BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Wakelin and CanWest Radio NZ Ltd - 2002-115

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • Shaun Wakelin
Number
2002-115
Broadcaster
CanWest Radio NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Channel Z

Complaint
Channel Z News item – arrest of man for the kidnapping of Kahurautete Durie – reported that the accused expected to have a hard time in jail – announcer expressed pleasure at that prospect – offensive, unfair and unbalanced  broadcaster upheld aspect that item failed to distinguish between fact and opinion

Findings
Principle 1 – not offensive – no uphold

Principle 2 – did not encourage breach of law – no uphold

Principle 3 – accused not named – no breach of privacy – no uphold

Principle 4 – not unbalanced – no uphold

Principle 6 – facts sourced and distinguished from opinion – no uphold

Principle 7 – gang spokesmen cited – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The arrest of a 54 year-old man accused of kidnapping Kahurautete Durie was reported in a news item on Channel Z broadcast at 8.00am on 22 April 2002. The item stated that there were reports that gang members in prison were outraged at the kidnapping, and an announcer on Channel Z appeared to express pleasure at the prospect of the accused having a hard time in jail.

[2] Shaun Wakelin complained to Channel Z (a division of CanWest Radio NZ Ltd) that the announcer’s comment broadcast during the news item breached the accused’s privacy, disregarded the observance of good taste and decency, was not balanced, fair and accurate, and posed a serious threat to the maintenance of law and order. He was also concerned that it stereotyped gang members in a negative way.

[3] In response, Channel Z upheld the aspect of the complaint that the announcer in expressing his pleasure at the accused man’s possible treatment in jail, failed to distinguish between fact and opinion. It apologised to the complainant and reported that the announcer had been counselled. It declined to uphold any other aspect of the complaint, explaining that news on Channel Z included comments made for their entertainment value. The report about the man’s likely treatment at the hands of other prisoners, it wrote, was taken from other media sources.

[4] Dissatisfied that the complaint had not been upheld in full, Mr Wakelin referred it 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 programme complained about and have read a transcript of it. They have also read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] The arrest of a man for kidnapping Kahurautete Durie was reported in a news item broadcast on Channel Z at 8.00am on 22 April 2002. It was also reported that it was likely that he would have a hard time in jail as gang members disliked child abusers and kidnappers. One of the announcers appeared to relish that prospect.

The Complaint

[7] Shaun Wakelin complained to Channel Z that the news item breached the individual’s privacy, disregarded the observance of good taste and decency, was not balanced, fair and accurate, and posed a serious threat to the maintenance of law and order. He was also concerned that it stereotyped gang members in a negative way.

The Standards

[8] Neither the complainant nor the broadcaster nominated the standards allegedly breached by the broadcast. In view of the specific matters raised in the complaint, the Authority considers that the following standards in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice apply:

Principle 1

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Principle 2

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.

Principle 3

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual.

Principle 4

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain 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.

Principle 5

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

Principle 6

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

Principle 7

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

Guidelines

7a  Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual; or

ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or

iii) is by of legitimate humour or satire.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] Channel Z stated:

The news on Channel Z is not taken as seriously as the news on most other radio stations and statements regarding topical issues are often made in jest. This is in keeping with the format of the station and its audience. Anyone listening to the news broadcast on Channel Z will realise that the announcers frequently make controversial and outlandish statements for entertainment value. They are not stating political agendas, nor are they trying to influence the public into thinking and feeling a particular way. They are simply stating personal opinions and the casual format of the news should prevent anyone from taking these opinions too seriously.

[10] With regard to the item complained about, Channel Z said that the breakfast announcer had interrupted the news reader, and his comment about gangs hating kidnappers was derived from a recent newspaper article. He did not, the broadcaster noted, comment about guilt.

[11] Channel Z accepted that the comment expressing relish that the kidnapper would have a hard time in jail (the "woo-hoo" comment) should not have been made, and apologised to Mr Wakelin, adding:

The announcer’s exclamation of ‘woo-hoo’ at the prospect of Mr Traynor being assaulted was a reflection of his feelings about the crime that the man committed. While the announcer feels that a man associated with a crime as serious as the one Mr Traynor has been accused of does not deserve any favours, we accept that the newsreader did not distinguish between fact and opinion, and for this reason your complaint is upheld in part. As a result, the newsreader has been counselled by the company’s lawyer on the need to distinguish fact from fiction [sic].

[12] Channel Z did not uphold the aspects relating to racism or stereotyping.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[13] Mr Wakelin said he was not satisfied with Channel Z’s response. He summarised Channel Z’s letter as follows:

1. News broadcasts are not taken seriously on Channel Z

2. Statements on topical issues are frequently made in jest

3. The comments made about the Traynor/Durie case should be seen for its entertainment value

4. Channel Z’s news is value free and does not influence public opinion

5. ‘Gang behaviour’ in prison and the violent treatment of ‘child abusers’ [in prison] is a matter of fact

6. It is usual practice for Channel Z news commentators to regularly illustrate their bias.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14] Channel Z responded to the above six points:

1. News stories on Channel Z were not as serious as those on other stations – but that was not relevant to the complaint.

