BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

O'Connor and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-139

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Elizabeth O'Connor
Number
2014-139
Programme
Vote 2014
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

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

The election coverage programme Vote 2014 included footage of Te Ururoa Flavell speaking to Māori Party supporters in te reo Māori. One of the presenters said, '[O]bviously as he's speaking in Māori, in te reo, and the vast majority of us aren't going to understand that... let's go back to David Cunliffe...' and the broadcast crossed to Mr Cunliffe's speech. The Authority declined to uphold a complaint that the comment was racist and unfair. Although the comment was disrespectful and dismissive of the fact that te reo Māori is an official language of New Zealand, it did not reach the high threshold necessary to encourage discrimination or denigration, and was not unfair to Mr Flavell, especially in the context of an important political event.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration, Fairness


Introduction

[1]  The election coverage programme Vote 2014 included footage of Te Ururoa Flavell speaking to Māori Party supporters in te reo Māori. One of the presenters said, 'I think with the greatest of respect, obviously as he's speaking in Māori, in te reo, and the vast majority of us aren't going to understand that... let's go back to David Cunliffe...' and the broadcast crossed to Mr Cunliffe, the then-Labour Party leader.

[2]  Elizabeth O'Connor complained that the presenter's comment was racist and unfair as another political leader would not have been treated the same way.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration and fairness standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The programme was broadcast on TV ONE on 20 September 2014. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the segment complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Māori or speakers of te reo Māori as a section of the community?

[5]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

[6]  The term 'denigration' has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people.1 'Discrimination' has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment.2 It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard.3

[7]  Although Ms O'Connor considered that the comment was 'racist and ignorant' and contrary to the Treaty of Waitangi, she recognised that the broadcast did not discriminate against, or denigrate, Māori or speakers of te reo Māori 'according to the terms of the BSA', as the presenter did not portray them as 'inherently inferior' or 'in a highly offensive way'.

[8]  TVNZ said that 'the presenter's comment was not meant to indicate that Mr Flavell's speech was not important, rather that a smaller proportion of people would understand it'. It conceded that the 'sentiment was perhaps not expressed as elegantly as it could have been'.

[9]  We agree with Ms O'Connor that the presenter's comment was disrespectful and reflected an outmoded view of te reo Māori, which is an official language of New Zealand. The dismissive nature of the comment would have been objectionable and offensive to some viewers. However, the comment did not carry the level of invective or reach the high threshold necessary to find a breach of Standard 7, particularly in the context of a live broadcast covering an important political event. The coverage regularly cut from one political party leader to the next, and understandably coverage was particularly focused on the major political parties.

[10]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 7.

Was any individual or organisation taking part or referred to in the broadcast treated unfairly?

[11]  The fairness standard (Standard 6) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.4

[12]  Ms O'Connor argued that the leader of another political party would not have been treated as Mr Flavell was treated, which was unfair. TVNZ responded that 'this was a time of night when many important speeches were being made simultaneously and a number of people's speeches were shortened and cut off'.

[13]  The Authority has consistently recognised that the threshold for unfairness is higher for politicians and public figures.5 While we accept the comment showed disrespect for Mr Flavell and te reo Māori, he was not criticised or otherwise treated unfairly. This was high-intensity election coverage subject to live, on-the-spot editorial discretion. At numerous instances the coverage cut away from one political party leader to the next, and understandably coverage was particularly focused on the major political parties.

[14]  Accordingly we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 6.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
4 March 2015

 

Appendix

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

1      Elizabeth O'Connor's formal complaint – 22 September 2014
2      TVNZ's response to the complaint – 20 October 2014
3      Ms O'Connor's referral to the Authority – 10 November 2014
4      TVNZ's response to the Authority – 20 January 2015

 

 


1 See, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks, Decision No. 2006-030

2 For example, Teoh and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-091

3 E.g. McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network, Decision No. 2002-152

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

5 For example, Kiro and RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-108