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BSA in a bind

By Steven | April 3, 2008

I think the BSA has broken the law.

I think they’ve done it in order to avoid breaking the law.

Confused? Let me explain. They’ve issued a decision upholding (by majority) a complaint against TVNZ’s Sunday programme on grounds of inaccuracy and unfairness. But the decision contains no reasoning. It seems this is because the reasoning cannot be explained without breaching a name suppression order.

The BSA is not obliged to publish reasons for its decisions (though until now, it always has, as far as I can tell). But under section 15 of the Broadcasting Act:

Copies of the decision of the Authority… , which copies shall include in each case the Authority’s reasons for its decision, shall be procurable by purchase from the Authority at a reasonable price.

I phoned the BSA yesterday and asked to buy a copy. Today, they declined.

That seems to me to be a breach of section 15. They simply don’t have the power to refuse me. What’s more, this was a majority decision, with one member dissenting. The public should be allowed to critique it. Even more importantly, we do not have access to whatever guidance the decision contains about what amounts to unfairness and inaccuracy.

Still, it’s quite possible to imagine a BSA decision that’s impossible to write without providing details that would breach a suppression order. That would obviously put the BSA in a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t sort of fix. If that’s the case, it’s hard to be too critical of the BSA.

Perhaps, though, it suggests that they should have declined to determine the case in the first place, which is something a High Court judge recently suggested they should have done in a different context. I’m hesitant to advance even that criticism, though. It may not have become apparent until well into the process that the decision would inevitably involve a breach of a suppression order. In any event, declining the complaint may have denied a justly aggrieved complainant a remedy.

Topics: Broadcasting Standards Authority | 46 Comments »

46 Responses to “BSA in a bind”

  1. ross Says:
    April 3rd, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    According to TVNZ’s website, these stories ran on the Sunday programme on that date:

    The Sting
    It was one of New Zealand’s most elaborate swindles with victims big and small all over the country, many of them losing their homes. Jackie Maher investigates a fraud masterminded by a conman, and led in part by lawyers who got legal aid but most of the victims are yet to be compensated.

    Open House
    New Zealand’s biggest music export Crowded House is back; a little bit older, a little bit wiser, and a lot less fractious. Neil Finn and the band give Sunday a rare insight into life on the road as they relaunch their musical career to the world. Cameron Bennett has the story.

    Who was the Zodiac Killer?
    He was a serial killer who terrorised San Francisco 40 years ago, now his story been made into a Hollywood movie. The true killer’s identity has always remained a secret, but will modern technology provide the means to finally name him? An ABC Primetime report.

    I’ll go out on a limb and say the complaint was about the first story.

  2. ross Says:
    April 3rd, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    By that date, I mean 1 July 2007.

  3. Steven Says:
    April 3rd, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    …and that story is still available at TVNZ on Demand. (Perhaps it has been edited down from the broadcast version…) It revolves around two named lawyers convicted of swindling clients in a mortgage scam. If the BSA can’t write about the complaint without breaching a suppression order, I wonder whether the story itself creates the same problem? All very mysterious.

  4. kino flo Says:
    April 8th, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    I think this was the episode that started with the audio tape of a call made by the Muliagas to Mercury Energy.

  5. Steven Says:
    April 8th, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    To kino flo: Um. Not sure about that. The item that I’m referring to above is about lawyers involved in dodgy deals, and doesn’t begin that way: http://tvnzondemand.co.nz/content/sunday_2007/ondemand_video_skin?tab=&sb=date-descending&e=sunday_2007_07_01_sting#ep_sunday_2007_07_01_sting

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