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Business Innovation Group and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1994-007

Members

  • I W Gallaway (Chair)
  • J R Morris
  • R A Barraclough
  • L M Dawson

Complainant

  • Business Innovation Group (BIG) of Auckland

Dated

21st February 1994

Number

1994-007

Programme

Holmes

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Summary

The controversy aroused by an incident which occurred during a course conducted for the

Excellerated Learning Institute was the subject of an item broadcast on Holmes on 4

October 1993 between 6.307.00pm.

Business Innovation Group's Managing Director, Mr Baruhas, complained to Television

New Zealand Ltd that the item was subjective, unbalanced, failed to deal fairly with the

issue or with the course leader and was accordingly in breach of broadcasting standards.

In response, TVNZ argued that the allegations made by one of the course participants

required a full investigation. It denied that the item lacked balance, pointing out that the

course leader was given the opportunity to respond to each matter raised, and further,

that the requirement for impartiality did not preclude investigating a matter of public

concern. It declined to uphold the complaint. Dissatisfied with that decision, Business

Innovation Group referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under

s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority declined to uphold the complaint.


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the programme complained about and have

read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice, the Authority

has determined the complaint without a formal hearing.

An item on Holmes broadcast on 4 October 1993 between 6.307.30pm investigated an

incident which it was admitted occurred at one of the courses conducted for the

Excellerated Learning Institute. Amateur video footage of the incident showed a woman

participant being subjected to disparaging remarks by the course leader (Mr Kiyosaki) and

other participants. The item, in addition to giving background information on the

motivational courses and the teaching methods employed, investigated the incident and

included comment and an apology from Mr Kiyosaki as well as comment from the woman

concerned and a psychologist.

The New Zealand agents for the Excellerated Learning Institute, Business Innovation

Group, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the item was unbalanced, unfair in

its portrayal of Mr Kiyosaki and lacking in objectivity.

TVNZ reported that it had assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by

Business Innovation Group. The first two require broadcasters:

G4   To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any

programme.

G6   To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters,

current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.


The other nominated standards provide:

News, Current Affairs and Documentaries


G14  News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.


G19  Care must be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure that the

extracts used are a true reflection and not a distortion of the original event

or the overall views expressed.

G20  No set formula can be advanced for the allocation of time to interested

parties on controversial public issues. Broadcasters should aim to present all

significant sides in as fair a way as possible, and this can be done only by

judging every case on its merits.


Commenting first on the background to the item TVNZ noted that an earlier Frontline

programme had focused on the dissatisfaction of one course participant with the teaching

methods and that Mr Kiyosaki had not been able to respond to the criticisms made because

he was out of the country. On his return, TVNZ was advised that he was available to

answer the allegations made in that programme, and consequently the Holmes item was

prepared.

At the outset, TVNZ explained that the purpose of the item was to explore with Mr

Kiyosaki personally the claim that the courses at times went beyond teaching and came

close to brainwashing and abuse. It argued that it believed it was in the public interest to

reveal the facts about the teaching methods and the content since some government

departments were sending employees on the courses.

To B.I.G.'s argument that the story was unfair because it arose from a single complaint

and did not acknowledge the "several thousand satisfied participants in New Zealand",

TVNZ responded that the serious allegation made justified a full investigation. It argued

that the fact that the majority of participants were satisfied was irrelevant because that

did not alter the fact that one participant was unhappy with the course. Noting that the

programme did acknowledge that many were satisfied with the courses, TVNZ maintained

that it was justified to focus on the allegations of abuse.

TVNZ rejected the complaint that standard G4 had been breached, noting that Mr

Kiyosaki had been given the opportunity to respond point by point to the matters raised by

his accuser. It believed he had been treated justly and fairly because he had been given the

opportunity to comment on each matter raised.

The Authority was inclined to the view that Mr Kiyosaki had been given adequate

opportunity to respond to the allegations made. It noted that he acknowledged and

apologised for the incident at the outset and later in the item attempted to explain its

context and to point out that this was an isolated complaint. Contrary to B.I.G.'s view of

the item, the Authority considered that the impression given was that Mr Kiyosaki was a

popular figure and that many people were happy with the courses. It concluded that Mr

Kioysaki was dealt with justly and fairly and declined to uphold this aspect of the

complaint.

