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Attorney General of Samoa and TVWorks Ltd - 2010-188

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Leigh Pearson

Complainant

  • Attorney General of Samoa

Dated

5th May 2011

Number

2010-188

Programme

Campbell Live

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


An appeal against this decision was dismissed in the High Court:
CIV-2011-485-1110  PDF
1.92 MB


Mary Anne Shanahan declared a conflict of interest and did not take part in the determination of this complaint.


Complaints under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Campbell Live – item and follow-up item questioned “Where has all the aid money gone?” that was received following Samoa’s tsunami in September 2009 – reporter visited Samoa and spoke to locals about what assistance they had received from the Government – allegedly inaccurate and unfair

Findings
27 September item
Standard 5 (accuracy) – Authority not in a position to determine whether action taken by the Government following the tsunami was adequate – decline to determine – broadcaster was entitled to rely on the report provided to it by the Government in relation to aid donations – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – Deputy Prime Minister was given fair and reasonable opportunity to respond to the matters raised – quote from Prime Minister was not unfair – as senior politicians they should have been familiar with dealing with media and they were aware of the subject matter of the story – not unfair – not upheld

1 November item
Standard 5 (accuracy) – Authority not in a position to determine whether action taken by the Government following the tsunami was adequate – decline to determine – views of the Samoan locals relating to assistance from the Government were clearly opinion – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – Campbell Live made considerable efforts to obtain comment from the Prime Minister – not required to provide written questions in advance – door-stepping was not unfair after the Prime Minister cancelled the interview – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcasts

[1]   An item on Campbell Live, broadcast on TV3 at 7pm on Monday 27 September reflected on the one-year anniversary of the tsunami that struck Samoa on 29 September 2009. In his introduction, presenter John Campbell noted that the Samoan Government had received a total of 192 million Samoan Tala in donations from the international community, and questioned, “Where has all the aid money gone?”

[2]   Mr Campbell travelled to Samoa and visited the affected communities. Footage of him walking in one of these areas was shown, as he said:

I’m high in the hills above Saleapaga. This is the loo for this little community. There is no rain water, no way to flush it, no way to wash your hands after using it. Come with me. This is the house that this one family is living in. It is completely ramshackled. It will not survive a good strong wind in the cyclone season which is on the way. This is the kitchen. It could not be more rudimentary and once again there is no running water, no sanitary facilities at all. Now remember the Samoan Government got somewhere in the region of 79 million tala in foreign donations and it is a year since the tsunami took place.

[3]   The editor of the Samoa Observer newspaper was shown saying, “The standard of living out there is just appalling, it’s pathetic for, you know, one year later.”

[4]   Mr Campbell then spoke to affected locals who told him they had no water supply, and had received “no money” from the Government. The newspaper editor commented that some families did have water, but still had to boil it for drinking.

[5]   Misa Telefoni, Samoa’s Deputy Prime Minister, was shown commenting, “I guess the important thing is to balance people’s needs and people’s wants. We’ve been working very, very hard to ensure that their needs are met”. Mr Campbell said, “Formerly a brilliant law student at the University of Auckland, [Misa Telefoni’s] altogether more measured than his boss. Samoa’s Prime Minister was overseas last week but when TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika called in to see him his response was almost bizarre.” The Prime Minister was shown commenting, “You don’t seem to put your mind off [the] tsunami. It’s no longer a newsworthy issue.”

[6]   Mr Campbell went on to say:

On the coast, the no longer newsworthy people are waiting, it’s just they’re not really sure what for. Some of the homes they’ve settled into, and are being born into, are shockingly substandard. They were meant to be temporary, which everyone understood, but they seem somehow to have become permanent. No electricity, no water – is this really what everyone who donated to the reconstruction had in mind? Where did that money go?

[7]   The following exchange took place between Mr Campbell and the Deputy Prime Minister:

Telefoni:          In terms of the actual infrastructure assistance, you will see for instance that we’ve
                      got here water, 5 million, 75 percent has been utilised, but I think the interesting
                      thing here is...

Campbell:        Is 5 million enough? Would 5 million tala, what’s that, 3 million New Zealand dollars,
                      to reconnect that coastline to get water, I mean was that woefully inadequate in
                      hindsight?  

Telefoni:          ...well you see the initial source of the water was always more inland.

Campbell:        But inland is where the people have gone, if that’s where the water is too surely you
                      must be able to get it to them in less than a year?

[8]   Mr Campbell then said, “As we filmed, a water truck came rumbling down from the hills inland. Incredibly this is how many people still receive their water. Yes, from truck to aid agency-donated water tank, and when the tank is empty, nothing until the truck comes back, whenever that may be.” He spoke to an Australian-based Samoan, who explained that the locals had no water because there was no money to reconnect the water pipes to the houses. He said he had spent 80 thousand tala of his own to rebuild his family’s house. Mr Campbell compared this to what the Government was allocating, saying, “But the Samoa Government’s capped its compensation at 18 thousand tala per house – that’s 10 thousand New Zealand dollars maximum rebuilding payout, and we wanted to see how far that goes.”

[9]   Mr Campbell and the Australian Samoan man visited one of the Government’s approved houses, and they discussed that there was “no walls... no water... no bedrooms... no kitchen... no privacy...” Mr Campbell asked, “So this is what the Samoan Government thinks is appropriate for its people to live in?” and the man responded, “That’s what they think, that’s enough for you to live on. That’s what they say is all they can give, so can’t afford to connect the water through.”

[10]   Mr Campbell stated that there were 321 families living like this, although some families had received money from relatives overseas. He spoke to one woman who had funded the rebuilding of her house by withdrawing her own money from a New Zealand bank. Mr Campbell commented, “Really nice if you can afford it. And if you can’t, well a year on from the tsunami I found people psychologically lower now than in the days after the giant waves came smashing in. And finally, unexpectedly, although maybe just to shut me up, the Deputy Prime Minister agreed.” The Deputy Prime Minister was shown saying:

That’s really the test, you know, are the people out there as happy and as content as they should be, given all this massive influx of stuff that we’ve done and we’ve tried to do. And if we haven’t achieved that then I think we need to re-examine what we’re doing, not just in terms of whether we have sufficient resources, but how we’re using those resources.

[11]   On 1 November 2010, Campbell Live broadcast a follow-up item which again asked, “Where has the tsunami relief money gone?” Mr Campbell stated that “the Samoan Government was outraged” by the first story and this question, and introduced the item saying:

Yes there are new roads and electricity is back to the region. The Government says they’ve spent 68.7 million tala so far. But many tsunami victims feel deserted by their government and wonder why so little of the money has made its way to them. And the documents we’ve obtained suggest many millions more dollars have been received than have been spent around the coastline. So when the Samoan Prime Minister accepted our invitation to tell us where the money has gone we flew to Samoa to talk to him and to ask him the questions his people seem unable to answer.

[12]   Samoan locals were shown commenting that the Government had not given them any money, and that they “don’t know” where the aid money has gone. Mr Campbell said that he had “not met a single person from these homes happy with the Government’s response to the tsunami, not one. Many of them don't even understand it.”

[13]   Mr Campbell then stated:

The PM has been very critical of our last story. He called me stupid, stupid and stupid, blind, unbalanced, and a palagi. And he told Radio Australia, “that’s all stupid, all those comments about missed funding, it’s all ridiculous, and that’s all based on the report by this amateur reporter Mr Campbell.”

In fact, our report was partially based on this [graphic of document], which was provided to us by the Samoan Government themselves. It’s their unaudited account of what they’re receiving in foreign aid. It includes this table with the heading Donors and Donations to Recovery Plan. Now, the figures listed on it total over 160 million tala. Remember that figure, and now listen to what the Samoan Prime Minister told Radio Australia.

[14]   A recording of the Prime Minister was played, in which he stated, “All the funds that have been received from overseas that have been pledged came to 35 million tala.” Mr Campbell stated that, “given that the figures coming out of [Government buildings] appear to change depending on the audience, this time we didn’t use [the report] as a source; this time we went directly to the people writing the cheques.” Summarising the international donations, Mr Campbell said:

Now, how much money did Samoa get? The World Bank has directly confirmed with us 20 million US dollars to, quote, “support the Government in these troubled times”. The Asian Development Bank has confirmed 16.4 million US dollars, most of it paid to Samoa in July. The International Monetary Fund [IMF] has confirmed they paid 9.3 million US dollars to quote “help the country recover from the damage”. But interestingly we can find no examples of the Samoan Government publicly acknowledging this money from the IMF. Now when we add all this money up and the confirmed donations from other countries, the total is 152 million tala.

