Radio New Zealand/National Radio
This is a
Formal Complaint regarding the "Nine To Noon" programme broadcast
by National Radio on 25th August 2003.
complaint is that the programme segment subject to this complaint breached
the requirement of the Broadcasting Act 1985 to maintain standards of
balance, fairness and accuracy.
program segment in question consisted of an interview between Linda Clark and
a couple identified only as "Nathan" and his mother.
people were given some forty minutes to expound a story of supposed
horrendous child-abuse and after-effects suffered by "Nathan" at
the hands of Peter Ellis at the Christchurch Civic Creche. However, according
to the programme, "Nathan" attended that Creche only for a short
time at the end of 1985. But Peter Ellis was first seconded to work at the
creche in August 1986.
this story has zero credibility unless it can be shown that Peter Ellis had
unsupervised access to Creche children "at the end of 1985". This
critical matter was given cursory examination in the programme. The
only "evidence" produced was that the unnamed mother claimed an
unnamed police officer had cited an unnamed witness in support of this.
In addition, the mother claimed that "Nathan" had once been
returned to her business by a creche worker who was accompanied by a man the
mother believes to have been Peter Ellis.
these unsupported and nameless claims, Christchurch Civic Creche Supervisor
Gaye Davidson, is quoted by Denis Dutton (NZ Herald, 19 Sept 03) as denying
that Peter Ellis could have been hanging around the Creche in 1985.
the programme proceeded to give these most serious further allegations
uncritical and unchallenged exposure. Moreover, these reflect not only on
Peter Ellis and his attempts to clear his name, but on the supervisors and
staff of the creche.
circumstances, it is inexcusable that the programme did not ensure the senior
creche management staff of that time, namely Dora Reinfield,
Marcia Stirling and Gaye Davidson, responded. Neither did it report any
attempts made to verify such basic facts without which the entire programme
must be dismissed as a psychotic fantasy by a couple of disturbed people.
attempted to find out what research if any the programme producers did prior
to broadcast. John Howson has refused to give me
any information saying that National Radio is now in legal discussions with
lawyers for Peter Ellis. Whilst that outcome is entirely predictable, frankly
it has nothing to do with me or this complaint and if the programme had been
properly researched I cannot see how demonstrating this to me would be an
this refusal itself unacceptable and cause for additional complaint.
There is a
clear impression that this programme was politically motivated and timed to
influence the Parliamentary committee considering whether there should be a
formal inquiry into the Ellis case. Moreover, I suspect that the programme
producers discounted the damage that it could do to Peter Ellis and the other
innocent creche staff of that time with the callous and unacceptable
assumption that they were already so damaged that they would not complain.
stated to John Howson, you are very fortunate that
the timing places these allegations just after my wife left the creche staff
in August 1985 as otherwise we would certainly be proceeding against you with
a defamation action on her behalf.
that you will consider this matter as seriously as it deserves and take
appropriate remedial action.
22 October 2003
Dear Mr Wilkinson
This letter is to advise you that your complaint regarding a NinetoNoon interview on the 25th of August has been
investigated and a decision reached.
In your letter of complaint you allege that the programme breached standards
of fairness accuracy and balance.
Under the Broadcasting Act 1989, all radio broadcasters in New Zealand
have developed, and subsequently had approved by the Broadcasting Standards
Authority a "Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice" (copy enclosed).
Your letter alleges a breach of the standard in relation to balance and
fairness and therefore your complaint has been treated as potential breaches
of Principles 4, 5 and 6.
Radio New Zealand
notes that your complaint was lodged after the twenty working days time limit
prescribed in the Broadcasting Act 1989 and therefore your complaint has been
rejected on this ground. Had your complaint been received within the
legislated time period it would have been rejected on all counts. The
following analysis of the programme and your complaint was conducted as
thought the complaint was received within time.
