BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Newman and The Radio Network Ltd - 2004-195

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • A Newman
Number
2004-195
Programme
Newstalk ZB Nelson
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Nelson Newstalk ZB interview following local body elections – Mayor of Nelson commented on his lessened majority – stated that Grey Power had been “hijacked” by members of his opponent’s team – allegedly unbalanced, unfair, inaccurate and encouraged denigration

Findings
Principle 4 (balance) – no controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

Principle 5 (fairness) – no persons treated unfairly – not upheld

Principle 6 (accuracy) – expression of opinion – standard does not apply – not upheld

Principle 7 (social responsibility) and Guideline 7a (denigration) – expression of opinion – standard does not apply – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] A broadcast on Nelson Newstalk ZB on 11 October 2004 at around 11.30am featured an interview with the winning Mayors of Nelson (Paul Matheson) and Tasman (John Hurley). The interview took place on the Monday following the local body elections in Nelson.

[2] During the interview Paul Matheson was asked if he was surprised that he had not won by a greater majority. He replied that he was very surprised, and said that the first reason was probably the low voter turnout. Mr Matheson went on to say:

Secondly I think the Grey Power organisation worked very hard to ensure that any blame for rates etc landed fair and square on my head.

[3] Mr Matheson added that Nelson Grey Power was “hijacked” by Gary Watson (his major opponent) and his team, and proceeded to name members of the executive committee who he believed were involved. This included the complainant, who was the campaign manager for Gary Watson. Mr Matheson went on to say of those people:

They hijacked the executive of Grey Power some time ago and they’ve been hiding underneath that, deliberately running a campaign against the Nelson City Council and me.

Complaint

[4] A Newman complained to The Radio Network (TRN), the broadcaster, that Mr Matheson had made “baseless and denigrating claims about [Nelson Grey Power] and its executive committee without any supporting or corroborating facts to substantiate those allegations”.

[5] Mr Newman stated that the item was unbalanced because he had not been given any opportunity to present an opposing viewpoint or rebut the allegations against him. He argued that the period of current interest had now passed, and any commentary “would have lost all currency in relation to the original allegations”. He felt there had been a breach of Principle 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[6] The complainant also felt that Principle 5 (fairness) had been breached because the allegations were “unjust and unfair in that no attempt was made to provide or adduce any evidence to substantiate [them]”.

[7] Furthermore, Mr Newman asserted that there had been a breach of Principle 6 (accuracy) because the allegations were untrue and therefore inaccurate. He also alleged a breach of Principle 7 (social responsibility) in that the broadcast had denigrated the “political positions and beliefs involved in the Grey Power promotion of a rates cap covenant during the recent local body elections”.

Principles

[8] TRN assessed the complaint under Principles 4, 5, 6 and 7 and Guidelines 6c and 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

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 5
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.

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.

Guideline 6c

Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, shall be clearly distinguished.

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.

Guideline 7a

Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual; or

ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or

iii) by way of legitimate humour or satire.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9] In its response to the complainant, TRN first considered Principle 4 (balance). It stated that the time limit of the “short breakout segment” used by the radio station only made it possible to interview the winning mayors. It did not allow for all other candidates to be interviewed. The broadcaster asserted that Mr Matheson’s comments were:

…based on his personal knowledge of the workings of the Grey Power organisation (he is an executive member) and his knowledge that you as his opponent’s campaign manager and others were closely involved with Mr Watson.

[10] The broadcaster argued that it was a “known fact” that Grey Power had played a major part in the campaign, and noted that Mr Matheson’s comments had also been published in a Nelson newspaper on the same day.

[11] TRN maintained that this segment, for the winners of the mayoral race, did not need to be balanced by comment from the losers of the election, because “much of the segment was based on the elected Mayor’s future plans”. TRN declined to uphold the complaint under Principle 4 (balance).

[12] In declining to uphold the complaint as a breach of Principle 5 (fairness), the broadcaster stated that “in the cauldron of political debate, strong words and beliefs are delivered”. Mr Matheson, it said, had been prepared to state his views on what had caused his lessened majority and, it added:

Mr Matheson merely named Grey Power members strongly involved in their rates policy against the incumbent Nelson City Council.

