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Kavvas and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-135

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Nejat Kavvas
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Tonight – item on Turkey’s potential entry into the European Union – interview with London correspondent – comments allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

Standard 4 (balance) – matters complained about were not the controversial issue of public importance under discussion – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – no inaccuracies – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) and guideline 6g (denigration) – item did not denigrate Turkish people – no other grounds of unfairness – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] Tonight broadcast a three-part item on 4 October 2005 at 10.30pm covering the possible entry of Turkey into the European Union (EU). The first part of the item was an introductory piece by the Tonight presenter which briefly outlined the outcome of a meeting in Luxembourg.

[2] The second part profiled Turkey and its society and economy, and included brief interviews with Turkish people.

[3] The third part of the item involved a discussion between the host and a correspondent in London, who summarised the European perspective on Turkey’s prospects of being admitted to the EU.  


[4] Nejat Kavvas complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the third part of the item was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair. He specifically referred to the following comments:

  • “…it is the Midnight Express factor. Remember the movie that made ‘Turkish prison’ a by-word for somewhere not nice to be?”
  • “You’ve got the use of the death penalty”
  • “Turkish human rights haven’t been up to European standards”
  • the assertion that Turkey had used torture
  • “Violent repression of the Kurds”
  • “So don’t hold your breath”
  • “Poorish Muslim” country.

[5] In respect of the phrase “the Midnight Express factor”, Mr Kavvas noted that the film Midnight Express was not a true story, and stated that the prison shown in the film was actually an ancient Greek dungeon. 

[6] The complainant considered that the phrase “you’ve got the use of the death penalty” was untrue. He noted that Turkey had removed capital punishment from its laws on 7 May 2004.  

[7] Referring to the statement that “Turkish human rights haven’t been up to European standards”, the complainant contended that Turkey would not have been able to start negotiations for entry into the EU if it did not meet European human rights standards, in accordance with the Copenhagen Criteria. Mr Kavvas considered that the same argument applied to the reporter’s allusion to torture.

[8] Mr Kavvas stated that the comment about “violent repression of the Kurds” was inaccurate and biased. He asserted that the Kurds had, since World War One, been used as a tool for the “divide and rule” policy of richer nations wanting to acquire petroleum. He wrote that Turkish Kurds had lived peacefully and intermarried in the region for almost 1000 years. Mr Kavvas also observed that physically Kurds looked Turkish, that their names were not different, and that they enjoyed equal privileges to Turkish citizens. The complainant contended that it was impossible to discriminate against a group of people who were indistinguishable from the general population.

[9] Mr Kavvas argued that the use of the phrase “so don’t hold your breath” implied that Turkey had little chance of joining the EU. He considered that the statement was biased.

[10] The complainant also contended that the description of Turkey as being a “poorish Muslim” country was inaccurate. He maintained that Turkey was a constitutionally secular state. Mr Kavvas considered that, despite the majority of Turkish people being Muslim, describing Turkey as a Muslim country was insulting.

[11] Mr Kavvas also believed that the body language, dramatization and strong accent on certain words by the correspondent contributed to the biased reporting in the item.


[12] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5 and 6 and guideline 6g of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

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.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guideline 6g           

Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i)    factual, or

ii)   the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii)  in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work,

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[13] In its response, the broadcaster addressed the complainant’s concerns separately.

“You’ve got the Midnight Express factor”

[14] TVNZ submitted that the use of the word “factor” was important to its consideration of the phrase, and contended that the correspondent neither stated nor implied that the film was a true story.  TVNZ maintained that the correspondent was trying to encapsulate in a brief report the emotions and perceptions in Europe concerning the prospect of Turkey joining the EU. It noted that powerful pieces of fiction could change perceptions “whether we like it or not”. 

[15] TVNZ pointed to a US State Department report released in February 2005, which said that conditions in most of Turkey’s prisons were poor, and that common problems included “under-funding, overcrowding, and insufficient staff training”. It also quoted the report as saying that “torture, beatings and other abuses by security forces remained widespread”.

“You’ve got the use of the death penalty”

[16] The broadcaster acknowledged that the death penalty had not been administered in Turkey since the 1980s and that capital punishment was removed from Turkey’s laws in 2004. However, it considered that these facts were not incompatible with the correspondent’s statement.

[17] TVNZ noted that the statement regarding the death penalty was preceded by the statement “Turkish human rights haven’t been up to European standards”. It considered that the statement about the death penalty was in the past tense, and was balanced by the remark “now Turkey is changing”.

