BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Rogers and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-093, 2003-094

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa
Dated
Complainant
  • Frank Rogers
Number
2003-093–094
Programme
The Last Word
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
The Last Word power crisis – interview on 10 April with Save Energy spokesperson – comment by presenter on 30 April – both unbalanced

Findings
Standard 4 and Guideline 4a – 10 April – speaker given opportunities to respond in item with a chat format – no uphold; 30 April – presenter’s brief contribution to debate discussed extensively elsewhere – no uphold

Standard 6 – interviewee on 10 April not treated unfairly – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The power crisis was dealt with in an item on The Last Word broadcast on TV One at 10.30pm on 10 April 2003. The Save Energy spokesperson was interviewed and the presenter commented that she did not intend to save power because the crisis was "the Government’s fault". On The Last Word broadcast on 30 April, the presenter reported that as there had been a slight improvement in water resources, she intended to turn on all the lights.

[2] Frank Rogers complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the presenter had not allowed the interviewee on 10 April an opportunity to advance his views, and the item was unbalanced. He regarded the comment made on 30 April as irresponsible.

[3] In response, TVNZ described the light-hearted segment of the programme on 10 April as "part fact, part fantasy, part satire, part commentary". It argued that the seriousness of the crisis was not under-estimated and that balance had been achieved during the period of current interest. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Rogers referred his complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the relevant parts of the programmes complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] The power crisis was the subject of an interview with Dr Patrick Strange of Save Energy on The Last Word broadcast on TV One at 10.30pm on 10 April 2003. The Last Word is presented by Pam Corkery.

[7] The programme broadcast on 30 April included the presenter’s reaction to a weather forecast which promised only a small prospect of improvement in the level of the lakes serving the hydro system.

The Complaints

[8] Frank Rogers complained to TVNZ about what he described as the presenter’s demeaning comments. The interview with Dr Strange, he wrote, involved the presenter expounding "irrelevancies", and stating that she did not intend to save power "because it was all the Government’s fault". After the announcement of the slight improvement on 30 April, the presenter said that she was going home "to turn on all the lights" and, Mr Rogers wrote:

I consider it is highly irresponsible of a national TV channel to carry such nonsense in the face of a possible national power crisis, when the case for the savings was not presented at all because of [the presenter’s] conceit.

The Standards

[9] In view of the matters raised in the complaints, TVNZ assessed them under Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Standard and relevant Guideline provides:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining 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.

Guidelines

4a  Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] TVNZ said that the item on 10 April was a "light-hearted" interview and, on the 30 April, the presenter gave her reaction to the prospect of some slight improvement in lake levels.

[11] TVNZ explained that while The Last Word included an orthodox news section, the section presented by Pam Corkery tended towards the idiosyncratic. The programme was obviously:

… a type of late-night chat programme, part fact, part fantasy, part satire, part commentary.

[12] Turning to the interview with Dr Strange, TVNZ contended that it was light-hearted and "sometimes waspish", and that Dr Strange had willingly played along with the presenter’s "jibes and provocative comments". TVNZ also considered that the crisis involved more controversy than some in the past and thus it was not inappropriate for the presenter to report the community view which varied from the official line.

[13] As Standard 4 allows for balance to be achieved during the period of current interest, TVNZ argued that, given the coverage elsewhere to statements from Ministers and senior officials, balance had been achieved. It acknowledged that balance may not have been attained in the specific broadcast complained about given that Dr Strange’s views "were sometimes obscured by the presenter’s deliberately exaggerated line of questioning". TVNZ added that it did not understand what the complainant meant when he complained that the interview "demeaned" the power crisis.

[14] TVNZ maintained that the "light-hearted" programme was not unbalanced given its overall coverage of the power crisis, and that Standard 4 had not been contravened.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[15] In referring his complaints to the Authority, Mr Rogers contended that Dr Strange was not interviewed on 10 April as he had not been given an opportunity to say anything. The presenter’s comment on 30 April, he wrote, was "highly irresponsible". He expressed surprise at TVNZ’s response which he described as "Jesuitical casuistry". While TVNZ had considered the programme to be "light-hearted, part fantasy, part satire", Mr Rogers said the broadcaster had not addressed his complaint.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[16] Mr Rogers reiterated his concern at TVNZ’s use of the word "interview", as no interview had taken place given the intransigence of the presenter.

 

The Authority’s Determination

[17] TVNZ assessed the complaints from Mr Rogers under Standard 4 which contains the requirement for balance. In view of his complaint about the item broadcast on The Last Word on 10 April - the interview of Dr Strange - the Authority considers that the requirement for fairness in Standard 6 is also relevant:

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

[18] During the interview of Dr Strange broadcast on 10 April, the presenter talked over and interrupted the interviewee. The interview was dominated by the host and, as TVNZ explained:

Ms Pam Corkery’s section of The Last Word is not intended to be an orthodox news and current affairs programme. Instead, and very obviously, it is a type of late-night chat programme, part fact, part fantasy, part satire, part commentary.

[19] The Authority agrees with TVNZ that the presenter’s section of The Last Word is not an orthodox news and current affairs programme, but rather a "late-night chat programme" which includes aspects of fact, entertainment and commentary. It notes that the presenter’s comments, opinions and idiosyncratic style, described by TVNZ as "outrageous" and "sometimes waspish" form part of the overall mix of the programme.

[20] Tuning to the interview of 10 April, the Authority notes that the presenter advanced the view that the power crisis was the Government’s fault, and it was apparent that she was cynical about the Government’s attempts to encourage power saving. The Authority considers that the issue was controversial and one to which Standard 4 applied. It notes that the interview was conducted in a light-hearted and informal manner, and that Dr Strange, although interrupted on a number of occasions, was given a reasonable opportunity to present his point of view. Taking into account both the format of the item complained about and the opportunities given, the Authority does not consider that Standard 4 was contravened.

[21] Taking into account the presenter’s approach and style it reaches a similar conclusion in regard to Standard 6. Given the light-hearted way in which the issue was discussed, and the absence of rancour, the Authority does not consider that Dr Strange was dealt with unfairly.

[22] As for the presenter’s comment on 30 April – that she would go home and "turn on more electrical appliances" – The Authority considers that it was an expression of the presenter’s cynicism and clearly her commentary. Accordingly, the Authority does not find a breach of the requirement in Standard 4.

[23] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
28 August 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Frank Roger’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 1 May 2003
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 23 May 2003
  3. Mr Roger’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 29 May 2003
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 6 June 2003
  5. Mr Roger’s Final Comment – 13 June 2003