BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Hunt and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2015-093 (1 March 2016)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Anne Hunt
Number
2015-093
Programme
Checkpoint
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Summary

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

An item on Checkpoint reported on tensions between the Horowhenua Rowing Club and certain local Māori residents over the future of the club’s use of the building next to Lake Horowhenua. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the item was inaccurate, unbalanced and unfair. The item carefully conveyed a complex issue, was not factually inaccurate and would not have misled viewers in any material respect. While the conflict surrounding the rowing club’s presence at Lake Horowhenua is a controversial issue of public importance, the item included the viewpoints of both parties and was sufficiently balanced. The item did not treat the nominated individuals unfairly, as they were not criticised and had a reasonable opportunity to give their views.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Controversial Issues, Fairness


Introduction

[1]  An item on Checkpoint reported on tensions between the Horowhenua Rowing Club and certain local Māori residents over the future of the club’s use of the building next to Lake Horowhenua.

[2]  Anne Hunt complained that the item was inaccurate, unbalanced and unfair, in essence she argued because Lake Horowhenua and its surrounding land are privately owned by Māori and the rowing club has no legal right to occupy the land or buildings, and the broadcast did not acknowledge this.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy, controversial issues and fairness standards as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item was broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 9 October 2015. The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Nature of the programme and freedom of expression

[5]  Checkpoint (now Checkpoint with John Campbell) is a well-known prime time news and current affairs programme. The item subject to complaint reported on tensions resulting from the rowing club’s use of a building at Lake Horowhenua. It was introduced as follows:

A rowing club in Levin says it is refusing to be bullied out of its building next to Lake Horowhenua by some local Māori. The Horowhenua Rowing Club hopes a Waitangi Tribunal hearing into Māori claims to the lake will let it know if it can stay where it has been for the past 50 years.

[6]  The item contained comment from the rowing club captain and two members of the club. It then went on to discuss how the Crown ‘took the land from private Māori landowners in 1905’ and that some Muaupoko iwi members would like to see the rowing club leave the building. It stated that one iwi member, Phillip Taueki, ‘is angry the club uses the building rent-free’. It was noted that the club’s lease had ended, but the club captain argued that they had not been ‘told to go’. The item discussed the resulting tensions between club members and local members of the community, which had allegedly resulted in abuse, assault and threatening behaviour.

[7]  The complainant was introduced as ‘a supporter of Māori activist Phil Taueki’ and said ‘the abuse was not one-sided’. An audio statement from her was as follows:

I’m sick and tired of Phil and I being threatened, harassed. Three weeks ago Phil had to barricade himself in the house because a couple of rowers were pounding on the door threatening to kill him. Last night I had a home invasion myself.

[8]  By way of background, it appears that Ms Hunt’s complaint and supporting documentation is set in the context of the longstanding and unsettled issues relating to Māori ownership and control of the Horowhenua Lake Domain, versus public rights of access. It is not the Authority’s role to make a finding on these very complex and controversial issues or to otherwise determine the rights and interests various parties hold vis-à-vis Lake Horowhenua. Rather, the Authority’s role is to assess whether the broadcast was inaccurate, unbalanced or unfair regarding the focus of the story, namely the rowing club’s use of the building and its future.

[9]  The item carried a level of public interest and was valuable in terms of freedom of expression. This value must be weighed against the level of harm alleged to have been caused by the broadcast, in terms of the underlying objectives of the relevant broadcasting standards.1 We are only able to limit the broadcast and the right to freedom of expression – both the broadcaster’s right to impart the information and the audience’s right to receive it – if it is warranted and reasonable to do so.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[10]  The accuracy standard (Standard 5) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.2

[11]  Ms Hunt argued the item was inaccurate and misleading in a number of respects, which we have dealt with in turn below.

Overview of findings on accuracy

[12]  In news items of this nature, which report on topics that are closely related to very complex and controversial issues, it is vital that broadcasters ensure accuracy. We appreciate the level of importance of the issues discussed to both the complainant and to the wider community. However, for the following reasons, we do not consider that the item was inaccurate regarding any material points of fact or was otherwise misleading.

Overall implication

[13]  Ms Hunt considered the overall implication to be drawn from the item was that the Council now owns the land and local Māori are claiming it back. She argued this was inaccurate and misleading because the bed of Lake Horowhenua and the land surrounding it are privately owned by Māori.

[14]  RNZ noted several aspects of Ms Hunt’s complaint referred to matters which were not included in the item. It maintained the reporter did not state that Lake Horowhenua had been ‘claimed’ by local Māori as alleged by the complainant, but rather stated, ‘The Crown took the land from private Māori landowners in 1905...’ RNZ argued this ‘shorthand’ reference would not have misled listeners in terms of understanding the current conflict over the rowing club building.

[15]  We do not agree that listeners would draw the overall implication from the item that the complainant alleges, namely that the Council owns the land and local Māori are claiming it back. The focus of the item was the rowing club’s use of the building next to Lake Horowhenua, and whether this use would continue. The report was careful to avoid any unqualified statements of fact regarding the wider issues of governance and ownership. In our view the broadcaster conveyed a complex issue with nuance and care and clearly indicated the conflicting views on the issue.

References to the ‘rowing club’s building’ and ‘sailing club’s building’

[16]  Ms Hunt argued these references were inaccurate, because the buildings are the property of the (Māori) owners of the land and the rowing club’s licence to occupy the building expired in 2007.

[17]  We acknowledge that the statements ‘the rowing club’s building’ ‘the old sailing club building’ could be seen as not entirely accurate, given the current conflict over access. However, these brief references would not have misled listeners in the context of the item, which was careful to canvass both the rowing club’s and local residents’ views on who has the right to use the buildings. The item clearly stated the rowing club’s lease for the building had ended. These statements merely indicated which organisation had been using the building and did not name one party or the other as the rightful owner, therefore were not inaccurate.

The Waitangi Tribunal hearing

[18]  Ms Hunt argued the statement, ‘The Horowhenua Rowing Club hopes that a Waitangi Tribunal hearing into Māori claims to the lake will let it know whether it can stay where it has been for the past 50 years’ was incorrect because it failed to grasp that the lake is not subject to a Treaty claim as the Māori owners ‘have proof in law that the lake and land have always belonged to them’.

[19]  While we respect the complainant’s view, the validity of a Treaty claim regarding Lake Horowhenua is not something the Authority is able to make a finding on given the current unsettled status of such claims. The Waitangi Tribunal was hearing claims relating to Lake Horowhenua, therefore the statement – which was a straightforward description of the hearings taking place rather than an in-depth analysis of the claims – was correct.

The implication that the Council was ‘in charge’ of the building

[20]  Ms Hunt submitted the Council is not in charge of the building nor is it the administering body.

[21]  We do not think listeners would have necessarily drawn this implication from the item. There was no statement that the Council was ‘in charge’ of the building, and it is clear that the Council is one of the many bodies and organisations with some involvement in issues relating to Lake Horowhenua. In any case, this was not a material point of fact to which the standard applied and would not have affected listeners’ understanding of the topic discussed, namely the future of the rowing club’s use of the building at Lake Horowhenua.

The rowing club is paying rates on the building.

[22]  The statement subject to complaint was made by the captain of the rowing club:

We were paying the lease up ‘til a couple of years ago; we’ve paid everything that we’ve been invoiced as such. Everything has been up in the air the last couple of years so nothing has come through... but we’re paying rates on the building, paying the up-keep.

[23]  Ms Hunt argued the statement the rowing club was paying rates on the building is incorrect, because the building is on land which is a reserve and is therefore non-rateable land.

[24]  We acknowledge that reserves are non-rateable land under the Local Government Rating Act 2002, and the building is located at Lake Horowhenua Domain which is a reserve.

[25]  We have not been provided with any information from the broadcaster as to what exactly the club captain was referring to, and we are not in a position to be able to determine whether or not some form of rates were in fact paid by the rowing club as a result of their use of the building. However, we do not consider the brief reference to paying rates was a material point of fact to which the accuracy standard applied. In the context of the full statement, which noted that ‘everything has been up in the air’, it would not have significantly affected listeners’ understanding of the focus of the item – the conflict surrounding the rowing club’s use of the building.

Rowing club members were not involved in harassment.

[26]  The statement in question was, ‘The rowing club captain [name] denies any involvement by its members’.

[27]  Ms Hunt argued the statement by the rowing club denying the involvement of any of its members in incidents of harassment was inaccurate, as she and Mr Taueki had been subjected to harassment by these members.

[28]  There appears to be some dispute about the incidents of harassment, and we have not been provided with any proof of the involvement – or lack thereof – of rowing club members. The statement was a straightforward and accurate report of what the rowing club captain said. It was framed as a denial and would have indicated to listeners how fraught the dispute was. Therefore we are satisfied this statement was not inaccurate or otherwise misleading.

[29]  For the above reasons, we do not uphold any aspect of the complaint under Standard 5.

Was the item sufficiently balanced?

[30]  The balance standard (Standard 4) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest. The standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.3

[31]  Ms Hunt considered the rowing club’s ongoing presence at Lake Horowhenua to be one of the most controversial issues to face New Zealanders because ‘legislation granting – without the consent of any owners – public access to this privately owned lake, is not only a serious violation of the Treaty of Waitangi, but it also undermines fundamental property rights for all New Zealanders’. In support of this argument, Ms Hunt referred to several articles, letters and other broadcasts on the matter. She noted that the report described another interviewee as owning land at the lake, but described Mr Taueki as a Muaupoko descendent whereas in fact he also owns land at the lake.

[32]  RNZ argued that the topic of the ongoing presence of the rowing club at Lake Horowhenua, while of strong interest to local residents, is not a controversial issue of public importance as envisaged by the standard. It also stated that in any case, this topic was not ‘discussed’, as the item was a relatively short news report about the future of the rowing club’s use of the building. It did not purport to be an in-depth discussion of the overall issue of the parties’ respective rights to Lake Horowhenua, RNZ said.

[33]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’ and it must be ‘discussed’.4

[34]  The rowing club’s continued use of the building at Lake Horowhenua, which was squarely the focus of the item, has been highly controversial and caused escalating tensions between rowing club members and some local residents over recent years. It has been the subject of national media coverage and is intrinsically linked to broader issues of public access and ownership of Lake Horowhenua. An issue of particular interest or importance to a certain region or community is sufficient to trigger the requirements of this standard; the issue does not need to have nation-wide importance or the potential to affect all New Zealanders. We therefore find that the item did amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance to which the standard applied.

[35]  The next question is whether the broadcaster adequately presented significant points of view on the issue. We are satisfied that it did and that the item was sufficiently balanced. The report was of substantial length and included a more than sufficient amount of information, including a variety of viewpoints. It gave several different perspectives on the rowing club’s continued use of the building at Lake Horowhenua, including Mr Taueki’s position, and also featured recorded audio statements from various individuals, including the complainant. Ms Hunt was able to share her experience and her view that ‘the abuse is not one-sided’. While some comments could be seen to be sympathetic towards the rowing club’s position, for example that the rowing club was refusing to be ‘bullied out of its building’, these were clearly framed from the perspective of the rowing club and reflecting the members’ own words. The report itself did not favour or otherwise promote the rowing club’s position and was a balanced discussion of the different perspectives on the issue.

[36]  For these reasons we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 4.

Was any individual or organisation taking part or referred to in the broadcast treated unfairly?

[37]  The fairness standard (Standard 6) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.5

[38]  Ms Hunt argued it was unfair that only 22 seconds was allocated to her statement during a broadcast of three-and-a-half minutes’ duration. She noted that although the item briefly referred to Mr Taueki, no interview with him was broadcast.

[39]  RNZ argued that Ms Hunt had not specified who she believed was treated unfairly so the standard could not be applied. In any case it maintained that no harm arose from the references to the individuals during the item or from the excerpt of Ms Hunt’s interview which was broadcast.

[40]  In our view it was clear from Ms Hunt’s complaint that she implicitly raised unfairness to both herself and Mr Taueki. Nevertheless, we do not consider that either individual was treated unfairly during the broadcast. They were not criticised or otherwise portrayed in a negative light. Both individuals were given a fair and reasonable opportunity to put forward their views and those views were adequately presented through an excerpt from an interview with Ms Hunt and statements attributed to Mr Taueki.

[41]  Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 6.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
1 March 2016

 

Appendix

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

1      Anne Hunt’s formal complaint – 10 October 2015
2      RNZ’s response to the complaint – 16 November 2015
3      Ms Hunt’s referral to the Authority – 22 November 2015
4      RNZ’s response to the Authority – 23 December 2015
5      Ms Hunt’s final comment – 24 January 2016

 

 


1 See sections 5 and 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990

2Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036

3 Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

4 For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)

5Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014