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Brannigan and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-157

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainant

  • Vincent Brannigan of Wellington

Dated

22nd February 2011

Number

2010-157

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaints under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News and One News Tonight – reported on teachers’ industrial action – stated that the teachers’ union had rejected the Government’s offer of a 2 percent pay increase, and that teachers were fighting for a 4 percent increase on their base salaries – allegedly in breach of controversial issues, accuracy and fairness standards

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues) – items discussed a controversial issue of public importance – broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant viewpoints and spoke to representatives of the teachers – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – complainant has not provided evidence that the figures were inaccurate – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant did not identify any individuals or organisations he believed had been treated unfairly – no unfairness – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcasts

[1]   An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 18 October 2010, reported on the ongoing dispute between teachers and the Ministry of Education. The presenter introduced the item saying, “secondary school teachers are resuming rolling strikes after the latest pay talks with the Government failed and more industrial action is planned”. The reporter stated that “after lengthy negotiations, the union rejected the 2 percent offer that the Government put forward”. She said that “the union wants a 4 percent rise on all base salaries but the Government says it can only afford 2 percent”.

[2]   The item included comment from Kate Gainsford of the PPTA (New Zealand Post Primary Teachers Association), who said, “[The offer is] little more than it was last time. In fact, in some ways, if you do the calculations one way, we would actually have less in our pockets, if you’re talking about money, than a previous offer.”

[3]   Following the item, the One News presenter asked the reporter, “Is pay the only issue?”, to which the reporter responded, “Well no, it’s not just pay that the teachers are concerned about, they’re also concerned about class sizes... there are lots of issues that they would like to discuss”.

[4]   An item on One News at 6pm the following evening, 19 October 2010, also reported on the teachers’ industrial action. Footage was shown in the item of teachers protesting, as the reporter stated, “These teachers marched to the Ministry of Education this morning still fighting for a 4 percent increase in their base salary and a review of working conditions. They’re still rejecting the Government’s offer of nearly 2 percent.”

[5]   The second item was repeated on One News Tonight, broadcast on TV One at 10.30pm on 19 October 2010.

Complaints

[6]   Vincent Brannigan made formal complaints to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the items breached standards relating to controversial issues, accuracy and fairness.

[7]   Mr Brannigan maintained that the items were inaccurate in stating that teachers had been offered a 2 percent pay increase, because “in fact the proposal is only for 0.5 percent this year”. He considered that the items were unbalanced and that viewers were not given “the whole picture”. The items were misleading in stating that teachers had rejected an offer of a 2 percent pay increase, he said.

[8]   The complainant noted that the items included footage of Wellington High School teachers protesting, but the reporter did not approach any of the participants or a spokesperson for comment. He alleged that the item stated that the protesters were demanding a 4 percent pay rise, which was not correct. He stated that the protest was against the misrepresentation of the Government’s offer of 0.5 percent, the failure of the Government to address recruitment and retention issues, and the failure of the Government to address pay parity between full time and part time workers, along with many other issues.

Standards

[9]   TVNZ assessed the complaints under Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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.
Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[10]   TVNZ accepted that the industrial dispute between school teachers and the Ministry of Education was a controversial issue of public importance to which Standard 4 applied. It considered that appropriate viewpoints on that issue had been sought and presented, noting that the two One News items included comment from Kate Gainsford from the PPTA, the Minister for Education, a secondary school teacher, a representative of the Secondary Principals Association, several affected school students, and a mother struggling to find childcare for her son during the industrial action. TVNZ argued that “Also in each item the reporter paraphrased the viewpoints of the teachers ensuring the audience had the benefit of hearing their perspective on the issues.” TVNZ disagreed with the complainant that a spokesperson for the union was not approached, as Ms Gainsford from the PPTA was approached and interviewed, and her comments were included in the 18 October One News item.

[11]   TVNZ therefore concluded that appropriate viewpoints on the issue were sought and presented within the period of current interest, and declined to uphold the Standard 4 complaints.

[12]   Turning to Standard 5 (accuracy), TVNZ maintained that the items were not misleading. It considered that the reporter made it clear that the dispute was not centred solely on pay, saying, “It’s not just the pay that the teachers are concerned about. They’re also concerned about class sizes and they want to limit the numbers to just 26 pupils. ...there are lots of issues that they would like to discuss.”

