Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item reported results of a survey about present and potential coalition parties for the two main political parties – item used phrase “propping up the government” on several occasions – allegedly unbalanced and inaccurate
Standard 4 (balance) and Guidelines 4a, 4b, 4c – “propping up” not unacceptable in brief news item even when used repetitively – not upheld
Standard 5 (accuracy) and Guidelines 5c and 5d – phrase has range of meanings – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 The results of a survey about the present and potential coalition partners for the two main political parties were reported in an item broadcast on 3 News on TV3 at 6.00pm on 1 August 2004. The phrase “propping up the government” was used on several occasions in reference to one of the parties currently in coalition with the Labour Party.
 Chris Lee complained to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the use of the phrase “propping up the government” was unbalanced and inaccurate. Describing himself as a supporter of MMP, he regarded the use of the phrase as “an insidious form of criticism of the electoral system”.
 Referring to the requirements for balance in Guideline 4a of Standard 4, Mr Lee said that the use of the phrase showed neither impartiality nor balance as, in an underhanded way, it suggested that the present structure was fragile. It was inaccurate, he continued, as it implied a weak and somewhat clandestine relationship where, in fact, the United Party had a clearly established and open relationship with the Labour Party. He sought a correction.
 CanWest TVWorks assessed the complaint against the standards in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice nominated by the complainant. They read:
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.
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 AccuracyNews, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.
5c Broadcasters must ensure that the editorial independence and integrity of news and current affairs is maintained.
5d Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, should be clearly distinguishable.
 CanWest TVWorks provided the meaning from a dictionary search of the phrase “propping up” as “the act of propping up with shores”. A Google search, it continued, revealed that the phrase was used in both a literal and figurative manner, and that there was no pejorative meaning inevitably attached to the use of the phrase. It contended that the phrase was used in the item as a shorthand means of explaining to the viewer that the support of the small parties indeed “shored” up the government.
 The broadcaster pointed out that the phrase had been used by its political reporter who commented regularly on political events, and considered that its use was neither a breach of Standard 4 (balance) nor Standard 5 (accuracy).
 Furthermore, the broadcaster advised, it had considered the complaint against “the important right to ‘free speech’” in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. It argued that upholding the complaint would unjustifiably restrict the public’s right to receive information.
 As he was dissatisfied with the decision, Mr Lee referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 He contended that the phrase “propping up” was pejorative and argued that the broadcaster’s reference to the “freedom of speech” was just a means to allow it to sidestep its responsibilities.
 Responding to Mr Lee’s comment about “freedom of speech”, the broadcaster advised that it assessed all broadcasting standards complaints in a manner that was consistent with “the least possible restriction” to the freedom of speech.
 Observing that some organisations seemed more concerned about asserting their rights rather than acknowledging their responsibilities, Mr Lee noted that the requirements in the standards were explicit, not implicit.
 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 accepts the broadcaster’s argument that the phrase “propping up” amounts to the “act of propping up with shores” and might appropriately be used by those who view the role of minor parties in coalitions as shoring up the major party which would not be able to provide stable government without that support.
 The Authority also accepts the view suggested by the complainant about the use of the phrase “propping up”. The complainant considers that MMP provides an opportunity for political diversity and that the role of minor parties that enter into coalitions is to provide a range of views. In this sense, the role of minor parties includes advancing their ideological agenda and is not confined to “propping up” the major party.
 The phrase “propping up” was used four times in the relatively brief news item complained about. In view of its repetition, the Authority understands why the complainant contended that the use of the phrase was pejorative. Nevertheless, given the alternative meanings of the phrase, the Authority considers that its use in the item was neither inaccurate nor unbalanced. Accordingly, there was no breach of broadcasting standards.
For the above reasons above, the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
21 December 2004
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: