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Wellington City Council and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2007-056

Members

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

Complainant

  • Wellington City Council of Wellington

Dated

12th February 2008

Number

2007-056

Programme

Morning Report

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand National

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


An appeal against this decision was dismissed in the High Court: CIV 2008-485-514  PDF
428.08 KB


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Morning Report – three items discussing proposal by Wellington City Council to scrap free parking – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Principle 4 (balance) – subsumed into consideration of Principles 5 and 6

Principle 5 (fairness) – Wellington City Council treated unfairly – upheld

Principle 6 (accuracy) – items left the impression that the Council was considering scrapping free weekend parking – inaccurate – upheld

Order
Section 13(1)(a) – broadcast statement

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   On 20 April 2007, the presenter of Radio New Zealand National’s Morning Report programme, Sean Plunket, commented that the Wellington City Council was “looking at scrapping its free weekend and evening parking in the city”. He said:

Retailers are furious. The Council says it wants to free up more parking spaces and is also looking at increasing its weekday metered parking charges…the ideas are all part of a set of documents attached to the Council’s Draft Parking Policy which was approved for further consideration and submissions yesterday.

[2]   Following this introduction, a Morning Report reporter interviewed several Wellington motorists and retailers who reacted negatively to the idea of charging for parking on weekends and in the evenings. The item included an interview with Barry Halberg from the Retailers’ Association who said:

We’ve accepted that there’s a need for time periods to be enforced and we don’t have a problem with that either on Saturday or Sunday. But if the intent of the paper is to introduce charges for on-street parking during the weekend, I would imagine that the NZ Retailers’ Association, through its Wellington branch, would have major concerns about that.

[3]   The reporter said that Wellington’s Mayor, Kerry Prendergfast, had stressed that none of the suggestions had been approved by the Council.

[4]   A news item broadcast on Morning Report at 10am on 20 April 2007 reported:

Retailers say an idea to scrap free parking all weekend and most evenings in central Wellington could drive shoppers out of the city. The proposal was raised as part of the City Council’s draft parking policy which has been approved for further consideration and submissions.

[5]   The reporter stated that papers attached to the policy suggested charging motorists to park in the city during the weekend and in the evening to reduce high demand. They also look at increasing the overall cost of parking to get a faster turnover of parking spaces. The reporter said that the Wellington City Council said the ideas had not yet been accepted, and that the draft policy would be open to submissions.

[6]   A second news item, broadcast on Morning Report at 11am on 20 April 2007, also reported that a set of papers attached to the Council’s Draft Parking Policy suggested charging for parking all weekend and in the evenings.

[7]   On 21 April 2007 at 1pm, another news item was broadcast on Morning Report which stated:

The Wellington City Council says it’s to continue free weekend parking though it may move to enforce a two-hour time limit. A proposal to abolish the free weekend parking was included in documents attached to the Council’s draft parking policy, which opened this week for consultation and submissions. But the Council says the report that its Strategy and Policy Committee considered this week says free parking should…continue.

Complaint

[8]   The Wellington City Council (the Council) made a formal complaint about the three Morning Report items to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that they were unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair. The items, it said, had claimed that the Council was “looking at scrapping its free weekend and evening parking in the city” as well as “looking at increasing its weekday meter parking charges”. These claims were entirely incorrect, the Council wrote.

[9]   The complainant stated that the Council had considered a draft parking policy on Thursday 19 April and approved it for consultation. The draft policy had contained a series of principles that would be used to guide future decisions on parking. The Council said that councillors did not approve, nor did they consider, any proposal to remove weekend parking or to increase weekday meter parking. It noted that the report considered by councillors had said:

The key messages from these discussions are outlined below and have been reflected in the draft Policy:

  • Continue Free Weekend Parking policy (but enforce on Saturday and Sundays)

[10]   The Council explained that “enforcement” referred to enforcing the existing two-hour free parking limit and other parking rules, as opposed to charging for parking.

[11]   The complainant noted that a background report that reviewed the Council’s existing parking policies was attached to the draft parking policy as Appendix Three. That report recommended that the Council consider removing up to five percent of on-street metered parking space and charging for the currently free evening and weekend parking. However, the report had been attached as background only, and was not part of what councillors were asked to consider or approve.

[12]   In spite of this, the Council said, Radio New Zealand Ltd had sought motorists and retailers out asking their opinions on charging for weekend parking, on the basis of the incorrect and misleading proposition that the Council was considering introducing such a policy.

[13]   The complainant noted that Council officers, as well as Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast, were approached by RNZ journalists and had explained that the draft policy was a series of high-level guiding principles that would go out to consultation. Council officers had encouraged the RNZ journalist to read the draft policy because she only had the committee report. She had expressed a reluctance to do this, it said, telling them it would be “time consuming”.

[14]   The Council stated that RNZ had not made a reasonable effort to present the issues fairly or accurately. It wrote:

There was little balance and the people interviewed were misled by the journalist(s) involved and led to believe the Council was considering removing free weekend parking and increasing weekday on-street meter parking charges. The items are a false and totally inaccurate reflection of what councilors considered or approved at Committee.

[15]   The complainant noted that Council officers had raised the inaccuracies with RNZ on the afternoon of the broadcast, and requested a correction, but this was declined. It acknowledged that a short item had been broadcast the next day on Saturday 21 April at 1pm stating that the Council was to continue free weekend parking, but it said there was no mention of this information being a correction. The Council maintained there had been no clarification that it had never intended to remove free weekend parking, nor had it considered any proposals to increase on-street meter parking charges.

[16]   The Council questioned whether the audience for the 1pm news on a Saturday was as large as it was for Checkpoint, and it argued that the amount of coverage of the “correction” was a fraction of that given to the original item.

Principles

[17]   RNZ assessed the complaint under the standards in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice that were nominated by the complainant. These provide:

Principle 4

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain 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.

Principle 5

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

Principle 6

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[18]   RNZ said that the item had carefully presented the idea to charge for weekend parking as “…part of a set of documents attached to the Council’s draft parking policy which was approved for further consideration…” and it said that the “…new draft parking policy looks at…”. Finally, it said, the mayor had been quoted as saying “So it was timely to review our on-street car parking policy”. RNZ said that at no stage was the “idea” presented as being approved policy.

[19]   In the broadcaster’s view, the complaint appeared to be based on a proposition that a public document should not have been reported to the public as part of a policy review being undertaken by the Council. Such a proposition, it wrote, could not be sustained in an open liberal democracy such as New Zealand’s present form of local or national government.

[20]   In light of the above, RNZ said that it found no breach of broadcasting standards.

Referral to the Authority

[21]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s decision, the Council referred its complaint to the Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It reiterated the points made in its formal complaint to RNZ.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[22]   RNZ rejected the Council’s assertion that “it was an incorrect and misleading proposition that the Council was considering introducing such a policy” in regard to charging for weekend parking. The proposition, it said, was contained in publicly available papers that the Council had considered and released for consultation and submissions.

[23]   The broadcaster contended that the Morning Report item had stressed that the ideas were “part of a set of documents attached to the Council’s draft parking policy, which was approved for further consideration and submissions yesterday”. Their status and source, it said, could not have been clearer to listeners. Later news items referred to by the Council had also used the same language stressing that the “ideas” had not been approved.

[24]   RNZ disputed the Council’s assertion that the item broadcast at 1pm the following day was by way of a correction. That bulletin, it wrote, had noted that the Council “says free weekend parking should continue” which was equally as true as the earlier statements that the Council had considered a proposal to abolish free weekend parking, and had attached that proposal to its draft parking policy.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[25]   The Council stated that it took issue with RNZ's statement that the idea of charging for weekend parking was included in the draft parking policy that was released for public consultation and submissions. It maintained that it had not, and had only been mentioned in an appendix that went to the Council’s Strategy and Policy Committee as background to the main report.