Your letter of complaint alleges firstly that the programme lacked
balance. RNZ notes that Principle 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting
Practice. In considering whether there had been a breach of Principle 4
of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, it is important to remember that
the whole of the Principle needs to be applied when considering whether or
not there has been a breach. In particular, Radio New Zealand
noted that the Principle 4 refers to the requirement on broadcasters that
significant points of view need to be presented either in the same programme
or in other programmes within the period of current interest when
controversial issues of public importance are discussed. There can be little
doubt that the "Peter Ellis" topic has assumed the status of a
controversial issue in New
Zealand society. Radio New Zealand noted
that there had been extensive coverage in other programmes and news bulletins
on National Radio and in other print and electronic media. It is further
arguable that the period of current interest for this topic is open ended at
Principle 4 envisages that if "balance" is not achieved in one
programme it can be done so through other programmes in the period of current
interest. Radio New
Zealand was asked to consider a number of
points in this regard, first that the period of current interest is still
open so a finding cannot be made at this point. On this ground alone, this
aspect of your complaint was not upheld. As well, given this breadth and
depth of coverage of the issue on other Radio New Zealand programmes and news
bulletins, for example the interview with Gaye Davidson on the 21st of August
2003, it was concluded that opportunity has been given for the presentation
of "other significant points of view". On these grounds as
well, it was found that there had been no breach of Principle 4 in this
You letter of complaint alleges that the programme was unfair to Mr Ellis. In
this regard it is noted that Mr Ellis was personally invited to participate
in the NinetoNoon programme and declined the offer.
It is understood that Mr Ellis's agreement to a further invitation to
participate in the NintetoNoon programme is under
consideration by his counsel. As noted earlier in connection with allegations
of a breach of Principle 4 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, Radio
New Zealand has broadcast other interviews
on the topic, particularly an interview with Gaye Davidson on 21st August
2003 which in part formed a defence of Mr Ellis's position.
Mr Ellis's own reluctance to appear on the programme is outside of the
control of Radio New Zealand. As he was
unwilling to appear on the programme the allegation that he was given no
opportunity to respond to the allegations is incorrect. As the opportunity
was extended to Mr Ellis, and the invitation has been subsequently repeated,
Radio New Zealand rejects the allegation
that the programme was unfair.
Accordingly this aspect of your complaint was not upheld either.
Your letter of complaint alleges that the programme was inaccurate. While
this allegation is made at the start of your complaint, you do not state what
part of the programme in particular you thought to be inaccurate. You do
state that the "entire programme must be dismissed as a psychotic
fantasy by a couple of disturbed people". While this statement in itself
is potentially defamatory [sue me and
make my day! - Alan Wilkinson] Radio New Zealand
has taken it from these comments that you considered everything said on the
programme to be inaccurate. It is Radio New Zealand's understanding that
"Nathan" was being truthful in the statements he made in the
interview and Radio New Zealand has no
reason to doubt that. For these reasons Radio New Zealand
did not uphold this aspect of your complaint either.
Finally your letter complains of the refusal by Mr Howson
to supply you with certain information. The supply or non-supply of
information to a complainant is not a matter of broadcasting standards. It
does however go to the heart of the journalistic ethic of not revealing the
identity of sources of information and I understand that in the particular
circumstances of the programme you complained of, to provide the sort of
information you sought would risk that occurring.
In conclusion your complaint was not upheld because it was received "out
of time". Had it been filed within the prescribed twenty day period, no
aspect of your complaint would have been upheld. Radio New Zealand
is obliged by the Broadcasting Act to inform you of the reason why your
complaint was not upheld; the letter above is intended to meet that
obligation. We are also obliged to inform you of your right to refer this
decision for review to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, PO Box 9213, Wellington.
You must do so within 20 working days if you wish to, otherwise the Authority
will be time-barred by statute from accepting the reference.
Reply by Alan Wilkinson
From: A L Wilkinson
Tuesday, 28 October 2003
To: 'George Bignell'
Subject: RE: Nine To Noon Formal Complaint
I have received your pathetic flannelling which pretty much ignores the
actual substance of my complaint.
I note that my formal complaint was delayed by my persistent attempts to get
John Howson to respond to the critical point at
issue - whether Peter Ellis had any possible access to creche children at the
end of 1985.
However, a responsible organisation would have addressed its own standards irrespective
of the formalities of the BSA timelimit. It
is clear that your company is not such an organisation and simply seeks to
cover itself in every possible legal security blanket.
You have my on-going contempt.