[15]   Mr Campbell spoke to the Dean of the Business faculty at Samoa’s university who said that he did not expect to see an itemised breakdown of where the money had been spent until after Samoa’s general election in March 2011, 18 months after the tsunami.

[16]   Mr Campbell then interviewed the former mayor of the village of Malaela, who said that eight people in his village had died, and all 25 houses there had been destroyed. He said that he had not received any money from the Government.

[17]   Mr Campbell said that “where the Government has given money, it often isn’t anywhere near enough”. He visited another local woman who had been given 10 thousand tala to rebuild her house, which she said funded “just only the house”. Mr Campbell commented:

Just only the house. Yes, no floors, no doors, no glass in the windows, no kitchen, no bathroom, no running water. Family after family in homes funded by the Government live in what really only amounts to little more than a shelter. And this is it for these people. There will be no more money from the Government. In response, the Samoan Government says people here have always lived like that. But this is part of the coastline where an island broke the tsunami before it reached the shore, sparing them serious damage, and as you can see the homes here are of a different standard entirely.

[18]   Footage was shown of different houses that were of a higher standard. Mr Campbell interviewed a New Zealand Samoan who had used his own money to try and rebuild the six homes his Samoan relatives lost, and commented that this expenditure was putting pressure on other countries. Mr Campbell said:

Right let’s go back to this document, the unaudited Samoan Government record of what it’s receiving and spending. The Government claims that its relief programme is being spread over four years, but in housing, where the people around the coast are least happy, their own document directly contradicts that claim, allocating a total of just 9 million tala, that’s 5 million New Zealand dollars, for all housing. This document says, and I quote, “The housing project is now completed.”

[19]   Mr Campbell interviewed the CEO of SUNGO (Samoa Umbrella for Non-Governmental Organisations), and asked her, “Do you think the international community, the World Bank, IMF, Asian Development Bank, Australia, New Zealand, all the people throughout the world, the EU, people watching at home in New Zealand, who gave 20 or 30 or 40 dollars, do you think they expected more, and better for these people around the coast?” She responded, “Yes. Yes. Those people deserve to know, and they expected much more than what they see now. Those people are living on just mere basics, you know, and it’s not even up to the standard of their money’s worth.”

[20]   Finally, the item returned to the Samoan Prime Minister. Mr Campbell said:

...Which brings us back to the Prime Minister and the interview we had confirmed in writing for 11am last Wednesday Samoan time. An interview in which we would ask him where has the money gone, and he could tell us. An interview he pulled out of 17 hours before it was due to take place.

[21]   Mr Campbell was shown door-stepping the Prime Minister as he exited a building and got into his car. The Prime Minister insisted repeatedly that the interview had been deferred to 2 November. He also said that he would not be interviewed without being provided with written questions in advance, and his final words were, “you cheated the Deputy Prime Minister”. Mr Campbell said “we did not” and that he had travelled to Samoa with “a firm understanding” that he would interview the Prime Minister at 11am the next day.

[22]   Back in the studio, Mr Campbell concluded the item, saying:

That’s the Prime Minister of Samoa. We do want to confirm that we did formally have an undertaking in writing to interview him last Wednesday. His office and his lawyers here in Auckland had agreed to that. The Prime Minister now wants us to return to Samoa for an interview with him on Thursday. We have declined. We were available for four days last week. We’ve invited him to come to New Zealand for a live interview here in the studio. That offer remains open. We also asked the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs to come onto the programme tonight and discuss what he knows about where the money went. He declined our invitation, saying he was busy.

Complaints

[23]   The Attorney General of Samoa made formal complaints about both items to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that they breached broadcasting standards.

