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Lal and Radio Tarana and Apna Networks Ltd - 2011-044

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainants
  • Jiten Lal
  • Radio Tarana
Number
2011-044
Broadcaster
Apna Networks Ltd
Channel/Station
Apna 990

Complaints under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
APNA 990 – allegedly broadcast statement that eight Fijian nationals had died in Christchurch earthquake – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, accuracy, and responsible programming standards

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – not news, current affairs or factual programming – clearly caller’s opinion rather than statement of fact – Apna broadcast a follow-up statement – not upheld

Standard 8 (responsible programming) – caller’s comment was opinion – listeners should have been aware that Apna is a small-scale community radio station and could have sought up-to-date information about the earthquake from larger media outlets – not upheld

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – standard not applicable – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]  During a “radio-thon” to raise money for recovery efforts following the Christchurch earthquake, broadcast between 8am on 23 February 2011 and 12pm on 24 February 2011, three APNA 990 hosts spoke to a caller at approximately 8.55pm on 23 February. The caller claimed to be a doctor at a Wellington hospital. The hosts and the caller had the following exchange (in English):

Announcer 2:    Ahh Doctor as you are based in Wellington hospital, have you … I mean have patients
                        been transferred to Wellington hospital from Christchurch?

Caller:               We have got couple of 100 patients from there and I’m flying out there tomorrow.

Announcer 2:    What sort of injuries the patients have sustained?

Caller:               Major.

Announcer 2:     Such as?

Caller:               Near to death.

Announcer 1:     Also Doctor can we know is there any of those victims that has come in actually from
                        Fiji?

Caller:               Yes there’s about eight of them from Fiji and two of them have died.

Announcer 3:     That’s bad.

Announcer 1:     But you wouldn’t have a clue as to who those dead  people are or what the severe [sic]
                        was?

Caller:               Ahh the charges to this Christchurch.

Announcer 1:     Christchurch yeah.

Caller:               Um we can’t name people yet.

Announcer 1:     What about those 8 victims from Fiji who are seriously injured, are they recovering well or
                        are they stable or are they still in a critical condition?

Caller:               They are in very critical conditions.

[2]  At approximately 2.30pm on 24 February 2011, an APNA host broadcast the following statement (in Hindi) between scheduled programmes:

Earlier the information that we have provided that the death of eight Fijians during the Christchurch earthquake, the information was provided by a Wellington-based doctor, this information is currently being investigated. Soon as we get any confirmation on this information we will provide it to you at the earliest. Our apologies for any inconvenience caused from this information.

Complaints

[3]  Jiten Lal and Radio Tarana made formal complaints to Apna Networks Ltd alleging that the radio-thon breached standards relating to good taste and decency, accuracy and responsible programming.

Jiten Lal’s complaint

[4]  Mr Lal maintained that APNA 990 had broadcast information that eight Fijian nationals had died in the earthquake, which had caused panic, stress, alarm and frustration for people who could not get in contact with their friends and family following the earthquake. He said that this information later proved to be false, and considered that the station should not have broadcast unsubstantiated information without referencing its source. Mr Lal argued that the station had broadcast this information to encourage people to make donations. Mr Lal maintained that Standards 5 and 8 had been breached.

Radio Tarana’s complaint

[5]  Radio Tarana argued that the broadcast of the information that eight Fijians had died “was not correct and created mass panic” among the Fijian community in New Zealand and, it asserted, also in Fiji, as the information was reported in international media. It said that the Wellington District Health Board confirmed that the information was incorrect, but contended that Apna continued to broadcast the information. Radio Tarana argued that the broadcast breached Standards 1, 5 and 8.

Standards

[6]  The complainants nominated Standards 1, 5 and 8 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice in their complaints. Guidelines 5a to 5c, and 8e are also relevant. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 5 Accuracy

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/or
  • does not mislead.

Guidelines

5a   The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.

5b   Talkback radio will not usually be subject to the accuracy standard, except where the presenter makes an unqualified statement of fact.

5c   In the event that a material error of fact has occurred, broadcasters should correct it at the earliest appropriate opportunity.

Standard 8 Responsible Programming

Broadcasters should ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible.

Guideline 8e

Programmes should not be presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainants

[7]  At the outset, Apna maintained that no “news” broadcasts had reported that eight Fijians had died. It said that late in the evening of 23 February, “a caller claiming to be a Wellington-based doctor gave information that some Fijians were brought to Wellington hospital and [had] died”. It noted that this broadcast was live, so the announcers had little control over what was said. Apna said that the information was passed onto its news team the next morning, and that, “The news team acted responsibly and started a verification process and this item did not make it to our news bulletin.”

[8]  Apna considered that Standard 1 dealt with language and context, and was of the view that “since the information was given out by a caller”, this standard was not breached.

[9]  With regard to accuracy, Apna argued that, while “the information given may not have had any facts”, it was given by a caller claiming to be a doctor, and was not broadcast as news. It maintained that “This information was later verified by our news team, and the fact that this information did not make a news item of the day... shows that we took all relevant measures in checking the accuracy of the information.” It was adamant that “this did not qualify as a news item for the next day during the hourly news segment”. Apna therefore declined to uphold the complaints under Standard 5.

[10]  Apna acknowledged that the information could have caused some panic, but maintained that “the manner in which this information was given on air was beyond our control”, and that it “did the responsible thing and verified the information before formalising it as a full news bulletin”, as well as broadcasting an apology. It said that although the information was repeated on 24 February, it was made clear that the information was provided by a caller claiming to be a doctor, and that the information was yet to be verified.

