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Wakeman and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2009-013

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Peter Wakeman of Christchurch

Dated

6th May 2009

Number

2009-013

Programme

Prime News

Channel/Station

Prime TV

Broadcaster

SKY Network Television Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Prime News – report on prediction that goods and services tax and personal tax rates may need to be raised – contained comment from tax expert – allegedly inaccurate

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – statements were general and clearly distinguishable as opinion – not subject to the accuracy standard – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  An item on Prime News, broadcast on Prime TV at 5.30pm on Monday 20 October 2008, reported on a prediction that goods and services tax (GST) and personal tax rates may need to be raised due to the global economic crisis and expensive election promises.

[2]  The presenter introduced the item by saying:

National and Labour have dismissed suggestions that personal income tax and GST have to rise. A prominent tax expert believes GST may have to go from 12.5 to 15 percent. John Shewan also thinks that the top rate of personal tax may go to 45 percent, because of the hole in the Crown's accounts caused by the global crisis and expensive election promises.

[3]  The item included comment from tax expert John Shewan from Price Waterhouse Coopers, who said:

There's no free money. There’s no free lunch. We as New Zealanders all end up paying for these various initiatives, many of which are very worthy, but you’ve got to understand that there’s a price to pay.

[4]  The presenter concluded by saying, "Both Labour and National say there's no need for tax increases".

Complaint

[5]  Peter Wakeman made a formal complaint to SKY Network Television Ltd (SKY), the broadcaster, alleging the item was inaccurate. He disagreed with Mr Shewan's comments and contended that New Zealand's Reserve Bank could simply print more money to pay for the various policies being put forward by the political parties. Mr Wakeman referred to a 1949 report titled "State Housing in New Zealand" to support his argument.

Standards

[6]  Standard 5 and guideline 5d of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They provide:

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Guideline 5d

Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, should be clearly distinguishable.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7]  SKY argued that the complainant's contention that the Reserve Bank could just print more money to pay for the policies being put forward by the political parties flew in the face of conventional economic theory.

[8]  The broadcaster said that Mr Shewan was a recognised expert in the field of taxation in New Zealand and that his remarks were relevant in the context of the wider election debate. It declined to uphold Mr Wakeman’s complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[9]  Dissatisfied with SKY's response, Mr Wakeman referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that "the government of New Zealand can create free money with the only legal limit set by the inflation limit". The complainant supplied the Authority with supporting material.

Broadcaster's Response to the Authority

[10]  SKY stated, "it seems that [Mr Wakeman] disagrees with the comments made by Mr Shewan, in particular that there is such a thing as a free lunch, inasmuch as the Reserve Bank could simply print more money to pay for the policies being put forward by the main parties". It reiterated that it had included Mr Shewan's comments because he was a recognised expert in the field of taxation and his remarks were relevant in the context of the wider election debate.

Complainant's Final Submission

[11]  Mr Wakeman reiterated his belief that Mr Shewan’s comments were inaccurate. He supplied the Authority with further material to support his contention.

Authority's Determination

[12]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[13]  Standard 5 requires that news, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact. Guideline 5b states that factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, should be clearly distinguishable.

[14]  In the Authority's view, Mr Shewan's comments did not purport to be a technical account of how money was created. He was speaking figuratively and providing his opinion on the wider costs of the political parties' proposed initiatives based on the current economic situation.

[15]  While the complainant chose to take Mr Shewan's comments literally and as statements of fact, the Authority considers that the statements were clearly distinguishable as Mr Shewan’s opinion and analysis. Accordingly, they were not subject to the accuracy standard. The Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.

[16]  For the record, the Authority notes that SKY had more than one phone conversation with Mr Wakeman about his complaint and a teleconference was organised between the complainant, the Managing Editor of New Zealand News Channel Ltd and SKY's Director of Communications. In the Authority’s view, the broadcaster went above and beyond the requirements of the Broadcasting Act 1989, and its written response to the complainant was perfectly adequate. Referring a complaint to the Authority in those circumstances was an inappropriate use of the complaints procedure, and the Authority considered declining to determine the complaint on the grounds that it was trivial and vexatious.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
6 May 2009

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1.         Peter Wakeman’s formal complaint – 21 October 2008
2.        SKY Television’s response to the formal complaint – 23 January 2009
3.        Mr Wakeman’s referral to the Authority – 16 February 2009
4.        SKY Television’s response to the Authority – 13 March 2009
5.        Mr Wakeman’s final submission – 27 March 2009