[26]   To accurately refer to that information in the news item, the Council submitted, RNZ could have said that the idea had been suggested by a consultant in a 2006 report but was not something the Council was considering and consulting on.

Further submissions from the Broadcaster

[27]   RNZ maintained that the wording of the original Morning Report item could not have been clearer as it identified that the:

…ideas are part of a set of documents attached to the Council’s Draft Parking Policy, which was approved for further consideration and submissions yesterday.

[28]   The documents referred to, RNZ wrote, were those that contained the consultant’s report suggesting that weekend parking fees be reintroduced. In the broadcaster’s view, it was beyond belief that the Council would issue such documents to the public, and then not expect to receive submissions or consult on those documents as part of the overall exercise.

Further submissions from the Complainant

[29]   Referring to the broadcaster’s last submissions, the Council stated that the ideas were not part of the Draft Parking Policy itself, but were in an Appendix attached to the Council report on the Draft Parking Policy. The complainant said that it was the Draft Parking Policy that was approved for consultation and submissions, and that policy did not contain the ideas that the RNZ story had focused on.

[30]   The Council added that it did not “issue such documents to the public”. The ideas referred to by RNZ were attached to a Council Committee report, it said, which like all reports were prepared and intended to provide information and background to City Councillors for decision-making purposes. It wrote:

By ignoring the content of the Draft Parking Policy and the main body of the Committee report and focusing instead on a one-year-old consultant’s report that contained ideas the Council had already rejected in the formulation of the draft policy, we believe Radio New Zealand did its listeners a disservice.

Authority's Determination

[31]   The members of the Authority have listened to 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.

Principle 6 (accuracy)

[32]   The Council has complained about the broadcast of three items on Morning Report which discussed its Draft Parking Policy. Having reviewed the bundle of documents provided by the Council, the Authority notes that they comprised the following:

  • The report of the Council’s Strategy and Policy Committee on the Draft Parking Policy
  • Appendix 1: Draft Wellington City Council Parking Policy
  • Appendix 2: Draft Implementation Plan for the Draft Parking Policy
  • Appendix 3: Review of Wellington City Council Parking Policies (Bullen Consultancy 2006)
  • Appendix 4: Challenges and pressure points identified as part of review of existing council parking policies.

[33]   The Authority observes that the three items broadcast on 20 April 2007 focused on one sentence from Appendix 3 to the report, in which a consultancy firm recommended that the Council consider payment for evening and weekend parking. The Draft Parking Policy (Appendix 1 in the bundle) did not refer to any potential review of the free weekend parking policy. Further, one of the “key messages” in the Council’s report on the Draft Parking Policy included:

Continue Free Weekend Parking policy (but enforce on Saturday and Sundays)1.

[34]   The Authority accepts the Council’s assertion that Appendix 3 was included as background information for councillors, but it did not form part of the Draft Parking Policy and the Draft Implementation Plan which councillors considered and approved, and which subsequently went out for public consultation. Accordingly the Authority finds that, contrary to RNZ’s view, the documents released for public consultation did not include Appendix 3, or any other proposal to charge for weekend and evening parking.

[35]   In the Authority’s view, the consistent impression left by all three items was that the proposal to remove free weekend parking was part of the policy under consideration by councillors. The Morning Report items included statements such as:

“Wellington City Council is looking at scrapping its free weekend and evening parking in the city. Retailers are furious.”

“This new Draft Parking Policy looks at charging people in the evenings and on weekends.”

“Retailers say an idea to scrap free parking all weekend and most evenings in central Wellington could drive shoppers out of the city. The proposal was raised as part of the City Council’s Draft Parking Policy, which has been approved for further consideration and submissions.”

