The Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ Inc and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-065
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Tapu Misa
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- The Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ Inc
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sunday – item investigating forced child marriages in New Zealand – contained interviews with a girl who said she was forced to marry a man who raped her, a representative from an organisation that provides refuge for migrant women, and the president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand – allegedly in breach of accuracy, fairness, and discrimination and denigration standards
Standard 5 (accuracy) – comments made by interviewees were opinion and exempt from the accuracy standard under guideline 5a – item made it clear that the problem of forced child marriages was a cultural issue – viewers not misled – not upheld
Standard 6 (fairness) – individuals and organisations taking part and referred to treated fairly – not upheld
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – item did not encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, Muslims – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An item on Sunday, broadcast on TV One at 7.30pm on Sunday 14 March 2010, investigated forced marriages in New Zealand, and in particular brides under the legal age of consent.
 The first segment contained an interview with a young woman who, at the age of 14, was raped and subsequently forced by her parents to marry her rapist. The presenter told viewers that the programme was going to protect the girl’s identity by using an actress for interview footage.
 During the interview, the reporter stated:
It’s bewildering, a 14-year-old girl raped, falls pregnant, and then is forced, she says, by her parents – the very people you might expect to be protecting her – to marry her rapist. No complaint to police. It’s the sort of thing you might expect to hear happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan or even parts of Africa, but this happened right here in New Zealand.
 The reporter said, “But surely, we thought, this is an isolated case. Sadly, it’s not”. He asked the interviewee, “How many other girls are raped before they got married?”, to which she replied, “There’s heaps, they usually do it if they can’t find a woman that would marry them for who they are”.
 Farida Sultana, founder of a group called Shakti that provided refuge for migrant women and their children, was interviewed. The reporter asked her, “How often does this happen in New Zealand?” She replied that Shakti got “quite a few cases”. Ms Sultana went on to express her view that people involved in these forced underage marriages do not “think the New Zealand law even applies to them”.
 Ms Sultana said that “cultural and religious marriages do not require New Zealand registration” and stated her view that mosques or temples should not conduct marriages without New Zealand registration. She also shared her belief that girls who fled forced marriages were in serious danger of physical reprisals.
 Also during the segment, the reporter said:
In the war-ravaged country where this young woman comes from, marriage at 14 is normal. Children are forced to marry because of social obligation, family pride; often money exchanges hands. But this is New Zealand, not a religious state. This girl is a New Zealand citizen, educated here and subject to New Zealand law.
 The second segment looked at forced marriages happening in Britain. Focusing on the Pakistani community, the item described how British law had been changed in a bid to protect women. The segment also followed a 15-year-old New Zealand girl attempting to flee a forced marriage, whose identity was protected.
 The final segment included an interview with Dr Anwar Ghani, the president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand. Dr Ghani outlined the religious perspective on arranged marriages and said that, under Islam, consent of the bride was a necessary prerequisite to any marriage.
 After being shown the interview footage of the two young New Zealand girls, Dr Ghani said that he was shocked at what he had seen, and that he had not heard of underage marriages being performed in New Zealand. He also said that it could be a cultural issue and that education was needed to make the people who perform underage marriage ceremonies aware of the “law of the land”.
 The presenter stated that comment had been sought from Justice Minister Simon Power about whether specific laws should be introduced to deal with forced marriage. The presenter said that the Minister had provided a statement saying that “numerically there’s no evidence to suggest forced marriage is a significant issue in New Zealand”, and that he was satisfied that New Zealand had “enough legislation in place to deal with occurrences of forced marriage”.
 On behalf of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ), Dr Ghani made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached broadcasting standards.
 FIANZ argued that the item “further reinforced post-9/11 bias, prejudice, stigmatism, and bigotry toward Muslims by presenting an inaccurate, exaggerated and sensationalised story”. It argued that Sunday’s investigators had “blithely and naively accepted the accounts of Farida Sultana and her Shakti organisation”.
 The complainant said that “information had arisen from people in community groups” that challenged the accuracy of the information presented to Sunday by Ms Sultana. It argued that, “If TVNZ is going to make such damaging and serious allegations about ethnic migrant communities, it should first be absolutely sure that its sources of information are credible”.
 FIANZ contended that the item had breached standards of fairness “by portraying the issue of forced child marriages as a practice which is ‘widespread’ among Muslim ethnic and migrant communities”, when this was not the case. It contended that the statements made by Ms Sultana were not backed up by “hard evidence”, and that the item was sensationalistic and stereotyped Muslims, particularly Muslim women.
 The complainant was of the opinion that the only balanced countervailing view to this was briefly given in a statement by Dr Ghani. It argued that Dr Ghani had been interviewed for a long period of time, but that “only edited excerpts were shown in the story which clearly had an underlying biased agenda”.
 FIANZ considered that footage of a Muslim praying at a mosque had been used in the story in an attempt to implicate all Muslims with the notion of forced underage marriages, rather than emphasising that they were “solely cultural in nature, and forbidden by Islam”.