“Turkish human rights haven’t been up to European standards”

[18] The broadcaster stated that the word “haven’t” placed this phrase in the past tense, and it considered that there was ample material to suggest that Turkey’s human rights record had not been up to European standards in the past.

[19] Quoting the European-Turkey framework agreement, TVNZ asserted that the document reflected the correspondent’s observations. The broadcaster also referred to a 2004 US State Department report on human rights in Turkey, which noted that “although there were significant improvements in a number of areas, serious problems remained”, and that “torture, beatings and other abuses by security forces remained widespread”.

[20] TVNZ considered that the complainant had misrepresented the significance of Turkey meeting the Copenhagen Criteria. It contended that meeting the Criteria only represented a preliminary step towards arriving at European standards of human rights. Otherwise, TVNZ argued, countries would be admitted to the EU upon the Union ruling that they had met the criteria, and accession negotiations would be irrelevant. TVNZ contended that Turkey was sufficiently advanced to begin accession negotiations which would take at least ten years.

[21] The broadcaster considered that it was not incorrect, unfair or unbalanced to state that Turkish human rights “haven’t been up to” European standards.


[22] Turning to the complaint in respect of the use of the word “torture”, TVNZ considered that the assertion was well founded. It referred again to the U.S State Department report, as well as the 2004 EU Regular report, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office report, and Amnesty International’s 2005 report on Turkey, all of which supported the assertion that torture had been practised in Turkey.

“Violent repression of the Kurds”

[23] The broadcaster did not accept the complainant’s argument that Turkish and Kurdish people were indistinguishable. It noted the US State Department’s 2005 report on Human Rights in Turkey, which stated that Turkish Kurds constituted a “large ethnic and linguistic group”. 

[24] TVNZ observed that the report also stated that people identifying as Kurdish in the public domain risked “censure, harassment, or prosecution”. While it acknowledged that Turkey was taking steps towards offering greater rights to the Kurds, it did not agree the Kurds enjoyed the same rights as all Turkish citizens. It noted the EU’s Regular Report on Turkey (2004), which described measures adopted in the area of cultural rights as representing “only a starting point as considerable restrictions remain”.

“So don’t hold your breath”

[25] TVNZ noted that this was a common figure of speech indicating that an event would not happen quickly. Noting that the EU had stated that accession could not take place until 2014, it considered that this was an accurate description of the situation.

“Poorish Muslim” country

[26] TVNZ considered that this description of Turkey was accurate, and noted the EU description of Turkey as a “lower middle income country”. TVNZ stated that a US State Department Country Background Note from September 2005 described the Turkish population as 99% Muslim. It wrote that although Turkey was a secular state, it was also a Muslim country.

[27] TVNZ considered that no breach of Standard 4 had occurred in the item. It asserted that the report from London balanced the filmed report from Turkey which had immediately preceded it.

[28] In respect of Standard 5, TVNZ found that nothing in the item was factually inaccurate and accordingly it concluded that the standard was not breached. It also considered that the item fairly indicated where European concerns lay, and fairly represented Turkey’s internal problems. Accordingly, it considered that Standard 6 was not breached.

[29] In respect of guideline 6g, TVNZ believed that the item did not denigrate Turkish people or encourage discrimination against them. Further, it noted that if that was the perception of some viewers, guideline 6g subsection (i) allowed for the broadcast of factual material. Accordingly, it declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[30] Dissatisfied with the response from the broadcaster, Mr Kavvas referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He withdrew his complaint in respect of the statements “Turkish human rights haven’t been up to Europeans standards” and the use of the word “torture”. He did not specifically refer to his complaint about the phrase “so don’t hold your breath”.

[31] The complainant reiterated his concerns in respect of the other statements. He referred to a previous complaint he had made to TVNZ in respect of the promotion of the movie MidnightExpress as a “true story”. He considered that TVNZ was responsible for portraying the film as fact rather than fiction.

[32] Mr Kavvas did not accept the broadcaster’s assertion that the phrase “you’ve got the use of the death penalty” occurred in the past tense.  He noted that “you’ve” was an abbreviation of “you have” which, he stated, was in the present tense. He reiterated that Turkey had not administered the death penalty since 1988, and had removed capital punishment from its legislation in 2004.

[33] Responding to the broadcaster’s statement about “violent repression of the Kurds”, Mr Kavvas asserted that over 35,000 Turkish citizens had died as a result of acts by the PKK1 terrorist organisation. Mr Kavvas considered that this had occurred because rich nations supported such groups in order to destabilise the country.