“A set of papers attached to the City Council’s Draft Parking strategy suggests charging for parking all weekend and evening. The Council says while it approved several principles yesterday the draft policy is yet to be finalised and will be open to submissions.”

[36]   The Authority considers that listeners would have been left with the impression that there was a possibility that free weekend parking would be “scrapped”, and that this was part of the policy under consideration. The Authority accepts the complainant’s evidence that this was not the case. In these circumstances, the Authority finds that the broadcasts were in breach of the accuracy standard, and it upholds this part of the complaint.

Principle 5 (fairness)

[37]   Having found that the three Morning Report items would have misled listeners as to the Council’s intentions with respect to free weekend parking, the Authority also considers that the Council was treated unfairly by RNZ. In the Authority’s view, listeners would have been left with an unfavourable impression of the Council and its plan to “scrap” free weekend parking.

[38]   Furthermore, the statements in the item which purported to give the Council’s perspective on the issue did not clarify that councillors were not considering the removal of free parking. For example, the item said:

“The Council says it wants to free up more parking spaces and is also looking at increasing its weekday metered parking charges, which are already four dollars an hour in the CBD. The ideas are part of a set of documents attached to the Council’s Draft Parking Policy which was approved for further consideration and submissions yesterday.”

“The Wellington City Council says the ideas have not yet been accepted and yesterday’s decision only approved a set of principles to improve inner city parking. It says the draft policy will be open to submissions.”

[39]   In the Authority’s view, these statements were not a true reflection of the Council’s stance with respect to weekend parking, and the items overall would have left listeners with a negative impression of the Council. In these circumstances, it considers that RNZ treated the complainant unfairly in breach of Principle 5.

Principle 4 (balance)

[40]   In the Authority’s view, the complainant’s concerns about the broadcaster’s failure to accurately present the issue and the Council’s perspective have already been addressed in its consideration of Principles 5 and 6 above. Accordingly, the Authority subsumes the Principle 4 complaint into its consideration of those standards.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that three items on Morning Report broadcast on 20 April 2007 by Radio New Zealand Ltd breached Principles 5 and 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[41]   Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act. It invited submissions on orders from the parties.

[42]   The Council submitted that the Authority should order RNZ to broadcast a statement summarising the decision and the reasons why the complaint was upheld. It requested that the statement be broadcast during Morning Report between 7.30am and 9am.

[43]   RNZ submitted that it would not be appropriate for the Authority to impose any order on this occasion. It wrote that any statement summarising the Authority’s decision “at this late stage” could serve to confuse listeners as to what the actual weekend parking policy was and what it has now been changed to. It also referred to the “confusing nature of the structure” of the reports released by the Council.

[44]  Having considered the submissions on orders made by the parties, the Authority agrees with the Council that it is appropriate to order RNZ to broadcast a statement summarising its decision.

Bill of Rights

[45]  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 and in ordering the broadcast of a statement. 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 demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

Order

Pursuant to section 13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders Radio New Zealand Ltd to broadcast, within one month of the date of this decision, a statement approved by the Authority containing a comprehensive summary of its decision. The statement shall be broadcast during Morning Report on a Friday morning on a date to be approved by the Authority.

The Authority draws the broadcaster’s attention to the requirement in section 13(1)(b) of the Act for the broadcaster to give notice to the Authority of the manner in which the above order has been complied with.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
12 February 2008

Appendix

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

1            Wellington City Council’s formal complaint – 2 May 2007
2           RNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 28 May 2007
3           Wellington City Council’s referral to the Authority – 12 June 2007
4           RNZ’s response to the Authority – 5 July 2007
5           Wellington City Council’s final comment – 26 July 2007
6           Further submissions from RNZ – 9 August 2007
7           Further submissions from Wellington City Council – 16 August 2007
8           Wellington City Council’s submissions on orders – 10 October 2007
9           RNZ’s submissions on orders – 26 November 2007


1Parking would remain free, but that drivers would be ticketed for remaining in a parking space beyond the time limit specified.