[13]   The broadcaster argued that the reporter had not explicitly stated that teachers were demanding a 4 percent pay rise. Although the reporter said that teachers were “fighting for a 4 percent increase in their base salary and a review of working conditions,” TVNZ considered that this statement accurately reflected the basis of the dispute. It noted that the figure of 4 percent was widely reported by other media.

[14]   In response to Mr Brannigan’s argument about references to a 2 percent increase, TVNZ said, “As for the figure of 2 percent included in the items, this was included to provide a ballpark, untimed representation of the offer presented by government – inclusive of increase in the second year”. While specifics of the Government’s offer were not spelled out in detail in the item, TVNZ was satisfied that the figure did not mislead viewers.

[15]   Accordingly, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaints under Standard 5.

[16]   Finally, looking at Standard 6 (fairness), TVNZ did not consider that any of the items reporting on the industrial dispute between the PPTA and the Ministry of Education was unfair. It maintained that the teachers’ perspective was fairly presented and that audiences received sufficient information on the main aspects of the dispute. It therefore declined to uphold the complaints under Standard 6.

Referrals to the Authority

[17]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Brannigan referred his complaints to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that, “The offer was 0.5 percent plus a one-off payment of $1000 in the first year. This is significantly less than 2 percent over the two-year term of the contract”. He therefore considered that the reference to a 2 percent increase was “a significant misrepresentation of the facts”.

Authority's Determination

[18]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints)

[19]   In his complaint, Mr Brannigan noted that the items included footage of teachers protesting, but the reporter did not approach any of the participants or a spokesperson for comment. Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and 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.

[20]   On this occasion, we agree with TVNZ that the items reported on the industrial dispute between school teachers and the Ministry of Education, and that this amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance. We also agree that appropriate viewpoints were sought and presented in the items. In particular, the items included comment from Kate Gainsford from the PPTA, a secondary school teacher, and a representative of the Secondary Principals Association, as well as the teachers’ perspective, paraphrased by the reporter. For example:

  • “[The Government’s offer is] little more than it was last time. In fact, in some ways, if you do the calculations one way, we would actually have less in our pockets, if you’re talking about money, than a previous offer.” (Kate Gainsford from the PPTA)
  • “There will be a disruption [for students]... but that was taken into consideration when we made this decision last term.” (secondary school teacher)
  • “It’s not just pay that the teachers are concerned about, they’re also concerned about class sizes... there are lots of issues that they would like to discuss.” (reporter)

[21]   Accordingly, we do not consider that it was necessary, in the interests of balance, to approach the teachers shown in the 19 October item for comment; their views were adequately presented by other representatives and spokespeople. Furthermore, we accept that the dispute was widely reported in the media, so that most viewers would have had a broad understanding of the perspectives of both the Ministry and of the PPTA.

[22]   We therefore find that the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view on the issue under discussion within the period of current interest, and we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaints.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[23]   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.

[24]   Mr Brannigan maintained that the items were inaccurate in stating that teachers had been offered a 2 percent pay increase, had rejected that offer, and were demanding a 4 percent increase. He also argued that the protests related to more than the pay dispute.

[25]   With regard to the figures that were reported, we note that, other than alleging that they were inaccurate, the complainant has not provided any evidence to support that assertion. In these circumstances we have no basis upon which to conclude that the figures were inaccurate.

[26]   With regard to the reasons for the teachers’ protests, we note that in the 18 October item the reporter stated, “it’s not just pay that the teachers are concerned about, they’re also concerned about class sizes... there are lots of issues that they would like to discuss.” We therefore consider that it was made clear to viewers that the teachers’ industrial action related to more than pay disputes.

[27]   Accordingly, we find that the items were not inaccurate or misleading in breach of Standard 5, and we decline to uphold this part of the complaints.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[28]   Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. Besides noting that the reporter did not approach the protestors for comment, Mr Brannigan did not identify any individual or organisation which he considered was treated unfairly. In our view, the inclusion of brief footage of the protestors in the 19 October item did not result in them being treated unfairly, and we have already found above in our consideration of Standard 4 that it was not necessary to approach them for comment.

[29]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaints under Standard 6.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
22 February 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Vincent Brannigan’s formal complaints – 4 November 2010

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 18 November 2010

3                 Mr Brannigan’s referral to the Authority – 19 November 2010

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 23 December 2010