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Thomas and The Radio Network Ltd - 2002-061

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • Nadine Thomas
Number
2002-061
Programme
Crimeline
Broadcaster
The Radio Network Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio Scenicland

Complaint
Crimeline Radio Scenicland – weekly feature about police – reference to allegation about some questionable police practices in Greymouth – unfair comments in response – complainant obtained tape – part of broadcast missing – complainant later accepted that pause occurred when logging tape turned over

Findings
Principle 7 – well-publicised matter dealt with responsibly – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] An allegation about corruption at the Greymouth Police Station made by two police officers was touched upon in Crimeline broadcast between 8.30 - 9.00am on 29 January 2002. Crimeline, broadcast on Radio Scenicland in Greymouth, is a weekly discussion with a police officer about Police activities in the region.

[2] Nadine Thomas, one of two police officers who had made the allegations, complained to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, that the comments had discredited them. She also complained that the tape of the broadcast she had obtained from Radio Scenicland had been interfered with and that some of the interview had been deleted.

[3] In response, TRN said the item was factually correct and it declined to uphold the complaint. It explained that about 5 seconds of the interview was missing which had occurred as the logging tape was being turned over.

[4] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Thomas referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

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

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the item complained about (other than the disputed 5 second gap) and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Crimeline is a weekly feature broadcast on Radio Scenicland in Greymouth. In the programme, which started at 8.45am on Tuesday 29 January 2002, the announcer (Ivan Wilson) put a number of questions to the police officer who was reporting on the past week’s events (Const. Adele Coll). The programme discussed some high profile activities in which the police had been involved and then dealt with some allegations made by two police officers about some unsatisfactory practices at the Greymouth Police Station.

[7] In dealing with these allegations, the police officer being interviewed said that comments made by the two were "trying to detract from the very good police work that has been done". The officer also stated that the Police Association spokesperson had said that the two had been treated fairly, and the situation in Greymouth was not "as wrong as what these two allege to have happened".

The Complaint

[8] Nadine Thomas, one of the officers referred to, but not by name, wrote to Radio Scenicland and complained that the comments in the broadcast were designed to discredit her and the other officer who had also made the allegations. On legal advice, Ms Thomas wrote, she decided to obtain a tape of the broadcast. She said that she was told by the station that she could have a copy for $50 provided she supplied her own tape.

[9] When she arrived at the station, she was given a copy of the tape, she said, but she was not required to pay for it.

[10] The complainant continued:

Unfortunately, when I later listened to the recording it was evident to me (and several other people who heard it) that the recording was interfered with.

[11] Certain words, she wrote, had been deleted.

[12] She reported that she had later spoken to a Brian Jennings of Radio Scenicland who, after he had made enquiries, advised her that the log tape ran out during the broadcast of Crimeline.

[13] In view of the repetition of some of the broadcast before and after the breaks, Ms Thomas questioned the accuracy of the broadcaster’s explanation.

The Standards

[14] TRN assessed the complaint about the contents of the broadcast under Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It reads:

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[15] TRN focused on the aspect of the complaint about the gap in the tape. It stated that the station used a 120 minute cassette as a logging tape, which had to be turned over at the end of the first side of the tape. This involved the loss of about 5 seconds of airtime.

[16] TRN continued:

In listening to the tape this is exactly what happens. The Constable Coll interview is getting close to the end when the tape runs out at the 60 minute mark. A few words are lost as the manual changeover takes place and the interview resumes on the other side.

While there may be a question mark over the logging method, the omission is genuine based on that method and has nothing to do with interference.

[17] In addressing the complaint about the contents of the broadcast, TRN stated that the police officer said: "a couple of people are perhaps trying to detract from the very good police work that has been done". TRN said that the allegations about the Greymouth Police were common knowledge and the officer "was merely making a defence of their position".

[18] TRN added that the officer quoted the Police Association spokesperson to the effect that the two officers had been treated fairly, and that the situation of the Police in Greymouth was not as bad as what had been alleged.

[19] Explaining that the interview was concluding as the tape ended, TRN maintained that the references to the two officers were factual and it declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[20] When Ms Thomas referred her complaint to the Authority, she reported on her dealings with Radio Scenicland about the tape. She acknowledged that she had agreed to pay $50 for the tape before obtaining it but, on the basis that it was incomplete, she did not now intend to pay.

[21] In regard to the missing words, she wrote:

I am suspicious of the explanation offered considering the missing words from the recording were the ones in question. What a coincidence!

[22] Repeating her suspicions about the missing words on the tape and her concern about the "rather exorbitant fee demanded", Ms Thomas objected to the way the allegations about corruption were dealt with during the broadcast. She stated:

I object to the leading way the broadcaster introduced the recently publicised allegations of corruption. Both Ivan Wilson and Adele Coll had obviously discussed and planned a lead in to the subject of problems with the Greymouth Police Station. It was more than obvious to myself and many others that their objective was to put my partner and I down and cast aspersions. Neither of these people are aware of the facts regarding the circumstances. Their opinions were obviously based on incorrect media reports, and supposition. In short Constable Coll’s comments discredited the Police. I have yet to make any public statements.

[23] Ms Thomas disagreed with TRN that the comments made were factual. The comments in the broadcast, she maintained, were incorrect in that they attributed responsibility to her and her partner for the problems in the Greymouth Police Station.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[24] Declining to comment on the supply of the tape as that was "outside the BSA jurisdiction", TRN averred that there were only a few words missing on the tape. Moreover, it was adamant that the complainant had not been mentioned during the gap.

[25] TRN argued that there had been considerable publicity about the police inquiry in the local media, and the two references to the topic during the broadcast were factual.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[26] Ms Thomas stated that she had spoken to the announcer and was prepared to accept the explanation about the gap in the tape.

[27] However, she disputed TRN’s comment that the issue was a "legitimate topic for discussion". The police inquiry was neither confirmed nor underway, and she described the constable’s on air comment as "purely personal and speculative". Other listeners to the broadcast, she wrote, assured her that they had been appalled at the tone and contents of the constable’s remarks.

[28] Ms Thomas repeated her concern about the manner in which she had been treated by the station management, and advised that she intended to pursue her complaints against both the station and the constable who spoke during the broadcast.

The Authority’s Determination

[29] Ms Thomas complained about the broadcast of Crimeline by Radio Scenicland on 29 January. She initially expressed some concern about a gap in the tape of the item which she had obtained. However, she later accepted that the brief gap occurred when the logging tape was turned over.

[30] Ms Thomas is a police officer based in Greymouth. The Authority is aware her comments, which have questioned some of the activities at the Greymouth Police Station, have had media coverage nation-wide. She also complained about comments on Crimeline which referred to these matters. She suggested that the issue should not have been raised and, when it was, the comments were critical of her and her partner.

[31] The Authority has listened to a tape of Crimeline and, to ensure that the complaint was thoroughly assessed, it obtained a transcript of the item. Having read the transcript, the Authority does not accept that the issue should not have been referred to, or that there were any comments made about Ms Thomas or her partner, which besmirched or otherwise unjustly criticised them in a way which contravened broadcasting standards. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

[32] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
23 May 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Nadine Thomas’ Request to Radio Scenicland for a tape of the broadcast of Crimeline on 29 January 2002 – 1 February 2002.
  2. Radio Scenicland’s Invoice for $50 to Ms Thomas for the tape – 11 February 2002
  3. Ms Thomas’ Formal Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd (through the Broadcasting Standards Authority) – 20 February 2002
  4. TRN’s Response to Ms Thomas – 26 February 2002
  5. Ms Thomas’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 11 March 2002
  6. TRN’s Response to the Authority – 19 March 2002
  7. Ms Thomas’ Final Comment – 7 April 2002