BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Swinney and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2006-011

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Clare Swinney
One News
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item about an audio tape purporting to carry the voice of Osama Bin Laden – reporter said that “Bin Laden threatened to again take revenge on America as he did on 9/11” – allegedly inaccurate

Decline to determine complaint under s.11(b) of Broadcasting Act 1989

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An item on One News at 6pm on 20 January 2006 reported that an audio tape, purporting to carry the voice of Osama Bin Laden, had been broadcast by a television network in the Middle East. The tape had warned of new terrorist actions against the United States. The reporter said:

In the tape that aired on Al Jazeera, Bin Laden threatened to again take revenge on America as he did on 9/11.


[2] Clare Swinney complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was inaccurate. She stated that the “US Administration” had perpetrated the attacks of 9/11, not Osama Bin Laden.


[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] TVNZ noted that the specific phrase objected to by the complainant was incidental to the news event being described. It said that the “as he did on 9/11” remark simply reflected the widely held view that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were involved with the 9/11 attacks.

[5] The broadcaster observed that Osama Bin Laden’s complicity in the attacks was a factual assumption underlying the 576-page report of the 9/11 Commission, and it had also been explicitly stated by the Commission. It pointed out that Osama Bin Laden had claimed full responsibility for the attacks. TVNZ added:

TVNZ is satisfied with the integrity and credibility of its many news sources and, frankly, finds the evidence offered by you and some others to be neither credible nor convincing.

[6] TVNZ decided that the remark was not inaccurate or untruthful, and it declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[7] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Swinney referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She referred the Authority to several websites, and also provided three DVDs which supported the viewpoint that the US Government had perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. 

Authority's Determination

[8] The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority has also viewed the additional material supplied by the complainant. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[9] Under section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority has discretion to decline to determine a complaint if, in all the circumstances of the complaint, the Authority considers it should not be determined.

[10] In Decision No. 2004-124, the Authority exercised its discretion under section 11(b) and declined to determine a complaint about a programme which marked the 35th anniversary of the first moon landing. The complainant had argued that the moon landing should not be treated as fact, because many people disputed the occurrence of that event. In its determination, the Authority said:

The Authority accepts that there exists a body of opinion to the effect that the moon landing was an American-devised hoax. The Authority considers, however, that no issue of broadcasting standards arises in respect of RNZ’s simple reference to the anniversary of an event that is globally recognised as a landmark historical achievement. Rightly or wrongly, the moon landing has status as historical fact and RNZ was entitled, in the Authority’s view, to mark its anniversary without referring to the views of those who disbelieve its occurrence.

[11] The Authority considers that a similar approach is appropriate on this occasion. The Authority observes that this was not an item about the 9/11 attacks. The statement complained about was only a passing reference in the context of a wider story about an audio tape purportedly recorded by Osama Bin Laden.

[12] In the Authority’s view, no issue of broadcasting standards arises in respect of TVNZ’s passing reference to Osama Bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11. Despite the complainant's beliefs, the Authority notes that Osama Bin Laden’s involvement is a widely accepted fact supported by the weight of credible evidence. As such, the Authority finds that TVNZ was under no obligation to report the views of those who question its validity.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to determine the complaint pursuant to section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
4 May 2006


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

  1. Clare Swinney’s formal complaint – 23 January 2006
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 14 February 2006
  3. Ms Swinney’s referral to the Authority – 5 March 2006
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 14 March 2006