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Withers and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-074

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Dr C S Withers
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast – interview with John Key – presenter’s comments – allegedly in breach of balance

Standard 4 (balance) – programme did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   An episode of Breakfast was broadcast on TV One on the morning of Wednesday 4 June 2008 between 6.30am and 9am. At approximately 7.15am, one of the hosts, Paul Henry, interviewed the Leader of the Opposition, John Key. This was a weekly exchange used to balance Paul Henry’s Monday morning weekly discussions with the Prime Minister, Helen Clark.

[2]   In the 4 June segment, Mr Key and the host discussed the possibility of a National coalition with the Green Party. Mr Key commented that the Greens “tend to come from a slightly different perspective from us”, and the host agreed, saying, “Absolutely crazy perspective quite often”. Mr Key responded, “Sometimes”.

[3]   At the conclusion of the discussion at about 7.20am, the host said:

Alright John, thank you very much for joining us. John Key, the National leader. We probably don’t need to say that actually though. It’s pretty obvious. If you didn’t realise John Key was the National leader then quite frankly you don’t deserve the right to vote.


[4]   Dr C.S. Withers made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that Paul Henry’s comments “[showed] political bias”. Dr Withers said it was “not appropriate for an interviewer to trash one party or push another party”.


[5]   TVNZ assessed Dr Withers’ complaint under Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   TVNZ disagreed with the complainant that Mr Henry “trashed” the Green Party. It argued that his comment that they have a “crazy perspective” was “ad lib and an attempt to draw the Leader of the Opposition into some petty politicking, which Mr Key knew and appropriately ignored”.

[7]   With respect to the host’s comment at the conclusion of the segment, the broadcaster maintained that: was an expression of opinion on a general topic. It did not seek to support any political party or individual, nor did it “trash” any political parties.

[8]   TVNZ emphasised that balance between the perspectives of political parties in the lead-up to an election could and would be achieved over more than one programme throughout the period of current interest, in accordance with Standard 4. Accordingly, it declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[9]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Dr Withers referred the complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[10]   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.

[11]   Standard 4 requires that, when a programme discusses a controversial issue of public importance, broadcasters must make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view on that issue. The segment complained about was a regular, informal platform for the Leader of the Opposition to offer his views on subjects raised by the Breakfast host. This followed the Prime Minister’s regular slot earlier in the week.

[12]   While the segment may have alluded to controversial issues of public importance – including the possibility of a coalition government following the next election – the Authority considers that the interview did not amount to a “discussion” of a controversial issue as envisaged by Standard 4. The host asked a few short questions about Mr Key’s perspective on a number of topics; the programme did not “discuss” any controversial issues in the manner envisaged by the balance standard. Accordingly, the Authority finds that Standard 4 did not apply to the host’s comments and questions.

[13]   For the record, however, the Authority agrees with TVNZ that the reasonable viewer would have interpreted the host’s comments as being provocative; they were not intended to be offensive and did not display any political bias. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the Standard 4 complaint. 


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
21 October 2008


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

1.           Dr C.S. Withers’ formal complaint – 3 June 2008
2.          TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 1 July 2008
3.          Dr Withers’ referral to the Authority – 16 July 2008
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 22 August 2008