BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Hood and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-169

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • Lynley Hood
Number
2003-169
Programme
Edwards at Large
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Edwards at Large – interview with complainant – interviewee ambushed into taking part – unfair, partial and unbalanced

Findings
Standard 4 – interview not unbalanced – no uphold

Standard 6 – complainant adequately informed of the reason for her contribution and the role expected of her – conduct of interview not unfair – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Summary

[1] Lynley Hood was interviewed by Brian Edwards on Edwards at Large about the content of her book “A City Possessed: the Christchurch Civic Crèche case”. The programme was broadcast on TV One at 9.35pm on Saturday 16 August 2003.

[2] Ms Hood complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was neither balanced nor impartial and that she had been ambushed into participating in the interview.

[3] TVNZ considered that the item was balanced and fair to the complainant. It found no evidence that Dr Edwards was partial or that Ms Hood was ambushed into taking part in the interview.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Hood 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 videotape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The complaint is determined without a formal hearing.

Programme

[6] Edwards at Large, hosted by Brian Edwards, is described in the “Listener” as a live “easy-going” interview show hosted by a “veteran broadcaster”. It was broadcast for twelve weeks on Saturday evenings beginning around 9.30pm.

[7] Lynley Hood was the first of three guests interviewed on 16 August 2003. She was interviewed about the content of her book “A City Possessed: the Christchurch Civic Crèche case”.

Complaint

[8] In her letter of complaint, Ms Hood summarised her complaint as follows:

In summary my complaint is that I was ambushed into taking part in an interview that was no more than a sustained attack on my character and credibility, and that in making the attack Dr Edwards did not act as an independent and impartial broadcaster.

[9] In Ms Hood’s opinion, she had been unfairly ambushed into appearing on the programme. She wrote:

Dr Edwards not only failed to warn me to expect an unrelentingly hostile interview, he led me to believe the interview would be essentially sympathetic.

[10] Ms Hood described the events leading up to the interview in her complaint. She said she had corresponded with Dr Edwards by email, following comments that she understood he had made on radio in support of Peter Ellis. By email Dr Edwards had agreed to sign a petition calling for a Commission of Inquiry into the crèche case and invited her to appear on his show.

[11] Ms Hood said she was aware from his earlier National Radio show that Dr Edwards’ interviews were well researched and that he was interested in the lives and ideas of his interview subjects. Noting that Edwards had told her he would be playing “devil's advocate”, she said she realised he “intended to stray into current affairs” and said she was expecting a “lively interview”.

[12] As to the interview, Ms Hood elaborated on her complaint that the item was unbalanced as follows:

  • Edwards’ sustained hostility cannot be explained by incompetence, negligence or inexperience. He is a veteran broadcaster. He knows how interviews should be conducted. He knew exactly what he was doing. I am therefore bound to conclude that it was a premeditated attack.
  • Edwards’ list of questions was prepared in advance. It became obvious during the interview that this much-hyped broadcaster had not even read sections of A City Possessed that related to the points he raised… His failure to do [so] suggests that the sole purpose of the interview was to do a hatchet job on me.
  • Edwards normally prepares for his interviews by reading relevant reviews, commentaries and interviews in the print media. If he had done his homework in my case he would have known that the complaints he made about alleged flaws in my work were unfounded. If he had not done his homework, he would not have known whether [they] were unfounded or not. Either way, his failure to take the background material into account shows that he never had any intention of conducting a fair and balanced interview.
  • Having failed to read, or even read about, A City Possessed, Edwards appears to have depended on persons hostile to the book to direct him to random sections of text. During the interview he took these sections out of context and misrepresented them to me in a disjointed series of aggressive assertions. When I attempted to respond, he talked over me. When I pointed out that he was wrong, he either ignored my points or responded with scorn and derision.
  • At no stage did Edwards address any of the issues of real importance raised by A City Possessed – issues that, had he read any of the published reviews, commentaries and interviews, he could have identified with ease. These include, among other things, questions concerning the nature, causes and effects of sex abuse hysteria and false allegations, the manner in which sex abuse allegations are investigated and prosecuted, and the ways in which miscarriages of justice are recognised and corrected.

