BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

James and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2001-230

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • R J James
Number
2001-230
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio

Complaint
In Touch with New Zealand – discussion about soy products – commercial promotion – harmful aspects not addressed – unbalanced

Findings
Principle 4 – magazine item – controversial issues explicitly put to one side – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Soy products were discussed in an item broadcast on In Touch with New Zealand on 31 July 2001. This magazine programme is broadcast on National Radio each weekday between 2.00–5.00pm.

[2] R J James complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was unbalanced as listeners were not advised that soy products were potentially hazardous.

[3] In response, RNZ questioned whether the use of soy products was a controversial issue for which balance was required, but nevertheless, it argued that debate in the media was ongoing. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s decision, Mr James 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 listened to a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] In Touch with New Zealand is a magazine programme broadcast each weekday by Radio New Zealand Ltd on National Radio between 2.00–5.00pm. Shortly after 4.00pm on 31 July 2001, the presenter interviewed two people who spoke about soy products. One of the guests was said to be with the company Bean Supreme.

The Complaint

[7] Richard James complained to RNZ that the broadcast was a commercial promotion of products which was a breach of RNZ’s charter. Second, the item had not stated that "soy products can be very harmful to all consumers". In March 1999, he wrote, ANZFA (Australia and New Zealand Food Association) had assessed soy products as potentially hazardous.

[8] Some correspondence between Mr James and RNZ followed before RNZ sent him its formal decision on the complaint.

The Standard

[9] RNZ assessed the complaint under Principle 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It reads:

Principle 4

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain 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  Broadcasters will respect the rights of individuals to express their own opinions.

4b  Broadcasters may have regard, when ensuring that programmes comply with Principle 4, to the following matters:

(i) An appropriate introduction to the programme; and

(ii) Any reasonable on-air opportunity for listeners to ask questions or present rebuttal within the period of current interest. Broadcasters may have regard to the views expressed by other broadcasters or in the media which listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] RNZ explained that the item in question involved a discussion between the presenter and Mr David Clark, who appears regularly in that particular slot to discuss genetic modification, and Mr Paul Johnstone who was clearly identified as coming from a company called Bean Supreme. In Touch With New Zealand, RNZ added, used a magazine format to present lifestyle items.

[11] The item complained about, RNZ continued, dealt with a range of the ways that soy products could be prepared and served in meals. The item’s introduction, RNZ noted, stated that one of the guests (Paul Johnstone) was from a company which manufactured soy products, and that the controversial issue of the use of soy in infant formula was not on the agenda for discussion. Then, RNZ said:

The lengthy programme then went on to discuss the products, how they are made and how they can be used, prepared and served in dishes as well as some general benefits of including such products in one’s diet.

[12] Turning to Principle 4, RNZ questioned whether the item dealt with a controversial issue of public importance.

[13] Nevertheless, even if the discussion dealt with a controversial issue, RNZ considered the "period of current interest" to be open-ended, and the opportunity remained for the presentation of other significant points of view.

[14] Moreover, citing Guideline 4b(ii), RNZ stated that it was likely that listeners would be aware of other views from media coverage elsewhere.

[15] Referring in addition to the freedom of expression provision in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, RNZ concluded that Principle 4 had not been contravened.

[16] In addressing the comment from Mr James in regard to a potential breach of the Charter, and while acknowledging that this was not a matter of broadcasting standards, RNZ argued that the item was not a commercial.

The Complainant’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[17] When he referred the complaint to the Authority, Mr James argued that it was the broadcaster, not a magazine in a foreign country, which had the obligation to provide balance. All significant views, he wrote, had not been presented.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[18] RNZ did not accept that it had suggested that overseas media would have to provide balance. It wrote:

More pertinently, there are several other sources within the print and electronic media within New Zealand which it could be reasonably expected that National Radio listeners could also source information from.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[19] Repeating his opinion that the item was a commercial, Mr James confirmed that his principal concern was that the item:

… made no effort to correctly inform its audience that there are very serious health risks associated with these products.

[20] As a result, he wrote, the item was unfair and unbalanced. In support, he enclosed some material from a well-known authority on alternative medicine.

[21] He concluded:

Finally I am staggered at the utter resistance of Radio New Zealand to showing "balance". I would have thought they would have said "Gosh! This would be a really interesting programme thank you for providing it." – instead of grimly resisting making a fair presentation.

[22] Mr James repeated that sentiment when, on four occasions, he forwarded material to the Authority that material containing other significant views about soy products was readily available.

The Authority’s Determination

[23] The Authority notes that In Touch With New Zealand is a magazine-style programme broadcast each weekday afternoon on National Radio. Each fortnight, there is a discussion between the host and a regular guest on aspects of genetic modification. Soy products were discussed in an item broadcast on 31 July 2001.

[24] The host and the regular commentator were joined by a third person, and it was stated from the outset that he worked for a company which made soy products. This person acknowledged that the use of soy in infant formula was "controversial" and that the "jury was still out" on this matter. It was agreed that this issue would not be discussed further. The item proceeded to discuss the use of soy products in cooking.

[25] Principle 4 requires balance, either in the same programme, or within the period of current interest, when "controversial issues of public importance are discussed".

[26] In this case, the participants acknowledged some controversial issues around soy but explicitly put these issues to one side. The item focused on the use of soy products for cooking and in terms of the guest’s personal dietary preferences. Accordingly, as controversial issues were not discussed, Principle 4 does not come into operation. The item, the Authority concludes, was conducted in a low key magazine style and did not deal with a controversial issue.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
17 December 2001

Appendix

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

  1. R J James’ Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 31 July 2001
  2. RNZ 's Initial Response to the Complaint – 6 August 2001
  3. Mr James' Comment to RNZ on Process – 17 August 2001.
  4. Mr James' Comment to RNZ on Soy – 4 September 2001
  5. Mr James’ Further Comment to RNZ on Soy – 6 September 2001
  6. Mr James’ Comment to RNZ on Process – 10 September 2001
  7. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 13 September 2001
  8. Mr James’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 22 September 2001
  9. RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 12 October 2001
  10. Mr James’ Final Comment – 18 October 2001
  11. Further Comment from Mr James about the Dangers of Soy Products – 27 October, 31 October, 2 November and 15 November 2001