Copy of Formal Complaint
to National Radio

28 September 2003
by Alan Wilkinson

Response by National Radio
22 October 2003,

and follow up reply from Alan Wilkinson, 28 October 2003

Alan Wilkinson
28 September, 2003.

Chief Executive

Radio New Zealand/National Radio

This is a Formal Complaint regarding the "Nine To Noon" programme broadcast by National Radio on 25th August 2003.

The 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.

The program segment in question consisted of an interview between Linda Clark and a couple identified only as "Nathan" and his mother.

These two 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.

Obviously, 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.

Against 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.

Nevertheless, 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.

In the 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.

I have 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 issue.

I find 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.

As I 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.

I trust that you will consider this matter as seriously as it deserves and take appropriate remedial action.

Yours faithfully


George Bignall
Complaints Coordinator
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 this stage.

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 instance.

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.

Yours sincerely

George Bignell
Complaints Coordinator

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.

Yours sincerely

Alan Wilkinson