 The complainant contended that the item’s claims would negatively impact on Islamic youth and children because it could lead to taunts and harassment, make people believe that Islamic young men were rapists, and make Islamic youths fear that their parents were going to force them to marry.
 FIANZ also considered that the item would have disturbed and alarmed child viewers.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 and guidelines 5a, 6a, 6b and 7a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:
Standard 5 Accuracy
Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:
• is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or
• does not mislead.
The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.
Standard 6 Fairness
Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
6a A consideration of what is fair will depend upon the genre of the programme (e.g. talk/talk back radio, or factual, dramatic, comedic and satirical programmes).
6b Broadcasters should exercise care in editing programme material to ensure that the extracts used are not a distortion of the original event or the overall views expressed.
Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration
Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.
This standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is:
• factual, or
• the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual
• legitimate humour, drama or satire.
Standard 8 Responsible Programming
Broadcasters should ensure programmes:
• are appropriately classified;
• display programme classification information;
• adhere to timebands in accordance with Appendix 1;
• are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue
• do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.
Standard 9 Children’s Interests
During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 Looking at Standard 5 (accuracy), TVNZ contended that the focus of the item was on New Zealand girls under the legal age of consent being forced to marry, and that the item “was not a look at the wider issue of arranged marriage”.
 The broadcaster said that, in producing the story, Sunday had spoken with Shakti and two teenage girls from different ethnic backgrounds and from different New Zealand locations. It said that, while these sources were unable to provide statistical information on how many underage girls were being forcibly married, all had agreed that it was a significant number.
 TVNZ said that both of the teenage girls had stated that “they knew many girls at their schools who were in a similar situation”. It contended that the majority of young ethnic women were afraid or reluctant to approach New Zealand authorities and that the vast majority of such cases went unreported and, as a result, there was no “hard evidence”.
 The broadcaster stated that, “In order to ascertain the accuracy of the stories, Sunday investigated the facts as deeply as possible to ensure veracity and accuracy”. It argued that the comments made by the girls and Ms Sultana were their genuinely held opinion, and that it was entitled to broadcast their views. It declined to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.
 Turning to Standard 6 (fairness), TVNZ did not consider that the item had been unfair to migrants from Muslim countries in general or that the item discriminated against any religion or racial minority.
 The broadcaster contended that all the programme’s participants were informed of the reasons for their involvement and argued that they had been treated fairly. With respect to Dr Ghani’s interview, it stated that “only the pertinent excerpts” were shown in the story and that this was always the case with news and current affairs. It also said that the Sunday reporter had given Dr Ghani several attempts to answer a question if he felt he had not given an adequate response in the first take.
 TVNZ contended that footage of a Muslim praying at a mosque had not been used to “implicate all Muslims” as alleged by FIANZ. It argued that, while images of, and references to, mosques were included in the item, they were appropriate given that the marriages of the interviewees had been performed by “mullahs” from mosques. It declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 6 had been breached.
 With respect to Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration), the broadcaster was of the view that the material in Sunday did not reach the necessary threshold to have discriminated against or denigrated Muslim people. It said the item dealt with the cases of specific individuals and did not comment on Muslim people in general. It argued that none of the content could be considered “hate speech”, and it declined to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.
 In relation to Standard 8 (responsible programming), TVNZ contended that the standard related to broadcasters ensuring programmes were correctly rated and that the ratings were displayed when the programme screened. It pointed out that Sunday was an unclassified news and current affairs programme, and argued that the item was consistent with audience expectations and the PGR timeband in which it screened.
 The broadcaster considered the material contained in the item would not have caused panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress, and it declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 8 had been breached.
 Looking at Standard 9 (children’s interests), TVNZ noted that Sunday was aimed at an adult audience and was broadcast at 7.30pm. It argued that there was an expectation that parents would exercise discretion around viewing news and current affairs programmes with their children.
 The broadcaster considered that none of the material contained in the item would have caused significant alarm or distress to children under parental supervision. It contended that, from the outset, parents were given ample opportunity to decide whether their children should watch the item, and it declined to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, FIANZ referred the accuracy, fairness and discrimination and denigration aspects of its complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 The complainant maintained that the item was inaccurate, because it had portrayed the practice of forced child marriages as widespread among Muslims without any evidence.
 FIANZ noted that, in TVNZ’s decision on fairness, the broadcaster contended that the references to mosques and the footage of a Muslim praying were appropriate “given that the marriages of the interviewees had been performed by mullahs in mosques”. It argued that, “if this is true, then TVNZ should present evidence of precisely which mullahs in which mosques allegedly performed such ceremonies”.
 The complainant reiterated its argument that the item was unfair and had discriminated against and been derogatory towards Muslims.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority
 With respect to fairness, TVNZ pointed out that it had actually said that the references to mosques contained in the item were appropriate given that “the marriages of the interviewees had been performed by mullahs from mosques” and not “in mosques” as alleged by FIANZ.
