BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Goodwin and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-116

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Brian Goodwin
Number
2010-116
Programme
Close Up
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up
– item on a police search that ended up with two officers being shot and a police dog being killed – contained interviews with a neighbour living next to the property where the incident occurred and the Commissioner of Police – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, law and order, fairness, discrimination and denigration, and responsible programming


Findings

Standard 6 (fairness) – interview with Police Commissioner was straightforward and respectful – Mr Broad and the police treated fairly – not upheld

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 2 (law and order) – item did not encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – presenter’s behaviour and comments did not encourage the denigration of members of the New Zealand police force – not upheld

Standard 8 (responsible programming) – Close Up was an unclassified news and current affairs programme – standard not applicable – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Close Up, broadcast on TV One at 7pm on Tuesday 13 July 2010, reported on the day’s events in Christchurch in which two policemen were shot and a police dog was killed in the line of duty.

[2]   As part of the report, the Close Up presenter spoke with a resident from the block of flats next door to the property on which the incident occurred and who was waiting for permission to return to his house. The resident explained that he had been inside his house with his daughter when he heard gun fire coming from his neighbour’s property and saw police running away. After a short time, the resident said that he had gone outside to see what was happening and that police had told him not to return to his house and to stay away from the scene.

[3]   The resident said that he had told police his daughter was still inside and had asked to return. The police advised him that he could not go back. However, the resident said that when the police were distracted, he had snuck back to his house to be with his daughter. The resident then left his house with his daughter and was waiting for police to give him permission to return when he was interviewed. The presenter asked the resident a number of questions about what he had seen and heard, and asked if he had seen the police since or if they had apologised to him.

[4]   The presenter then interviewed the Commissioner of Police, Howard Broad, who joined him from a live cross at the scene. The presenter asked Mr Broad a number of questions including the medical status of the injured officers, what they were doing when they were attacked, and whether Mr Broad thought there was a need for police to have greater access to firearms to defend themselves in such situations.

[5]   The Police Commissioner stated that the injured officers were in a stable condition in hospital and that their families were coping well. He explained that the officers were conducting a routine area inquiry at a house when they had smelt marijuana, had begun to search the premises and were suddenly shot at without warning. Mr Broad then briefly discussed the increased level of violence in society and his views about police having greater access to firearms.

[6]   Concluding the interview, the presenter thanked Mr Broad for his time and asked him to pass on his best wishes to the injured officers.

Complaint

[7]   Brian Goodwin made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached broadcasting standards relating to good taste and decency, law and order, fairness, discrimination and denigration and responsible programming.

[8]   The complainant noted that the witness interviewed by the presenter had disregarded police orders and had snuck back into his house when they were distracted. He argued that the presenter had “condoned the actions of the person, which was bad enough, but then went on to ask this witness if the police had apologised to him”. Mr Goodwin argued that the witness had failed to follow police instructions and that the presenter had “suggested to all persons listening to the programme that it is alright to disobey the instructions of police”.

[9]   Mr Goodwin contended that the presenter’s attitude to the Police Commissioner was “distasteful, lacked any respect, lacked balance, and lacked fairness”. He was of the view that the presenter’s “aim was angled at putting down the police in general, but Mr Broad in particular”. He considered that the presenter had tried to suggest that the police had failed to take reasonable precautions during their normal duties and that this was why they had been shot.

[10]   The complainant argued that the presenter’s line of questioning lacked balance and denigrated the authority of the police to the public as a whole. With respect to the discussion about police having increased access to firearms, Mr Goodwin considered that the discussion lacked balance and failed to meet the standards of responsible interviewing.

Standards

[11]   Standards 1, 2, 6, 7 and 8 and guideline 7a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 2 Law and Order

Broadcasters should observe standards consistent with the maintenance of law and order.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

Guideline 7a

This standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is:

• factual, or

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

• legitimate humour, drama or satire.

Standard 8 Responsible Programming

Broadcasters should ensure programmes:

• are appropriately classified;

• display programme classification information;

• adhere to timebands in accordance with Appendix 1;

• are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue
  distress; and

• do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[12]   TVNZ contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1 the broadcast material must be unacceptable in the context in which it was shown, including the programme classification, time of broadcast, the target audience, and the use of warnings.

[13]   The broadcaster noted that standards relating to good taste and decency were primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence, or coarse language. It argued that the presenter had not been rude to the Police Commissioner and that his approach to the witness was not inappropriate and would not have offended a significant number of viewers. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached standards of good taste and decency.

[14]   Referring to the Authority’s practice note on Standard 2 (law and order), TVNZ argued that for a breach to occur, a broadcast not only had to condemn a particular law, but also actively promote disrespect for it. The broadcaster stated that the “depiction or discussion of criminal behaviour is usually acceptable”, but the exceptions tended to be if a broadcast explicitly instructed how to imitate an unusual criminal technique or suicide, or if it glamorised criminal activity.

