The Broadcasting Act 1989 contains a set of standards including that:
“When discussing controversial issues… broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.”
Parliament’s intent in setting the standards is clear to any reasonable person. Unfortunately the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has trouble attaining such clarity. Perhaps it is the years of being subject to obfuscatory argument by broadcasters. Or perhaps its their attempt to create some sort of pseudo-legal “case-law” in their own irrational decisions over the years that has confused them. Either way they can no longer see the wood for the trees. Indeed even the trees seem to be a challenge.
A Campbell Live item on euthanasia back in April was a clear example to any reasonable person of why our Parliament enacted the standards legislation and established the BSA to oversee it. The item gave a very sympathetic hearing to two strong advocates of euthanasia, with only a cursory acknowledgement that other viewpoints exist. No reasonable opportunity was given to present those viewpoints, either within the item or in any other coverage by the broadcaster at the time.
In taking a complaint through the BSA process the clear intent of Parliament as outlined in the Act enabled a clear, well reasoned rejection of every illogical, and irrelevant argument mounted by Mediaworks in defence of their item (refer BSA – Campbell Live Euthanasia Story and BSA – Campbell Live Euthanasia Story – Final Comment).
In spite of that, the BSA managed in its decision published this month to not only agree with the broadcaster, but also to find some other completely irrelevant grounds for influencing their decision on the Campbell Live item. Apparently the Bill of Rights Act protection of freedom of expression meant they had to be cautious about “interfering with the item’s broadcast”. Not even Mediaworks had thought to argue this line.
No-one was suggesting that the item should not be broadcast, only that it should meet the standards of the Broadcasting Act. Freedom of expression is simply not relevant to the case. Or if it is, it is relevant only in the sense that other significant views were not allowed the freedom of expression required by the Broadcasting Act.
The Broadcasting Standards Authority has lost the plot. One is reminded of another statutory body set up to oversee legislation – the Abortion Supervisory Committee. Both have subverted the clear intent of the legislation under which Parliament established them.