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Knight and TVWorks Ltd - 2008-023

Members

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

Complainant

  • Dean Knight of Wellington

Dated

4th June 2008

Number

2008-023

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1C)(c)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item included results from a political poll – results were shown visually with the use of an on-screen graphic – each party’s percentage of votes was translated into number of seats in the House – ACT Party and the United Future Party shown to receive two seats each – allegedly inaccurate   

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – graphic shown on-screen was inaccurate – upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on 16 December 2007, reported on TV3’s final political poll of 2007. The results of the poll were given verbally and visually with the use of on-screen graphics. The results were first broken down into the percentage of votes earned by each political party in Parliament, except for the Progressive Party, and the results were then translated into seats in the House of Representatives (the House). The percentage of Party votes (as indicated by TV3’s poll) and the number of seats calculated from those votes was then depicted in a graphic.

[2]   During the item, the reporter stated that the results of TV3’s poll indicated that the National Party had 51% of the vote, Labour 36%, Greens 4.8%, New Zealand First 2.2%, Maori Party 2.8%, ACT 0.9% and United Future 0.7%.

[3]   The item then translated the percentages into the number of seats in the House each party would get. The graphic showed that National would get 67 seats in the House, Labour 47, the Maori Party 4, ACT 2, United Future 2 and the Progressive Party 1.       

Complaint

[4]   Dean Knight made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was inaccurate. Mr Knight stated that when he had inputted the percentages that were given during the item into the “Elections’ MMP calculator”, the results were that the ACT Party and the United Future Party each received one seat in the House, not two seats as shown in the graphic.

[5]   The complainant believed that this was a significant error and in breach of Standard 5 (accuracy).    

Standard

[6]   Standard 5 and guideline 5a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice is 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 5a  
       
Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

Referral to the Authority

[7]   As the complainant had not received a response from the broadcaster within the statutory time limit, he referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1C)(c)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[8]   Mr Knight maintained that “while numerically the error is relatively minor, the error relates to one of the most significant constitutional matters in the country, namely, representation in the House of Representatives and the likely formation of the government”. He contended that even minor misstatements have the prospect of “erroneously influencing the public and consequently affecting election matters”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9]   TVWorks apologised to Mr Knight for the delay in responding to his complaint and explained that his first email was mistakenly overlooked as a formal complaint and was only passed on to its Standards Committee after a follow-up email.

[10]   The broadcaster stated that TV3’s end of year political poll gave a “snapshot, rather than a prediction, of the possible composition of the next Parliament – a virtual Parliament at best – based on the figures available from the TV3/TNS surveys”.

[11]   TVWorks argued that the reporter’s voice-over during the graphic was accurate. It noted that its reporter had said:

Translate these results into seats in the House and National would have 67 seats and rule like a First-Past-The-Post Government with no need for a coalition partner. Labour would have just 47 seats with no Greens. The Maori Party would have 4. The other minors just make up the numbers.

[12]   The broadcaster considered that the “erroneous and relatively brief graphic reference – mistakenly according two [electorate] seats each to both the ACT Party and the United Future Party instead of one”, while technically incorrect, did not result in a discrepancy that could be regarded as significant.    

[13]   TVWorks believed that overall, the content of the report was materially accurate, sufficiently explanatory and provided adequate guidance to viewers. This was particularly so given the commentary by its reporter and the recognised limitations that were applicable to such polls, it said. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the item had been inaccurate.    

Authority's Determination

[14]   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.

[15]   The Authority does not accept the broadcaster’s argument that the item “materially” complied with the requirements of the accuracy standard. Standard 5 requires absolute accuracy on points of fact. It is not sufficient for a broadcaster to argue that a mistake was not significant. Further, in this case, the Authority considers that the inaccuracy was significant for the minor parties and their supporters.

[16]   The broadcaster has accepted that the graphic erroneously showed that, according to the poll results, the ACT Party and the United Future Party would each receive two seats in the House instead of one. In these circumstances, the Authority finds that the item was inaccurate, and therefore upholds the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.

Bill of Rights

[17]   The Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching its determination. The  Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act’s requirement that limits on freedom of expression must be prescribed by law, be reasonable, and be demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by TVWorks Ltd of an item on 3 News on 17 December 2007 breached Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[18]   Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It does not intend to make an order on this occasion. The Authority notes that while the information supplied in the on-screen graphic was wrong, the accompanying voice-over was correct. Further, due to the time that has elapsed since the broadcast, it considers that any corrective statement would be more likely to confuse viewers than clarify the situation. The Authority finds that the publication of its decision is sufficient in all the circumstances.   

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 June 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Dean Knight’s formal complaint – 18 December 2007
2.           Mr Knight’s referral to the Authority – 5 March 2008
3.           TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 20 March 2008