Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – not a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld
Standard 5 (accuracy) – news reporter’s comment clearly conveyed technicians’ opinion – item not inaccurate or misleading – not upheld
Standard 6 (fairness) – no person or organisation treated unfairly – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An item on One News At 4.30, broadcast on TV One at 4.30pm on Tuesday 22 June 2010, reported on the return home of two Maritime New Zealand technicians who had assisted with an oil spill clean-up in the Gulf of Mexico. The news reader concluded the item by stating:
The pair say our maritime authorities would be well equipped to cope with a spill of this scale on New Zealand shores.
 River Tucker made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards relating to controversial issues, accuracy and fairness. The complainant argued that the item was inaccurate and unbalanced in stating that New Zealand was well equipped to deal with an oil spill comparable to that in the Gulf of Mexico. He considered that it was unfair on viewers to make false statements of fact that had no factual basis.
 Standards 4, 5 and 6, and guideline 5a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:
Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints
When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
Standard 5 Accuracy
Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:
• is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or
• does not mislead.
The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.
Standard 6 Fairness
Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
 Looking first at Standard 4, TVNZ contended that the item focused on the personal experiences of two Maritime New Zealand Technicians involved in the oil spill clean-up in the Gulf of Mexico, which it argued did not amount to a controversial issue of public importance in the sense that it had a significant impact on, or was of concern to, members of the New Zealand public. It therefore considered that Standard 4 did not apply.
 Turning to accuracy, TVNZ noted that the news reader’s comment was prefaced with “the pair say”, which it argued informed the audience that what followed was the opinion of the two men rather than a statement of fact, and that opinions were exempt from the accuracy standard under guideline 5a to Standard 5. Furthermore, it argued that the statement was immaterial to the main focus of the item. For these reasons, TVNZ declined to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.
 With respect to Standard 6, TVNZ noted that the complainant alleged the item was unfair to the viewing public because it was inaccurate and misleading. It contended that the fairness standard applied to individuals or organisations taking part or referred to in broadcasts, not to viewers in general. Accordingly, TVNZ declined to uphold the fairness complaint.
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Tucker referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 Mr Tucker reiterated his view that the item was inaccurate. He argued that whether or not New Zealand maritime authorities had the capacity to deal with an oil spill comparable to that in the Gulf of Mexico had not been investigated, but was nevertheless presented as a statement of fact. He considered that viewers would have taken the statement to be accurate and not a “flippant opinion without any factual basis”.
 With respect to Standard 4, the complainant argued that the item dealt with an issue of significant public importance, and that the controversial issues standard therefore applied. In his view, the statement was material to the main focus of the item. The complainant maintained that the item lacked balance, was “biased” and “expressed a one-sided viewpoint”.
 Mr Tucker reiterated his view that it was unfair to make inaccurate statements in factual programmes.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 Standard 5 requires that broadcasters make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to material points of fact, and does not mislead.
 The complainant argued that it was inaccurate for the news reader to state that New Zealand authorities had the ability to deal with an oil spill comparable to that in the Gulf of Mexico. We note that the comment was preceded with “the pair say”, and concluded an item on the experience of two New Zealanders who assisted with the clean-up. In our view, the comment clearly conveyed the opinion of the two technicians and reasonable viewers would have understood that the news reader was not making a statement of fact. Guideline 5a to the accuracy standard states that it does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as comment or opinion. We therefore find that the comment was exempt from the accuracy standard and we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.
 Standard 4 requires broadcasters to make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in a programme.
 In our view, the item was a human interest story that focused on the personal experiences of two Maritime New Zealand technicians who had assisted with the oil spill clean-up in the Gulf of Mexico. The Authority has previously determined that Standard 4 does not apply to programmes focusing on individual stories (e.g. FD and TVWorks1 and Egg Producers Federation and TVWorks2). Accordingly, we find that the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance, and therefore that Standard 4 does not apply.
 In his original complaint, Mr Tucker argued that it was unfair to viewers to make false statements of fact. Standard 6 only applies to individuals or organisations taking part or referred to in a programme. As such, the fairness standard does not apply to viewers in general, and we therefore decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
26 October 2010
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. River Tucker’s formal complaint – 28 June and 12 July 2010
2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 22 July 2010
3. Mr Tucker’s referral to the Authority – 22 July 2010
4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 1 September 2010
1Decision No. 2009-112
2Decision No. 2009-053