BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Rice and The Radio Network Ltd - 2008-062

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Stephen Rice
Number
2008-062
Programme
Newstalk ZB
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Newstalk ZB – item reported on two bodies being found on top of a rail “carriage” – allegedly inaccurate

Findings
Principle 6 (accuracy) – use of “carriage” technically inaccurate – distinction between carriage and wagon has been blurred by common usage over time – upholding the complaint would be an unjustified limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   Two news bulletin items, broadcast on Newstalk ZB at 6.30am and 7am respectively on Thursday 12 June 2008, reported on the discovery of two bodies on top of a rail wagon in a railway yard in Christchurch.

[2]   During the first item the presenter stated:

Christchurch police have confirmed two bodies were found overnight at a railway yard in the city...the bodies of two men, who appeared to be in their twenties, were found on the roof of a carriage...

[3]   During the second item the presenter stated:

...Inspector Alan Weston said the bodies of two men who appear to be in their twenties were found on a roof of a carriage...

Complaint

[4]   Stephen Rice made a formal complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, alleging that the items had breached standards of accuracy. The complainant argued that the references to a railway “carriage” in the items were incorrect and that they should have referred to a railway wagon. He contended that carriages carried people and wagons carried freight. The complainant also considered that the use of the term “carriage” was “unnecessarily alarming” because it “immediately raised concerns about multi-passenger safety”.

Principles

[5]   TRN assessed the complaint under Principle 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It provides:

Principle 6 Accuracy

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   TRN agreed that the word “carriage” was a term used to describe a coach for carrying passengers. However, it argued that “there has always been blurring of the use of carriage and wagon when referring to rail”. It considered that the use of the word would not have unnecessarily alarmed listeners and noted that the Police had used the word in their press release.

[7]   The broadcaster contended that, while the term “carriage” may not have been accurate in the strictest sense, the vast majority of listeners would have accurately received the message that two young men had died while travelling on the roof of a train. It declined to uphold the complaint.   

Referral to the Authority

[8]   Dissatisfied with TRN’s response, Mr Rice referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He argued that the broadcaster had replicated the inaccuracy of the Police’s press release and he requested that his complaint be considered under both Principle 6 (accuracy) and guideline 5c of the fairness principle.

[9]   The complainant argued that his concern was for those members of the public who “may read ‘carriage’ as in rail passenger carriage and have concern for passenger safety, especially when fatalities are involved”. He noted that TRN had admitted the inaccuracy of the items, but that it had not addressed the implications of the use of the word “carriage” on listeners.   

Authority's Determination

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

Procedural Matter

[11]   The Authority notes that in his referral Mr Rice asked the Authority to consider his complaint under guideline 5c of Principle 5 (fairness). However, the Authority’s task is to review the broadcaster’s decision. Mr Rice did not raise Principle 5 (fairness) in his original complaint, either implicitly or explicitly, such that TRN should have considered his complaint under Principle 5 as well as Principle 6. Accordingly, the Authority has no jurisdiction to consider that aspect of his referral.

Principle 6 (accuracy)

[12]   Principle 6 requires news and current affairs programmes to be truthful and accurate on points of fact. The Authority notes that the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the word carriage as “a railway passenger vehicle”. It therefore acknowledges that the use of the word carriage in the item was not technically correct according to that dictionary definition.

[13]   However, the Authority considers that, in everyday language, the distinction between the words carriage and wagon has become blurred over time; while the term “carriage” was once used only to describe a railway passenger vehicle, it is now used generally by some people to refer to any type of rail vehicle attached to an engine. In the Authority’s view, a considerable proportion of people, perhaps a majority, would not differentiate between the two words.

[14]   The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that listeners would have in no way been alarmed by the item using the word carriage instead of the technically correct term wagon.  The item made it clear to listeners that two bodies had been found on top of a stationary rail vehicle by a worker in a Christchurch rail yard.

[15]   When deciding whether or not to uphold a complaint, the Authority must consider the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, particularly section 14, which relates to the right of freedom of expression, and section 5, which deals with justifiable limitations on the rights contained in the Bill of Rights Act. The Authority must perform a balancing exercise, taking into account all the circumstances and the conflicting rights involved. In this case, the Authority must decide whether a technical inaccuracy justifies upholding the complaint, or whether upholding the complaint would place an unjustified limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. 

[16]   While accepting that the use of the term “carriage” did not accord with the dictionary definition of that word, the Authority considers that to uphold the complaint on this basis would be an unjustified limitation on the broadcaster’s freedom of expression. This is particularly because the inaccuracy was not material to listeners’ understanding of the item, and the term’s meaning has been blurred over time by common usage. Accordingly, while it encourages broadcasters to use correct terminology at all times, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
18 September 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Stephen Rice’s formal complaint – 16 June 2008
2.           TRN’s response to the formal complaint – 19 June 2008
3.           Mr Rice’s referral to the Authority – 30 June 2008
4.           TRN’s response to the Authority – 14 July 2008