The BSA has upheld a complaint against TVNZ’s Breakfast on the grounds of balance after it allowed Garth McVicar the free and unopposed opportunity to rant about sentencing.
Complainant Roger Brooking argued that the programme privileged â€œthe reactionary views of an unqualified right wing individual as if he was the oracle on sentencing lawâ€, and that the show’s hosts were unduly sympathetic toward him. The authority upheld the complaint on the grounds that Breakfast producers and interviewers failed to challenge or question McVicar’s “controversial” views, simply accepting them at face value, and internalising them for use as a frame for viewer responses.
This is an excellent decision, for a couple of reasons. First, it reinforces the expectation that the media have a responsibility not to naÃ¯vely accept the statements of their commentators or interviewees; that the interview process ought to be adversarial. Secondly, it provides a line in the sand as to what constitutes a controversial topic of public discourse, by implicitly agreeing with Brooking’s characterisation of McVicar and his pronouncements. It goes counter to some previous decisions, such as the rather alarming case last year in which the authority effectively declared that talkback was legitimately a balance-free zone.