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RNZ Unfair To Benson-Pope

20 October 2006

"Nine to Noon" and "One News" – allegations about Hon David Benson-Pope – Radio NZ, upheld with orders, TVNZ, Not upheld.

The BSA has today released two decisions about complaints alleging breaches of balance, fairness, and accuracy made by Cabinet Minister

Hon David Benson-Pope. The Authority upheld one aspect of a complaint against Radio NZ and did not uphold a complaint against TVNZ.

In the Radio NZ decision about a "Nine to Noon" interview in May 2005, the Authority upheld Mr Benson-Pope's fairness complaint but did not uphold those alleging breaches of balance and accuracy.

The Authority ruled that the fairness standard was breached because Radio NZ broadcast anonymous allegations without adequately verifying the interviewee's credibility. Several other features of the programme contributed to this, including:

  • the absence of any serious challenge by the interviewer to the anonymous interviewee's story
  • that the interviewee was allowed to make serious and unchecked allegations that Mr Benson-Pope was guilty of criminal conduct in relation to other students
  • that the interviewer's reference to police involvement implied that the conduct alleged by the anonymous student amounted to criminal conduct.
  • The BSA requires Radio NZ to broadcast a statement, pay $5,000 towards Mr Benson-Pope's legal fees, and $2,000 costs to the Crown.

    In the TVNZ case, the BSA declined to uphold Mr Benson-Pope's complaint that a "One News" item in February 2006 breached standards of balance, fairness, and accuracy.

    The item reported allegations that Mr Benson-Pope had treated female students inappropriately when he was a teacher over 20 years ago.

    The Authority found that TVNZ made reasonable efforts to present Mr Benson-Pope's perspective on the allegations within the period of current interest, which included a 15-minute interview on "Close Up". The Authority also said that the item was neither misleading nor inaccurate in dealing with the various allegations.

    Neither was door-stepping the complainant unfair on this occasion. The Authority held that as a Minister of the Crown, Mr Benson-Pope is directly accountable to the public, and the reporter was entitled to approach him directly. Also, Mr Benson-Pope had considerable experience in dealing with the media, and was able to address the reporter's questions clearly and concisely.

    Radio NZ decision: http://www.bsa.govt.nz/decisions/2005/2005-083.htm
    TVNZ decision: http://www.bsa.govt.nz/decisions/2006/2006-023.htm

    ENDS

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