BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Laven and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2015-076 (1 March 2016)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Hans Laven
Number
2015-076
Programme
Morning Report
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National
Standards Breached

Summary

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

Morning Report contained two items about the Government’s proposal for a specific criminal charge for family violence. A number of family violence experts were interviewed, and the introduction to one of the items stated that ‘14 women, six men and 10 children’ are killed by family violence annually. The Authority upheld a complaint that this statistic was inaccurate because the broadcaster’s source was significantly outdated, and it was part of the introduction which framed the discussion. However, the Authority did not uphold the aspect of the accuracy complaint that the items were misleading because they implied that men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators and women almost always victims of family violence. Additionally, the gender breakdown of victims and perpetrators of family violence was not the focus of the discussion in the items and so did not require the presentation of alternative views.

Upheld: Accuracy

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues

No Order


Introduction

[1]  Morning Report contained two items about the Government’s proposal for a specific criminal charge for family violence. The first item featured interviews with a (female) victim of family violence, a lawyer and anti-family violence advocate, the President of the Police Association and the Chief Executive of the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges. The second item featured an interview with the former Chief Family Court Judge and was introduced as ‘14 women, six men and 10 children are killed by a member of their family every year on average’.

[2]  Hans Laven complained that the statistic quoted was inaccurate, as he alleged 10 men were killed by domestic violence annually. He argued that this contributed to a general imbalance in the items, and that the ‘interviewees used... were a highly unbalanced selection representing only the perspectives of feminists and female victims of domestic violence with no opportunity offered to any spokesperson for the overwhelming majority of those for whom rights and fairness are likely to be eroded by the law changes proposed’. Mr Laven represents the ‘Ministry for Men, a community group because successive governments have neglected the voice and welfare of [New Zealand] men’.

[3]  Mr Laven also complained that the allegedly inaccurate statistic was quoted on RNZ's website; however, the Authority does not have jurisdiction to consider this kind of internet material.

[4]  The issue therefore is whether the Morning Report broadcast breached the accuracy and controversial issues standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The items were broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 3 August 2015. The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[6]  The accuracy standard (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. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.1

[7]  Mr Laven argued that the statistic citing the numbers of men and women killed by domestic violence was incorrect, as actually there were ‘13 women, 10 men and 11 children said to have been killed annually’. Mr Laven considered the inaccurate statistic was misleading because it suggested that women are more often the victim and men more often the perpetrators of domestic violence, when men are equally likely to be victimised by domestic violence. He cited the Family Violence Death Review Committee as his source. He said that such inaccuracies ‘support a long history of false feminist propaganda that has led much of the public to believe that domestic violence is almost totally committed by men and suffered by women’.

[8]  RNZ argued that the figures were ‘disputed’, and also said that the alleged discrepancy in the figures would not have altered listeners’ understanding of the thrust of both items, namely that a new charge of family violence was being proposed by Government. On the Authority’s request, RNZ subsequently provided us with its source for the statistics quoted, which was an article in a Ministry of Social Development publication from December 2007.2

[9]  The first question for us is whether the statistics as quoted amounted to a ‘material point of fact’ to which the accuracy standard applied. We think that they were material. The statistics were used to introduce the second Morning Report item and thus helped to frame the discussion which followed. We think that when statistics are highlighted in this way audience members are likely to take note, so it is important to ensure that the figures used are correct.

[10]  The next question then is whether the statistics were inaccurate. We recognise that statistics in relation to violence or abuse are dependent on cases being reported, and as such are not definitive and may be disputed.3 The Family Violence Death Review Committee Annual Report itself points out that ‘Varying definitions of family violence are used by different agencies throughout the social sector. Furthermore, varying definitions of what constitutes a family violence death create differences in the data produced by the Committee and agencies such as New Zealand Police [and] the Ministry of Social Development’.4

[11]  Having said that, there must be some responsibility on broadcasters to ensure that the statistics they do use come from a credible source and are up-to-date. In our view RNZ ought to have recognised that the 2007 statistics were unlikely to be accurate at the time of the broadcast in August 2015. The statistics referred to us by Mr Laven clearly differ from those used in the item. The figures he provided are cited online and relatively readily accessible, for example on the website for the campaign, ‘It’s not ok’,5 which sourced them from the 2014 Family Violence Death Review Committee Report (also referred to in Mr Laven’s complaint).6 We therefore are satisfied that the figures quoted in the broadcast were inaccurate.

