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Jensen and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2006-117

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Sue Jensen
Number
2006-117
Programme
Morning Report
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Morning Report – item about industrial action by Progressive Enterprises and potential involvement of Maritime Union – host interviewed Maritime Union general secretary – allegedly unbalanced and inaccurate

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – statement complained about was peripheral to the controversial issue of public importance under discussion – host not required to challenge every statement made by an interviewee – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – no inaccuracies – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] On 8 September 2006 at 7.51am, an item on Morning Report discussed the lockout imposed by Progressive Enterprises against striking members of the National Distribution Union (NDU). Progressive held approximately 45% of the New Zealand grocery market and operated the Foodtown, Woolworths and Countdown supermarket groups. The host stated that the situation looked set to escalate after the Rail and Maritime Transport and Maritime Unions had threatened to support the locked-out workers.

[2] The host conducted an interview with the Maritime Union general secretary, Trevor Hanson, who stated that the union would support the workers in any way possible, and that it was concerned about Progressive trying to bring in outside labour. After further questioning about what action the Maritime Union could take, and whether that action would include stopping Progressive’s cargo from entering New Zealand, the host said:

Mr Hanson I’ve also heard rumour that what is happening in New Zealand in terms of altering or reducing the costs in the distribution centres for Progressive may be a template or an experimental exercise so that the same can be done in Australia.

[3] Mr Hanson responded that he could only speculate on the matter, but that he was certain that the Australian unions would also become involved in the current dispute.

Complaint

[4] Sue Jensen made a formal complaint about the item to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster. She stated that the host had not questioned Mr Hanson’s assertion that Progressive Enterprises was using non-union labour to break the strike. Rather, she said, the host had asked Mr Hanson if Progressive could be “using this exercise of reducing the costs in their distribution centres as a template, planning to do the same in Australia”.

[5] In Ms Jensen’s view, the host had misrepresented the facts of the case, and “his speculation put him firmly in the union camp on this dispute”. The complainant contended that, from the facts she had heard reported, Progressive was essentially trying to maintain the status quo in terms of the relative wages between distribution centres, but was willing to negotiate a percentage increase to existing wage rates.

Principles

[6] The following Principles from the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint:

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.

Principle 6

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7] RNZ stated that, while the union spokesperson had opined about the use of non-union labour by Progressive, the purpose of the interview had been to elicit what involvement the Maritime Union could have in the dispute in the future. The host’s question, it said, had prompted the union representative to provide information about future support from the unions.

[8] The broadcaster contended that in the short time available for live interviews, it was legitimate to pursue the stated purpose of an interview, which was what had occurred in this instance. It wrote:

If interviewers were to pursue every aspect of every statement made by interviewees, there would be very few, but some very long, live interviews which in the end would not necessarily better inform the listening public.

[9] RNZ found that broadcasting standards were not breached, particularly with reference to the accuracy standard, and therefore it did not uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[10] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s decision, Ms Jensen referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She reiterated her view that the host’s question amounted to “purveying irrelevant misinformation”, when his role was to focus on what the interviewee had to say. Ms Jensen contended that Principles 4, 5 and 6 had been breached.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[11] RNZ reiterated its view that the comment complained about was immaterial to the thrust of the interview.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[12] Referring to RNZ’s response, Ms Jensen contended that the host had “no business to spread a false rumour in the course of a news interview”. She argued that the host’s remark had discredited one party to the dispute.

Authority's Determination

[13] The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[14] Ms Jensen did not nominate any particular standards in her formal complaint. In response, RNZ did not determine the complaint under any particular standards, only stating that it did not consider “that the formal standards were breached in any sense, particularly with reference to accuracy”. In her referral, Ms Jensen has alleged that Principles 4, 5 and 6 of the Radio Code were breached.

[15] The Authority considers that the essence of Ms Jensen’s complaint is that:

  • the host did not question the Maritime Union representative’s allegation that Progressive was using non-union labour to break the strike
  • the host’s statement “Mr Hanson I’ve also heard rumour that what is happening in New Zealand in terms of altering or reducing the costs in the distribution centres for Progressive may be a template or an experimental exercise so that the same can be done in Australia” misrepresented the facts of the case.

[16] In the Authority’s view, these raise matters which are best considered under Principle 4 (balance) and Principle 6 (accuracy), and it determines the complaint on that basis.

Principle 4 (balance)

[17] Principle 4 requires that balance be provided when controversial issues of public importance are discussed. On this occasion, the broadcast discussed the potential involvement of the Rail and Maritime Transport and Maritime Unions in the industrial action being taken by Progressive Enterprises. The Authority considers this to be an issue to which the balance standard applies.

[18] In her complaint, Ms Jensen quoted Mr Hanson as saying “Progressive are using non-union labour to break the strike, and intimidating the strikers”, and she argued that the host should have questioned this statement. However, the Authority notes that Mr Hanson did not make any reference to Progressive “intimidating the strikers”. He said:

For an employer to try and bring in outside labour to break that lockout is absolutely serious to every trade unionist in the country.

[19] The Authority agrees with RNZ that, in the context of a short, live interview, a host is not required to pursue every aspect of every statement made by an interviewee. In this case, the statement above was peripheral to the controversial issue of public importance being discussed – the potential involvement of the unions in the industrial action. In this respect, the Authority considers that the host was entitled to focus on the issue under discussion, and he was not required to challenge Mr Hanson’s statement in order to comply with Principle 4. Therefore it declines to uphold the balance complaint.

Principle 6 (accuracy)

[20] Principle 6 states that broadcasters must be truthful and accurate on points of fact. Ms Jensen complained that Mr Hanson’s statement about Progressive bringing in outside labour and “intimidating” the strikers was inaccurate. As above (see paragraph [18]), the Authority notes that Mr Hanson did not allege that Progressive was intimidating the strikers. Furthermore, the Authority is of the view that Mr Hanson's comments did not amount to a statement of fact that Progressive was bringing in outside labour. In the Authority's opinion, Mr Hanson was suggesting the possibility of such action, rather than declaring it as fact. Accordingly, the Authority does not uphold this part of the complaint.

[21] Ms Jensen was also concerned about the host saying:

Mr Hanson I’ve also heard rumour that what is happening in New Zealand in terms of altering or reducing the costs in the distribution centres for Progressive may be a template or an experimental exercise so that the same can be done in Australia.

[22] In the Authority’s view, the host’s comment about Progressive “altering or reducing the costs in distribution centres” did not amount to a “point of fact” to which the accuracy standard applies. The Authority considers that the host simply made a “shorthand” reference to the contentious industrial action, for the purpose of eliciting Mr Hanson’s response to speculation about Progressive’s intentions.  Accordingly, the Authority finds that the accuracy standard was not breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 December 2006

Appendix

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

1    Sue Jensen’s formal complaint – 8 September 2006

2    RNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 9 October 2006

3    Ms Jensen’s referral to the Authority – 29 October 2006

4    RNZ’s response to the Authority – 21 November 2006

5    Ms Jensen’s final comment – 1 December 2006