BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

George and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-084

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • Suzanne George
Number
2002-084
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
One News Australian Governor-General – alleged cover-up of sexual abuse – Merepeka Raukawa-Tait interviewed – suggested Australians were hypocritical as their silence may have contributed to abuse – unbalanced – unfair – inaccurate

Findings
Standard 4 and Guideline 4a – item balanced about matter of Governor-General’s tenure – no uphold

Standard 5 – item accurate – no uphold

Standard 6 and Guideline 6g – no evidence of denigration – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Controversy over the allegations that the Australian Governor-General, Dr Peter Hollingworth, had covered up sex abuse cases when Archbishop of Brisbane was dealt with in an item on One News, broadcast at 6.00pm on 22 February 2002. The Chief Executive of Women’s Refuge in New Zealand, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, when interviewed, suggested that the criticism directed at Dr Hollingworth was hypocritical.

[2] Suzanne George complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that Mrs Raukawa-Tait’s comment overlooked the sexual abuse which was occurring in society and which was hidden from public scrutiny by the legal, medical and clerical professions. She sought a full public retraction of the comment.

[3] In response, TVNZ maintained that Mrs Raukawa-Tait was entitled to express what was presented as a genuinely held opinion, and it declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ's reply, Ms George referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] One News is broadcast daily on TV One at 6.00pm. The lead story on 22 February 2002 dealt with the controversy surrounding the Australian Governor-General, Dr Peter Hollingworth, over allegations that he covered up sex abuse cases when he was Archbishop of Brisbane. Dr Hollingworth was visiting New Zealand at the time.

[7] The item included comments from a number of Australian political and church spokespeople. The item also said that Dr Hollingworth had received support from an "unexpected quarter", the Chief Executive of Women’s Refuge in New Zealand, Mrs Raukawa-Tait. She was interviewed and argued that the criticism of Dr Hollingworth was hypocritical. She challenged Australians to ask themselves whether their past silence had contributed to the present situation.

The Complaint

[8] Suzanne George complained to TVNZ about Mrs Raukawa-Tait’s comments, and demanded that they be retracted. She wrote:

I wish you to make a full retraction of the statements made by Merepeka Raukawa-Tait regarding the behaviour of the Australian Governor- General Peter Hollingworth and the fact that she believes he is, "being made a scapegoat for sexual abuse and the Australian people should look in the mirror themselves." She implies the Australian public have been silent bystanders to sexual abuse in their society. If most men in power, including those within the justice system and the police tacitly approve of sexual abuse, what avenues are left for the Australian public to stop the cycle of sexual abuse? I believe Tait has completely missed the point that there is a great deal of sexual abuse occurring within which is deliberately hidden from public scrutiny by all the professions. The only way to stop men in power ignoring sexual abuse complaints within their professions is for the public to place pressure on that profession, such as Governor-General Peter Hollingworth when he was Archbishop of Brisbane, regarding his mishandling of sexual abuse by male priests reported to him by their victims shows that he believes men are incapable of stopping their sexual urges and he apparently agrees with the old male myth that "she really wanted it" or "she came on to me".

[9] Ms George elaborated at considerable length on her concern about what she described as "the code of silence which allows abuse to continue in our society". She quoted a variety of media reports in respect of her contention that the sexual violation of women was given a low priority by the police in New Zealand. She had experienced the same attitude, she added, in her dealings with the police and the legal profession.

[10] Ms George attached copies of correspondence with various parties in regard to the issues of sexual abuse. She also enclosed a letter she had written to Mrs Raukawa-Tait in which she expressed concern that Mrs Raukawa-Tait was "protecting male clergy…at the expense of women’s truth".

The Standards

[11] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 4, Guideline 4a, Standard 5, and Standard 6, Guideline 6g. They 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.

Guidelines

4a  Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality.

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.

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.

Guidelines

6g  Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[12] TVNZ maintained that the standards issue which arose focused on whether Mrs Raukawa-Tait was entitled to have her position reported in a news programme. Rhetorically, TVNZ questioned whether it was "the essence of democracy that citizens are allowed to express contrary opinions and have them considered".

[13] It listed the people who had spoken on the item and said that Mrs Raukawa-Tait had stated:

I would challenge the Australian people: hold up a mirror to yourselves and have a look at what’s looking back at you. And did you in any way, shape, or form contribute to the silence that existed all those years ago? To dump it on the Governor-General right now to me is quite hypocritical of the Australian people.

[14] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint for the following reasons: Standard 4 had not been breached as a fair balance of views had been presented in an impartial manner; there were no inaccuracies which contravened Standard 5; and no one had been dealt with unfairly in breach of Standard 6.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[15] When she referred her complaint to the Authority, Ms George questioned whether Mrs Raukawa-Tait had sufficient knowledge to be regarded as an expert on sexual abuse. She maintained that a spokesperson from Rape Crisis or the Office of the Commissioner of Children would have been more appropriate to speak about the sexual abuse of children.

