BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hooker and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-011

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Garry Hooker
Number
2004-011
Programme
Holmes
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
Holmes – apology from Mr Holmes for comments he made about UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Newstalk ZB – apology said to be unbalanced, inaccurate and breached requirements for law and order

Findings
Standard 2 – not applicable – decline to determine

Standard 4 – personal statement – balance not an issue – decline to determine

Standard 5 – no inaccuracy – decline to determine

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Summary

[1] Paul Holmes, the host of Holmes broadcast on TV One on weekdays at 7.00pm, made a personal statement on Holmes on 29 September 2003 about some comments he had made on Newstalk ZB. Among some other comments made on Newstalk ZB, he had described the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, as a “cheeky darkie”. His comments had received extensive media coverage.

[2] Garry Hooker complained to TVNZ, the broadcaster, that he objected to the part of the apology which he considered amounted to Mr Holmes' description that he was not a racist. That comment, Mr Hooker wrote, was inaccurate and was not balanced by comment from anyone else.

[3] In response, TVNZ pointed out that the comments were a personal statement in which Mr Holmes expressed regret for his earlier remarks. 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 determine 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.

Programme

[6] On 24 September 2003, Paul Holmes as the host of Paul Holmes Breakfast broadcast on Newstalk ZB, was highly critical of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. The comments included references to Mr Annan as a “cheeky darkie”.

[7] Following widespread media coverage of those comments Mr Holmes, as the host of TVNZ's Holmes , made a personal statement on Holmes . The statement was broadcast on TV One on 29 September.

Complaint

[8] Garry Hooker complained to TVNZ that while he accepted the apology to Mr Annan, he objected to the extension of that apology “into an exercise of one-sided self advocacy ie that Holmes is not a racist”. He considered that the broadcast breached the requirements for balance, accuracy, and law and order.

[9] In arguing that Mr Holmes remarks were “inherently racist”, Mr Hooker contended that only racists used such terms as “darkie” and “nigger” and he pointed out that the Authority had recently upheld a complaint about Mr Holmes' remarks about wahi tapu (Decision No: 2003-109). However, at the time of the broadcast complained about on 29 September, no one had made a statement contrary to Mr Holmes' apology. In view of the wahi tapu decision, the complainant maintained that the item was unbalanced and he argued that the item was inaccurate as there had been no distinction between the fact of the apology and Mr Holmes' opinion. That had led, he wrote, to a lack of impartiality.

[10] In regard to law and order, Mr Hooker contended that the statement breached the legal principle that both the prosecution and defence were entitled to put their point of view. On this occasion, however, Mr Holmes had determined without challenge that he was not a racist.

Standards

[11] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 2, 4 and 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

Standard 2 Law and Order

In the preparation and presentation of  programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.

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 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[12] TVNZ acknowledged that the complainant had interpreted the statement from Mr Holmes as one involving “righteous self-justification”. However, it argued that it could also be seen as a genuine act of contrition and remorse.

[13] With regard to Standard 2, TVNZ contended that the broadcast was not an exploration of the rights and wrongs of what Mr Holmes had said. Rather, it was a personal statement and, accordingly, TVNZ considered that the law and order requirement had not been relevant.

[14] TVNZ advanced the same reason for declining to uphold the balance aspect, stressing that the broadcast was identified and “presented transparently as Mr Holmes's own reflections on what happened”. As it found nothing in the statement which could be shown to be untruthful or inaccurate, TVNZ also declined to uphold the Standard 5 part of the complaint. It wrote:

The [complaints] committee believed that Mr Holmes endeavoured to convey accurately his feelings about what he had said, and his regrets and remorse for having spoken in the manner he did.

Referral to the Authority

[15] Mr Hooker maintained that the broadcast breached the nominated standards. It was unbalanced, he wrote, as it contained no alternative point of view to Mr Holmes' opinion that he was not a racist. In view of the Authority's decision on the wahi tapu complaint, Mr Hooker said he had difficulty in accepting Mr Holmes' claim. Mr Hooker also argued again that the law and order requirement had been contravened.

Authority's Determination

[16] Before assessing the matters raised by the complainant, the Authority points out that Mr Holmes, in his apology, did not say that he was not a racist. Moreover, in view of the matters covered and the way that they were addressed, the Authority does not accept that the apology could be interpreted as, or that it amounted to, a claim that the speaker, Mr Holmes, was not a racist.

[17] The Authority also considers that it is important to acknowledge that the remarks made by Mr Holmes were a personal statement in which he explained the background to and apologised for the offence that had been taken to statements he had made as host on Newstalk ZB. The Authority has addressed the complaint in the context of Mr Holmes' personal statement.

[18] In view of the personal nature of the remarks, the Authority considers that the broadcasting criteria which the complainant refers to do not apply. Mr Holmes' statement is not a news, current affairs or factual programme to which Standard 4 (balance) applies; there is no part of the statement which can be regarded as inaccurate and in breach of Standard 5 (accuracy); and it does not in any way threaten the maintenance of law and order (Standard 2).

[19] In view of the inapplicability of the nominated standards to the personal statement made by Paul Holmes on 29 September 2003, the Authority declines to determine the complaint in all the circumstances.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to determine the complaint in all the circumstances under s.11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
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 – 21 October 2003

2.    TVNZ's Response to Mr Hooker – 13 November 2003

3.    Mr Hooker's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 5 December 2003

4.    TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 18 December 2003