Holmes – canal development in Whitianga – ministerial order to start again the consents process – angry reaction among residents – no comment from Minister – unbalanced
Standard G6 – balance achieved throughout item – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
The angry reaction in Whitianga to the Conversation Minister’s order to consider again aspects of the consents process for the proposed canal development in the town, was covered in an item on Holmes broadcast on TV One at 7.00pm on 16 May 2001.
Dorothy Stafford complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that as the purpose of the item was to condemn the delay, it had suggested that the project had been terminated and had given only cursory treatment of the legal reasons that required the Minister to take action. Accordingly, she wrote, the item was unbalanced.
In response, TVNZ maintained that the item explained that the scheme had been delayed, not abandoned, and that it had accurately reflected the angry reactions of residents of Whitianga to the delay.
Dissatisfied that TVNZ had not considered the point that the item had not explained the legal reasons for the Minister’s actions, Ms Stafford referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
An item broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd on the Holmes programme on TV one at 7.00pm on 16 May 2001 reported the angry reaction of a number of the residents of Whitianga to the Minister of Conservation’s order that the consents process for a proposed residential canal development had to be started again.
Dorothy Stafford complained to TVNZ that the item was unbalanced in that it condemned the delay but did not explain the legal reasons which required the Minister to make the order. Further, she wrote, the item incorrectly suggested that the proposal had been irrevocably rejected.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under standard G6 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which requires broadcasters, in the preparation and presentation of programmes:
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
TVNZ acknowledged that the comments in the item’s introduction could have given the impression that the project had been scrapped, but pointed out that the full item explained that the scheme had been delayed, rather than abandoned. TVNZ maintained that the item accurately reflected the views of the residents of Whitianga, and it declined to uphold the complaint.
When she referred the complaint to the Authority, Ms Stafford pointed out that she was not concerned about balancing the views of the residents in Whitianga. Rather, she wrote, she had been concerned at the programme’s "implicit disgust at the Minister’s actions and at her ‘unwillingness’ to appear on the programme". The item, she argued, should have clearly pointed out that "the Minister was powerless to do other than refer the matter back". Moreover, she stated, the item did not acknowledge the Minister’s inability to appear in the item in view of her judicial role in the matter. Ms Stafford asked the Authority to consider the presenter’s body language when it determined the complaint as she considered that it was also relevant to the item.
In its response to the Authority, TVNZ said that the initial complaint had alleged a lack of balance in the item about the canal development in Whitianga. It had responded to that complaint and asked the Authority to focus on that matter. In regard to that issue, TVNZ reiterated that opinion in Whitianga ran almost entirely against further delay, and that that had been accurately reported. In regard to the presenter’s style, TVNZ said it was informal and that it was not a breach of broadcasting standards for him to make gestures.
In her final comment, Ms Stafford acknowledged that balance was the issue in her original complaint but, she continued, her letter had gone on to deal with the manner in which she considered that the Minister had been misrepresented. It had not been concerned with the proposed canal development.
Because there appears to be some misunderstanding about the issues raised in the complaint, the Authority will summarise some aspects of the correspondence. Ms Stafford complained to TVNZ that the item about the Whitianga canal development broadcast on Holmes condemned the ministerial delay without explaining the reason for the Minister of Conservation’s decision. Further, she said, the item did not make clear that the Minister’s action delayed the project, rather than brought it to a halt.
In responding to the latter point, TVNZ acknowledged that the item’s introduction left the impression that the project had been scrapped but, it argued, later comments made it clear that the project had not necessarily been terminated.
On the issue of balance, TVNZ maintained that the views of residents interviewed who opposed the Minister’s actions reflected the opinion of the vast majority of the residents. In later correspondence, TVNZ contended that the item made clear that the Minister’s action was necessary as a result of legal advice.
In regard to the aspect of the complaint as to whether the Minister’s decision terminated or delayed the project, the Authority, having listened to the introduction, understands why Ms Stafford complained that the item was misleading. However, the Authority accepts that later comments focused on delay, and thus it considers that this aspect of the complaint does not amount to a breach of standard G6.
Turning to the complaint that the item did not advance the reasons for the Minister’s actions, the Authority agrees with Ms Stafford that the item was presented in a way which supported the view that the canal project should proceed, and it treated some of the balancing material with disdain. Nevertheless, the Authority’s task is to consider the item overall. As it was acknowledged later in the item that the Minister’s decision was required by virtue of recent legislation, the Authority accepts that balance was ultimately achieved.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
23 August 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: