BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Tannahill and The Radio Network Ltd - 2003-135

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • John Tannahill
Number
2003-135
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB
Standards Breached

Complaint
Paul Holmes Breakfast – Newstalk ZB – Inspector General of SIS described as “old duffer” and “old buffer” – unfair – apology to Inspector General the following morning – process described as travesty – unbalanced – unfair

Findings
Principle 5 – complaint not upheld by broadcaster – comment questioned competence – uphold

No Order
Broadcaster argued that action taken by host sufficient – Authority agrees – no order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The continuing detention of Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui was a topic dealt with in an editorial comment by the host on Paul Holmes Breakfast, broadcast on Newstalk ZB at about 7.25am on 7 August 2003. Expressing his displeasure at the continuing detention, the host described the Inspector General of the SIS, among other things, as an “old gent”, “that old duffer” and “the old buffer”.

[2] John Tannahill complained to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, that the vitriolic comments were unjustified and breached the standards relating to balance and fairness.

[3] In response, TRN said that the host, during the broadcast programme on the morning of 8 August, acknowledged that the comments were unnecessarily personal and had apologised to the Inspector General. TRN contended that the retraction brought the matter to an end.

[4] The broadcaster’s response to the complainant was incorrectly addressed and the complaint was referred to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Upon later receipt of the broadcaster’s response, the complainant was dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s actions and referred the complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Act.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. They have also listened to a tape of the apology broadcast on the morning following the comments complained about. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] The continuing detention of Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui was a topic addressed by the host on Paul Holmes Breakfast, broadcast on Newstalk ZB, at about 7.25am on 7 August 2003. Expressing his displeasure at Mr Zaoui’s continuing incarceration, the host described the Inspector General of the SIS, among other things, as an “old gent”, “that old duffer” and “the old buffer”.

The Complaint

[7] Mr Tannahill acknowledged that there were two sides to the argument regarding Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, but contended that the host’s “vitriolic comments” about the former Justice Greig were “quite frankly appalling”. The host, he confirmed, had no justification for describing the Inspector General of the SIS in the terms used which, he argued, breached the standards relating to balance and fairness.

Further Correspondence

[8] As Mr Tannahill did not receive a response to his complaint within 20 working days, he referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. TRN then advised the Authority that its letter to Mr Tannahill had been incorrectly addressed.

The Standard

[9] TRN assessed the complaint under Principle 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice which reads:

Principle 5

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

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] TRN acknowledged that the host, on 7 August, had described the Inspector General of the SIS, among other things, as an “old gent”, “that old duffer” and “the old buffer”.

[11] The host, it stated, considered on reflection that the statement was a “bit unfair” and, during the programme on 8 August – the following day, he had said:

I thought about that later and I shouldn’t have said old and I shouldn’t have said buffer, I’m not obliged to say this, there is no legal action, no-one’s asked me to but a couple of colleagues said to me, Paul, you were a bit rough on the man, a bit personal and I think they were right. So I say sorry to the retired judge, I say sorry. But I still think the process is a travesty and I hope the retired judge does read the Refugee Status Appeals Authority judgment.

[12] TRN believed that the retraction brought the matter to an end.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[13] Mr Tannahill referred the complaint to the Authority as he did not accept that the vitriolic comments could be dismissed in a “cavalier manner”.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14] TRN pointed out that it had replied to the complaint within the required time limit, but the reply had been incorrectly addressed. As for the comments made by the host on 7 August, TRN maintained that they were acceptable as a “hard hitting opinion piece”. It recalled that the Prime Minister had once described retired armed service officers as “geriatric generals”. It added:

Notwithstanding this, [the host] apologised the next morning which should end the matter.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[15] After further consideration, the complainant maintained his opinion that the comments were unacceptable and that the station should be censured.

The Authority’s Determination

[16] The broadcaster advised that the host, on reflection, considered his comments made on the morning of 7 August were a “bit unfair” and, during the following morning, broadcast an apology. It argued that the host’s actions had brought the matter to an end. However, the complainant did not agree with the broadcaster as he regarded the apology as “cavalier”.

[17] The broadcaster did not advise explicitly whether it considered that the first broadcast – on 7 August - had breached the requirement in Principle 5 that programmes must deal fairly with people referred to. In view of the broadcaster’s opinion that the comments were acceptable as a “hard hitting opinion piece” the Authority concludes that TRN did not uphold the complaint.

[18] In addition to the comments being “hard hitting”, the Authority considers that they questioned the competence of the Inspector General and concludes, contrary to the broadcaster, that the broadcast on 7 August contravened the standard which requires that people referred to be dealt with fairly. Nevertheless, the Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the “retraction”, which included an apology and an acknowledgement that some of the observations should not have been included, brings the matter to an end.

[19] The Authority arrives at this conclusion, that it is unnecessary to impose an order, on the basis that the statement made the following morning was sufficient in the circumstances. It also notes that the statement was made promptly by the host, not because of any legal action, but because, on reflection, he had decided that the comments were “a bit rough”. While reiterating its view that the initial comments were unacceptable and in breach of Principle 5, the Authority considers that any further action it might take will not improve on what it regards as the satisfactory resolution that has occurred.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by The Radio Network Ltd of comments on Paul Holmes Breakfast on 7 August 2003 breaches Principle 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[20] Having upheld a complaint, the authority may impose orders under ss. 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. For the reasons given in para [19], the authority considers that an order is not necessary on this occasion.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
15 December 2003

Appendix

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

1. John Tannahill’s Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd – 11 August 2003

2. Mr Tannahill’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 3 September 2003

3. TRN’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 25 August 2003

4. TRN’s Report to the Authority – 12 September 2003

5. Mr Tannahill’s Referral the Authority – 26 September 2003

6. TRN’s Report the Authority – 15 October 2003

7. Mr Tannahill’s Final Comment – 3 November 2003