BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Sorrell and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-194

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Dr Paul Sorrell
One News
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item about school system in post-Saddam Iraq – referred to increasing fundamental religious education in private schools – allegedly unbalanced and reinforced prejudices about sinister religious activities

Standard 4 (balance) – fundamentalism used in contrast to secular education – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – no apparent inaccuracies – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – no apparent unfairness – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] Schooling in post-Saddam Iraq was featured in an item broadcast on One News beginning at 6.00pm on TV One on 29 September 2004. Pointing out that education under Saddam had been largely secular, the item reported that education in Iraq was becoming increasingly religious, especially in private schools.


[2] Dr Paul Sorrell complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster that the item breached the standards relating to balance, fairness and accuracy. Contending that instruction in the Koran was commonplace in schools in the Islamic world, Dr Sorrell said the item suggested that the trend in Iraq was dangerous. Further, he wrote, the item’s tone reinforced anti-Islamic prejudices by applying Western cultural norms.


[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by the complainant. Standards 4, 5, and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice provide:

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.

Standard 5 Accuracy
News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

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.

Guideline 6g

Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] Disagreeing that the item’s tone suggested that conventional religious activities were subversive, TVNZ said that it reported on the new freedoms in the education system. It also showed, it added, that many Iraqis, given the choice, favoured schools providing Islamic religious instruction. It was not implied, TVNZ maintained, that the trend was dangerous or sinister. TVNZ wrote that the word “fundamentalism”, when applied to religion, referred to the maintenance of fundamental religious doctrines and was not an allusion to violence.

[5] Turning to the standards, TVNZ stated that the item was balanced and accurate, and presented a variety of views about education. Moreover, it wrote, it encouraged neither discrimination nor denigration of Iraqis on account of their race or religion. While the reporter used the word “battle”, TVNZ explained that it referred to the minds of future generations, not to warfare.

[6] The complaint was not upheld.

Referral to the Authority

[7] When he referred the complaint to the Authority, Dr Sorrell stated that the crux of his complaint focused on the item’s reference to the teaching of Islamic “fundamentalism”. That term, he contended, had no meaning unless it was set against mainstream or orthodox groups. Moreover, he wrote, the phrase “Islamic fundamentalism” was almost synonymous with extreme militancy, and its use in the item contained sinister connotations.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[8] In its response, TVNZ reiterated the point that the use in the item of the word “fundamentalism” was to contrast the religious instruction now available with the secular education system under Saddam Hussein.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[9] Dr Sorrell considered that TVNZ had not recognised its “dangerous” mistake when it maintained that religious fundamentalism and orthodoxy was the same thing. Arguing that “Catholic fundamentalism” would mean something different to “Catholicism”, Dr Sorrell said that Islamic orthodoxy was different from Islamic fundamentalism.

Further Correspondence

[10] In reply, TVNZ quoted the dictionary definition of fundamentalism.

Authority's Determination

[11] The members of the Authority have viewed 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.

[12] The One News item on schools in post-Saddam Iraq was introduced in the following way:
There are new freedoms but in the new schools the old secular ways are being replaced by a wave of fundamentalism.

[13] Dr Sorrell contended that the word “fundamentalism” was a synonym for “extremism” and its use was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair. The item in fact showed, he wrote, the growth of orthodox religious education in the new schools.

[14] TVNZ disputed the connection drawn by Dr Sorrell between Islamic religious fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism, and referred to the dictionary meaning of “fundamentalism.” The definition, it said, was “the strict maintenance of the ancient and fundamental doctrines of any religion or ideology”.

[15] The Authority accepts that in some situations the word “fundamentalism”, especially “Islamic fundamentalism”, might be used loosely – and incorrectly - as a synonym for “Islamic terrorism”. However, it does not consider that the link is inevitable. The context in which the word is used must be taken in to account as well.

[16] In this case, the word “fundamentalism” had been used in the introduction to the item in contrast to the “old secular ways”, and did not suggest that it necessarily included Islamic extremism or terrorism.

[17] Furthermore, as Dr Sorrell observed, the item in fact focused on the growth of orthodox religious education, especially for younger students in private schools.

[18] The Authority accepts that while the use of the word “fundamentalism” in the introduction gave rise to the possibility of misinterpretation, in the context of the introduction and item itself it did not amount to a breach of the nominated standards.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
21 December 2004


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

  1. Dr Paul Sorrell’s formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 30 September 2004
  2. TVNZ’s reply to Dr Sorrell – 3 November 2004
  3. Dr Sorrell’s referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 4 November 2004
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 17 November 2004
  5. Dr Sorrell’s final comment – 26 November 2004
  6. TVNZ’s response – 3 December 2004