[13] As to Dr Edwards’ political agenda, Ms Hood alleged that Edwards was not impartial, as:

Shortly after my appearance on Edwards, I learnt that Minister of Justice Phil Goff had made negative comments about the crèche case to Dr Edwards, and that these comments had prejudiced Dr Edwards’ view of the case…

…when the manifestly unfair and unbalanced interview is considered in the light of Edwards’ paid role as media adviser to the Prime Minister and her ministers (one of whom has taken a strong political stance against the findings of my book), it adds weight to the widespread concern that, because of his close connections with government, Edwards is not and cannot be, an independent and impartial broadcaster.

[14] Ms Hood attached to her complaint extracts from viewer comments on the programme which she had taken from the internet, a newspaper review and a detailed analysis of the interview.

Standards

[15] TVNZ assessed the complaint against the Standards nominated by Ms Hood. Those Standards and their relevant Guidelines read:

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 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

6b  Contributors and participants in any programme should be dealt with fairly and should, except as required in the public interest be informed of the reason for their proposed contribution and participation and the role that is expected of them.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[16] Dealing first with the question raised about Dr Edwards’ impartiality, TVNZ said:

  • Ms Hood was incorrect in her belief that the host had discussed the crèche case with Mr Goff before the interview;
  • Dr Edwards was deliberately and quite properly adopting a “devil’s advocate” approach to the interview.

[17] TVNZ then considered the issue of whether Ms Hood had been “ambushed” into appearing. It considered that there was no evidence of any ambush, in light of:

… your initial willingness to appear on the programme, your acknowledgement that Dr Edwards advised that he would take a position as “devil’s advocate”, and the fact that you still turned up.

[18] TVNZ also observed that:

  • it was normal practice to prepare questions in advance; and
  • the host advised that “he had read the book twice”.

[19] As to Standard 4, TVNZ concluded that the interview was not unbalanced or partial:

The programme was inherently balanced through having, on one hand, you as author of a controversial book speaking of your findings on the Peter Ellis case, and on the other, an interviewer providing balance by challenging those findings. There seemed nothing in the questions put by Dr Edwards which suggested they were politically motivated.

[20] Regarding Standard 6, TVNZ maintained that Ms Hood had been treated fairly, and that the host was simply performing the “devil’s advocacy” role about which she had been forewarned.

Referral to the Authority

[21] In her referral to the Authority, Ms Hood alleged that TVNZ had not properly considered her complaint. She said TVNZ had not considered the Appendices she had provided (extracts from viewers’ comments and her “detailed analysis” of the programme). She also said that rather than playing “devil’s advocate”, Dr Edwards had performed a “hatchet job”. Furthermore, she disagreed with Dr Edwards’ version of events leading up to and following the interview.

[22] Ms Hood reiterated her view that the host had been politically influenced and that she had been ambushed.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[23] Commenting on Ms Hood’s referral to the Authority, TVNZ noted:

  • Viewer comments were not a factor in the determination of her complaint because they were expressions of personal opinion.
  • It disagreed with Ms Hood’s assessment that her interview was a “hatchet job” - and reminded the Authority that the book was controversial and therefore it was important that her views be challenged.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[24] In her final comment, Ms Hood reiterated her complaint that the broadcaster had failed to distinguish between “playing devil’s advocate” and a “hatchet job”, and contrasted her Edwards at Large interview with other live interviews she had given on her book.

Authority’s Determination

Standard 4

[25] The requirement for balance in Standard 4 of the Television Code requires broadcasters to make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view on controversial issues of public importance. Guideline 4a requires programmes dealing with controversial questions to show balance and impartiality.

[26] The content of the complainant’s book, which was the subject of her interview, undoubtedly dealt with controversial issues of public importance. The book called into question the safety of convictions against Peter Ellis for sexually abusing children in his care at the Christchurch Civic crèche. It questioned, among other things, the causes and effects of sexual abuse “hysteria” and false allegations and the manner in which sexual abuse claims are investigated and prosecuted. The controversial issues raised in the book were, at the time the complainant was interviewed, the subject of ongoing public debate.