[12]  For the same reasons, we do not consider that RNZ’s reliance on such outdated statistics amounted to reasonable efforts to ensure the item was accurate. We also note that the complainant attempted several times to engage with the broadcaster informally to correct the information, and these attempts appear to have been ignored.

[13]  Accordingly, we uphold this part of the accuracy complaint.

[14]  Although we have found that the item was inaccurate in relation to the statistics it referenced, we do not think the broadcast overall was misleading in the manner alleged by the complainant, that is, that it suggested men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators and women almost always the victims of family violence. As we have noted in our consideration of the balance standard below (see paragraph [20]), the majority of the discussion across both items did not reference either gender; there was only one reference to men as perpetrators over approximately 10 minutes. One interviewee also explicitly acknowledged that both men and women can be victims of family violence. We therefore disagree that listeners would have been led to believe that men are always the perpetrators of such violence.

Did the items discuss a controversial issue of public importance which required the presentation of alternative viewpoints?

[15]  The balance standard (Standard 4) 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. The standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.7

[16]  Mr Laven argued that ‘[p]roposed changes to family violence laws are controversial and clearly will be of major significance to men who will be the gender that is overwhelmingly most often targeted by such laws, so deliberately leaving out the viewpoints of those whose rights will be most at risk was inexcusable’. He considered that the interviewees said ‘nothing... that would suggest that females might ever be perpetrators or males victims’ and that ‘no follow-up items have redressed this imbalance’.

[17]  RNZ argued that the interviewees ‘used gender-neutral terms... and [one] specifically acknowledged victims by referring to men and women’. It said that ‘the discussion was around the impact that a new criminal charge might have rather than an analysis of the gender or motives of those involved in incidents of domestic violence’.

[18]  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’.8

[19]  We acknowledge that gender is intrinsic to family violence issues, but we do not consider that the gender breakdown of victims and perpetrators of family violence was ‘discussed’ in these items. The items’ focus was the Government’s proposal for a specific criminal charge for family violence. The requirements of the standard mean that it was the discussion of this proposal which needed to be balanced, and not any incidental references to ‘men’ or ‘women’.9 Significant points of view on the proposal were presented, with the President of the Police Association disputing whether the change was necessary and explaining why he believed the current available charges were sufficient.

[20]  The majority of the discussion about family violence did not reference either gender; there was only one reference to men as perpetrators over approximately 10 minutes. One interviewee explicitly acknowledged that both men and women can be victims of family violence, saying, ‘What we actually have at the moment is women, and men, whose partners are appearing in court’ charged with assault.

[21]  As a result we do not uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Radio New Zealand Ltd of Morning Report on 3 August 2015 breached Standard 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[22]  Having upheld an aspect of the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. We do not intend to do so on this occasion as we are satisfied that publication of this decision is a sufficient remedy in the circumstances.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
1 March 2016

 

Appendix

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

1      Hans Laven’s formal complaint – 7 August 2015
2      RNZ’s response to the complaint – 3 September 2015
3      Mr Laven’s referral to the Authority – 15 September 2015
4      RNZ’s response to the Authority – 15 October 2015
5      RNZ’s response to the Authority’s request for further information – 29 January 2016
6      Mr Laven’s comments on RNZ’s further information – 31 January 2016

 

 


1Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036

2‘Campaigning to end family violence’, Rise (Ministry of Social Development, December 2007)

3 See, for example, Burrows and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2014-102 at [20]

4 Family Violence Deaths Review Committee, Fourth Annual Report: January 2013 to December 2013, at 29

5 http://www.areyouok.org.nz/family-violence/statistics/

6 Family Violence Death Review Committee (2014). Fourth Annual Report: January 2013 to December 2013. Wellington, Health Quality and Safety Commission: http://www.hqsc.govt.nz/our-programmes/mrc/fvdrc/publications-and-resources/publication/1600/

7 Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

8 For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)

9 See also Burrows and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2014-102