Turning to the standard G6 complaint that the item was lacking in balance, TVNZ

repeated its arguments above, pointing out that the accusations were balanced by Mr

Kiyosaki's responses and by the observation that many people found the courses

rewarding.

In its assessment of the balance aspect of the complaint, the Authority began by examining

the overall theme of the item, concluding that it was confined to an investigation of the

incident at the course in which a woman was verbally abused and included Mr Kiyosaki's

interpretation and explanation of the events as they were revealed in the amateur video

footage shown. It did not agree that in order for balance to be achieved it was necessary

to include interviews with satisfied participants. The Authority decided that it was clear

from the programme that the allegation made was unusual and it was equally clear that

many people do find the courses rewarding. Although the item did not give an extensive

insight into the Institute's philosophy and teaching methods, Mr Kiyosaki was given the

opportunity to apologise and to comment on the context of the remarks. The Authority

concluded that no breach of standard G6 occurred.

In its response to the complaint that the item breached standard G14, TVNZ argued that

the requirement for objectivity and impartiality did not preclude the broadcaster from

drawing attention to a matter of public concern. It maintained that it was accurate,

pointing to the amateur video footage which, it suggested, needed to be explained.

The Authority was of the view that the balance component of standard G14 was

subsumed by standard G6. In assessing the requirement for the item to be accurate, it did

not believe that it was necessary to include interviews with satisfied participants in order to

comply with the standard. As noted above, it considered that the theme of the item was

confined to the incident which occurred in a course given more than two years previously

and that the content of the video film was not in dispute. It declined to uphold this aspect

of the complaint.

TVNZ maintained that standard G19 was complied with because each accusation was

matched with a response from Mr Kiyosaki and noted that the item was not a report on

his courses, but was confined to an incident which occurred on one of his courses.

In rejecting the standard G19 complaint, the Authority considered that there was no

evidence that the original event or the overall views were distorted by the editing process.

The final consideration was the complaint that standard G20 was breached because the

item failed to present all significant sides in as fair a way as possible. TVNZ responded that

Mr Kiyosaki was given the opportunity to comment on the claims made by "Yvonne", and

that her allegations were supported by comments from a woman who had worked for the

Excellerated Learning Institute previously. It considered that the comment from the

psychologist, Michael Marris, was valid since he had encountered others who had been on

similar courses and was therefore in a position to make comparisons and to offer

professional comment. TVNZ declined to uphold the standard G20 complaint.

The Authority considered that standard G20 could on this occasion be subsumed under

standard G6. It believed that although the item did give the impression that the woman

had been treated badly at the course, Mr Kiyosaki had apologised publicly as well as

privately to her and the incident would have been seen as an isolated one. It again noted

that the item included material which clearly indicated that Mr Kiyosaki was a

charismatic and engaging personality and conveyed the obvious enthusiasm and

enjoyment of people attending the courses.

 

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Iain Gallaway
Chairperson
21 February 1994

Appendix


Business Innovation Group's Complaint to Television New Zealand Limited

In a letter dated 18 October 1993, Mr H. Baruhas, Managing Director of Business

Innovation Group of Auckland, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about an item

on Holmes broadcast on 4 October 1993 between 6.30 - 7.00pm.

The item reported on Mr Robert Kiyosaki and the courses conducted by him on behalf of

the Excellerated Learning Institute. Commenting on the background to the item, Mr

Baruhas (representing its New Zealand agency) noted that an earlier Frontline programme

(broadcast on 18 July 1993) had focused on the dissatisfaction of one participant with the

course offered by Mr Kiyosaki, and that Mr Kiyosaki had not been able to respond to the

criticisms made because he was out of the country when that item was prepared. On his

return, Mr Baruhas advised TVNZ that Mr Kiyosaki was available to answer the

allegations made in the Frontline programme. The resulting item was, in Mr Baruhas'

view, subjective, unbalanced and failed to deal justly and fairly with the issue or with Mr

Kiyosaki. He wrote:

In the selection of interview subjects, the selective editing of taped interviews and in

its "editorial" comments, the report fell far short of the standards that broadcasters

are required to observe.