[27] The complainant described her interview as a “sustained attack on her credibility and character”. She considered Dr Edwards’ political links had compromised his impartiality during the interview and that the manner in which the interview was conducted caused it to be unbalanced, as she was not a given reasonable opportunity to present her views.

[28] The Authority deals first with the complainant’s allegations about Dr Edwards’ political bias. The complainant alleged that the host’s role as media advisor to the Government contributed to his lack of impartiality, referring in particular to discussions which she said had taken place before the interview between Dr Edwards and the Minister of Justice. The Authority notes the disagreement between the parties about whether the host had discussed the crèche case with the Minister of Justice and the lack of any evidence provided in support of the complainant’s allegation. In the absence of any convincing and undisputed evidence of bias, the Authority is not prepared to infer that the host’s political links compromised his impartiality during the interview. In reaching this conclusion, the Authority records that it does not consider that the newspaper review or the unattributed opinions of viewers, which were supplied by the complainant, provided any material support for this or any other aspect of the complaint.

[29] The Authority also rejects the complainant’s allegation that the interview itself was unbalanced. The Authority notes that the host adopted an adversarial approach to the interview, and that he had forewarned Ms Hood of his intention to do so. While the Authority notes the complainant’s views about the tone and content of the interview, it agrees with Ms Hood’s own assessment of her performance, which she described in her correspondence as “composed and authoritative”. Having viewed the programme and read the transcript, the Authority is of the view that Ms Hood was afforded reasonable opportunity by the host to state her views in response to his questioning.

[30] The Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Standard 6 - pre-interview behaviour

[31] The complainant considered that she had been unfairly treated in the preparation of the programme, as she had been “ambushed” into appearing. The Authority does not agree. It considers she was fairly informed in advance of her appearance of the reason for her contribution, the subject matter of the interview and the role that would be expected of her in the interview. Although Ms Hood might have expected and hoped that the interview would have taken a different course, the Authority considers that when the host informed her that he would adopt a “devil’s advocate” role, she was on notice that he would be taking a position which opposed hers. The Authority considers that Ms Hood’s expectations of a sympathetic interview based on his earlier intimations and on her expectations about the programme must be viewed in light of this information. In the circumstances, the Authority does not consider that Ms Hood was “ambushed” and it does not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Standard 6 - the interview

[32] In determining this aspect of the complaint, the Authority’s task is to consider whether Ms Hood’s treatment during the interview was unfair. The complainant characterised the interview as a “sustained attack on her credibility” and character, and described it as a “hatchet job”. She analysed the interview in detail in her complaint, and the Authority has carefully considered the points she made.

[33] The Authority notes that Dr Edwards was playing the role of “devil’s advocate” in the interview, as he had told Ms Hood he would do. It also observes that Ms Hood was a competent and articulate interviewee. In the Authority’s view, Ms Hood was given a reasonable opportunity to present her viewpoint on a number of issues arising from the book during the programme. It accepts that the style adopted by the host and the questions he presented may not have allowed Ms Hood to present her views in a way she would have preferred or to canvass what she considered to be the more important issues raised in the book. It also acknowledges that Ms Hood considered that the host had deliberately focused on incidental issues. However, it was for the host to determine the questions he would ask about the book. The interview was not in the Authority’s view “unrelentingly hostile”, nor did it “aggressively misrepresent” Ms Hood. The Authority considers that while the host was challenging, there was nothing in his behaviour, or questioning, that prevented Ms Hood from responding or having her views heard.

[34] The Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Bill of Rights

[35] 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 above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 December 2003

Appendix

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

1. Lynley Hood’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd (plus attachments) –
   8 September 2003
2. TVNZ’s Response to Ms Hood – 22 September 2003
3. Ms Hood’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 16 October 2003
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 6 November 2003
5. Ms Hood’s Final Comment – 21 November 2003