 The broadcaster stated it had been advised that the marriages were performed by mullahs in private homes and that the item had not referred to such marriages taking place in mosques. It said that it was satisfied with the veracity of the young women’s accounts, which it argued had been corroborated by other members of their community.
 TVNZ contended that the marriages were described in the item as “cultural marriages” and part of cultural practice. It argued that there was recognition in the item that “it was the young women’s culture – not specifically their religion that expected such honour weddings to occur”.
 In relation to accuracy, the broadcaster argued that Shakti was a legitimate organisation which was government-funded and aligned with Women’s Refuge. It was of the view that FIANZ’s scepticism of the group was unjustified and that there was no reason to doubt what the young women had described.
 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 determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
Standard 5 (accuracy)
 Standard 5 states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. Guideline 5a goes on to state that the standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.
 FIANZ maintained that the item was inaccurate and misleading, because it had portrayed the practice of forced child marriages as widespread among Muslims.
 In our view, the item revolved around the personal experiences of the individual girls involved and Ms Sultana from the Shakti organisation. We note that the presenter did not state that forced child marriages were widespread in the Muslim community; one interviewee gave her personal view that it was occurring “heaps” and Ms Sultana said that Shakti got “quite a few cases”.
 We consider that the item merely conveyed the interviewees’ genuinely held opinions and that they were distinguishable as such. We therefore conclude that the statements made by the interviewees and Ms Sultana were exempt from the accuracy standard under guideline 5a.
 We note that, during his interview, Dr Ghani stated that under Islam, consent of the bride was a necessary prerequisite to any marriage, that forced underage marriage “could be a cultural issue” and that “education was needed”. In our view, the item did not characterise the issue of forced child marriages as a widespread Muslim problem. Rather, the item made it clear that the practice was a problematic cultural phenomenon, as opposed to a religious one.
 We also note that TVNZ sought and included comment from Justice Minister Simon Power, who stated that “numerically there’s no evidence to suggest forced marriage is a significant issue in New Zealand.”
 In these circumstances, we do not consider that viewers were misled into thinking that forced child marriages were widespread among Muslims, and we decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.
Standard 6 (fairness)
 FIANZ contended that the item had breached the fairness standard “by portraying the issue of forced child marriages as a practice which is widespread among Muslim ethnic and migrant communities”, when this was not the case.
 We note that the fairness standard requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. In our view, FIANZ’s fairness concerns relate to the perception of Muslims in general. Because the fairness standard only applies to individuals and organisations taking part or referred to, as opposed to religious groups in general, we find that the standard does not apply in this respect.
 We now turn to consider whether FIANZ and Dr Ghani were treated fairly by TVNZ.
 As outlined in paragraph , the item included Dr Ghani’s statements that under Islam, consent of the bride was a necessary prerequisite to any marriage and that forced underage marriage “could be a cultural issue”. We consider that it was made clear to viewers that neither Dr Ghani nor FIANZ condoned forced child marriages and that it was not a traditional Muslim practice.
 We also find that the broadcaster gave Dr Ghani a sufficient opportunity to convey FIANZ’s views on what the interviewees had said and to respond to the issue of forced child marriages in general. We consider that the excerpts of the interview chosen by TVNZ adequately reflected the views expressed by Dr Ghani on behalf of FIANZ and that he came across as sincere and credible. Therefore, we conclude that Dr Ghani and FIANZ were treated fairly.
 Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6.
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)
 Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.
 FIANZ argued that the item “further reinforced post-9/11 bias, prejudice, stigmatism, and bigotry toward Muslims”. It also contended that footage of a Muslim praying at a mosque had been used to implicate all Muslims as participating in the practice of forced child marriages.
 The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people (see, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks1). The term “discrimination” has been defined by the Authority as encouraging the different treatment of members of a particular group, to their detriment (see Teoh and TVNZ2).
 It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration in contravention of the standard (see, for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network3).
 We agree with TVNZ that the item dealt with the cases of specific individuals and that it did not relate to Muslim people in general. The item did not contain any statements which could be said to have encouraged the denigration of, or discrimination against, members of the Muslim community as a whole.
 While the item did contain footage of a man praying at a mosque, we do not consider that this was an attempt to implicate all Muslims as participating in the practice of forced child marriage. We note that television is a visual medium and the footage was used as “wallpaper” to set the background to the interviewees’ personal experiences of being married by mullahs from mosques. We also note that there was no suggestion that the footage showed a person who was involved with forced child marriages.
 We therefore conclude that nothing contained in the item could be said to have encouraged denigration of, or discrimination against, New Zealand’s Muslim community. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 7 was breached.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
14 September 2010
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand Inc’s formal complaint – 6 April 2010
2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 3 May 2010
3. FIANZ’s referral to the Authority – 13 May 2010
4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 3 August 2010
1Decision No. 2006-030
2Decision No. 2008-091
3Decision No. 2002-152