Pacific Media Centre Pacific Media Watch Pacific Journalism Review Asia Pacific Report

NZ: Samoan PM's 'unfair' TV complaint turned down

John Campbell reporting in Samoa.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Item: 7472

ANALYSIS: AUCKLAND: (Pacific Media Watch): The Broadcasting Standards Authority ruled earlier this month that the complaint by the Attorney-General of Samoa against Campbell Live's report on the tsunami would not be upheld.

In response, the Samoan Prime Minister has vowed to appeal the decision.

The Attorney-General lodged complaints against both the September 27 report and the November 1 report aired on TV3 in New Zealand.

Both complaints were brought on the grounds of accuracy and fairness, however the BSA ruled it did not have the authority to rule on the grounds of accuracy, as it involved determining whether the action taken by the Samoan government after the tsunami was adequate.

“It is not the role of this authority, nor are we able, to determine what action by the Samoan government would have been 'adequate' following a catastrophic natural disaster,” it said.

Missed opportunity
The BSA report, signed on behalf of the authority by chair Peter Radich, said the Samoan government would have been better advised to make those complaints under the category of "balance".

As a result, it did not turn its consideration to the alleged innacuracies of the report on the government's action on water supply, public housing and the under-valuing of the aid.

“These matters would have been more appropriately addressed as matters of balance, considering whether the government’s perspective on these matters was adequately presented.”

However, given the way that the report dealt with the other complaints about how Prime Minister Tuilaepa was door-stepped and represented in the media, it does not seem likely the Samoan government would have been successful arguing their perspective hadn’t been fairly presented.

The Prime Minister had complained that his quote about the tsunami being “no longer a newsworthy issue” was taken out of context. However the Authority said: “Politicians should and usually will be aware of the hazards arising from comments where words are not carefully chosen and become open to misinterpretation.”

“Part of the democratic process involves politicians being open to a testing examination of what they have said and what they have meant. Politicians, especially prime ministers, have access to media to give responses.”

It was the lack of openness to media on the part of Prime Minister Tuilaepa that seems to have caused the decision on the door-stepping issue to also fall in favour of Campbell Live.

Door-stepping 'justified'
“We are satisfied that Campbell Live made considerable effort to obtain comment from the Prime Minister and that Mr Campbell was justified in approaching him directly after he cancelled their scheduled interview.

The authority said the request for written questions “made it difficult for Campbell Live to obtain a response from him on the issues raised in the programmes, particularly while the crew was still in Samoa”.

The Attorney-General of Samoa had argued in the submissions that the Campbell Live report would have made New Zealanders wonder whether their generosity had been abused. He had argued this was not the case and that “aid money and volunteer support had rebuilt much of what had been destroyed”.

However, in defence, Campbell Live producer Pip Keane said: “Yes, there are new roads, and electricity is back the region. They say they’ve spent 68.73 million tala so far but many tsunami victims feel deserted by their government and wonder why so little of the money has made its way to them.”

The decision contrasts with previous determinations from the BSA, notably the finding last year that TVNZ’s 2009 report on "guns and drugs" had breached standards. In that case, TVNZ was forced to pay $5000 in fees to the Samoan government.

On Radio New Zealand’s Mediawatch programme last week, Colin Peacock quoted Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s complaint that “the rule for any interview is that the interviewee calls the tune”.

Peacock observed that “broadcasters here will be pleased that this decision doesn’t support that view and that this time a foreign government challenge to unfavourable media coverage has not resulted in a sanction”.

PM appeals BSA complaint but no new information on tsunami funds

About the authors

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Alex Perrottet

PMW contributing editor 2011-2012

Alex Perrottet is a journalist who has completed a Masters degree and Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student at AUT University.

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Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators.
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