2. It agreed, describing it as satire

3. Channel Z, it wrote, was in the business of entertainment

4. Channel Z pointed out that it had upheld the aspect of the complaint relating to the "woo-hoo" comment

5. Maintaining that this was a matter of fact, Channel Z enclosed a report from the BBC news which reported the threats by gangs against the kidnapper

6. This was dealt with in point 3 above.

[15] Channel Z noted that it had upheld the complaint in part and had apologised to Mr Wakelin.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[16] Mr Wakelin expressed the view that Channel Z was not taking his complaint seriously. He expected accurate and fair reporting but, immediately after the arrest, an item:

publicly castigated [the man arrested], made light of a baby’s kidnapping, expressed joy at a potential assault … and promoted an array of other misinformation including unfounded and potentially damaging commentary about the "nature" of certain categories of people.

The Authority’s Determination

[17] Mr Wakelin complained that a news item on Channel Z breached a range of the Principles in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice when an announcer interrupted a news reader reading an item about the arrest of a man accused of kidnapping Kahurautete Durie (Baby Kahu). The announcer referred to a newspaper article which reported that gang members were outraged at the kidnapping and that the kidnapper would have a hard time in jail. The announcer appeared to relish that prospect.

[18] Mr Wakelin listed a number of ways in which the broadcast breached the standards and expressed particular concern, first at the announcer’s statement that the kidnapper would have a hard time in jail because gang members disliked child kidnappers, and second, at the announcer relishing that prospect.

[19] Regardless of the style of delivery used, the Authority notes that news and current affairs programmes are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact (Principle 6), to deal justly and fairly with people referred to (Principle 5), and to be balanced (Principle 4). News programmes, as with all broadcasts, must maintain standards consistent with the observance of good taste and decency (Principle 1). Aspects of the other Principles also apply to news programmes.

[20] This complaint is not so much concerned with the news bulletin, read by the news reader, but with the juxtaposition of fact and opinion inserted by the morning announcer so that the line between the news item and the announcer’s unscripted interruptions became blurred. For this reason the Authority believes that the essence of the complaint concerns the style of the news.

[21] In assessing the complaint the Authority has been concerned to ensure that the factual interruptions are accurate and the opinion expressed is clearly opinion.

[22] The substantial interruptions came towards the end of the news item, after the news reader said that the man arrested was due to appear in Court late that day. The transcript continues….

Male announcer       He’s gonna have a very crap time in jail, did you see what all the gang
                               members were saying yesterday?

Female news reader  I did, yeah I read it in the paper.

Male announcer      They were going yeah kidnappers (female newsreader joins in
                               yeah, na) and child abusers and rapists yeah you’re going to have a
                               lovely time. We’re looking forward to seeing you and we’re all going to
                               have a beating up competition yeah (female news reader joins in) yeah.

That was the end of the particular news item.

[23] As to the accuracy of the announcer’s interruptions, the broadcaster provided the Authority with a copy of an article in the "Sunday News" of 21 April. The article included comments from spokesmen from the Headhunter, Mongrel Mob and Black Power gangs. Each expressed anger at the kidnapping and said that the kidnapper could expect to be assaulted by gang members when in jail.

[24] It was against that background that the item was broadcast. It was made clear that it was the announcer’s view. It was not suggested that it was or should be the community’s response.

[25] Turning to the standards cited, the Authority does not consider that the style of news or the specific language used transgressed Principle 1 of the Radio Code. Although retributive attitudes were apparent, it does not accept that the item encouraged breach of the law in contravention of Principle 2. As the alleged kidnapper was not named or otherwise identified in the item, the issue of privacy in Principle 3 was not relevant. The item itself, the Authority notes, was neither unbalanced nor unfair to the accused man contrary to Principle 5. Material was cited, and as opinion and fact were clearly distinguished, the Authority concludes that Principle 6 was not breached. Finally, as the comments about gangs were taken from the quoted remarks of some gang spokesmen, the Authority does not accept that they were stereotyped in a way which contravened Principle 7. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

[26] 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
22 August 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Shaun Wakelin’s Complaint to Channel Z (a division of CanWest Radio NZ Ltd) – 28 April 2002
  2. Channel Z’s Response to the Formal Complaint – Undated
  3. Mr Wakelin’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 29 May 2002
  4. Channel Z’s Response to the Authority – 2 July 2002
  5. Mr Wakelin’s Final Comment – 17 July 2002