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Bowman and RadioWorks Ltd - 2011-129

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainant

  • Alana Bowman of Wellington

Dated

19th October 2011

Number

2011-129

Channel/Station

Radio Live

Broadcaster

RadioWorks Ltd


Leigh Pearson declared a conflict of interest and took no part in the deliberations.


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Prime Minister’s Hour – Prime Minister John Key hosted Radio Live for an hour – stated that it was an “election-free zone” – Mr Key interviewed Richie McCaw, Sir Richard Branson and Sir Peter Jackson – allegedly in breach of the Election Programmes Code

Findings
Standards E1 (election programmes subject to other Codes) and E5 (opening and closing addresses) – broadcast did not amount to an “election programme” for the purposes of the Broadcasting Act 1989 or the Election Programmes Code – in any event the nominated standards were not breached

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  Media Works broadcasts in New Zealand through two television stations and many more radio stations. One of its radio stations is Radio Live. This station has coverage across New Zealand. 

[2]  Radio Live reached an arrangement with the Prime Minister, John Key, for him to host a one hour live radio programme on 30 September 2011. The format of the programme had Mr Key acting as if he were a radio host. He gave comments about the weather, he interacted with music being played, he interviewed guests and he did all of the sorts of things that a radio host would typically do. Mr Key stated, early in the programme, that he was not going to discuss election issues. It is likely that the programme would have attracted a lot of listener interest on account of the unusual situation where a Prime Minister was playing radio host.

The Complaint

[3]  Alana Bowman has made a formal written complaint to this Authority. It says that:

  • The programme was an “election programme” as defined in the Broadcasting Act 1989; and
  • The Code of Broadcasting Practice in relation to election programmes was breached.

[4]  Ms Bowman argued that the free air time given to John Key amounted to promoting the National Party Prime Minister during the election campaign.

Was the Prime Minister’s Hour an “Election Programme”?

[5]  We have recently determined in relation to another complaint that the Prime Minister’s Hour did not come within the definition of an election programme, which we interpreted as requiring overt or explicit encouragement or persuasion to vote in a particular way, rather than incidentally or consequently amounting to encouragement or persuasion. Our reasons for reaching this conclusion are fully expressed in our decision, New Zealand Labour Party and RadioWorks Ltd.1

Consideration of Standards in the Election Programmes Code

[6]  Our finding that the broadcast was not an “election programme” disposes of the complaint. We will nevertheless proceed to address the complainant’s arguments in terms of the broadcasting standards she raised.

Standard E1 (Election programmes subject to other codes)

[7]  If the programme is an election programme then it is, in terms of Standard E1, subject to all relevant provisions of the Codes of Broadcasting Practice for television and radio except for the requirement to present a range of significant viewpoints on issues of public importance. Ms Bowman has complained that the programme breached Standards 4 and 8 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. 

Radio Code Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints)

[8]  Ms Bowman argued that RadioWorks did not make reasonable efforts to present viewpoints from other political leaders, in breach of Standard 4.

[9]  As noted above in paragraph [7], the Election Programmes Code explicitly states under Standard E1 that, “An election programme is subject to all relevant provisions of the Codes of Broadcasting Practice for television and radio except for the requirement to present a range of significant viewpoints on issues of public importance.” This means we are unable to consider Standard 4 under the Election Programmes Code.

Radio Code Standard 8 (responsible programming)

[10]  Ms Bowman argued that the Prime Minister’s Hour was not responsible programming as the broadcast was an “advertisement” and was not distinguishable from programme material. Guideline 8d to Standard 8 states that advertisements and infomercials should be clearly distinguishable from other programme material.

[11]  In our view, the Prime Minister’s Hour was a one-hour live radio programme in which John Key played radio host. He gave comments about the weather, he interacted with music being played, he interviewed guests and he did all of the sorts of things that a radio host would typically do. We do not consider that this could be categorised as an “advertisement”. Rather, it was clearly editorial content, in other words, “programme material”. Accordingly, we do not consider that the broadcast breached Standard 8.

Standard E5 (Opening and closing addresses)

[12]  Ms Bowman also complained that the programme breached Standard E5 (opening and closing addresses) of the Election Programmes Code.

[13]  Standard E5 states that “A party opening or closing address must be clearly identifiable as a party political broadcast made by, or on behalf of, a specified political party.” In our view, this was clearly not an “opening address” by a political party as envisaged by the Code or by the Broadcasting Act. As we have already noted, we consider that the programme was in a standard format, with the Prime Minister taking the place of a regular radio host. We therefore find that the broadcast did not breach Standard E5.

Conclusion

[14]  Our opinion therefore is that even if this programme were held to be an election programme, which we do not consider it was, it would not have breached any of the standards raised by the complainant.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
19 October 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Alana Bowman’s formal complaint to the Authority – 5 October 2011

2                 RadioWorks’ response to the complaint – 11 October 2011

3                 National Party’s response to the complaint – 12 October 2011

4                 Ms Bowman’s final comments – 12 October 2011

5                 Office of the Prime Minister’s response to the complaint – 13 October 2011

6                 RadioWorks’ final comments – 13 October 2011


1Decision No. 2011-128