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Williams and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-057

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa

Complainant

  • M J Williams

Dated

19th August 2009

Number

2009-057

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item looked at the different road options for Wellington including upgrading State Highway 1 or creating a road through Transmission Gully – stated American army had offered to create the Gully road in 1940s – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – decline to determine under section 11(b) Broadcasting Act 1989 whether Americans made an offer to construct a road through Transmission Gully – item impartial – not upheld

Standard 4 (balance) – item was an update on current situation – did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant did not identify any individual or organisation treated unfairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 28 March 2009, looked at the various road options for Wellington including upgrading State Highway 1 or creating a road through Transmission Gully. The item opened with the presenter saying:

Anyone who's ever driven in or out of Wellington on State Highway 1 would know about how inadequate the roads are. And after decades of debate, the long-mooted solution dubbed Transmission Gully is no closer to being built. Meanwhile the estimated cost keeps rising.

[2]  The item included interviews and footage, some historical and some present-day, with members of the public and various representatives from organisations such as the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the New Zealand Transport Agency.

[3]  Historical footage of an interview with the 1989 Transmission Gully Project Manager was shown. The manager stated that the cost of creating a road through Transmission Gully, in 1989, was going to be substantially cheaper at $137 million than widening State Highway 1 at a cost of $166 million.

[4]  The reporter noted that by the year 2000, the Transmission Gully price tag was $250 million and that, although the Gully route got "the green light in 2006", in early 2009 the government "pulled its commitment to the Gully", but pledged full funding for State Highway 1 between Levin and Wellington.

[5]  During the item, the reporter stated:

American Marines could have solved the problem in the 40s when they offered to build and pay for a road through Transmission Gully, but our government turned them down. So the debate began, create Transmission Gully or upgrade the current road?

[6]  The item concluded with the reporter saying:

A review of the entire stretch of road from Wellington to Levin is underway and the coastal highway is again being looked at. Recommendations on whether Transmission Gully is preferred are expected in the next few months, with a fixed decision by the end of the year.

Complaint

[7]  M J Williams made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached broadcasting standards. He noted that the reporter had said the American Marines had offered to build a road through the Gully route in the 40s and argued this implied that the route was suitable for a four-lane motorway.

[8]  The complainant contended that there was no "archival evidence" the Americans ever made an offer to build the road and that the offer was a "myth". He also argued that the "myth" had no bearing on the present debate about affordability in respect of the different route options.

[9]  He argued that the item failed to provide a proper analysis of the factors involved in the debate in order for the wider public to be satisfied that their money would be allocated fairly. He stated, "The reporter could at best be accused of being less than thorough, at worst of having an interest in support of the Gully route".

Standards

[10]  TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

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.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[11]  Dealing with balance, TVNZ stated that the standard was intended to cover news, current affairs and factual programmes when they discuss controversial issues of public importance. It considered that the facts concerning the American Army’s offer in the 1940s could not be considered a controversial issue of public importance, and declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4.

[12]  With respect to accuracy, the broadcaster stated that its reporter had found the information about the American offer on the website of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and from a reputable news and production database. It argued that the American offer to build the road through Transmission Gully was not a myth and declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.

[13]  Turning to the complainant’s concerns about the debate surrounding the different routes and their affordability, TVNZ said the reporter included the historical information as part of the background to the ongoing indecision on what to do with Wellington's roads. It contended that no money would have to be spent either widening the coastal highway or creating Transmission Gully if the road had been constructed by the Americans in the 1940s.

[14]  The broadcaster stated that it had no reason to believe that any person or organisation had been treated unjustly or unfairly in the item. It argued that the Americans' offer was accepted as historically accurate by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and that the information was provided as background material. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6.

Referral to the Authority

[15]  Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Williams referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[16]  The complainant reiterated his argument that the American offer was a myth and had never happened.

Authority's Request for Further Information

[17]  The Authority noted the broadcaster's statement that its reporter had obtained the information about the American offer on the website of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and from a reputable news and production database. It requested copies of this information.

[18]  TVNZ provided the Authority with a copy of an article from the Heritage New Zealand magazine (Winter 2006) which had been reproduced on the website of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. The article quoted the Porirua representative of the Historic Places Trust’s Wellington Branch committee who said that the American army had offered to build the Gully road in 1942 and that "the government just didn’t see the need for it".

[19]  TVNZ also provided a copy of the search record from its in-house news and production database which outlined a One News item from September 2000 which stated that American soldiers had offered to build the road.

Authority's Determination

[20]  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.

Standard 4 (balance)

[21]  Standard 4 requires broadcasters to provide balance when discussing controversial issues of public importance. In the Authority’s view, this item was an update on the current situation surrounding the roading options in Wellington. It did not purport to be an in-depth discussion about the merits of each option, but informed viewers as to the current status of the decision process.

[22]  Accordingly, the Authority finds that the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance to which the balance standard applies, and it declines to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[23]  Standard 5 requires news, current affairs and factual programmes to be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

[24]  The complainant contended that there was no "archival evidence" that the Americans ever made an offer to build the Gully road and it was simply a "myth". The broadcaster relied on information from its in-house database and the article available on the website of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

[25]  The Authority considers that the two sources of information offered by TVNZ do not, of themselves, constitute evidence that the American armed forces offered to build the Gully road. It made enquiries of the Wellington historian who was quoted in the NZHPT article, who said his belief that the offer was made came from memories from his youth, which had then been reinforced by a newspaper article he had read at some stage in the past two years. The Authority also asked the New Zealand Transport Authority whether any documentation about the offer existed, and was told that it did not hold any official information on the subject.

[26]  Given that the Authority has been unable to obtain any authoritative evidence or documentation as to whether the Americans made an offer to construct a road through Transmission Gully, it considers that it must decline to determine this aspect of the accuracy complaint under section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[27]  With respect to the complainant's contention that the reporter had not been impartial, the Authority reiterates its finding that the item was merely an update on the current state of indecision surrounding the roading options in Wellington. It considers that neither the reporter nor the item itself was partial in favour of any particular side of the debate and it declines to uphold this part of the Standard 5 complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[28]  The fairness standard requires broadcasters to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in a programme. The Authority notes that, in his original complaint, Mr Williams did not identify any individual or organisation that he thought was treated unfairly. Further, it is not apparent which individual or organisation Mr Williams might have thought was treated unfairly. In these circumstances, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 August 2009

Appendix

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

1.         M J Williams' formal complaint – 3 April 2009
2.        TVNZ's response to the formal complaint – 12 May 2009
3.        Mr Williams' referral to the Authority – 25 May 2009
4.        TVNZ's response to the Authority – 30 June 2009
5.        TVNZ's response to Authority’s request for further information – 21 July 2009