1[The Kurdistan Workers Party (Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan)]

[34] Quoting Article 2 of the Turkish Constitution, Mr Kavvas reiterated that Turkey was a secular state and country. He compared the description of Turkey as a Muslim country to describing New Zealand as a “colony”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[35] TVNZ added nothing further in its response to the Authority. It submitted that in light of the balance complaint, the interview with the London correspondent should be viewed in the context of the item immediately preceding it.

Authority's Determination

[36] The members of the Authority have viewed a copy of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 4 (balance)

[37] The requirement for balance applies to items which deal with “controversial issues of public importance”. In the Authority’s view, the controversial issue of public importance discussed in the item was Turkey’s entry into the EU.

[38] The complainant’s concern about balance was that the correspondent referred to issues of human rights in Turkey without providing balancing material. However, the Authority observes that the item did not purport to take an in-depth look at the human rights situation in Turkey. Those issues were mentioned only as examples of the concerns held by other EU member states about Turkey’s entry into the EU.

[39] The Authority finds that the brief mention of human rights issues in Turkey, in the context of a discussion about Turkey’s entry to the EU, did not constitute a controversial issue of public importance requiring balance. Accordingly, the balance complaint is not upheld.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[40] The complainant has identified several alleged factual inaccuracies in the programme, all of which have been outlined in the summary of correspondence.

“…it is the Midnight Express factor. Remember the movie that made ‘Turkish prison’ a by-word for somewhere not nice to be?”  

[41] The Authority finds that this was clearly the correspondent’s opinion about the impression left by the movie Midnight Express. It was not presented as a statement of fact to which the accuracy standard applies. Accordingly, the Authority finds that Standard 5 was not breached in this respect.

 “Turkish human rights haven’t been up to European standards …You’ve got the use of the death penalty”

[42] In the Authority’s view, the correspondent’s statement was ambiguous.  On the one hand, it could be interpreted in the way alleged by Mr Kavvas, namely that Turkey still uses the death penalty.  On the other, it could be interpreted as meaning that the use of the death penalty in the past by Turkey was one of the human rights issues of concern to the EU.

[43] In light of the statement’s ambiguity, the Authority finds that this statement cannot be said to be inaccurate. Accordingly, it declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

“Violent repression of the Kurds”  

[44] The correspondent referred to the “violent repression of the Kurds” as one of a number of concerns held by the EU which were adversely affecting Turkey’s progression into membership. In this respect, the correspondent did not state as a fact that the Kurds had been repressed – only that this was the perception held by the EU. TVNZ has provided the Authority with passages from the EU’s Regular Report on Turkey (2004) which confirm that the treatment of Kurdish people is a matter of concern for the EU. Accordingly, the Authority finds that Standard 5 was not breached in relation to this statement.

“So don’t hold your breath”

[45] The Authority finds that this was not a statement of fact to which Standard 5 applies. Rather, it was simply a comment by the correspondent about the length of time it would take for Turkey to enter the EU. The Authority declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

“Poorish Muslim” country

[46] The Authority finds that it was not inaccurate to describe Turkey as a “poorish Muslim” country. It considers that viewers would have understood the correspondent’s intended meaning – that the majority of Turkish citizens are followers of the Muslim faith. In the Authority’s view, describing the country in this manner did not amount to a statement of fact that Turkey’s government is non-secular. As such, the Authority does not uphold this part of the complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[47] Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal justly and fairly with “any person or organisation taking part or referred to”. TVNZ assessed this part of the complaint with reference to guideline 6g which prohibits denigration of identifiable sections of the community.

[48] The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as meaning a blackening of the reputation of a class of people (see for example decisions 1994-062 and 2004-129). It is also well established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act, a high threshold is required before the Authority will find that a broadcast encourages denigration to such an extent that it amounts to a breach of guideline 6g (see for example Decision No No 2004-001).

[49] In this case, the Authority finds that the threshold for denigration was not met. The Authority agrees with TVNZ that the programme fairly represented Turkey’s progress into the EU, and the concerns of other member states. It finds nothing in the item which could be said to denigrate Turkish people.

[50] Further, the Authority has found no inaccuracies in the item which could be said to be unfair, and it has declined to uphold the balance complaint. Accordingly, the Authority does not uphold the Standard 6 complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
22 February 2006


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

  1. Mr Kavvas’ formal complaint to TVNZ – 17 October 2005
  2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 9 November 2005
  3. Mr Kavvas’ referral to the Authority – 27 November 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 5 December 2005