In particular, Mr Baruhas claimed that the item breached the standards which require

broadcasters to show balance, impartiality and fairness, and to deal justly and fairly with

any person taking part in a programme. He noted that none of the interviews (with the

exception of one 5 second comment) with satisfied course participants was included and

the focus had been on one dissatisfied participant.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint

TVNZ advised Business Innovation Group of its Complaints Committee's decision in a letter

dated 11 November 1993. It reported that it had assessed the complaint against standards

G4, G6, G14, G19 and G20 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

At the outset it explained that the purpose of the item was to explore with Mr Kiyosaki

personally the claim that his motivational courses at times went beyond teaching and

came close to brain washing and abuse. It believed that the story was of interest to the

public because some government departments were sending employees to the courses.

Although the story arose from a single complaint, TVNZ argued that the serious

allegations made required a full investigation. Responding to Business Innovation Group's

argument that the bulk of participants were satisfied with the course and that their

comments should have been included by way of balance, TVNZ maintained that that was

irrelevant and that the allegations of abuse still needed to be investigated.

TVNZ maintained that standard G4 was not breached because Mr Kiyosaki had been given

fair and just treatment in being given the opportunity to reply to each matter raised.

With reference to the balance complaint, it pointed out that the accusations made were

balanced by Mr Kiyosaki's comments and that it was noted that many people found the

courses rewarding.

Turning to the complaint that the item lacked accuracy, impartiality and objectivity, TVNZ

responded that the programme was accurate and that the requirement for impartiality

and objectivity did not preclude investigating a matter of public concern. Referring to the

incident filmed on amateur video, it argued that an objective view would certainly be that

there was need for an explanation of what occurred.

TVNZ believed that the editing of the programme reflected the overall views expressed

because each accusation was carefully matched with a response from Mr Kiyosaki, and

accordingly standard G19 was not breached. It noted that it was not intended to be a

report on his courses per se, but a report about an incident which allegedly occurred on

one of the courses.

It argued that standard G20 was complied with because both sides of the story were told.

TVNZ commented that it was sorry Business Innovation Group (B.I.G.) found fault with

the programme adding that it believed that B.I.G. was disappointed because the item did

not put Mr Kiyosaki "in a rosy light".

TVNZ concluded that none of the standards had been breached.

Business Innovation Group's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards

Authority

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, in a letter dated 29 November 1993, Mr Baruhas on

behalf of Business Innovation Group referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards

Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

In response to TVNZ's assertion that B.I.G. was expecting a different kind of story from

that of the earlier Frontline programme, Mr Baruhas confirmed that that was correct,

adding that was because Mr Kiyosaki had been out of the country when the first

programme had been made and could not answer the allegations made. Mr Baruhas

maintained that B.I.G. was not so naive as to believe that the Holmes story would be "100

per cent favourable to Mr Kiyosaki", but did not expect to have the same story repeated

with little or nothing new added.

Mr Baruhas described the reference to government departments being "unwitting partners

in the process" as a red herring. He argued that if Holmes really believed the matter was of

public interest, it would not have been dealt with so superficially. In his view, participants

and department officers should have been asked their opinions on the course. He

continued:

We dispute TVNZ's self-righteous contention that "an allegation as serious as this

one [had to be] fully investigated", for the simple reason that it was not "fully

investigated".

We would have welcomed a full investigation, and we offered the reporter our

assistance to that end. Instead, the programme was largely a repetition of

Frontline's superficial coverage, plus brief excerpts from the Kiyosaki interview. It

was by no means a "full investigation" and it is hypocritical of TVNZ to claim that it

carried one out in "the wider public interest".

Mr Baruhas also disputed the use of psychologist Michael Marris' comments, questioning

his experience in this area and his motives for supporting the aggrieved participant. It was

suggested that the reporter could have sought an opinion from another clinician.

