BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Stone and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-210

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Duncan Stone
One News
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – reference to President George W Bush “leading the free world” – allegedly unbalanced and unfair

Standard 4 (balance) – no balancing comment required – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – not unfair to any persons taking part or referred to – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An item on One News broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 22 October 2004 dealt with a back-dated pay rise which had been given to Members of Parliament in New Zealand. Towards the end of the segment, the reporter compared the salary of the Prime Minister of New Zealand with that of other world leaders, including President George W. Bush of the United States. The reporter made the following comment:

…but it is dwarfed by the salary of five hundred and eighty thousand New Zealand dollars paid to George Bush for leading the free world.


[2] Duncan Stone complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item lacked balance and was unfair. He referred to the description of George Bush as “the leader of the free world”, and said:

I take the strongest possible objection to this description of the world’s biggest war criminal, and this opinion would be shared by many thousands of your other viewers.

[3] Mr Stone felt that the broadcaster should apologise for what he perceived to be an “unacceptably right-wing biased” comment.


[4] Television New Zealand Ltd assessed the complaint under Standards 4 and 6, and Guidelines 4a and 6a, of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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.

Guideline 4a           

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

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 6a           

Care should be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure that the extracts used are a true reflection, and not a distortion, of the original event or the overall views expressed.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] In its response to the complainant, TVNZ noted that the phrase “the leader of the free world” is one that is recognised throughout the world as referring to the leader of the United States – “simply because it is the most powerful of the countries which (with varying degrees of success) operate according to democratic principles”.

[6] The broadcaster did not agree that the description necessarily implied endorsement for Mr Bush’s policies, or that “he was a man to be admired”. It said:

“Leader of the free world” (description in One News) and “the world’s biggest war criminal” (your opinion) are terms which are not necessarily incompatible. Cast your mind back to the Roman Empire and it would not be incompatible to describe Nero and Caligula (for example) as leaders of the Empire, and as brutal tyrants.

[7] Considering Standard 4 (balance), TVNZ did not believe that the phrase “leader of the free world” implied right-wing bias as alleged in the complaint. Rather, it characterised the description as “a factual and informal description of Mr Bush’s position among democratic nations – and carried no implication that he is a leader whose policies are to be admired”. Stating that no partiality was shown (guideline 4a), the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 4.

[8] Turning to consider Standard 6 (fairness), TVNZ stated that it did not believe the phrase was unfair. Under Guideline 6a, it said, the description was a “true reflection” of the president’s position “whether the giver or receiver of that information approves of him or not”. The broadcaster concluded that Standard 6 had not been breached on this occasion.

Referral to the Authority

[9] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Stone referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He stated that the broadcast breached acceptable standards of balance, fairness and accuracy. As Mr Stone’s initial complaint to TVNZ did not address the accuracy issue, the Authority has no jurisdiction to examine that aspect of his referral.

[10] The complainant stated that this matter was “of the greatest importance because it implies New Zealand’s alliance with a tyrannical, dangerous government”. Referring to TVNZ’s statement that the phrase “leader of the free world” was recognised throughout the world as referring to the leader of the United States, Mr Stone said that the broadcaster was implying that:

…because the rest of the world appears to recognise the USA in a certain way then NZ must do likewise. The whole world fears the USA in the same way as it feared Nazi Germany, but regards it as the leader of the free world? Never. A recent poll in Europe rejected Bush by an 80% majority.  

[11] Mr Stone contended that it was “absurd” to say that the leader of the free world can also be the world’s biggest war criminal. If this was true, he said, then “black is white and white is black”. The complainant argued that there had to be an implication that “the leader of the free world” was a person to be admired, and “to deny this is incredible”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[12] TVNZ had added nothing further to its original reply to the complainant.

Authority's Determination

[13] 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.

[14] Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice requires that balance be provided when “controversial issues of public importance” are discussed. On this occasion, the item reported a pay rise given to Members of Parliament in New Zealand. The Authority finds that this was a controversial issue of public importance to which the standard applies.

[15] The statement complained about was, however, unrelated to the controversial issue under discussion. In the context of the news item, the Authority finds that the reporter’s comment about “leading the free world” was an incidental remark that was peripheral to the controversial issue.  Balance was not required in relation to the comment; therefore the Authority does not uphold the complaint under Standard 4.

[16] The Authority also records that it views the use of the phrase complained of as an ironic comparison between the roles of Prime Minister Clark and of President Bush, and did not agree with the complainant on its use.

[17] Standard 6 (fairness) requires that broadcasters deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in the programme. While the complainant has argued that the reporter’s comment was unfair, he has not identified any persons “taking part or referred to” in the item that he deems to have been treated unfairly. The Authority is of the view that the item did not constitute a breach of Standard 6, and accordingly declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.


For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
18 February 2005


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

  1. Duncan Stone’s formal complaint – 28 October 2004
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 24 November 2004
  3. Mr Stone’s referral to the Authority – 28 November 2004
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 8 December 2004