Complaint under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Prime News – news items on train collision near Wellington – first item stated that “A South-bound train then ran into the derailed engine” – allegedly inaccurate
Standard 5 (accuracy) – complaint trivial – decline to determine under section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 Items on Prime News, broadcast on Prime TV at 5.30pm on Thursday 30 September 2010, reported on a train collision near Wellington. In the first item, the presenter stated:
A landslide caused by heavy rain is thought to have caused today’s collision of two commuter trains north of Wellington. The incident happened at Pukerua Bay when a north bound train was derailed by a slip. A south bound train then ran into the derailed engine. No one was injured.
 The second item included images that depicted the aftermath of the train crash. The presenter informed viewers that the collision had caused disruption on the Paraparaumu line, but that no one had been injured.
 Stephen H Rice made a formal complaint to SKY Network Television Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the use of railway terminology in the items was inaccurate.
 First, the complainant said that the incident was identified on the programme as a “head-on impact type crash”. He argued that this description was “totally out of proportion to the reality” of the collision, which he said was “just a leading front-end corner clip collision followed by a substantial side-swipe of a leading rail-vehicle car-body”. The complainant argued that the description did not match the video footage shown in the broadcast, amounted to “exaggerated hyperbole”, and was “irresponsibly alarmist”.
 Further, Mr Rice argued that the use of the term “engine” was “incorrect” and “potentially misleading” because it implied that “a separately powered locomotive hauled carriage train was involved”, when this was not the case. Rather, he said, two Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) trains were involved in the collision, and reference to the train’s “leading end” and “driving cab” would have been more appropriate. He said that the description did not match the video footage shown in the broadcast.
 Mr Rice nominated Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint, which provides:
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.
 Having received no response from the broadcaster within the statutory timeframe, Mr Rice referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 Mr Rice provided the Authority with a copy of the December 2010 issue of New Zealand Railfan magazine, and identified several references in the magazine which he said were relevant to the determination of the complaint. With regard to his first accuracy point (use of the term “head-on” crash), the complainant referred to the following material which reported on the train crash:
 With regard to his second accuracy point, the complainant reiterated that the use of the term “engine” implied that a “separate locomotive (engine)” was involved. He maintained that EMU sets were involved and that these took power from overhead wires and were effectively self-propelled, meaning that they did not require an engine for “motive power under normal operating circumstances”. He maintained that the proper railway terminology should have been used in the broadcast. Mr Rice referred the Authority to photographs of EMU sets of the same type as those involved in the collision reported on in the news items.
 With regard to the complainant’s first accuracy point, SKY maintained that the words “head on” were not used in either news item. It argued that, throughout both segments, the presenter was “very calm” and “matter-of-fact” and did not display any “irresponsible alarmism” or “exaggerated dramatics”, as alleged by the complainant.
 Turning to the complainant’s concern about the use of the term “engine”, the broadcaster noted that an EMU was correctly described as an Electric Motor. It said that while it may have been “technically incorrect” to use the term “engine”, rather than “motor”, when referring to an Electric Motor, it considered that it was acceptable in “general English usage”. The collision was with the front end of the train which contained the EMU, it said, and there was no suggestion in either item that the crash involved any form of “separately powered locomotive”.
 The broadcaster noted that the items subject to complaint formed part of a news programme, and aired only 45 minutes after the evacuation was completed, “obviously under a great deal of pressure”. The broadcaster argued that, given the time pressure, the items were “extremely informative and accurate”, particularly for those who may have been concerned about injury to friends or family.
 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 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.
 We agree that the term “head on” was not used in either news item. With regard to the term “engine”, we do not consider that it was material to the focus of the item, or that viewers would have been misled by the presenter’s failure to use correct railway terminology.
 We note that Mr Rice has previously made a number of unsuccessful complaints to the Authority about the alleged inaccurate use of railway terminology in news items.
 Section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 allows the Authority to decline to determine a complaint which it considers to be frivolous, vexatious, or trivial. In our view, there was no substance in Mr Rice’s complaint, and we consider that he should have appreciated this, in light of the Authority’s reasoning with regard to his earlier unsuccessful complaints. Accordingly, we decline to determine the complaint on the ground that it was trivial.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to determine the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
29 March 2011
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Stephen Rice’s formal complaint – 12 October 2010
2 Mr Rice’s referral to the Authority – 16 December 2010
3 Mr Rice’s additional submissions (including New Zealand Railfan magazine references) –
5 February 2011
4 SKY’s response to the Authority – 16 February 2011