One News – defence spending – F-16 fighter plane deal – cost misrepresented – inaccurate
Standard G14 – no inaccuracy – cost quoted was approximate and based on reliable source material – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
An item on One News broadcast by TV One between 6.00–7.00pm on 24 February 2000 commented that an "expensive" proposed F-16 fighter plane deal with the United States "could cost taxpayers a billion dollars".
Mr Hall complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the total cost of the project was approximately half of what was reported.
TVNZ responded that the billion dollar figure was cautiously based on the opinion of sources with expertise in the area. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Hall 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 News broadcast by TV One between 6.00–7.00pm on 24 February 2000 concerned comments about defence made by United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, during a visit to Wellington. In the item, it was reported that an "expensive" proposed F-16 fighter plane deal between the New Zealand and United States governments "could cost taxpayers a billion dollars".
Mr Hall complained to TVNZ that the news items had grossly misrepresented the cost of the F-16 deal, which he believed would be approximately half of the figure reported `in the news item. Mr Hall referred to what he considered were the pertinent details of the contract and costs relative to other F-16 sales. He also referred to material obtained under the Official Information Act which supported his figures. He concluded that the F-16 deal was "the very opposite" of "very expensive" by any measure.
Mr Hall also complained that TVNZ had treated him unacceptably when he had telephoned the station about the matter, in not returning a call as arranged and by dealing with him in what he called an "offhand" manner.
Mr Hall requested that TVNZ retract the news item and apologise for its error.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under the standard G14 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. That standard reads:
G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.
TVNZ disagreed with Mr Hall’s contention that it had reported that the cost of the F-16 deal would be in excess of $1 billion. It stressed that the commentary said that the deal "could cost taxpayers a billion dollars".
Next TVNZ noted that although the material Mr Hall referred to supported the price he quoted, doubt had been thrown on those figures. Furthermore, the billion dollar figure used in the item was, according to TVNZ, "cautiously based on the opinion of sources with expertise in this area", and had appeared in other branches of the media such as The Dominion newspaper.
TVNZ went on to disagree that the phrase "very expensive" had been used in the item, saying that the unqualified word "expensive" had been used, and that "any figure of $1 billion obviously falls into that category – no matter how good the deal."
TVNZ concluded that the information in the report was not inaccurate, lacking in objectivity or partial. In its view:
It was based on the best information available at the time. It was also incidental to the main thrust of the story which focussed on Mr Annan’s observation that "big money does not necessarily buy a credible defence force" and that fighter planes are not needed for peacekeeping.
TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.
Mr Hall then asked the Authority to review TVNZ’s decision. He reiterated his belief that the billion dollar figure referred to in the item was inaccurate.
In its response to the referral, TVNZ drew the Authority’s attention to the Quigley Report on the F-16 deal, released since the broadcast of the item. TVNZ noted that the report said the purchase of F-16s would have cost $1 billion. It submitted that this supported TVNZ’s belief that what was broadcast by One News was "soundly based on information provided by reliable sources."
In the Authority’s view, it was not inaccurate for TVNZ’s reporter to say that the F-16 deal could cost a billion dollars. Although Mr Hall referred to one source which suggested a lesser figure, the Authority considers that TVNZ’s estimate was based on reliable source material, and that the billion dollar figure was appropriately referred to with caution in the report by the use of the word "could" in the following sentence:
REPORTER: Buying the fighter jets could cost taxpayers a billion dollars.
The Authority also finds that it was not inaccurate for the presenter of the item to refer to the F-16 deal as "expensive", in the context of an estimated billion dollar expenditure. Accordingly, it finds that standard G14 was not breached by the broadcast of the news item in question.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
11 May 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Brian Hall’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 25 February 2000
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 3 March 2000
3. Mr Hall’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 27 March 2000
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 5 April 2000