Skip to main content

Hooker and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-037

Members

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

Complainant

  • Garry Hooker of Dargaville

Dated

30th June 2005

Number

2005-037

Programme

Eye to Eye

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Eye to Eye – host asked his guests whether the Labour or Māori Party candidate would win the seat of Tai Tokerau in the upcoming election – did not mention a third candidate for the electorate – allegedly unbalanced and inaccurate

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – not a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – not inaccurate – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] During Eye to Eye, broadcast on TV One at 9.30am on 5 February 2005, the host asked his two female guests whether Dover Samuels (Labour Party) or Hone Harawira (Māori Party) would win the seat of Tai Tokerau in the upcoming election.

Complaint

[2] Garry Hooker (Publicity Officer to Mere Mangu, an independent candidate for Te Tai Tokerau electorate) complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was unbalanced and inaccurate. He contented that bias was evident in the host’s praise for Hone Harawira.

[3] Submitting that the programme had breached Standard 4 (balance), Mr Hooker observed that no mention was made of Miss Mangu. This was despite her being the second highest polling candidate for the seat in the last general election. Further, the complainant noted that Miss Mangu had not been invited to participate in the programme.

[4] Mr Hooker alleged that the host’s question as to whether Mr Samuels or Mr Harawira would take the seat of Tai Tokerau was unbalanced and inaccurate. It had implied that only two candidates were standing for the seat, he said, when at least three were nominated. He added:

[5] It also ignored the fact that, on the basis of any realistic assessment of her past voter support, Miss Mangu’s chances in the seat must be considered superior to those of any untried candidate.

Standards

[6] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4 and 5 and Guidelines 4a, 4b and 4c 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.

Guidelines

4a   Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality.

4b   No set formula can be advanced for the allocation of time to interested parties on controversial public issues. Broadcasters should aim to present all significant sides in as fair a way as possible, it being acknowledged that this can be done only by judging each case on its merits.

4c   Factual programmes, and programmes shown which approach a topic from a particular or personal perspective (for example, authorial documentaries and those shown on access television,) may not be required to observe to the letter the requirements of standard 4.

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7] In its response to Mr Hooker, TVNZ noted that the programme had not focussed on the election in Tai Tokerau. The reference only came at the end of the programme, it said, when the host had “light-heartedly” challenged his two female guests to say who would win the seat. TVNZ contended that:

[8] There was no serious discussion about Te Tai Tokerau, and the short sequence involved could not in any sense be considered a serious analysis of candidates or electoral prospects.

[9] The broadcaster noted that, even in an election year, journalistic principles required that programmes reflected reality. There was no requirement that each time a specific electorate was mentioned every candidate for that seat must be acknowledged, it said.

[10] TVNZ submitted that the reality of the political landscape at the time of the broadcast was that the Māori seats had become a “battleground” between Labour and the Māori Party. This was supported by a recent Digi Poll on the Marae programme. Further, it emphasised that the light-hearted sequence could not be seen as a serious discussion of election prospects.

[11] TVNZ observed that the subject of debate on the programme was Waitangi Day and the Treaty of Waitangi. It saw no reason that Miss Mangu should have been mentioned on the programme or invited to participate under these circumstances.

[12] With regard to Standard 4 (balance), TVNZ did not believe that the “jovial sequence” represented a lack of balance. The discussion had balanced the Labour candidate against the Māori Party candidate, it said, and this reflected the reality of the electoral contest as it stood at that time.

[13] TVNZ considered that Guideline 4c was relevant because the programme had a transparently “authorial” aspect about it. The host was not a neutral observer, nor had he ever pretended to be one. Viewers would be familiar with his politics, TVNZ said, and would expect to see him “partaking in articulate and opinionated discussion with others who wear politics on their sleeves”.

[14] Considering Standard 5 (accuracy), TVNZ found nothing in the segment which was inaccurate or untrue. An objective assessment of Te Tai Tokerau electorate at the time suggested that it would be a clash between Labour and the Māori party, it contended. This had been accurately reflected in the programme.

