BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Yates and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2015-046

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Nigel Yates
Number
2015-046
Programme
Worldwatch
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Summary

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

An item on Worldwatch reported on a request from the Iraqi Prime Minister to President Obama for continued assistance in defeating Islamic State militants in his country. Another item reported on a rally which took place in Nigeria's capital to mark the first anniversary of the abduction of some 200 school girls by the 'terrorist group Boko Haram'. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the use of the terms 'Islamist terrorism' and 'terrorist' was selective and denigrated people who follow Islam. The references were accurate, did not carry any invective and were not exclusive to Islamic groups so the programme as a whole could not be considered to encourage discrimination against, or the denigration of, all people of the Islamic religion. The complainant did not specify who he believed had been treated unfairly.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration, Fairness


Introduction

[1]  An item on Worldwatch reported on a request from the Iraqi Prime Minister to President Obama for continued assistance in defeating Islamic State militants in his country. Another item reported on a rally which took place in Nigeria's capital to mark the first anniversary of the abduction of some 200 school girls by the 'terrorist group Boko Haram'.

[2]  Nigel Yates complained that the use of the phrase 'Islamist terrorism' and the word 'terrorist' in these items was 'selective and discriminatory' and denigrated all people of the Islamic religion.

[3]  The issue is whether the items breached the discrimination and denigration and fairness standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The programme was broadcast on 15 April 2015 on Radio New Zealand 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.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Muslims as a section of the community?

[5] The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

[6]  'Denigration' has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people.1 'Discrimination' has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment.2 It is well-established that in light of the requirements of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard.3

[7]  Nigel Yates complained that the use of the words 'terrorism' and 'terrorist' in these items was 'selective and discriminatory' as they are not generally used by RNZ when referring to 'similar or worse acts by [New Zealand] allies, notably Israel and the United States'. He argued the implication was that 'violent activities by [New Zealand] state allies are somehow legitimate and proportionate, while those of the "terrorists" and "militants" are always illegitimate and indiscriminate'.

[8]  RNZ argued that the first item reported the words of the Iraqi Prime Minister, and the descriptions in the second item were 'commonplace' and led by the United Nations Security Council's description of Boko Haram's actions. It said 'it is hard to see, given the actions of the groups described, how... harm could arise from the descriptions used'. Further, a description of the group 'Islamic State' did not refer to 'all people of the Islamic religion', it said.

[9]  Mr Yates' concern about RNZ's choice of language in these types of items generally is beyond the permissible scope of our determination. We are limited to considering the specific content of the items he has identified. In the items we were able to pick up the following statements:

  •  'Iraq's Prime Minister has asked the United States for continued assistance to defeat Islamic State militants in his country.  ...He's confident the militants can be defeated.'
  •  'Three quarters remained occupied by Islamic State...'
  •  'Boko Haram militants'
  •  'the militant group'
  •  '17-year-old [name] was kidnapped by the terror group Boko Haram'.

[10]  We were not able to hear any reference to 'Islamist terrorism' in the items Mr Yates identified. Whether or not this phrase was used, the items could not be said to have encouraged discrimination against, or the denigration of, any section of the community or 'all people of the Islamic religion'.

[11]  Guideline 7a to the discrimination and denigration standard states that it is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is factual, or a genuine expression of serious comment or analysis. These were straightforward news items which we think clearly fell within this exemption. The items used commonplace terms for the kinds of groups and actions referred to. Within the programme the word 'militants' was used to refer to a number of groups and was not exclusively used in relation to followers of Islam. The items did not carry any invective or malice and did not amount to hate speech.4

[12]  Accordingly we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 7.

Was any individual or organisation taking part or referred to in the broadcast treated unfairly?

[13]  The fairness standard (Standard 6) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.5

[14]  Mr Yates argued that 'this unbalanced type of political reporting is unfair'. The fairness standard applies only to individuals or organisations taking part or referred to in a broadcast. Mr Yates did not identify who he believed was treated unfairly by the broadcaster. We therefore decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich

Chair

23 September 2015

 

Appendix

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

1      Nigel Yates' formal complaint – 30 April 2015
2      Radio New Zealand Ltd's response to the complaint – 25 May 2015
3      Mr Yates' referral to the Authority – 29 June 2015
4      RNZ's response to the Authority – 18 August 2015

 


See, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks, Decision No. 2006-030

For example, Teoh and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-091

E.g. McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network, Decision No. 2002-152

For a discussion of the factors considered in relation to the discrimination and denigration standard and examples of programmes which were found to have breached the standard, see Practice Note: Denigration and discrimination as broadcasting standards, Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2006

 Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014