BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Lees and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-026

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Kenneth Lees
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sunday – interview with Frank Bainimarama – allegedly in breach of accuracy and fairness standards

Standard 6 (fairness) – Mr Bainimarama is a controversial political figure who should expect robust criticism – Mr Bainimarama dealt with fairly – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – complainant did not identify any statements of fact that were inaccurate or misleading – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   An episode of Sunday, broadcast on TV One at 8.30pm on Sunday 15 November 2010, featured an interview with Frank Bainimarama. The presenter introduced the item by saying:

When Commodore Frank Bainimarama expelled our High Commissioner from Fiji last week, it was just the latest in a string of tit-for-tat showdowns... He’s resisted being interviewed about the diplomatic stand-off until now. Tonight he discusses the delayed elections, the travel bans and why he kicked out our man in Suva.

[2]   The story was in two parts. The first part showed the interview with Mr Bainimarama answering questions about the ousting of New Zealand’s High Commissioner from Fiji and when he planned on holding democratic elections. The second part discussed the censorship of Fiji’s press and finished with Mr Bainimarama commenting on censorship and answering questions about running an illegal government.

[3]   During the interview, the reporter put a number of questions and statements to Mr Bainimarama including:

It’s hard to see how you perceive us as friends when you keep kicking us out.

Kicking out High Commissioners, police and defence attachés, journalists. Is that the answer?

Have you considered the tolls that political turmoil will inevitably have on trade and tourism here?

Why would you take such drastic steps without considering the economic consequences?

So you’re prepared to take on the economic consequences... and you’re prepared for tourists to no longer want to come?

To the rest of the world it could look like you’re committed to not restoring democracy.

You’re running an illegal government.

[4]   Mr Bainimarama responded to the reporter’s questions and maintained that New Zealand was trying to bully Fiji by imposing sanctions and travel bans and that he had sent our High Commissioners home as a message to “stop that”. He stated that he was intending to hold elections in December 2014, and that New Zealand should not interfere with Fiji’s sovereignty. He told the reporter that she needed to “think of what Fiji wants, not what New Zealand wants”.

[5]   With respect to the media, Mr Bainimarama said that only “irresponsible media” was censored, as it could create instability in the nation. He said that he needed to stay in power to change the things he wanted to change and to bring about reforms that were “very important for the people of Fiji”.


[6]   Kenneth Lees made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached broadcasting standards.

[6]   The complainant argued that the reporter’s “questioning was obviously skewed with the intent of castigating the Commodore, and in the fervour, ignoring his major commitment to establish a true democracy”.

[7]   Mr Lees considered that the reporter had failed to ask Mr Bainimarama about what he meant by “true democracy”, how he proposed to achieve it and what progress was being made. He contended that instead of criticism, the reporter and broadcaster should “accept the Commodore’s promise and his wisdom in shutting down all ill-informed comment likely to promote misguided unrest before his plans are finalized”.


[8]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 5 and 6 and guidelines 5a and 5c of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

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.


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

5c   News must be impartial.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   With respect to accuracy, TVNZ contended that the item was part of a current affairs programme which was considered to be distinct from a news bulletin where impartiality was required.

[10]   The broadcaster argued that it was “entirely appropriate that the Sunday reporter approached Commodore Bainimarama with a specific analysis of the situation in Fiji.” It considered that Mr Bainimarama had been given space in the item to answer the reporter’s questions in his own terms.

[11]   TVNZ concluded that the item was accurate and that it would not have misled viewers. It declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 5 had been breached.

[12]   Turning to fairness, the broadcaster argued that Mr Bainimarama was given “ample scope to give his opinion” and discuss his government’s perspective on the issues raised by the reporter. It contended that Mr Bainimarama was “well capable of articulating his government’s position”, and it declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6.

Referral to the Authority

[13]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Lees referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[14]   The members of the Authority have viewed 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.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[15]   The fairness standard states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

[16]   In Kiro and RadioWorks Ltd1, regarding a complaint that a radio host unfairly scrutinised the actions of a public figure, the Authority observed that the fairness standard:

... does not prevent criticism of public figures. Indeed, it is an essential element of free speech that even the most trenchant criticism of public figures be allowed. ...The question for the Authority is whether that criticism overstepped the boundaries of fairness, that is, whether it strayed into abusively personal territory.

[17]   Politicians, particularly those who have taken controversial or unpopular stances on a number of issues, must expect to face robust criticism. In this case, we consider that there is no basis for finding that Mr Bainimarama was dealt with unfairly by the broadcaster. On the contrary, the reporter’s questions were both fair and polite, and Mr Bainimarama was given ample opportunity to express his views on all the issues canvassed in the interview.

[18]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[19]   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.

[20]   While guideline 5c states that news must be impartial, we note that Sunday is not a news programme, but rather a current affairs programme. In any event, we do not consider that the reporter showed partiality or bias by questioning Mr Bainimarama in the way she did; it was a robust but polite exchange in which Mr Bainimarama was given every opportunity to express his views.

[21]   Further, we note that the complainant has not outlined any statements of fact he thinks are misleading or inaccurate. Accordingly, we have no basis on which to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 5.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
1 June 2010


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

1.          Kenneth Lees’ formal complaint – 17 November 2010

2.         TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 2 February 2010

3.         Mr Lees’ referral to the Authority – 22 February 2010

4.         TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 13 April 2010

1Decision No. 2008-108 at paragraph [78]