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Federated Farmers New Zealand and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-138

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainant

  • Federated Farmers New Zealand of Wellington

Dated

23rd December 2010

Number

2010-138

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News 
– item on the environmental state of the Manawatu River – presenter stated that the river was "rated among the most polluted in the Western World" – reporter said that the Cawthron Institute had described the river as "one of the most polluted in the Western World" – allegedly inaccurate


Findings

Standard 5 (accuracy) – while statements that Manawatu River was one of the most polluted in the Western World were not precise, the overriding message was correct – viewers not misled – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  An item on One News, broadcast at 6pm on Monday 9 August 2010, looked at the environmental state of the Manawatu River. The presenters introduced the item by saying:

You're about to see why one of our very own rivers is rated among the most polluted in the Western World. That's right, it's a stretch of water in good old clean green New Zealand. It's the 200 kilometre Manawatu River running through farmland from Norsewood to Foxton.

[2]  A pre-recorded item followed with footage of the river as a reporter stated, "The murky Manawatu, a river plagued by pollution". Later in the item, the reporter said:

The Cawthron Institute described the Manawatu as one of the most polluted rivers in the Western World and today all the main culprits including councils, Fonterra and freezing works signed an agreement to clean it up. But Federated Farmers pulled out at the last minute.

[3]  The item canvassed varying perspectives on the health of the river including interviews with a Tararua member of Federated Farmers, the mayors of Horowhenua and Palmerston North, a dairy farmer, and a representative from Horizons Regional Council.

Complaint

[4]  Federated Farmers New Zealand made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item's claims that the Manawatu was one of the most polluted rivers in the Western World and that the Cawthron Institute (the Institute) had described it as such were incorrect and misleading.

[5]  The complainant argued that there was "no factual basis for the claim that the Institute described, inferred or indicated that the Manawatu River is or is among one of the worst rivers in the world".

[6]  Federated Farmers said that the author of the Institute's report used by One News to substantiate its claims had emailed Federated Farmers' general manager of strategic communications saying:

For your information, I have never said that the Manawatu River is the ‘worst in the Western World'. Measurements of gross primary production and ecosystem respiration from the lower Manawatu are higher than has been seen in any other sites around the world where this measurement has been conducted, which is certainly a concern. However, only a tiny fraction of the world's rivers have been tested using this approach and I'm sure there are plenty of rivers that would have higher measurements if they were tested. I will continue to try and emphasise this point to the media - although the message doesn't make sensational headlines.

[7]  The complainant considered that the broadcaster had wrongly informed viewers that the Institute's study was a definitive study of global river health and that, on the basis of the study, the Manawatu River was among the worst in the Western World.

[8]  Federated Farmers did, however, accept that the Manawatu River was in a "poor state in the New Zealand context" and that various interest groups had formed an accord to try and deal with the problem.

Standards

[9]  Standard 5 and guideline 5a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They provide:

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.

Guideline 5a

The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[10]  TVNZ argued that, while the item made reference to the Manawatu River being one of the most polluted in the Western World, it had never stated that it was the worst. It contended that, "As it stands at the moment in regard to the Cawthron Institute's research, this statement is entirely correct". It was of the view that "any speculation about how the Manawatu may rank if all the rivers of the Western World were surveyed is only that – speculation – unfortunately this data is not available".

[11]  The broadcaster noted that the Institute had found the river to be the worst of the rivers it had tested and that Federated Farmers had accepted the river was in a "poor state". It also pointed out that the Institute's study had tested rivers in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and had found the Manawatu River to have the unhealthiest oxygen levels. It also contended that the countries involved in the report represented the Western World.

[12]  TVNZ argued that there would not have been a material or substantial difference for viewers between the river being described as "one of the most polluted in the Western World", and "the most polluted of 300 tested throughout the Western World".

[13]  The broadcaster said that, while the item could have explained the limits of the research in a more detailed way, it did not consider that the two sentences complained about constituted material errors when taken in the context of the entire item. It also contended that the reporter was attempting to briefly summarise the effect of the research, rather than its specific findings.

[14]  TVNZ argued that the item had not claimed that the Institute's research was a definitive study of global river health as alleged by the complainant, and it declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 5 had been breached.

Referral to the Authority

[15]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster's response, Federated Farmers referred its complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[16]  The complainant stated that if the item had simply said that the river was one of the most polluted in New Zealand it would have been unlikely to lodge a complaint. However, it considered that the item's inclusion of the words "Western World" changed the overall seriousness of the claim, which it maintained was inaccurate.

[17]  Federated Farmers also contended that TVNZ had failed to define "what is pollution?" and reiterated its argument that the item had breached Standard 5. It supplied materials to support its contentions including a copy of the Institute's report.

Broadcaster's Response to the Authority

[18]  TVNZ noted that Federated Farmers had contended in its referral that the item had "failed to define ‘what is pollution?'" It argued that, because this point was not raised as part of Federated Farmers' original formal complaint, the Authority did not have jurisdiction to consider it.

Complainant's Final Submission

[19]  Federated Farmers reiterated its argument that the item was inaccurate and contended that "TVNZ's research had borrowed heavily on a Dominion Post story from 2009; a story which the Cawthron Institute has described as sensationalist".

Authority's Determination

[20]  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.

[21]  Standard 5 states that 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 does not mislead.

[22]  Federated Farmers argued that the item's claims that the Manawatu was one of the most polluted rivers in the Western World and that the Institute had described it as such were incorrect and misleading.

[23]  We note that, from the materials provided to us, the Institute's research contained data relating to the health of rivers in nine countries including New Zealand, Canada, USA and the European Union. We also note that the Manawatu River ranked the highest on the list with respect to the indicators used to assess poor ecosystem health.

[24]  In our view, the overriding message of the item – that the Manawatu River was heavily polluted and had some of the highest indicator levels of poor ecosystem heath of the countries studied in the Institute's research – was correct. While the statements were not scientifically precise, we consider that viewers would have realised that the Institute's research was not so comprehensive as to have assessed every single river in the Western World, but would have expected it to have included assessments from other countries, which it did.

[25]  We find that viewers would have come away from the item with the impression that the Manawatu River was, even in an international context, in extremely poor health and that various organisations and interest groups had signed an agreement to "clean it up".

[26]  Accordingly, we do not consider that the lack of preciseness in the statements resulted in the item being inaccurate for the purposes of the standard or that it would have misled viewers. We therefore decline to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 5.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
23 December 2010

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1.          Federated Farmers' formal complaint – 18 August 2010

2.         TVNZ's response to the formal complaint – 15 September 2010

3.         Federated Farmers' referral to the Authority – 8 October 2010

4.         TVNZ's response to the Authority – 10 November 2010

5.         Federated Farmers' final submission – 2 December 2010