27 September item

[24]   The complainant asserted that the following claims were made in the item:

  • That the international community gave the Samoan Government 192 million Samoan Tala (SAT) in donations and aid.
  • That the Government received more in aid and donations than it had previously declared.
  • That one year after the tsunami the living conditions of Samoan people were “pathetic”.
  • That one year after the tsunami the Samoan people still had no access to water.
  • That “some” still had no access to electricity.
  • That Samoans had to pay money to be connected to the water supply.
  • That the Government subsidy to rebuild a house (SAT$18,000) was insufficient.
  • That the Prime Minister of Samoa believed his people affected by the tsunami were “no longer newsworthy”.
  • That the Government was not doing anything to improve the unsanitary living conditions of its people.

[25]   The Attorney General maintained that broadcasting these claims breached Standards 5 (accuracy) and 6 (fairness).

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[26]   The complainant argued that the following aspects of the item were inaccurate.

Amount donated

[27]   The Attorney General noted that the item made a number of claims relating to the amount of money the Government had received in donations and aid. In the introduction, he said, it was claimed that “we’ve calculated that in total the international community gave the Samoan Government 192 million Samoan Tala in donations and foreign aid”. Later in the item, Mr Campbell stated that “the Samoan Government got somewhere in the region of 79 million Samoan Tala in foreign donations”, and that the amount received was “way more than has previously been declared”.

[28]   The complainant maintained that Samoa received much less than those amounts and that it “did not have free reign over how much of the money... was spent”. He argued that immediately after the tsunami a number of foreign governments and aid agencies pledged SAT$57.09 million, of which SAT$35.1 million had been received by 26 August 2010. Some of this money was tagged to specific projects, he said, for example one-third of New Zealand’s aid package was tagged to tourism, and Australia’s donation was tagged to environment and disaster management. This meant that the Samoan Government could not use this money for any other purpose, he said. He said that in addition, China donated SAT$15.56 million directly to schools, and loans worth SAT$95.5 million were provided by the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, which were targeted at addressing both tsunami relief and the financial crisis.

[29]   The Attorney General asserted that the published Government accounts showed that expenditure on tsunami recovery would be “ongoing”, as part of a multi-year Recovery Plan. He said that in the first year, the Government had spent SAT$68.73 million on relief mobilisation and recovery, which was $33.63 million more than it had received in aid and donations. The complainant said that this information was published and audited. He concluded that the item’s claims that the Government received more than it had publicly claimed were inaccurate in breach of Standard 5.

Water supply

[30]   The complainant argued that the item’s “principal focus” was “an alleged lack of access to clean, running water one year after the tsunami”. He considered that this clearly implied that the Government should have spent aid money on water reconnection and had failed in this respect. The Attorney General said, “While we accept some people are still living without running water, the portrayal of this issue in the item was completely distorted and inaccurate.”

[31]   The complainant maintained that the Samoan Water Authority had restored the water supply to families who remained in their coastal communities within one month of the tsunami, which the item failed to mention. However, many Samoans chose to move inland into unoccupied hills where there was no existing water supply or infrastructure of any kind, he said. Initially, these people were expected to return to the coast, he said, but it had become clear that this would not happen, and the Government had been working to build roads and engineering required to service these new homes and connect these new villages to lake water. The Attorney General said that “this work takes time; it has required designing and building infrastructure from scratch”. He therefore considered that it was misleading for Mr Campbell to state that “incredibly, this [truck delivery] is how many people still receive their water”, and that the context of why the hill villagers were still relying on trucks for water was material. He said that the Government had ensured that water trucks made regular trips into the hills to provide the people with supplies, and noted that the item filmed one of these trucks. However, the item did not mention that this water was provided free of charge, at a cost to the Government of SAT$200 per truck.

[32]   The complainant argued that it was also inaccurate to suggest that the frequency of these truck visits was “insecure”, when Mr Campbell stated that the truck would be back “whenever that may be”. He said that the trucks had a planned schedule of visits, with each village having its water tank filled every two to three days. The schedule was planned around the water capacity of the trucks, which carried an estimated three days’ worth of water, he said, “so no village will run short”. The use of water trucks was “a necessary stop-gap measure” while the infrastructure providing running water and electricity to the new settlements was designed and built, he said.

[33]   The Attorney General maintained that the provision of clean, running water was a Government priority and that the Government had acted to design and build water supplies for the new communities in the hills. He concluded that the claims in the item that the Government was not doing enough breached Standard 5.