[16] In an accompanying letter to TVNZ, Ms George argued that TVNZ, when dealing with her complaint, had "deliberately missed the point". She wrote:

I have little time for women who use domestic violence and sexual abuse against other women for their own political reasons and attempts to gain access to power, just as I have little time for media who present information just to suit men’s purposes in maintaining patriarchal authority over everyone else.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[17] TVNZ pointed out that what the complainant took to be Mrs Raukawa-Tait’s political aspirations had not been part of the original complaint. It also questioned whether the material was relevant to the complaint. TVNZ stated:

It is our view that at a time when we and other media had reported widespread criticism of the Australian Governor General Dr Hollingworth, for his alleged failure when Archbishop to adequately deal with the problem of sexual abuse in the Church, Ms Raukawa-Tait’s different approach was one worth recording. As Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Women’s Refuge hers was in our view a significant viewpoint to be considered among others swirling around Dr Hollingworth at that time.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[18] Maintaining that Mrs Raukawa-Tait’s ambitions were always part of her concerns, Ms George argued:

The only way to stop abuse is to bring it out into the open. I believe Tait’s comments … only served to undermine and blur public opinion, take the emphasis off Australian Governor-General Peter Hollingworth, were apparently politically self-serving and I believe does not reflect the true nature of the enormous public efforts to combat sexual abuse within the professions. The only means of stopping sexual abuse within the professions is to place public pressure on them, and that means questioning old male myths and forcing patriarchal men in power to take responsibility for their actions, which I believe is basically what the Australian public were trying to bring about with Dr Hollingworth.

[19] Ms George argued that Mrs Raukawa-Tait’s freedom of speech had to be qualified by up-to-date research on the issue being discussed. She argued:

For too long men in power have sexually exploited those whom they perceive as having authority over, without taking personal responsibility for their actions. It is only through public pressure that all these alleged crimes have become known and sexual survivors speaking out, so I suggest that TVNZ stop undermining the process by trying to create sensationalism, at the expense of survivor’s truth. Television is a powerful medium. The intimidation, silence and cover ups by those in power has to end.

The Authority’s Determination

[20] The complainant raised questions about Mrs Raukawa-Tait’s political aspirations when she referred her complaint to the Authority. As the matter was not part of the original complaint, TVNZ questioned whether it should be dealt with during the Authority’s deliberations. TVNZ also questioned whether the matter was relevant to the complaint.

[21] The Authority accepts TVNZ’s submission that, as the matter was not raised in the original complaint, it is not a matter which the Authority will take into account when determining the complaint. The Authority is following its normal practice when a complainant introduces new material in subsequent correspondence.

[22] The Authority begins its examination of the complaint by considering what was the central issue dealt with in the item. Having viewed the item, the Authority is in no doubt that its focus was the ongoing tenure of Dr Peter Hollingworth as Governor-General of Australia. His actions in regard to some sex abuse cases when he was the Archbishop of Brisbane had given rise to the questions about his tenure as Governor-General. The item presented a range of political, religious, and social views on the matter. The item was not about the victims of sex abuse.

[23] Mrs Raukawa-Tait expressed an opinion which suggested some societal responsibility for the cover-up. Her contribution was also related to the question of the Governor-General’s tenure. The Authority is firmly of the view that the opinion advanced by Ms Raukawa-Tait is one she is entitled to express.

[24] The Authority is also of the view that the item, in looking at Dr Hollingworth’s predicament, examined a controversial issue in a way which met the standards relating to balance, fairness and accuracy. A range of political, religious and social views were examined The views advanced included those of the Australian Anglican Primate, the Australian Prime Minister, the leader of the Australian Labour party, and a professor from the University of New South Wales. These views balanced and contextualised a topical news item which linked the Australian Governor-General’s visit to New Zealand with the controversy he faced in Australia. Furthermore, the Authority does not consider that the item encouraged denigration or discrimination against victims of sexual abuse, because the focus of the item was not centred on victims of sexual abuse and because the high threshold attached to Guideline 6g was not reached.

[25] Finally, the Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
20 June 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Suzanne George’s Letter (and five appendices) to Mrs Raukawa-Tait questioning her statements broadcast on One News on 22 February 2002 – 22 February 2002
  2. Ms George’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd (and 17 appendices) – 5 March 2002
  3. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 28 March 2002
  4. Ms George’s Response to TVNZ – 11 April 2002
  5. Ms George’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 14 April 2002
  6. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 23 April 2002
  7. Ms George’s Final Comment – 8 May 2002