Broadcasting Standards Authority seeks to punish complainants

Monday, 6 December 2010

John Terris

John Terris

An alarming new trend has emerged in the most recent decision of the recently appointed Broadcasting Standards Authority - No 2010-074.

The Authority has for the first time in its history threatened punitive measures against a complainant by proposing to award costs against a citizen who is exercising his right to complain under the legislation.

Our Executive is of the view that the statutory role of the Authority is to uphold Standards, not to punish the people who complain.  Public confidence in the ability of the Authority to contain continuing offenses against standards on NZ television is seriously undermined by this and other recent decisions.  These include the repeatedly objectionable behaviour of Paul Henry, who has been allowed far too much latitude by the authority for far too long, and in respect of its failure for many years now to properly delineate and oversee an effective Watershed to protect the children of this country from gratuitous sex, violence and bad language.

In our opinion, the Authority is far too close to the industry, and divorced from the real concerns of ordinary people.  This latest effort, to punish Mr McDonald, is just another example of the Authority’s record, which displays an increasing tendency to side with the broadcaster and to penalise complainants.  In this particular instance it was Radio NZ who proposed that costs should be awarded against the complainant – which is highly offensive in itself - and the Authority apparently hastened to comply.  It does not appear to have occurred to the Authority that people like Mr McDonald are to be valued and applauded (as some magazines and newspapers have already done) for his public-spiritedness, and willingness to persevere through a complaints process which the 2004 Government report of Television Violence found to be hopelessly cumbersome and outdated.

It may be true that some of Mr McDonald’s complaints involve matters of detail, but he is making an important point consistently in making them, which is that errors in the small things is but a symptom of a much wider malaise within the Broadcasting system as a whole, which is dismissive of any obligation to uphold standards in general.

The open hostility shown by the Authority to complainants like Mr McDonald, is indefensible.  Our attempts to make submissions on behalf of Mr McDonald have been ignored by the Authority.

John Terris is National President for Media Matters in NZ, is a former TV producer and also former Labour (Opposition) spokesperson on Broadcasting.