BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Gibson and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2002-041

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • Michael Gibson
Number
2002-041
Programme
Good Morning
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio

Complaint
Good Morning news item at 7.00am and subsequently – report that President Bush wanted bin Laden dead or alive – misleading – incorrect

Findings
Principle 6 – acceptable précis of President’s statement – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] President Bush of the United States wanted "Osama bin Laden dead or alive for last Wednesday’s attacks" reported a news item broadcast on National Radio at 7.00am on 18 September 2001. The item was repeated on subsequent news broadcasts.

[2] Michael Gibson complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was incorrect. He said that he had advised RNZ, shortly after 7.00am, that President Bush had said that wanted to bring bin Laden to justice. However, he added, the incorrect item had been repeated.

[3] Explaining that it was reporting the President’s speech as supplied by Reuters, an international news agency, RNZ said that the speech had been similarly reported in other media in many countries. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s decision, Mr Gibson referred the 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 listened to a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] A news item reported that President George Bush wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive". The item was broadcast on National Radio at 7.00am on 18 September 2001 and repeated on a number of occasions in later news broadcasts.

The Complaint

[7] Michael Gibson complained to RNZ, the broadcaster, that the statement was incorrect and misleading. He advised that he had sent a fax to RNZ shortly after 7.00am that President Bush had stated that he wanted "to bring bin Laden to justice". Nevertheless, Mr Gibson wrote, RNZ had continued to broadcast an incorrect item and his complaint focused on the broadcasts after 7.00am.

The Standard

[8] RNZ assessed the complaint under Principle 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It reads:

Principle 6

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] RNZ advised that the words contained in its report had been used widely at the time. It had relied on a story filed by Reuters international news agency, and did not doubt the accuracy of its item.

The Complainant’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[10] Mr Gibson maintained that the news item was not accurate. He contended that the President’s speech, on which the news item was based, had referred to the President’s aim to bring bin Laden to justice.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[11] RNZ wrote:

What Radio New Zealand broadcast was an accurate report of President Bush’s speech as reported by the international wire agency Reuters and widely reported in other media as well. Examples of the consistent manner in which President Bush’s words were reported are attached.

[12] The examples included a report in the Evening Post (sourced from AP and Reuters) in which it was said that President Bush said he wanted bin Laden "dead or alive". Other reports said that President Bush had referred to "Wanted, Dead or Alive" posters and had then said: "All I want and America wants is to see them brought to justice". While the Washington Post reported that President Bush had said that he wanted bin Laden "dead or alive", other sources noted that while referring to the dead or alive posters, he had said, "I want justice":

The Complainant’s Response to the Authority

[13] Mr Gibson pointed out that he had advised RNZ of the actual words used by President Bush within 10 minutes of the 7.00am news item. Whereas he had complained initially about both the 7.00am item and subsequent broadcasts, he confined his referral to the subsequent broadcasts.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14] RNZ reiterated that the item broadcast at 7.00am and subsequently was based on a Reuters wire story. It enclosed a copy of the Reuters’ item and the first two paragraphs recorded:

U.S. President George W. Bush said on Monday the United States wanted Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" and warned Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban militia it will be held accountable for giving him safe haven.

Asked if he wanted to see death for bin Laden, considered by Washington the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 hijack attacks in America, Bush said: "I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[15] In his final comment, Mr Gibson quoted the President’s words that he wanted justice for America. RNZ, he argued, should not distort rhetoric.

The Authority’s Determination

[16] At 7.00am on 18 September 2001, a news item broadcast on National Radio reported that President Bush wanted "Osama bin Laden dead or alive".

[17] Mr Gibson advised RNZ soon afterwards that he considered the statement to be incorrect. President Bush, he said, had stated that he wanted "to bring bin Laden to justice". However, as news items on National Radio persisted with the report that President Bush wanted bin Laden "dead or alive", Mr Gibson made a formal complaint that the news items broadcast after 7.00am were inaccurate.

[18] RNZ declined to uphold the complaint on the basis that it had relied on a story filed by Reuters, and it had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the report. It supplied the Authority with other media reports of President Bush’s comments, a number of which reported that the President had stated that he wanted bin Laden "dead or alive".

[19] The Authority is aware that the news item which is the subject of this complaint was based on comments made by President Bush at a news conference which was held by both the print and electronic media.

[20] The Reuters summary of the conference, which has now been made available to both the complainant and the Authority, reported that President Bush said:

I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’.

[21] In its report accompanying the President’s statement, Reuters summarised it to mean that President Bush wanted bin Laden "dead or alive". That was also the summary used by RNZ.

[22] The Authority is aware that the news media edit material given at news conferences, and having considered the material available on this occasion it concludes that the précis, used both by Reuters, RNZ and other reputable media, was acceptable as a brief summary. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached the requirement for accuracy in Principle 6 of the Radio Code.

[23] The Authority also observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit the broadcaster’s statutory freedom of expression in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 in a manner which is not demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights). 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 the Bill of Rights.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judy McGregor
Member
18 April 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Michael Gibson’s Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 18 September 2001
  2. RNZ’s Response to Mr Gibson – 30 October 2001
  3. Mr Gibson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 1 November 2001
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 23 November 2001
  5. Mr Gibson’s Responses – 12 December 2001, and 14 and 15 January 2002
  6. RNZ’s Further Response to the Authority – 7 February 2002
  7. Mr Gibson’s Final Comment – 6 March 2002