It is ridiculous to describe as "irrelevant" the fact that all but a very few people

taking part in the courses are in favour of them. When a person is being pilloried,

and his professional ethics and abilities challenged, strong evidence to support his

case cannot be dismissed as irrelevant.

The fact is that such evidence, in the form of testimonials and supportive opinions

from course participants, was available to Holmes. This is clearly stated in our

Formal Complaint (18.10.93) to TVNZ. But we believe this evidence was

inconvenient in terms of the programme's preconceived approach, and so it was

not used.

Mr Baruhas' final claim was that the programme failed to give due weight and fair and

reasonable air-time to the interviews with course participants. He summarised the

complaint under the standards raised.

G4 - the programme did not deal with Mr Kiyosaki justly and fairly.

G6 - the programme lacked balance, impartiality and fairness.

G14 - The programme was neither objective nor impartial and approached the

topic from a subjective and prejudiced mindset.

G19 - The editing did not distort the original incident but the overall impression

given certainly was a distortion of what happens at the Kiyosaki courses.

G20 - The programme failed to present all significant sides in as fair a way as

possible.

Mr Baruhas accepted that the item was not intended to be a report on the courses per se,

but argued that it was strange that it should appear so obsessed with a single incident and

a single complaint, for which Mr Kiyosaki apologised both publicly and to the

complainant, when he has conducted hundreds of courses without controversy.

Concluding, Mr Baruhas denied that the group was expecting an item which placed the

matter in a rosy light, but argued that it was reasonable to expect that a genuine

investigation would be carried out. He concluded:

We had nothing to fear from such an investigation and went out of our way to

help make that possible.

Instead the result was a regurgitation at inordinate length of old material,

unbalanced selection of material and a highly subjective approach to the story, all

adding up to an unbalanced and unfair portrayal of Robert Kiyosaki, his learning

programmes and those who participate.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority

As is its practice, the Authority sought the broadcaster's response to the complaint. Its

letter is dated 9 December 1993 and TVNZ's reply, 17 January 1994.

Responding to Mr Baruhas' comment that his company objected to the regurgitation of

previous complaints and allegations in far greater detail than it considered necessary,

TVNZ submitted that because Holmes was a different style of programme from Frontline

(where the issue was first raised), it was not possible to assume that viewers would already

be acquainted with the issues. Therefore it was necessary to repeat the information. It

rejected the assertion that this was not a legitimate or informative way of exploring the

issue.

TVNZ also made the point that it was Mr Kiyosaki (through his NZ representatives) who

approached TVNZ to respond to allegations made in the original Frontline programme. It

repeated that it was inevitable that the resulting item revisited the facts from the original

story.

Responding to Mr Baruhas' query as to why the Kiyosaki courses were dealt with

superficially, TVNZ explained that it was never intended to be a report on the courses per

se, but was a report about an incident which occurred on one of those courses.

In response to Mr Baruhas' questioning of the credentials of Mr Marris, TVNZ submitted

that he was an appropriate person to comment about the courses, as was Eileen Darwin, a

former manager of an Excellerated Learning centre.

To Mr Baruhas' claim that positive opinions was not used, TVNZ responded that the

programme acknowledged that many participants were pleased with the Kiyosaki course.

It concluded that the report was fair, accurate and objective and gave equal weight to

both sides. It maintained that the item dealt with a matter of public concern in a manner

which allowed viewers to make their own judgment about the methods used in the

incident.

TVNZ provided the Authority with a tape of the item as well as the original Frontline item.

Business Innovation Group's Final Comment to the Authority

When asked to comment on TVNZ's response, Mr Baruhas, in a telephone call on 11

February 1994 stressed that his company objected to the fact that only one side of the

story was shown. He complained that he had advised TVNZ of names of participants who

had been happy with the courses but that TVNZ had failed to interview any of those to get

a more favourable view.

He advised that the programme had damaged the company's business in New Zealand and

that enrolment numbers had dropped. He believed that other course graduates would

agree that the incident portrayed was not a fair representation of what occurred on the

courses.