Public housing subsidy

[34]   The complainant accepted that the item was accurate in stating that the Government subsidy for building a new house was capped at SAT$18,000, but maintained that it was inaccurate to claim that this amount was insufficient and that the quality of the homes being built was substandard. He stated that a total of 862 houses had been built under the Tsunami Recovery Project, 676 of which were funded by the Government and the remainder directly funded by donors. The Tsunami Recovery Shelter Committee gave beneficiaries the option of building according to its approved design, which comprised a traditional Samoan fale, or building to their own design. All of those who chose the approved design had had their houses built, he said. The complainant said that the Committee had consulted with affected communities before deciding on an approved design, and that the design was “similar to what villagers would have lived in prior to the tsunami”. Importantly, he said, the “wooden structures shown in the item are not the approved design”.

[35]   The Attorney General contended that the subsidy was enough to build a house in the traditional style and in accordance with the approved design, and that “there is nothing substandard about these houses and hundreds of families have been able to create new homes since this scheme was established”.

[36]   He therefore concluded that the item’s claims that the subsidy scheme was building substandard houses, unsuitable for families to live in, were inaccurate and breached Standard 5.

Item was misleading

[37]   The complainant argued that the item was “completely misleading” as it created the impression for viewers that the Government “had no recovery plan, was slow in responding to the crisis and had in effect no concern for the living standards of its own people”. He maintained that a Post-Disaster Needs Assessment report issued by a cross-agency group including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, described the Government’s response to the tsunami as “immediate, swift and efficient”. The item repeatedly asked, “Where has the money gone?”, he said, but made no reference to the Government’s Recovery Plan. He maintained that as part of the Recovery Plan:

  • 862 houses had been built;
  • all ten access roads along the coastline to the relocated communities had been upgraded;
  • one of two new inland routes was under construction with the aim of completing the second route in 2–3 years;
  • telephone connections and services had been restored in the affected areas; and
  • radio and TV broadcasting transmitter sites had been shifted to safer ground.

[38]   The Attorney General said that some parts of Samoa had not been rebuilt because the people had chosen to relocate to the hills, and spending priorities followed the population accordingly.

[39]   The complainant argued that the item was inaccurate and unbalanced in this respect because “It took the experience of a few villagers who have no access to running water and only basic housing to accuse the Government of wholesale mismanagement and lack of concern.” He concluded that the programme misled viewers “by telling them only a fraction of the post-tsunami story, and even then in such a way that the context and explanation needed to make sense of the examples [Mr Campbell] relied upon were absent”.

Impartiality

[40]   The complainant noted that guideline 5c to Standard 5 required news items to be impartial, and argued that the same applied to current affairs programmes. He contended that Mr Campbell was not impartial because:

He makes no effort to find out why Samoans living in the hills without access to running water cannot be connected to a water supply. He expresses concern about the standard of the newly built house without reference to the fact that it reflects traditional Samoan architecture, nor that a consultation with affected communities recommended the open fale design. The house he filmed and criticised as being unsuitable for families to live in was not the design approved by the Government committee.

[41]   Further, he said, the item presented no evidence of what the Samoan Government had spent money on, and Mr Campbell repeatedly “puts words into the mouths of those he interviews [for example] ‘So the Government hasn’t even done that for you?’; ‘So you got no money from the Government?’”.

[42]   The Attorney General maintained that the programme had also edited the quote from the Prime Minister to say that the tsunami was “no longer newsworthy”, when in fact he was “trying to get journalists to focus for a welcome moment on the Samoan Rugby Sevens team winning the title as world champions”. He argued that the purpose of the quote was to “put the Prime Minister in a poor light and in such a way that he could not respond”. He therefore concluded that the item was not impartial and breached Standard 5 in this respect.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[43]   The complainant referred to guideline 6b to the fairness standard, which requires broadcasters to exercise care in the editing of material to ensure that extracts used do not distort the original views expressed. He noted that the item contained comment from both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa. The Deputy Prime Minister was interviewed for more than an hour, he said, but only 20 seconds was included in the item. The complainant said that, while he understood the need for brevity in a news item, “the short comments chosen for inclusion in the item do not reflect the Deputy Prime Minister’s views as expressed in the fuller interview”.

