Parlane and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2018-072 (14 November 2018)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Paula Rose
- Wendy Palmer
- Susie Staley
- James Parlane
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an interview between Checkpoint’s John Campbell and former United States television personality, Matt Lauer, who at the time was involved in controversy regarding public access to his New Zealand property. The complainant alleged that Mr Campbell unfairly emphasised the New Zealand Overseas Investment Office’s (OIO) reassessment of Mr Lauer under its ‘good character test’, and later made false allegations about who had initially raised this topic. The Authority found that the circumstances of the OIO’s assessment were directly relevant to the discussion and that this was raised again later in the interview by Mr Lauer himself. Mr Lauer was given ample opportunity during the interview to present his perspective on his treatment by New Zealand media and the issue of foreign land ownership and public access.
Not Upheld: Accuracy, Fairness, Balance, Good Taste and Decency
 On 24 July 2018, Checkpoint presenter John Campbell introduced an interview with former United States (US) television personality, Matt Lauer, as follows:
When Matt Lauer was fired by NBC following sexual misconduct allegations, the OIO [Overseas Investment Office] reassessed him under their ‘good character test’ and determined there was insufficient evidence to take proceedings against him…
But he has found himself at the centre of an increasingly high volume debate about access to this special place [a New Zealand farming property] and the larger issues around foreign ownership of land like this, even as leaseholders.
 The issue was later indirectly referred to in the interview by Mr Lauer, when he said:
…I believe the groups that are behind this are, in some ways, unfortunately taking advantage of some difficult times I’ve been through over the past six months and I think they see me as an easy mark…
 The pair then had the following exchange:
Mr Campbell: It could also be possible that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the circumstances of your dismissal from NBC.
Mr Lauer: …I think that most of the articles I’ve read, John, and the comments that I’ve heard on radio programmes, they make very frequent reference to that, because they think… that New Zealanders are going to find some outrage there. And I will tell people that they don’t know the circumstances of that situation… and I’m not at liberty to talk nor would I want to talk about that –
Mr Campbell: Let’s talk about the land –
Mr Lauer: – yeah, that’s what I want to talk about –
Mr Campbell: Okay, well you raised the circumstances of your departure from NBC.
Mr Lauer: But I think this is why this fight has been chosen now.
Mr Campbell: Isn’t it possible that it was chosen because people love this land?
 Mr Campbell and Mr Lauer then went on to discuss the process that had been in place for members of the public to access Mr Lauer’s property.
The complaint and the broadcaster’s response
 James Parlane complained that Mr Campbell placed unfair emphasis on Mr Lauer’s dismissal from US television network, NBC, and the assessment of his character by the New Zealand Overseas Investment Office (OIO). He also complained that Mr Campbell later claimed that the issue had been brought up by Mr Lauer himself, which was inaccurate. Overall, Mr Parlane’s view was that Mr Campbell applied unfair pressure on Mr Lauer throughout the interview, continuing to ‘drill’ him about public access to his property despite Mr Lauer outlining that the public still had reasonable access.
 In its response to the complaint, RNZ said that Mr Campbell’s reference to Mr Lauer’s alleged misconduct was brief in the context of the overall interview (which was over 20 minutes long). Mr Lauer was given the opportunity to speak directly on this topic, which was important given the wide media coverage and its relevance to the overall discussion.
The relevant standards
 It appears to us that Mr Parlane is primarily concerned about the accuracy of Mr Campbell’s statement, regarding who raised the topic of Mr Lauer’s departure from NBC, and the alleged unfair treatment of Mr Lauer during the interview. We have therefore focused our decision on these standards and deal with the remaining issues briefly at paragraph  below.
 We first look at the accuracy standard (Standard 9), which 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 fairness standard (Standard 11) requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a broadcast.
 When we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we first look at the important right to freedom of expression, both of broadcasters to impart, and audiences to receive, ideas and information. Our task is to weigh that right against the harm alleged to have been caused by the broadcast.
 We all agreed this interview had value. It provided listeners with an opportunity to hear Mr Lauer’s perspective on a topic of public importance, namely public access to land purchased by a foreign buyer. The OIO’s application process, and its assessment of Mr Lauer’s character, was directly relevant to this topic.
 While Mr Campbell referred to the OIO’s reassessment of Mr Lauer in the introduction to the interview, he was correct to say that Mr Lauer himself raised the topic again during the interview, as can be seen at paragraph  and during the exchange set out at paragraph . As this reference was correct, we find no breach of the accuracy standard.
 We were also satisfied that Mr Lauer was treated fairly throughout the interview. While Mr Campbell’s questioning was assertive and challenging, Mr Lauer was given ample opportunity throughout the 21-minute interview to respond to questions and to put his point of view to listeners. Mr Campbell’s treatment of Mr Lauer was professional and respectful, and at no times did his questioning stray into personal abuse.
 Overall, we were satisfied that this was an accurate and fair interview, providing Mr Lauer with ample opportunity to present his point of view on the issue of foreign land ownership and public access and, briefly, his treatment by New Zealand media on the issue of the OIO reassessment.
 In these circumstances, we did not agree that the harm alleged to have been caused by the broadcast outweighed the important right to freedom of expression, and we therefore do not uphold the complaint.
 We briefly address the remaining standards raised by Mr Parlane below:
- Balance: As noted above Mr Lauer was provided with a reasonable opportunity to put forward his perspective during the interview, so there were no issues under this standard.
- Good Taste and Decency: Mr Parlane made no submissions in relation to this standard. There was no content during this interview that might be considered unduly offensive or contrary to standards of good taste and decency.
 We therefore do not uphold the remaining aspects of Mr Parlane’s complaint.
 In his referral to the Authority, Mr Parlane also referred to the programme information, violence, law and order, discrimination and denigration and privacy standards. As these were not raised either explicitly or impliedly in his original complaint to the broadcaster, we are not able to consider them at this stage of the complaints process.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
14 November 2018
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 James Parlane’s formal complaint – 26 July 2018
2 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 24 August 2018
3 Mr Parlane’s referral to the Authority – 27 August 2018
4 RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 4 September 2018