BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Phillips and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2005-033

  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Hilda Phillips
The Treaty Debate
Radio New Zealand Ltd
National Radio

The Chair, Joanne Morris, declared a conflict of interest and did not take part in the determination of this complaint.

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Treaty Debate – three broadcasts over three weeks – covered various viewpoints on The Treaty of Waitangi and Māori issues – allegedly unbalanced

Principle 4 (balance) – programmes intended to provoke debate and discussion – not a definitive discussion on all aspects of the Treaty of Waitangi – period of current interest remains open – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] Radio New Zealand Limited broadcast The Treaty Debate on National Radio in three one-hour broadcasts on the 13th, 20th and 27th of February 2005.

[2] The debates were part of a public lecture series recorded at Te Papa Tongarewa. Speakers included Professor Matthew Palmer, Dean of Law at Victoria University; Chief Judge Joe Williams, Chief Judge of the Māori Land Court and Chairman of the Waitangi Tribunal; and Tahu Potiki, the Chief Executive Officer of Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu.


[3] Hilda Phillips complained that the items were unbalanced, as they failed to address relevant facts. Mrs Phillips noted that the Treaty of Waitangi consisted of three Articles. She wrote that Article II of the Treaty had two parts, consisting of the “Queen’s guarantee” and the “Chief’s partnership agreement”.

[4] The Queen’s guarantee, Mrs Phillips wrote, was contained in the first part of Article II – guaranteeing undisturbed possession of property to “ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani”. In Mrs Phillips’ view this meant “all the people of New Zealand”. This included Europeans, whose rights, she alleged, had also been “severely violated”.

[5] Mrs Phillips asserted that Article II of the Treaty included an agreement by the Chiefs that the Queen or her representatives could purchase “those pieces of land which ‘the owner’ was willing to sell”. She maintained that many Māori sold land which was not occupied, used, or cultivated by any tribe, hapu, iwi or Māori individual at the time the Treaty was signed.

[6] She submitted that in 1865 the Government established what she said was “intended to be a purely stop-gap law court” to deal with “Māori-disputed land claims”. She asserted that the “legislation administered by the Land Court … urgently merits our long overdue national attention”.

[7] Mrs Phillips submitted extensive research material in support of her complaint.


[8] RNZ assessed the complaint under Principle 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9] In its response to the complaint, RNZ noted that the three broadcasts addressed three discrete topics: “The unsettled history of the Treaty of Waitangi and the process of Treaty Settlements”; “Tidal Power: the Foreshore and Seabed Act”; and “The relationship between the Treaty of Waitangi and constitutional reform”. The debates were chaired by Dr Claudia Orange and Professor Matthew Palmer.

[10] The broadcaster noted that the overall topic of the Treaty of Waitangi was extremely broad and could not be exhaustively covered in the time available in the debate series. It considered that the germane point was that the three debates each focussed on particular aspects of the role of the Treaty and examined them in depth.

[11] Further, RNZ contended that the overall debate “was not and could not be an exhaustive treatment of the topic.” It noted that differing viewpoints were expressed and in no sense could the three programmes be described as one-sided.

[12] In regard to the complainant’s points, RNZ said that it would try to arrange for her letter to be forwarded to the debate organisers.

Referral to the Authority

[13] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mrs Phillips referred her complaint to the Authority under s8(1)a of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She continued to assert that the programme was “extremely unbalanced and inadequate”, and referred the Authority to the material that she had submitted, which she said dealt with “little known historical, legal and political facts”.

[14] She claimed that there was an urgent need for the nation to recognise that “Māori Affairs” referred to an establishment which “since 1865 has outlawed law, justice and democracy to the disadvantage of every citizen in this country regardless of racial ancestry.”

[15] She requested that the Authority ensure that another programme was broadcast to “acknowledge the long suppressed evidence on the record”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[16] The broadcaster added nothing further in its response to the Authority, except to draw the Authority’s attention to the introductions to each debate programme. The introduction for the first debate, broadcast on 13 February 2005, stated:

“The place of the Treaty of Waitangi has been in the news recently during the build-up to Waitangi Day… today we’re continuing the discussion about the role of the Treaty in New Zealand society. So let’s join a panel of experts, who have been intimately involved in the Treaty process, to hear what they have to say…”

Authority's Determination

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

[18] The Authority has treated the three Treaty Debates as a single broadcast for the purposes of this determination.

[19] The Authority observes that the broadcasts were verbatim recordings of public addresses which were clearly billed and introduced as part of a “continuing discussion” on the role of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand society. They presented a range of informed perspectives from a panel of experts who have been, as noted in the introduction to the first debate, “intimately involved in the Treaty process”.

[20] The Authority considers that the programmes were intended to provoke informed discussion and debate, rather than capture every perspective on Treaty issues. It notes that the speakers advanced a range of views, and that members of the theatre audience were given an opportunity to ask questions and put forward their own viewpoints.  

[21] While the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand is a controversial issue of public importance, the Authority considers that the programmes were not presented as a definitive overview of the Treaty. For such complex issues, the balance standard is instead about ensuring that significant perspectives are canvassed over time. The Authority considers that the period of current interest is ongoing and remains open for debate and comment.

[22] The Authority further notes that the programmes did not lack balance solely because the very specific points raised by the complainant were not discussed. No programme could hope to include every viewpoint on this subject, and given the narrow focus of the programme on particular aspects of the Treaty, and the programmes’ presentation of a range of significant viewpoints, the Authority is satisfied that no issue of balance arises on this occasion.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Tapu Misa
12 July 2005


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

  1. Hilda Phillips’ formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (and attached research) – 10 March 2005
  2. RNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 11 April 2005
  3. Hilda Phillips’ referral to the Authority – 29 April 2005
  4. RNZ’s response to the referral – 30 May 2005