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Evison and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-088

Members

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

Complainant

  • Harry Evison of Christchurch

Dated

29th July 2004

Number

2004-088

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – weather item – after autumnal equinox the sun moves into the northern hemisphere – allegedly inaccurate

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – colloquial phrase used to convey everyday attitude rather than technical information – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] The weather announcer advised viewers of One News that, after the autumnal equinox, the sun moved back into the northern hemisphere. The statement was broadcast on TV One shortly before 7.00pm on 20 March 2004.

Complaint

[2] Harry Evison complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was inaccurate. The biblical notion of the sun “moving”, he wrote, was disproved by Copernicus in the 16th century and the statement made New Zealand look foolish in the eyes of viewers from overseas. He expressed concern at the “dumbing down” of public understanding fostered by the news media.

Standard

[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 5 and the relevant guidelines in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which were nominated by the complainant. They read:

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.

Guidelines

5b  Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

5d  Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, should be clearly distinguishable.

5e  Broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to ensure at all times that the information sources for news, current affairs and documentaries are reliable.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] TVNZ acknowledged that the complainant was technically correct but contended that the usage did not amount to a breach of the standard. The statement which was broadcast, it wrote, was delivered in the “colloquial language of a live presentation”, and referred to the sun as seen “from the perspective of a viewer on Earth”. It continued:

It was intended to indicate a marker, if you like, suggesting that until next spring the northern hemisphere will enjoy a preponderance of summer weather and “longer” days as compared to southern climes.

[5] Noting again that the item was technically inaccurate, TVNZ said:

  • the item did not seriously mislead viewers contrary to Guideline 5b
  • it was an accurate reflection of human perception rather than an expression of opinion that did not contravene Guideline 5d
  • Guideline 5e was not relevant.

[6] In conclusion, TVNZ recognised that the statement could be irksome from a “purely scientific point of view”, but it did not accept that the use of such informal and colloquial language during the weather presentation breached the standard.

Referral to the Authority

[7] Mr Evison referred his complaint to the Authority as the statement – that the sun moves into the northern hemisphere after the autumnal equinox – was factually incorrect. The sun, he said, did not move: rather the Earth moved on its orbit around the sun.

[8] Mr Evison said that he did not understand why TVNZ, in acknowledging that the statement was technically incorrect, did not uphold the complaint. With reference to TVNZ’s defence of “colloquial language”, he commented that weather presentations routinely used technical terms and technical imagery. He also pointed out that he was not objecting to the use of colloquial language generally, just to its use in a weather presentation. Moreover, “human perception” did not acknowledge the Copernican explanation.

[9] Accepting that TVNZ had intended to give viewers an explanation of the post-autumnal equinox phenomenon of the days getting shorter, Mr Evison contended that a technically correct explanation was required.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[10] TVNZ reiterated its concession that Mr Evison was technically correct, but submitted that to uphold the complaint would set a precedent where those who broadcast in colloquial terms (including weather presenters) would be placed in a “phraseological straitjacket”. Weather presenters, it added, commonly used technical language, but it was delivered in a “user-friendly” manner. Weather presentations, it added, were more successful in communicating information when presented as “ordinary conversation”.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[11] Stressing the point that the item contained misinformation which was misleading, Mr Evison said he accepted “colloquial discourse” provided that it was accurate. The public were entitled to expect weather presenters to be authoritative and not to provide information which was contrary to the scientific explanation taught in schools.

Authority's Determination

[12] 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.

[13] The Authority accepts that the movement of the planets around the sun, while now well-established, is not necessarily reflected in everyday language. The phrase “the sun sinks in the west” is typical of such language. The Authority also accepts that the use of such phrases by people in authority, who can be expected to know better, can be irksome to scientists.

[14] The Authority acknowledges the broadcaster’s contention that weather forecasting involves presenting technical information in language which is comprehensible to viewers. Furthermore, that information is given in a live presentation.

[15] Taking into account that the figure of speech which was used was intended to be a colloquial description rather than a technical explanation, and that the information was additional to what is ordinarily presented in a weather forecast, the Authority concludes that the requirement for accuracy in Standard 5 was not contravened on this occasion.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
29 July 2004

Appendix

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

1     Harry Evison’s Formal Complaints to Television New Zealand Ltd – 22 March and
      7 April 2004
2    TVNZ’s Response to Mr Evison – 28 April 2004
3    Mr Evison’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 7 May 2004
4    TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 13 May 2004
5    Mr Evison’s Final Comment – 30 May 2004