In what could be a landmark decision, TVNZ has been ordered by the Broadcasting Standards Authority to hand over a tape of an interview recorded last year with Chief Ombudsman Sir Brian Elwood.

But TVNZ says the order could set a precedent whereby people unhappy with coverage in the media could request an uncut copy of their interview.

The broadcaster claims this would have a chilling effect on its investigative abilities.

An item on One News on November 23 last year reported on the case of Joanne Proctor, who was seeking a taxpayer-funded sex change operation.


Her application had been approved by doctors at Waikato Hospital but that decision had been overruled by the Health Funding Authority.

She then took her case to the Ombudsman, and Sir Brian ruled that she had been treated unfairly by the health authority.

A brief comment from Sir Brian was included in the news item.

However, Sir Brian wrote to TVNZ about the item, saying that when he was approached for an interview he had expressed concern about the way the investigation had been portrayed by some parts of the media.

He said he had agreed to be interviewed following TVNZ's assurance that it would correct the record.

But Sir Brian said none of the material to correct the record was in the item. Rather, terms such as "landmark recommendation" and "unusual" were used.

"If you review the tape of my interview you will see the emphasis I placed on the recommendation being neither a landmark nor unusual one."

He said he wanted a copy of a tape of the interview.


But TVNZ said its policy was to not release field tapes and that they were regarded as being akin to the notebooks of newspaper reporters.

Sir Brian then asked the authority to make the tape available under section 4(c) of the Commissions of Inquiry Act.

This section gives the authority the same power as the district court.

TVNZ argued that supplying the tape would set a precedent whereby every individual who was unhappy with their portrayal by the media could request a tape. It said that would affect its freedom of expression.

Sir Brian said there was no legal justification for declining his request.

The authority agreed, saying the weight of the legal arguments under s12 of the Broadcasting Act and s4c(3) of the Commissions of Inquiry Act required the tape be released to Sir Brian as there were no compelling reasons for it not to be.

Sir Brian must return the tape to the authority by August 16 as well as any further submission.

Wellington lawyer Richard Fowler, said yesterday that the ruling had the potential to be significant in terms of complaints to the authority.

He said it might become standard practice for people to seek field tapes of interviews.