BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hooker and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-010

Members
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Garry Hooker
Number
2004-010
Channel/Station
TV One

Chair Joanne Morris declared a possible conflict of interest and did not participate in the determination of this complaint.


Complaint
Face to Face with Kim Hill – interview about seabed and foreshore issue with John McEnteer – complaint that item unbalanced and unfair

Findings
Standard 4 – “devil's advocate” approach used – interviewee not intimidated – not unfair – not upheld

Standard 6 – style enabled issues to be explored – not unbalanced – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the Decision


Summary

[1] John McEnteer of the Hauraki Trust Board was interviewed about the seabed and foreshore controversy on Face to Face with Kim Hill at 9.30pm on TV One on 9 October 2003.

[2] Garry Hooker complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the interview was unfair and unbalanced as Mr McEnteer was interrupted and had been subjected to aggressive and “Pakeha-biased” questioning.

[3] In response, TVNZ said that the presenter had challenged Mr McEnteer but his arguments had been put clearly and strongly. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision Mr Hooker referred his 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 video 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. Chair Joanne Morris did not participate in the determination of this complaint, declaring a possible conflict of interest in light of the fact that she is a member of the Waitangi Tribunal that has heard the foreshore and seabed claims.

Programme

[6] Face to Face with Kim Hill , broadcast weekly on TV One at 9.30pm on Thursdays, involves the presenter interviewing a person for approximately half an hour on a matter of current affairs. The episode broadcast on 9 October 2003 involved an interview with Mr John McEnteer of the Hauraki Maori Trust Board who had been featured in news items about the foreshore and seabed controversy.

Complaint

[7] Garry Hooker complained to TVNZ that the item was unfair and unbalanced. He considered that the item was unfair as Mr McEnteer had been subject to “aggressive” questioning and had been interrupted before he completed his responses. He described the presenter's body language as that of a “striking snake”.

[8] In regard to balance, Mr Hooker said the questions were “sensational, superficial, Pakeha-biased” and displayed no bi-cultural understanding.

Standards

[9] TVNZ assessed the complaint about the broadcast under Standards 4 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They 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.

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

[10] TVNZ explained that the programme was designed to place under the spotlight people whose strong views had featured in the news. It likened the programmes to the BBC Hardtalk series. It also stated that the programmes used the “devil's advocate” technique of interviewing where, in contrast to a studio debate:

… the presenter speaks one-on-one to an advocate of a certain view and, adopting the role of absent protagonists, vigorously challenges the studio guest to justify and explain his or her position. The theory is that an argument that stands up to such probing is thereby strengthened and the public interest is served by being shown that it is sound. If, however, the challenging questions expose weaknesses or flaws in the advocate's position, the public interest is similarly served by indicating the need for further enquiry.

[11] Balance, it wrote, was achieved during a “devil's advocate” interview by the interviewer putting a different and challenging point of view to the guest. Declining to uphold the balance aspect of the complaint, TVNZ continued:

In considering your complaint, the [complaints] committee tried to stand back from the interview and ask, “was Mr McEnteer hampered in any way? Did the audience at the end of the interview feel that it had not heard the significant points of Mr McEnteer's argument?” In the committee's opinion Mr McEnteer was treated both in a fair and balanced way and his argument came through clearly and strongly. Yes, there were moments of tension as [the presenter's] persistent and insistent style of questioning probed Mr McEnteer's answers – but there were also moments of good-natured humour. Overall the committee thought the interview was both informative, and highly watchable.

[12] Further, as Mr McEnteer was able to respond to the questions, TVNZ did not consider that he had been treated unfairly.

Referral to the Authority

[13] Dealing first with balance, Mr Hooker said that his concern focused on the invariable use of the “devil's advocate” approach towards Maori. In contrast to the adulatory approach interviewers take with others, he wrote:

In the Kim Hill segment an undercurrent of outrage and antipathy existed towards the interviewee which scarcely supports TVNZ's assessment that the broadcast reflected balance.

[14] He also wrote:

[B]alance was not achieved through the selection of sensational, superficial and Pakeha-biased questions in the preparation of the interview. That aspect of the complaint has not been dealt with by TVNZ.

[15] Turning to fairness, Mr Hooker contended that techniques used, described by TVNZ as “persistent and insistent”, were both unbalanced and unfair.

Broadcaster's Response to the Authority

[16] TVNZ rejected the complainant's assertion that the “devil's advocate” technique was invariably used with Maori. It was a common technique used worldwide, and was regularly used by the presenters of Face to Face with Kim Hill and the BBC's Hardtalk . It noted that the Authority in its earlier decisions had accepted it as a way of achieving balance. TVNZ observed that the Authority's concern about its use was usually whether the interviewee was treated fairly. With the current complaint, TVNZ added, Mr McEnteer had been given a full opportunity to respond to the questions and had done so “completely and effectively”.

Complainant's Final Comment

[17] Mr Hooker questioned whether TVNZ's focus on the “devil's advocate” interviewing technique acknowledged sufficiently such matters as process and body language. He maintained that the technique could lead to distortions:

Authority's Determination

[18] The Authority assesses the broadcast as to whether it was unbalanced or unfair. It concludes that neither standard was contravened.

[19] The interviewer put a range of questions to Mr McEnteer to which he responded reasonably fully and with relative calm. The Authority notes that two of the interruptions occurred shortly before commercial breaks. It is of the view that the questions put, and the style in which they were put, were those which could reasonably be expected in such a current affairs programme . Further, and taking into account its view that the interviewee was given ample opportunity to put his responses and the reasons for those answers, the Authority concludes that the standards were not contravened.

[20] The Authority acknowledges that the interview was a vigorous examination of the interviewee's views on the issues covered. It notes that he dealt with the vigorous style competently and also notes that the style enabled the issues to be explored and balance to be achieved.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Tapu Misa
Member
4 March 2004

Appendix

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

1.     Garry Hooker's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 10 October 2003

2.    Mr Hooker's Second Letter of Complaint – 21 October 2003

3.    TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint – 29 October 2003

4.    Mr Hooker's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 16 November 2003

4.    TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 28 November 2003

5.    Mr Hooker's Final Comment – 15 December 2003