BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Wong and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-013

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • Tapu Misa
  • R Bryant
  • Daphne Wong

Flipside – item looking into cheating at Universities – comment that Asian learning cultures rewarded copying while punished in New Zealand – inaccurate – denigrated Asian culture

Standard 5 – comments a mixture of facts and opinion – no inaccurate facts

Standard 6 – genuine opinion – not unfair

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] Cheating among students at universities was considered in a segment of Flipside broadcast on TV2 at 6.30pm on Tuesday 1 October 2002. Dr David Brook, Deputy Vice Chancellor at the Auckland University of Technology, was one of the people interviewed.

[2] Daphne Wong complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that Dr Brook’s comment that copying was rewarded in Asian cultures but punished in New Zealand, was untrue and denigrated an entire culture.

[3] In response, TVNZ said that the remark was the expression of a genuine opinion and not misleading. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Wong 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.


[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Cheating among students at universities was considered in a segment of Flipside broadcast on TV2 at 6.30pm on 1 October 2002. Dr David Brook, Deputy Vice Chancellor at the Auckland University of Technology, was one of the people interviewed.

The Complaint

[7] Daphne Wong complained to TVNZ about a comment made by Dr Brook. She said that he had said:

"Many students come from other cultures where learning is different. In Asian cultures, copying is rewarded. Here, we penalise it".

[8] That comment, Ms Wong wrote, was untrue and racist in that it denigrated an entire culture in a few words. Moreover, she said, the programme, by not opposing the comment in any way, had endorsed it.

[9] Ms Wong also complained directly to Dr Brook. In response, he expressed regret that she had been offended, but said that his comment reflected the different learning styles in Asia and New Zealand, both of which he was familiar with.

The Standards

[10] In view of the matters raised, TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Standards, and relevant Guidelines, read

Standard 5

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.


5a  Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

5b  Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

Standard 6

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


6d  Broadcasters should acknowledge the right of individuals to express their own opinions.

6g  Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[11] TVNZ said that a senior figure in the tertiary establishment had been interviewed, but his views were not advanced as those of TVNZ or Flipside.

[12] Referring to the email correspondence between the complainant and Dr Brook, TVNZ was of the view that the dispute was between them. Both parties had experience of education in Asian countries and, it added, Dr Brook had not said that learning in Asian cultures was inferior, rather, the approach was different.

[13] Describing the Standard 6 aspect of the complaint as central, TVNZ said Dr Brook had been expressing a genuinely held opinion. Although it was unable to assess the factual accuracy of the comment made, TVNZ maintained that it contained no significant errors of fact, and was not misleading and, therefore, Guidelines 5a and 5b had not been contravened.

[14] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[15] Daphne Wong repeated her complaint that Dr Brook’s comment was both incorrect and denigrating to an entire culture. She was particularly concerned as Flipside was promoted as an "informative programme, with the goal of reaching people and thus influencing their minds". No culture, she argued forcefully, promoted copying.

[16] Contending that the comment was presented as a fact, Ms Wong did not accept Dr Brook was merely referring to the concept of rote learning. Rote learning and copying, she wrote, were "immensely different things".

[17] However, putting that matter to one side, she described the comment as a "significant error of fact", and, as a consequence, it was misleading. Moreover, the broadcast had given credence to the racist and extremely insulting words.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[18] Expressing the opinion that Ms Wong was confusing its role as the messenger, with the message, TVNZ wrote:

It seems to TVNZ that Flipside acted properly in approaching Dr David Brook for comment on the subject of cheating. Obviously no media organisation claims expertise in every area, and when an issue arises the normal course is for the medium reporting the issue to seek out someone with sufficient expertise to comment.

[19] It reported that Dr Brook had experience in the area of education in Asian countries, and he had been expressing an opinion. It concluded:

We believe this is essentially a dispute between Ms Wong and Dr Brook and we note that the two have corresponded. It is important, we think, to note that while Dr Brook has written in conciliatory terms to Ms Wong he has not resiled from his position as stated on the programme. He has not said he was wrong, or that the programme misrepresented his view.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[20] Her complaint, Ms Wong reiterated, was Flipside’s support, albeit implicit, for Dr Brook’s statement. Ms Wong accepted that the main dispute involved her and Dr Brook but a programme such as Flipside, she wrote, had considerable power in determining the views of people, and with power came responsibility.

The Authority’s Determination

[21] The complainant’s record of Dr Brook’s comment is transcribed in paragraph [7] above. TVNZ reached its decision on the complaint apparently using the complainant’s account of the statement. The Authority notes that the record provided omits some of Dr Brook’s comments. As it considers that an accurate and full account of the comments is central to its determination, it provides the following transcription of some of Dr Brook’s comments broadcast when talking about cheating among students:

Many students come from other cultures where learning is different. If you come from a lot of Asian cultures students are encouraged to copy and they’re rewarded for it in fact. Whereas here we discourage it, and we penalise it.

[22] The programme began by recording the difficulty it had experienced in finding a spokesperson from academia to talk about cheating. The Authority accepts that it is a very sensitive issue for many students and teachers. The programme presented the views of a number of students as well as those of Dr Brook. Five extracts from the interview were broadcast in the magazine style programme in which the item was presented. During those contributions, he spoke about pressure on students, cultural differences, some methods of cheating, the consequences of cheating and its morality. The complainant has focussed on a small part of his contribution.

[23] The beginning of the first extract from the interview recorded Dr Brook saying "I think". The Authority accepts that his subsequent comments were a mixture of matters of fact and expressions of opinion. In regard to the comment complained about, the Authority considers that Dr Brook said that copying, within some Asian cultures of learning, involved repetition, memorisation and, possibly, in view of the theme of the entire item, what may be regarded in New Zealand as cheating.

[24] Thus, while the remarks raised the possibility that some Asian students cheated, the full transcript, in the Authority’s opinion, does not suggest that all Asian students cheat.

[25] Standard 5 requires that factual/news programmes such as Flipside be accurate on points of fact. The comment complained about was included in a conversational mix of fact and opinion given by an expert interviewee during a magazine style news programme. In the subsequent correspondence between Dr Brook and Ms Wong, which the complainant provided, Dr Brook emphasised that he was referring to a culture involving the accrual of facts and figures and the production of context which required copying and repetition. While Dr Brook is required to be factually accurate, the Authority accepts that the contribution complained about was principally an expression of opinion which touched on, but did not reach an authoritative conclusion, on some sensitive matters.

[26] The Authority has no doubt that Dr Brook was expressing a genuinely held opinion and thus his comments did not breach Guideline 6g of Standard 6. The Authority concludes that the remarks were neither inaccurate nor unfair.

[27] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply 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
27 February 2003


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

  1. Daphne Wong’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd (plus attachments) – 4 October 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 23 October 2002
  3. Ms Wong’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 14 November 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 28 November 2002
  5. Ms Wong’s Final Comment – 17 December 2002