BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Wilkinson and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2017-012 (15 May 2017)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
Dated
Complainant
  • Bryce Wilkinson
Number
2017-012
Programme
Saturday Morning
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Summary

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

An interview was broadcast on Saturday Morning with a Swedish historian and author. During the interview, the presenter allegedly quoted former Finance Minister, Sir Roger Douglas. At the end of the item, the presenter also read out negative and critical comments from listeners about the interview. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the presenter’s statement, allegedly attributed to Sir Roger Douglas, was inaccurate, and that reading out the comments received was offensive. The statement was not a material point of fact in the context of the item and would not have affected listeners’ understanding of the item as a whole, which was focused on the views and work of the interviewee. Further, listeners were unlikely to have understood the statement to be a direct quote from the former Finance Minister, and would not have been misled. In the context of the item and the programme, the comments read out by the presenter, while critical and expressed in strong or provocative language, did not reach the threshold necessary to breach standards of good taste and decency.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Good Taste and Decency


Introduction

[1]  An interview was broadcast on Saturday Morning with a Swedish historian and author. The interview comprised his views on economic globalisation, poverty and equality. Thirty-four minutes into the interview, presenter Kim Hill said:

The story in New Zealand, of course, is that when the Labour government at the time chose to deregulate, the Minister Roger Douglas said, ‘look, we didn’t tell you what we wanted to do because if we told you, you would never have voted us in’ – and I’m wondering whether you think democracy is compatible with that kind of opening up of an economy?

[2]  At the end of the item, Ms Hill also read out negative and critical comments received from listeners about the interviewee and his views.

[3]  Bryce Wilkinson complained that Ms Hill’s statement regarding Sir Roger Douglas was inaccurate, and that the presenter had no authoritative basis for making this assertion. The comments read out at the end of the interview constituted ‘gratuitous personal bile’, and the decision to read these comments was in breach of the good taste and decency standard, he said.

[4]  The issues raised in Mr Wilkinson’s complaint are whether the broadcast breached the accuracy and good taste and decency standards, as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The item was broadcast at 8.12am on 10 December 2016 on RNZ National. The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[6]  The accuracy standard (Standard 9) 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. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from being significantly misinformed.

The parties’ submissions

[7]  Mr Wilkinson submitted that Ms Hill made an unequivocal assertion, ie, that Sir Roger Douglas had lied to voters, which was inaccurate and ‘a major allegation of deceit’ of the electorate. Her comment did not make sense given the views outlined in Sir Roger Douglas’ book, There’s Got To Be a Better Way!,1 written prior to the 1984 general election. The complainant said Ms Hill had not responded to his requests for an authority for the statement.

[8]  RNZ submitted that Ms Hill’s statement was not a direct quote but a ‘scene-setting’ comment to introduce the next part of the conversation about the introduction of economic change. Whether or not this was a direct quote did not affect the audience’s understanding of where the discussion was heading, or its meaning, and was therefore not a material point of fact.

Our analysis

[9]  The accuracy standard is concerned only with accuracy on points which are material to the programme as a whole. Technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme are not material.2

[10]  This item was primarily focused on the interviewee’s views on globalisation, poverty, and equality. The interviewee covered topics such as the perceived decline in poverty and global inequality, as well as his philosophical views on pessimism, alarmist media, climate change, and the welfare system. The item also briefly covered the New Zealand context, during which the interviewee discussed the economic reforms initiated by then Finance Minister Sir Roger Douglas in the 1980s.

[11]  In the context of a 48-minute item, which covered a variety of topics and was transparently focused on the personal views of the interviewee, we do not consider that Ms Hill’s statement was a material point of fact for the purposes of the accuracy standard. The statement was brief and was unlikely to affect the audience’s understanding of the interview as a whole, which was focused on the interviewee’s own views around globalisation and poverty.

[12]  In any event, we do not consider listeners would have taken Ms Hill’s comment as being a direct quote from Sir Roger Douglas. In our view, her statement paraphrased the perception that the reforms introduced by Sir Roger Douglas after Labour’s election represented a radical shift in Labour policy. We consider that most listeners would have understood Ms Hill’s statement to be a shorthand way of summarising this view and introducing the next topic of discussion, and not a direct quote from Sir Roger Douglas.

[13]  We therefore do not consider listeners would have been misled by Ms Hill’s statement, and we do not uphold the accuracy complaint.

Did the broadcast threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[14]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.

The parties’ submissions

[15]  Mr Wilkinson submitted that Ms Hill broadcast abusive messages from an anonymous listener, which amounted to ‘gratuitous personal abuse’ of the interviewee.

[16]  RNZ submitted that Ms Hill used a ‘somewhat ironic tone’ to present the comments, which ‘ameliorated their “sting”’. The comments, and their delivery, fell short of breaching broadcasting standards, the broadcaster said.

Our analysis

[17]  Taking into account relevant contextual factors, such as Saturday Morning’s target audience and the expectation that the show will include robust questioning and critique, we consider that the comments read by Ms Hill, while negative, were not so offensive as to outweigh the broadcaster’s (and the commenting listener’s) right to freedom of expression.

[18]  The fact that the feedback was critical of the interviewee and expressed in strong or provocative language does not in itself mean it reached the high threshold necessary to breach standards of good taste and decency. Ms Hill read the comments in a self-deprecating and ironic tone, which lent humour to the comments and which highlighted their extreme nature.3 This interpretation was reinforced by Ms Hill’s (sarcastic) comment that the listener was ‘prepared to argue [their] case so coherently’.

[19]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint under Standard 1.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
15 May 2017

 

Appendix

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

1      Bryce Wilkinson’s formal complaint – 24 January 2017
2      RNZ’s response to the complaint – 22 February 2017
3      Mr Wilkinson’s referral to the Authority – 27 February 2017
4      RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 4 April 2017

 

 


1  Roger Douglas, Wellington: Fourth Estate Press, 1980. This detailed Sir Roger Douglas’ ideas for an ‘alternative budget’ in New Zealand, which would later form the basis for the ‘Rogernomics’ reforms. 
2  Guideline 9b 
3  See also Moffat and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2014-161, at [12], in which the Authority found that potentially offensive comments read out by Mike Hosking were in the nature of self-deprecating humour, and the beeping out of language added to the comedic effect and lightened the tone.