BSA upholds Peter Ellis Nine to Noon complaint
The Broadcasting Standards Authority today released a decision upholding a complaint from Peter Ellis about an interview conducted on National Radio’s Nine to Noon programme in August 2003.
The BSA ordered Radio New Zealand to pay $5,300 legal costs to the complainant, to broadcast an apology on Nine to Noon, to publish a summary of the decision in the four major metropolitan daily newspapers, and to pay the maximum level of costs to the Crown of $5,000.
During the broadcast an anonymous mother and son were interviewed. They made new, unspecified allegations concerning Mr Ellis and the Christchurch Civic Creche in 1985, which had not been part of the court proceedings concerning the Creche.
The BSA ruled that the broadcast seriously breached standards of fairness and balance. It noted that Mr Ellis was being anonymously accused of criminal but unspecified offending of a very serious kind. Mr Ellis had previously declined an invitation to participate in a ‘sympathetic’ interview. He had not been made aware of the new allegations before they were broadcast. Even so the allegations were so vague they would have been impossible to defend.
With regard to balance, the BSA noted that the allegations made by the interviewees were neither substantiated nor critically examined by the broadcaster. In any case the nature and type of allegations would have made balance very difficult to achieve.
In its decision, the BSA said: “Mr Ellis has been convicted of and has served a prison sentence for sexual offences…. He is nonetheless a citizen of this country and, like all other citizens, is entitled to be treated justly and fairly. The Authority notes its deep concern at what amounted to a serious disregard for Mr Ellis’s rights.”
Other possible penalties able to be imposed by the BSA include requiring the broadcaster to cease broadcasting for a period. The BSA did not invoke this option as it did not see an overriding merit in disadvantaging the programme’s usual audience. As Radio New Zealand is a non-commercial broadcaster the BSA could not impose the other major penalty (previously imposed on other broadcasters), that of requiring the broadcaster to cease broadcasting advertising for a period.
A copy of the decision is available here. In line with its usual policy, the BSA will not be making any further comment.