[15]   The broadcaster said that it could not identify any material in the Close Up item which actively promoted disrespect for the law or glamorised criminal activity. It argued that the presenter had simply been trying to elicit information from the witness using normal interviewing techniques to put the man at ease. It stated that, while the witness’s action of going outside of his house had not been appreciated by police, it could not identify any law that had been broken or the active promotion of the witness’s actions in any way. The broadcaster declined to uphold the Standard 2 complaint.

[16]   Turning to Standard 6 (fairness), TVNZ said that it did not consider the presenter’s behaviour in the interview contributed to any unfairness in the item. It argued that the presenter had asked “patient and relevant questions of the Police Commissioner”, and that his actions were typical of his interviewing style.

[17]   The broadcaster contended that the Police Commissioner would expect to be robustly questioned by the media on such occasions and that “at no time did Mr Broad seem uncomfortable with any of the questions put to him”. It argued that the presenter’s behaviour was appropriate and acceptable in the context of a one-on-one interview and it declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 6 was breached.

[18]   With respect to Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration), the broadcaster stated that a high threshold needed to be crossed before a breach of the standard would be found. It said that “comments will not always breach the prohibition against denigration simply because they are critical of a particular group, because they offend people, or because they are rude”.

[19]   TVNZ noted that the Authority had consistently defined denigration as blackening the reputation of a class of people, and discrimination as encouraging the different treatment of members of a particular group, to their detriment. The broadcaster argued that the presenter’s comments and conduct did not reach the threshold to be considered to have denigrated or discriminated against the police. It contended that his behaviour was typical of a current affairs presenter and that his questions were appropriate in the circumstances.

[20]   The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 7 had been breached.

[21]   Looking at Standard 8 (responsible programming), TVNZ argued that the standard related to ensuring programmes were correctly classified. It pointed out that Close Up was an unclassified news and current affairs programme and maintained that the content of the item was not presented in such a way as to cause panic, unwarranted alarm or undue distress. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[22]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Goodwin referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that the item had breached the broadcasting standards he nominated.

Authority's Determination

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

Standard 6 (fairness)

[24]   The fairness standard states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

[25]   Mr Goodwin contended that the presenter’s attitude to the Police Commissioner was “distasteful, lacked any respect, lacked balance, and lacked fairness”. We disagree.

[26]   In our view, the presenter’s interview of Mr Broad was straightforward and considerate. We find that the presenter raised legitimate issues, did not interrupt the Commissioner when he was talking, and treated Mr Broad in a respectful manner. We agree with TVNZ that the Police Commissioner would expect to be robustly questioned by the media on such occasions and that at no time did Mr Broad seem uncomfortable with any of the questions put to him.

[27]   We find that Mr Broad was given ample opportunity to present his views and that there were no elements of unfairness either towards him or the New Zealand police force. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[28]   The Authority has previously stated (e.g. Yeoman and TVNZ1) that standards relating to good taste and decency are primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language.

[29]   As outlined in paragraph [26] above, the presenter’s interview of Mr Broad was straightforward and respectful. In our view, we consider that the item did not contain anything that could be said to have threatened standards of good taste and decency. We therefore decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 1 was breached.

Standard 2 (law and order)

[30]   The Authority has previously stated (see, for example, Taylor and TVWorks2) that the intent behind the law and order standard is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity.

[31]   Mr Goodwin argued that the witness had failed to follow police instructions and that the presenter had “suggested to all persons listening to the programme that it is alright to disobey the instructions of police”.

[32]   In our view, the presenter’s questions were merely an attempt to elicit information about what had happened and what the witness had seen and heard during the incident. While the witness explained that he had decided to go back into his home against police instructions, we do not consider that this amounted to the broadcaster encouraging viewers to break the law or otherwise promoting, glamorising or condoning criminal activity.

[33]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the law and order complaint.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[34]   Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community. The complainant argued that the presenter’s line of questioning denigrated the authority of the police.

[35]   As we have already outlined above, the presenter’s interview of Mr Broad was straightforward, considerate and respectful. Further, Mr Broad was given ample opportunity to present his views on the incident and to reply to the questions being put to him. In our view, the presenter’s behaviour and comments could not be said to have encouraged the denigration of members of the New Zealand police force.

[36]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 7 was breached.

Standard 8 (responsible programming)

[37]   Standard 8 requires that programmes are correctly classified, display programme classification information, and adhere to the time-bands set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code.

[38]   We note that Close Up was an unclassified news and current affairs programme and that, while Mr Goodwin nominated Standard 8, his concerns related to “responsible journalism”, rather than any of the matters outlined in paragraph [37] above.

[39]   In our view, the responsible programming standard is not applicable in the circumstances and we therefore decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 8 was breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
23 November 2010

Appendix

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

1.           Brian Goodwin’s formal complaint – 16 July 2010

2.          TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 17 August 2010

3.          Mr Goodwin’s referral to the Authority – 8 September 2010

4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 11 October 2010


1Decision No. 2008-087

2Decision No. 2010-008