BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Shepherd and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2005-089

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Vivienne Shepherd
Morning Report
Radio New Zealand Ltd
National Radio

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Morning Report – reference to “Labour” and “Labour-led” government – allegedly inaccurate and unfair

Principle 6 (accuracy) – “Labour-led government” acceptable shorthand – not upheld – majority considers “Labour government” acceptable shorthand – not upheld

Principle 5 (fairness) – no issue of fairness arises – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] At various times between Tuesday 26 April and Friday 29 April 2005, on Morning Report, National Radio presenters and reporters used the following expressions:

  • “the Labour-led government” – 26 April
  • “the Labour government” – on 26 April (twice), 28 and 29 April
  • “In 1999 when Labour took power” – 28 April


[2] Vivienne Shepherd complained that the broadcasts breached standards of accuracy, fairness and programme information. Ms Shepherd stated that the term “Labour government” or “Labour-led government” when referring to the present government were “inaccurate, unfair, not impartial, incorrect and plain wrong”, as they deceived the listener about the make-up of the government.

[3] Ms Shepherd noted that the governments since 1999 have been Labour-Alliance, and then Labour-Progressive. Ms Shepherd emphasised that the Labour party is not the government.


[4] RNZ assessed the complaint under Principles 5 (fairness) and 6 (accuracy). These state:

Principle 5

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

Principle 6

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

[5] RNZ denied that the use of these terms breached standards. It stated that the terms can be, and are, used interchangeably without causing any confusion to listeners.

Referral to the Authority

[6] Ms Shepherd referred the matter to the Authority. In her referral she reiterated her views that the terms were inaccurate and unfair. Ms Shepherd did not pursue her complaint that the broadcasts breached Principle 8 (programme information).

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[7] In response to the referral, RNZ invited the Authority to exercise its discretion to decline to determine the complaint under s11 of the Broadcasting Act. RNZ asserted that there were no possible grounds on which listeners could have been misled or otherwise misunderstood the broadcasts complained about.

[8] RNZ observed that recent review of media coverage revealed that even the leader of the Progressive Party referred to the “Labour-led coalition government”. It also observed that in some circumstances, a reference to a Labour-Progressive coalition government might have been equally wrong, as the government may well have been acting with the support of the United Future Party, as it was obliged to do in a number of situations.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[9] In her final comment, Ms Shepherd reiterated her previous submissions.

Authority's Determination

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

[11] The Authority considers that a reasonable person listening to the broadcasts would not have been misled by the reference to the “Labour-led government”. It considers that the term was an acceptable shorthand reference to the Labour-Progressive coalition government, and was clearly understandable in its context.

[12] A majority of the Authority considers that the term “Labour government”, in the context of live radio, was also acceptable shorthand. The majority observes that the only situation in which such shorthand might give rise to a potential breach of broadcasting standards in a live radio situation is if the exact composition of the government was central to the subject under discussion. The majority also observes, however, that in light of the ongoing likelihood of multi-party involvement in government, the news media should exercise care to use appropriate terminology.

[13] The majority considers that as the terms were not inaccurate, no issue of fairness arises.

[14] A minority, Tapu Misa, disagrees. The minority is of the view that, in an MMP environment, describing a coalition government as consisting of only the major party is inaccurate. That inaccuracy applies whether or not the minority partner has two seats or 10. The minority considers that the media in particular has a responsibility to use accurate terminology, given the power of language to shape and influence public perception. In her view, “Labour-led” was acceptable shorthand; “Labour Government” was not.

[15] The minority concludes, however, that while continual use of the incorrect term may have given rise to unfairness to the Progressive Party, the single instance complained of on this occasion – one mention on live radio – does not warrant a finding of unfairness.


For the above reasons, a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
28 September 2005


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

  1. Vivienne Shepherd’s formal complaint to Radio New Zealand – 29 April 2005
  2. RNZ’s response to formal complaint – 6 July 2005
  3. Ms Shepherd’s referral to the Authority – 17 July 2005
  4. RNZ response to the referral – 11 August 2005
  5. Ms Shepherd’s final comment – 21 August 2005