Referrals to the Authority

[11]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Lal and Radio Tarana referred their complaints to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Mr Lal’s referral

[12]  Mr Lal noted that the station still broadcast the information, in “news form or otherwise”, which resulted in “mass panic”. He argued that the broadcast also breached Standard 1 because the broadcaster did not observe standards of good taste and decency, and Standard 4 (controversial issues) because the station did not verify the information with appropriate authorities such as police, civil defence, or Wellington hospital.

Radio Tarana’s referral

[13]  Radio Tarana maintained that the information that eight Fijian nationals had died was repeated throughout Apna’s programming, without verifying the source of the information, and argued that Apna had acknowledged this when it noted that the information was re-broadcast on 24 February. Radio Tarana said that it “stood by [its] complaint that [the information] was broadcast in the form of information on air (news or otherwise)”. It asserted that the information was broadcast as part of a news item, and that Apna had passed on the information to other media.

[14]  The complainant considered that Apna’s response implied that because the hosts were busy, they were unable to verify the caller’s credentials, and that they had no control over what was said. It argued that, if this was the case, the station should not have re-broadcast the caller’s information.

[15]  Radio Tarana maintained that Standards 1, 5 and 8 had been breached. It questioned why an apology was not broadcast on the day that the Wellington DHB formally announced that the information was false.

[16]  The complainant also considered that Standard 4 had been breached because Apna did not contact the relevant authorities or the Wellington DHB for their perspectives.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[17]  Apna maintained that the apology was broadcast during its 3pm to 6pm show on 24 February. It noted that apart from the two complaints from Mr Lal and Radio Tarana, no other concerns had been raised about the broadcasts.

Authority’s Determination

[18]  The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the hosts’ exchange with the caller, and have read transcripts of two other recordings provided by the broadcaster, as well as the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Preliminary Matter

[19]  In their referrals, Mr Lal raised Standards 1 and 4, and Radio Tarana raised Standard 4, in addition to the standards nominated in their original complaints. The Authority’s task is to review the broadcaster’s decision. In our view, the complainants did not raise those standards, either explicitly or implicitly in their original complaints, such that Apna should have addressed them in its formal response. Accordingly, we have no jurisdiction to consider those aspects of the complainants’ referrals at this stage.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[20]  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.

[21]  On this occasion, the broadcast subject to complaint was a “radio-thon” which aimed to raise money for the Christchurch earthquake recovery, by inviting listeners to phone in and make a donation. Apna maintained that the radio-thon ran from 8am on 23 February, to midday on 24 February. With regard to whether the information was repeated during a news bulletin, Apna maintains that it was not, and we have not been provided with any evidence to the contrary. The complainants’ concern appears to be that it was broadcast “in the form of information on air”, whether or not it was part of a news bulletin.

[22]  In our view, the format of the radio-thon was similar to talkback radio. In this respect, we note that guideline 5b to Standard 5 states that talkback radio will not usually be subject to the accuracy standard, except where the presenter makes an unqualified statement of fact. In this instance, we consider that during the original broadcast on 23 February, the hosts did not state as fact that eight Fijians had died.

[23]  Rather, it was a caller who said that “there’s about eight of them from Fiji and two of them have died”. We are satisfied that the caller’s remarks about Fijian nationals involved in the earthquake were opinion and commentary, rather than statements of fact. Statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion are exempt from accuracy under guideline 5a.

[24]  Furthermore, Apna broadcast a follow-up statement the following day, informing listeners that the information provided by the caller was being investigated and was yet to be confirmed. It was clearly framed as the opinion of the caller, rather than as a statement of fact that eight Fijians had died.

[25]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaints that Standard 5 was breached.

Standard 8 (responsible programming)

[26]  Standard 8 requires broadcasters to ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible. Guideline 8e states that programmes should not be presented in such a way as to cause panic, unwarranted alarm, or undue distress.

[27]  In our view, listeners should have been aware that Apna was broadcasting a radio-thon from a small-scale, localised community radio station, and that people phoning in to make donations were not necessarily giving reliable information about the earthquake. The broadcast took place the day following the earthquake, and listeners could have accessed up-to-date information about its effects from other media outlets. For these reasons, we do not consider that the programme, in which the Apna hosts let callers on air during the radio-thon, was presented in a way that was likely to cause panic or distress.

[28]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 8 complaints.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[29]  The Authority has previously stated that standards relating to good taste and decency are primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language (e.g. Yeoman and TVNZ1). In our view, Radio Tarana’s concerns do not fall within any of these categories. However, the Authority has said that it will also consider Standard 1 in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.2

[30]  For the reasons outlined above in paragraph [27], and taking into account the context of the broadcast, we do not consider that the broadcast threatened current norms of good taste and decency in breach of Standard 1. We therefore decline to uphold this part of Radio Tarana’s complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
9 August 2011

Appendix

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

Jiten Lal’s complaint

1                  Jiten Lal’s formal complaint – 1 March 2011

2                 Apna’s response to the complaint – 25 March 2011

3                 Mr Lal’s referral to the Authority – 13 April 2011

4                 Apna’s response to the Authority – 12 May 2011

Radio Tarana’s complaint

1                  Radio Tarana’s formal complaint – 28 February 2011

2                 Apna’s response to the complaint – 25 March 2011

3                 Radio Tarana’s referral to the Authority – 6 April 2011

4                 Apna’s response to the Authority – 10 May 2011


1Decision No. 2008-087

2Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency as a Broadcasting Standard (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)