Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News item about two young New Zealanders who won prizes in an essay competition on issues of public concern – one essay about the impact of mussel farming on the marine environment – allegedly unbalanced
Standard 4 (balance) – essay competition was the item’s focus, not mussel industry – not upheld
Standard 5 (accuracy) – opinions not facts about mussel industry advanced – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 Two young New Zealand conservationists who had won prices in an essay competition were interviewed in One News broadcast on TV One beginning at 6.00pm on 18 July 2004. One had written an essay on the impact of mussel farming on the marine environment, focusing on the Marlborough Sounds.
 On behalf of the New Zealand Mussel Industry Council Ltd (NZMIC), Rebecca Clarkson complained to Television New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the item was biased and had “erroneously” represented the essay’s findings as facts.
 Explaining that the NZMIC represented the New Zealand green shell mussel industry, Ms Clarkson advised that mussel farms in the Marlborough Sounds had been researched during the past 15 years, and the institutions conducting the research were named. The research concluded, she wrote, that well-sited mussel farms had a minimal and quickly reversible effect on the benthic environment. Further, shell droppings on a muddy bottom created an artificial reef which encouraged marine life.
 Ms Clarkson also pointed out that consents were necessary to establish mussel farms and the mussel industry had developed a comprehensive environmental management system. However, she complained, the information contained in the essay about environmental threats reported in the item was “nothing more that scaremongering”. The unbalanced item, she added, had the potential to damage an environmentally friendly industry and an apology was sought.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which reads:
Standard 4 BalanceIn 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.
 The Authority also assessed the complaint under Standard 5 (accuracy) which reads:
Standard 5 AccuracyNews, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.
 TVNZ contended that the complainant had “missed the point” of the item. It was not about mussel farming. Rather, it was about two young people who had won major conservation awards, and the item included material to give viewers more of an idea about what the essays contained. TVNZ drew an analogy with an award for non-fiction, and argued that the views expressed by the winners were opinion, not fact.
 On the basis that the item was about an essay competition, not mussel farming, TVNZ considered that there was no need to balance the references to mussel farming. Moreover, it noted, mussel farming was an on-going story and the brief summary of the findings in the essay did not call for balancing comments. It declined to uphold the complaint.
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, the NZMIC referred the complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 The NZMIC’s Ms Clarkson pointed out that at the time of the broadcast, the essay writer (Max Hardy) was involved with a group who were opposing applications for mussel farms in the Marlborough Sounds. During the item, the reporter had said “Max’s bay is now under threat from mussel farming”.
 That comment, the NZMIC noted, failed to show balance and impartiality. Further, the NZMIC contended that the item breached the accuracy requirement (Standard 5) as it failed to distinguish between fact on the one hand and opinion and comment on the other. The NZMIC vigorously disputed the essay writer’s comment to camera that mussel farms killed everything beneath them.
 Dealing first with the complainant’s reference to Standard 5 (accuracy), TVNZ suggested that the Authority should not address it as it was not raised in the original complaint. TVNZ enclosed correspondence with the NZMIC in which it suggested that Standard 4 (balance) was apt, but in which it had also invited reference to any other standard, if considered appropriate.
 TVNZ reiterated its contention that the item was about two people winning essay awards. It was not a debate about mussel farming. TVNZ added that it had received another complaint about the same item and it enclosed a letter where the complainant accepted that it had not viewed the item from that perspective.
 The NZMIC explained that it did not understand, and it was not apparent from TVNZ’s letter, that it was necessary to nominate standards before the broadcaster determined the initial formal complaint. It also noted that it did not complain about the item’s focus on the essay writer, but that the content of the winning essay was reported as fact.
 The NZMIC argued that its reputation as a “bad guy” of the marine environment was a myth. Rather, it wrote, the industry was environmentally friendly. It had complained that the item was unbalanced and inaccurate, it added, as it presented the essay writer’s criticisms of the industry as fact.
 In response to the NZMIC’s final comment, TVNZ argued that it would have treated the essay in the same way if it had criticised ecotourism for example. The focus of the item, it wrote, was the essay competition. It also contended that the NZMIC, by acknowledging that the essay writer deserved recognition for his good essay, had accepted the item as appropriate.
 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.
 The Authority’s statutory function with regard to complaints referred to it is to review and examine the broadcaster’s decision. In view of the provisions in the Broadcasting Act, the Authority does not examine the broadcast against standards which have not been raised explicitly or implicitly in the original complaint to the broadcaster.
 On this occasion, the Authority notes that balance (standard 4) was the only standard which was raised explicitly. Nevertheless, the Authority notes the sentence in the original complaint to TVNZ which reads:
Your news article presented a biased report when it erroneously represented Max Hardy’s essay findings as fact.
 The Authority considers that the sentence is an allegation that the item was factually inaccurate, and in breach of the requirement in Standard 5 for accuracy.
 The item, as TVNZ noted, reported that two young New Zealand conservationists had won trips to South Africa as a result of an essay competition which encouraged entrants to go out into their local communities and research areas of possible public concern. The item was, it continued:
a “good news” piece – one of those that some of our viewers believe TVNZ never shows. It was about youthful achievement and the rewarding of work undertaken.
 The Authority notes that the item reported the opinion of one of the successful essay writers who had written about the mussel industry. As the item carried his opinion, the Authority considers that the requirement for factual accuracy is not relevant and it declines to uphold the Standard 5 aspect of the complaint.
 The Authority also considers that the item was not unbalanced and in breach of Standard 4. While the item referred to and showed some of the research carried out by the essay writer, the item’s focus was the essay competition. In showing the essay writer’s achievements, the item touched on the enthusiastic way in which he presented his opinions and conclusions. As the item did not address directly the social, economic and environmental issues which are generated by the mussel industry, which were the matters raised by the complainant, the Authority finds that the item was not unbalanced and in contravention of Standard 4.
For the above reasons, the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
4 November 2004
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: