed just one person’s interpretation of the Pākehā view and in the absence of either any explanation as to who “Pākehā” were or recognition of the many “personal, cultural and religious beliefs that surround death” the item was unbalanced and inaccurate.

Standards

[4] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Standards and relevant Guidelines provide:

Standard 4 Balance
In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 5 Accuracy
News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Guideline 5d

Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, should be clearly distinguishable.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It did not agree that Professor Ritchie’s voice or gestures gave any indication that he intended to be dismissive. Accordingly, it concluded, the Standards had not been breached.

Referral to the Authority

[6] Ms Genet was dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, and referred the matter to the Authority. She reiterated her view that Standards 4 and 5 (but not Standard 6) had been breached, and concluded:

While it may be convenient to divide the population into two groups based on race, it is simplistic to then attribute each separate group with discrete habits and characteristics, in this case beliefs.

This statement “Death etc …” was made by a person of standing at an important event and given a slot in the major TV news broadcast of the day. The media plays a huge role in sculpting public opinion and TVNZ should take care that items involving personal opinion are qualified and balanced.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[7] TVNZ, in response to the referral, noted that the comments were an expression by Professor Ritchie of his genuinely held opinion, and that the comments were made in the context of his attempt to explain to a largely Pākehā audience how Māori view death. It submitted that Professor Ritchie’s comments were “valuable and authoritative comments from the point of view of understanding between cultures” and that they explained why the ceremonies marking the dead played such a central role in the celebrations at Turangawaewae marae.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[8] In her final comment, Ms Genet reiterated her view that the statement from Professor Ritchie lacked balance and was inaccurate. She stated:

It is inaccurate and therefore unacceptable to voice assumptions regarding a person’s attitude towards alcohol consumption, hygiene, work habits etc based solely on whether that person is Māori or Pākehā.

Professor Ritchie classified people’s spiritual beliefs in the same manner, saying Pākehā (in this context, everyone not Māori) held one set of specific beliefs and Māori another specified set.

[9] Ms Genet noted that a person’s spiritual beliefs are often the “very core of their being” and that assumptions regarding such beliefs dependant on race are “unacceptable”.

[10] Ms Genet concluded:

It may be Professor Ritchie’s genuinely held opinion and in a programme which provided balanced discussion on the issue it would have provided a point of view for debate. However in this capacity Professor Ritchie was providing an authoritative explanation of the spiritual significance of the events reported, not a personal opinion.

Authority's Determination

[11] The members of the Authority have viewed 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.

[12] Standard 4 of the Code of Broadcasting Practice requires that balance be provided only when “controversial issues of public importance” are discussed. The Authority does not consider that the item complained of in the present case discussed such a controversial issue.

[13] The item as a whole concerned the celebrations at Turangawaewae marae, an important event in the Māori calendar, and the specific passage complained of intended to explain why a significant part of the celebrations involved remembering family and friends who had died. The focus of the item was not to compare or contrast cross-cultural views on spirituality, but simply to inform the viewer as to the significance of the celebrations on the marae. While a broader discussion on the respective spiritual views of Māori and Pākehā might in some circumstances be a controversial issue of public importance, this item did not purport to offer this perspective. It instead discussed the fact and significance of the celebrations at Turangawaewae marae; of itself, that is not a controversial issue.

[14] Accordingly, the Authority considers that the requirement of balance in Standard 4 does not apply to this item, and thus this aspect of the complaint is not upheld.

[15] In relation to that part of the complaint alleging a breach of Standard 5 (accuracy), the Authority considers that the comments complained of were clearly an expression of opinion from Professor Ritchie. His opinion, as an authoritative commentator, was presented in an attempt to provide background and context to the news item, and to provide a generalised explanation about a Māori view of death. While his comments may be accepted as authoritative, they nevertheless, in the view of the Authority, clearly remained the opinion of a relevant expert, rather than statements of fact, and accordingly the accuracy requirements of Standard 5 did not apply. The complaint is therefore not upheld.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
15 October 2004

Appendix

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

  1. Wendy Genet’s letter of complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 3 June 2004
  2. TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 7 July 2004
  3. Ms Genet’s formal referral to the Authority – 3 August 2004
  4. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 13 August 2004
  5. Ms Genet’s final comment – 23 August 2004