Referral to the Authority

[15] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Hooker referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He reiterated his complaint that the programme did not acknowledge Mere Mangu or involve her in the sequence.

[16] Complaining about the “unacceptable bias” shown in the item, Mr Hooker contended that the broadcaster had attempted to defend the host on the grounds that he had never pretended to be a neutral observer. The complainant asserted that even a biased presenter endeavouring to assist a friend should be required to adhere to broadcasting standards. In Mr Hooker’s view, the presenter had discriminated against Miss Mangu, displaying a “clear abuse of power”.

[17] The complainant submitted that TVNZ had failed to address Guideline 4b, which required the fair presentation of all sides of a topic. Instead, it had focussed on Guideline 4c which involved “some relaxation of the balance standard”. Mr Hooker submitted that this guideline did not authorise ignoring the balance standard.

[18] Mr Hooker did not accept TVNZ’s argument that a lack of balance was excused because the segment was presented in a jovial manner, or that balance was achieved between the Labour and Māori Party candidates. He argued that compliance with broadcasting standards should prevail, regardless of the manner of presentation. Further, Mr Hooker stated that there could not be balance when a significant part of a topic was omitted.

[19] With regard to accuracy, the complainant suggested that the segment only reflected the illusion shaped by the broadcaster, rather than the “political reality” as TVNZ claimed. The presenter’s approach could not be justified by relying on Marae Digi Polls, he said.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[20] TVNZ referred to its argument that, in the context of the exchange, Miss Mangu had no relevance to the issue of balance. TVNZ argued that the segment was never intended to be a searching examination of election prospects for Te Tai Tokerau, nor was it presented in that manner.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[21] In his final submission, Mr Hooker noted that many Māori on talkback radio had protested the treatment of Miss Mangu on the Eye to Eye programme. He disagreed with TVNZ’s argument that Miss Mangu was irrelevant to the programme.

[22] Further, Mr Hooker stated that the jovial nature of a programme should not provide an excuse to depart from programme standards. The underlying facts still needed to comply with the requirement for accuracy, he said. In the complainant’s view, implying that there were only two candidates for the Tai Tokerau seat was biased, unbalanced, inaccurate and misleading.

Authority's Determination

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

[24] Standard 4 requires that balance be provided when “controversial issues of public importance” are discussed. The Authority agrees that controversial issues were discussed during the programme – Waitangi Day and the Treaty of Waitangi. However, the Authority considers that the segment complained about was quite separate from those matters, and not subject to the requirement for balance.

[25] The Authority notes that the brief segment did not purport or attempt to be an examination of the contest for the Tai Tokerau seat. Rather, it was a light-hearted exchange at the conclusion of the programme. The Authority finds that this light-hearted attempt to elicit the opinion of the two guests as to who would win the Tai Tokerau seat did not amount to discussion of a controversial issue of public importance.

[26] The Authority disagrees with TVNZ’s argument that Guideline 4c was relevant because the programme had a transparently “authorial” aspect. In the Authority’s view, Guideline 4c is intended to apply to factual programmes which have been deliberately constructed to present a particular perspective.

[27] Given that there was no controversial issue of public importance under discussion, the Authority concludes that Standard 4 was not breached by the host’s failure to mention Miss Mangu.  Likewise, the Authority considers that the failure to invite Miss Mangu to participate in the programme does not raise any issues of broadcasting standards.  Even if the programme had discussed the Tai Tokerau election contest as a controversial issue, the balance standard does not necessarily require that every candidate take part in such discussion.

[28] Under Standard 5 (accuracy), the complainant has alleged that the host’s question to his guests was inaccurate because it implied that there were only two candidates standing in the electorate. In the Authority’s view, the host’s question reflected his opinion that there were two main contenders for the Tai Tokerau seat. His question was not a statement of fact to which the accuracy standard applies. Accordingly, the Authority finds that Standard 5 was not breached on this occasion.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
30 June 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Garry Hooker’s formal complaint – 16 February 2005
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 12 April 2005
  3. Mr Hooker’s referral to the Authority – 5 May 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 18 May 2005
  5. Mr Hooker’s final comment – 6 June 2005