[13] TRN referred to Guideline 6c in considering whether the broadcast had contravened Principle 6 (accuracy). It stated that Mr Matheson had clearly been offering his opinion on factors that affected the mayoral race and therefore it found there had been no breach of Principle 6.

[14] The broadcaster also dismissed the allegation that there had been a breach of Principle 7 (social responsibility). The broadcast was not an attempt at denigration, it said, rather Mr Matheson was opining on “the impact of the actions of certain Grey Power members on the final result”.

Referral to the Authority

[15] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Newman referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[16] The complainant denied TRN’s assertion that Mr Matheson’s comments were made “in the heat or cauldron of political debate”. Rather, he argued, they were made “in the cold hard light of day in a period subsequent to the election as deliberate accusations”.

[17] Mr Newman maintained that the allegations against himself and others had called into question their good name and reputation. In making accusations about “hijacking”, he said, Mr Matheson was:

…at worst alleging criminal conduct of force against the will of an individual or at best some nefarious capturing and use of an organisation against its better interests.

[18] The complainant asserted that Mr Matheson should have provided “some factual basis” for the allegations. Although the radio station might have been
”caught unaware” by the comments, he said, it should have sought some balancing comment within a reasonable timeframe.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[19] TRN added nothing further to its original reply to the complainant.

Authority's Determination

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

Balance

[21] Principle 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice requires that balance be provided only when “controversial issues of public importance” are discussed. The Authority does not consider that the item complained of in the present case discussed such an issue.

[22] Mr Matheson’s opinion about what had caused his reduced majority was, at the most, a peripheral issue dealt with during a discussion about the Mayor’s future plans for the electorate. Given that the elections had already taken place and the reasons for the narrow margin were no longer of any immediate consequence, the Authority does not believe that the Mayor’s opinion on the subject could be described as a “controversial issue of public importance”.

[23] Accordingly, the Authority considers that the requirement of balance in Principle 4 does not apply to this item, and thus this aspect of the complaint is not upheld.

Accuracy

[24] Principle 6 provides that broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact when presenting news and current affairs programmes. While the Authority agrees that this broadcast could fairly be described as a “current affairs” programme, it does not consider that Mr Matheson’s remarks were “points of fact”.

[25] In the Authority’s view, Mr Matheson was presenting his own opinion about the reasons for the particular outcome of the mayoral election, as opposed to statements of fact. Therefore the requirement for accuracy does not apply in this case, and this aspect of the complaint is not upheld.

Social Responsibility

[26] The complainant has alleged that Mr Matheson’s remarks were such that they encouraged denigration of Grey Power members, and therefore constituted a breach of Principle 7 and Guideline 7a.

[27] The Authority observes that Guideline 7a does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is “a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion” (Guideline 7(a)(ii)). As outlined above, the Authority considers that the remarks were the genuine expression of Mr Matheson’s opinion and so fall within the exception provided by the Guideline.

[28] In any event, the Authority does not consider that the comments, while mildly critical of Grey Power, even approached the high threshold for denigration required by the standard.

[29] The Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Fairness

[30] In determining whether there has been a breach of Principle 5, the Authority must assess whether any person taking part or referred to in the broadcast was treated unjustly or unfairly.

[31] In the Authority’s view, the complainant’s claims that the comments amounted to allegations of “criminal conduct” are unwarranted. It finds that Mr Matheson was simply stating his views on what had caused his lessened majority, and in doing so he named Grey Power members who held strong opinions on the Nelson City Council rates policy.

[32] The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that it was well known that Grey Power had played a major part in the Nelson mayoral campaign. It notes that Mr Matheson’s comments were based on personal knowledge, as he was a member of the Grey Power executive at the time. While he gave a colourful and exaggerated description for what had happened to his majority, the Authority finds that his comments were acceptable in the context of robust political debate.

[33] The Authority does not consider that the complainant or any other persons referred to in this broadcast were treated unfairly, and declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
21 December 2004

Appendix

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

  1. A Newman’s formal complaint – 20 October 2004
  2. TRN’s decision on the formal complaint – 5 November 2004
  3. Mr Newman’s referral to the Authority – 11 November 2004
  4. TRN’s response to the Authority – 18 November 2004