One Network News – economic report – deficit – inaccurate – omission of information
Standard G14 – no further information necessary – not inaccurate – simplicity important in reporting news in accessible way – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
An item on One Network News broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 21 December 1999 concerned New Zealand’s deficit. It was reported that economists and politicians had emphasised that increased saving and exports were required to improve the deficit.
K H Peter Kammler complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was inaccurately reported because "invisibles" such as the profits of overseas shareholders were not mentioned as a major factor in contributing to the deficit. He also contended that the suggestion made in the item that increasing exports would assist in reducing the deficit was "fraught with… difficulties".
In its response, TVNZ said that it felt that Mr Kammler was reading more into the item than was there or intended to be there. In its view, the item was straightforward. It considered that it correctly acknowledged that politicians and economists had said that increased savings and export growth were ways to combat the deficit and problems raised in Treasury briefing papers.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Kammler referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given 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 which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
An item on One Network News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 21 December 1999, reported news about New Zealand’s deficit. The item described briefing papers from Treasury which advised the new government that spending needed to be controlled and surpluses increased. The report noted that the Treasury briefing coincided with the release of figures which showed a further increase in the deficit. It went on to report suggestions made about reducing the deficit which had been advanced by economists and by a politician (Dr Michael Cullen).
Mr Kammler complained to TVNZ that:
The import-export deficit was "falsely presented" as the only cause for the balance of payments deficit.
The item failed to mention the role which profit-taking by overseas shareholders has on the deficit.
The item overemphasised the benefits that accrue from increasing exports, a path Mr Kammler said was "fraught with… difficulties".
TVNZ assessed the complaint under standard G14 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, as had been requested by Mr Kammler. That standard provides that:
G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.
TVNZ considered that, overall, Mr Kammler was "perhaps reading more into the item than was in fact there or was intended to be there". To illustrate this point, TVNZ observed that the item had not suggested that the current account was just the export/import deficit. Nor had it said that the difficulties mentioned in Mr Kammler’s above third point would not arise.
In TVNZ’s view, the item accurately summarised events and views in circulation on the day of broadcast of the item. It considered that the item had correctly acknowledged what politicians and economists had been saying - that increased savings and export growth were methods of combating the deficit - and had dealt with the problems revealed in the briefing papers from the Treasury.
TVNZ then commented that the content of a television news bulletin had to be simplified as much as possible so that it could be understood by the many television viewers who were not completely at home with economic terms and concepts. It elaborated:
Television is not a medium to which a viewer can readily refer back, and go over a paragraph again. By its nature the information is there and gone, and it is therefore important that what is said is both concise and readily understandable.
TVNZ’s final point was that the item did not pretend to be an analysis of what comprised the deficit or in any sense an economic backgrounder.
When he referred the complaint to the Authority, Mr Kammler said that TVNZ’s reporting was deficient in one of two ways. He said that either the item was:
incorrectly introduced as being about the balance of payments deficit instead of the balance of trade deficit; or
about the balance of payments deficit, which was inaccurate because it omitted to state that the major cause of this was profit taking by overseas shareholders.
As a further point, Mr Kammler said that he was also appalled that TVNZ had "absolve[d] itself of the requirement to be truthful by putting the need for simplicity first", saying that:
Perhaps TVNZ should cut down on the infotainment part of its news, which would allow it more air time to improve accuracy of reporting.
In its response to the Authority, TVNZ advised that it did not consider that it was obliged to analyse what was meant by the current account deficit every time it was referred to in a news item. It said that to introduce the question of "invisibles", such as profit taking by overseas shareholders, would have been beyond the scope of a straightforward report.
As its final point, TVNZ said that Mr Kammler had not shown that the report was an inaccurate summary of that day’s events, or that it represented a lack of impartiality or objectivity.
In his final comment, Mr Kammler made the following additional points. First, he said that TVNZ had distorted the truth in its reporting of the item by omitting important facts.
Secondly, Mr Kammler took issue with TVNZ’s assertion that it had simply reported the news of the day. In his view, the "hard news" was the release of figures by Statistics New Zealand. Everything else in the item was, he contended, "the making of TVNZ: Who they interviewed, what questions they asked, and what comments the reporter and newsreader made." In Mr Kammler’s view, accuracy would have required interviewing a reasonable cross-section of experts.
Thirdly, Mr Kammler commented that he found it "extraordinary" that TVNZ had "insisted" that its summary of the item should be the criteria by which his complaint was judged.
Fourthly, Mr Kammler described it as "regrettable" that TVNZ confused the balance of trade with the balance of payments as he said he had advised them of the difference between the two concepts in a letter sent before the broadcast. Mr Kammler noted that he had also sent a copy of that letter to TV3, who he said had supported his views.
As his penultimate point, Mr Kammler disagreed with what he thought was TVNZ’s assessment that his complaint was about a matter of opinion rather than a matter of fact. He then asked that it be explained to him where his points were in error, if the Authority were to accept TVNZ’s view.
Finally, Mr Kammler maintained that TVNZ had not met "the standard one can expect from a broadcaster".
The Authority’s task is to determine whether the news item transgressed standard G14. The Authority notes first that in the introduction to the item the presenter said that figures had been released which showed that New Zealand’s "overdraft with the rest of the world" had increased. The Authority considers that references to the "deficit" in the item were synonymous with "overdraft with the rest of the world". It is not persuaded by Mr Kammler’s contention that the item referred to the deficit, either explicitly or implicitly, as the "import-export" deficit.
Next the Authority considers the remaining aspects of the complaint. In essence, Mr Kammler suggested that the item was misleading because important economic information was omitted. TVNZ disagreed, and the Authority is persuaded by TVNZ’s contention that some degree of simplicity is inevitable in reporting the news in a way which is accessible to viewers who do not necessarily possess any technical knowledge. It also accepts TVNZ’s contention that the item did not purport to be a comprehensive economic backgrounder or an analysis of all of the various elements underpinning the imbalance between New Zealand’s income and expenditure. Rather, it was a report on responses from certain people to a Treasury briefing paper which coincided with the release of figures about the deficit.
The item correctly reported that those interviewed considered increased exports and increased savings were methods of reducing the deficit. The Authority does not consider that it was thereby implied in the item that these were the only possible strategies, or that any statement was made about the likely effectiveness of these strategies. In this context, the Authority is satisfied that the item was not inaccurate and that further elaboration was not required to satisfy standard G14.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
30 March 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. K H Peter Kammler’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 24 December 1999
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 4 February 2000
3. Mr Kammler’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 13 February 2000
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 24 February 2000
5. Mr Kammler’s Final Comment – 6 March 2000