BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Hurley and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2019-043 (10 October 2019)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainant
  • John Hurley
Number
2019-043
Programme
Insight
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio

Summary

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

The Authority did not uphold a complaint that an item on Insight that investigated the history and current state of far-right, alt-right and nationalist ideologies breached broadcasting standards. The Authority found the broadcast was balanced as it contained a range of significant perspectives. The Authority also found people who hold these ideologies do not amount to an ‘organisation’ for the purposes of the fairness standard and therefore that the fairness standard does not apply.

Not Upheld: Balance, Fairness


The broadcast

[1]  An item on Insight investigated the history and current state of the far-right, the alt-right and other ideologies in New Zealand and internationally. It included comment from Professor Paul Spoonley. It also featured comment from notable far-right individuals such as Kyle Chapman, former director of the NZ National Front and former NZ National Front Spokesman Kevin Gibson.

[2]  The item was broadcast on 28 April 2019 on RNZ National. As part of our consideration of this complaint, we have listened to a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[3]  John Hurley submitted the broadcast breached the balance and fairness standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:

  • RNZ is supposed to be independent but this broadcast does not provide ‘adequate framing.’
  • Professor Spoonley is ‘an enthusiast of high migration’ and not independent.
  • The broadcast did not acknowledge ‘that there has been a concerted effort by left-wing groups to silence and deplatform (sic) “right-wing” groups.’
  • The broadcast did not ‘define its subject’. Terms like ‘alt-right’ and ‘white supremacist’ are vague.

[4]  Mr Hurley also identified individuals he believes should have been interviewed and other points of view that should have been discussed in order for the broadcast to achieve balance.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  RNZ responded that the broadcast did not breach broadcasting standards stating ‘[it] is far from clear how the information provided in [Mr Hurley’s] complaint indicates how the content of the documentary was in breach of the standards [Mr Hurley] nominated.’

[6]  RNZ also submitted that Mr Hurley ‘has not provided any particularity as to which words or phrases etc in the broadcast he thinks were in breach of a standard, and why he thinks that.’

[7]  RNZ submitted that it was ‘unfair to RNZ to have to respond to generalised comments apart to say that, in our view, they do not identify a potential breach’.

The relevant standards

[8]  The balance standard 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.

[9]  The fairness standard states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in any broadcast. Its purpose is to protect the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes.1

Our findings

[10]  The right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, is the starting point in our consideration of complaints. Equally important is our consideration of the level of actual or potential harm that may be caused by the broadcast. We may only interfere and uphold complaints where the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

Balance

[11]  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’.2

[12]  The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.3  A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.4

[13]  The focus of the broadcast in question was the history and current status of far-right and nationalist ideologies in New Zealand and internationally, and how they are aided by the internet. We find this to be a controversial issue of public importance, considering the level of public discourse this subject matter has received following the events of 15 March 2019.

[14]  Further, we accept that this issue was ‘discussed’ as contemplated under the standard and that Insight is a ‘news, current affairs and factual programme’.  On this basis, we agree that the balance standard applies and we now turn to whether RNZ made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view within the programme or in the period of current interest.

[15]  The assessment of whether a reasonable range of other perspectives has been presented includes consideration of a number of factors, including:[5] 

  • whether the programme purported to be a balanced examination of an issue
  • whether the programme was clearly signalled as approaching a topic from a particular perspective
  • whether the programme was narrowly focused on one aspect of a larger, complex debate
  • whether listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage, including coverage in other media.

[16]  Ultimately, the objective is to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion (which is important to the operation of an open and democratic society).6

[17]  In this case, we consider that objective was satisfied. This broadcast featured comment from not only Professor Spoonley, but also former National Front members and other notable far-right personalities regarding the history of the far-right in New Zealand and the current status of various ideologies. We consider this amounted to the presentation of a wide range of perspectives for the purposes of this standard.

[18]  Therefore we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.

Fairness

[19]  The complainant submitted that the ‘program does not fairly define [its] subject’ and noted the vague nature of terms such as ‘alt-right’ and ‘white supremacist’. However, as described above, the fairness standard is intended to protect the dignity and reputation of persons and organisations featured in programmes and the complainant has not identified any person or organisation who he considers to have been treated unfairly in the programme.

[20]  If Mr Hurley is submitting that members of the ‘alt-right’, ‘far right’, ‘white supremacists’ or ‘white nationalists’ have been treated unfairly, we do not consider such groups amount to an ‘organisation’ for the purposes of the fairness standard. As clearly identified in the programme, there are many different groups and sub-groups potentially falling within those categories, with a myriad of different motivations, views and approaches. They cannot be viewed as ‘one’ organisation. The Authority has previously found that a large group of people does not amount to an organisation for the purposes of this standard, simply because of their size or a shared characteristic.7

[21]  As the complainant has not identified a person or organisation unfairly treated in the broadcast the fairness standard does not apply.

[22]  Therefore we do not uphold the complaint under this standard.

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair
10 October 2019


Appendix

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

1                 John Hurley’s formal complaint – 29 April 2019

2                 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 7 June 2019

3                 Mr Hurley’s referral to the Authority – 27 June 2019

4                 RNZ’s response to referral – 16 July 2019

5                 Mr Hurley’s confirmation of proceeding with complaint – 8 August 2019

 


1 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
2 Guideline 8a
3 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
4 As above
5 Guideline 8c
6 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
7 See for example: Loder and Dennis and MediaWorks Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2018-011