[44]   The Attorney General also reiterated his argument that the quote from the Prime Minister was edited so that he “appears to no longer care about the tsunami”, saying it was “no longer newsworthy”. No context was provided for the remarks, he said, and it was immediately followed with a voiceover referring to the “no longer newsworthy people”, suggesting that the Prime Minister also was not concerned with the welfare of his people.

[45]   In fact, the complainant said, the Prime Minister was commenting as part of an interview for TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika programme, at a time when the Samoan Rugby Sevens team had just won the World Sevens series. The Attorney General asserted that, following other questions about the team’s success, which was the leading story in Samoa at the time, “he was asked to comment whether he believed the tsunami had made the team play better”. The complainant argued that:

The tsunami has been a defining event in the history of Samoa but it is the Prime Minister’s view that Samoa is both richer and bigger than any single natural disaster. He felt that on the day of the team’s victory the focus should be on the players’ skill and success and that their moment in the spotlight should not be overseen by, or attributed to, the tsunami. Therefore, when he was asked about the tsunami in the interview with Tagata Pasifika he replied as quoted but, in the context of the leading news story at the time, his proper meaning was clear. He was not saying the tsunami was not newsworthy, but that the players had earned their spot in the headlines regardless of it.

[46]   The Attorney General therefore considered that “The Prime Minister’s off-the-cuff remark reflects a moment when, probably for the only time this year [2010], the people of Samoa had something other than the tsunami to think about. To use it to portray the Prime Minister’s views on the damage caused by the tsunami and the impact it has had, and continues to have, on everyday Samoans, is unfair, misleading and offensive” in breach of Standard 6, he said.

[47]   In conclusion, the complainant noted that no non-governmental organisation, donor or foreign government had raised any concerns with the Samoan Government about how the aid money had been used. It requested that Campbell Live broadcast an apology at the earliest opportunity and a reassurance for New Zealand taxpayers and donors that the money had been well spent.

1 November item

[48]   The Attorney General maintained that the follow-up item was also an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of Samoa post-tsunami. It noted that by the time of the broadcast TVWorks had already received its complaint about the 27 September item. Further, Campbell Live was in possession of the report “Tsunami: Samoa 29 September 2009”, which contained a “detailed breakdown of where money has been spent”. However, the complainant considered that this information was not included in the item, and “would have answered Mr Campbell’s primary question”.

[49]   The complainant alleged that the 1 November item made the following claims:

  • That the Samoan Government was “outraged” to be asked to account for the money.
  • That no one knows where the aid money has gone.
  • That the Government has understated how much money it received in aid and donations.
  • That the villagers of Malaela, whose homes were devastated by the tsunami, received “nothing” from the Government of Samoa.
  • That the Government’s housing subsidy was inadequate to build anything other than an unsanitary dwelling.
  • That the Prime Minister reneged on an undertaking to be interviewed at a specific time about the allocation of aid money.

[50]   The Attorney General maintained that the broadcast of these claims breached Standards 5 (accuracy) and 6 (fairness).

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[51]   The complainant argued that the following aspects of the follow-up item were inaccurate or misleading.

“Where has the tsunami relief money gone?”

[52]   The Attorney General contended that Mr Campbell had not quoted any information provided in the tsunami report about where the aid money had been spent. He attached a table from the report itemising what steps had been taken towards Samoa’s reconstruction, funded by aid money and donations, in the areas of water, housing, health, education, agriculture, tourism, electricity, transport, telecommunications and community development. He considered that Mr Campbell’s “only concession to the facts at hand was a single line in his introduction – ‘Yes, there are new roads and electricity is back to the region’”. However, the programme made no mention of the “wide range of infrastructure projects rebuilt with aid money. Roads, schools, new waterworks, health clinics, significant rebuilding of the telecommunications network and a nationwide immunisation programme are all major items of expenditure for any Government”, he said.

[53]   The complainant considered therefore that when Mr Campbell was asking, “Where has the Government’s money gone?”, he already knew because he had read the report. Further, it was not surprising that the locals could not itemise the spending, he said, or that they were critical of how much they personally had received. What was surprising, he said, was that Mr Campbell was in possession of a report detailing where the aid money had been spent and yet continued to insist that the money was unaccounted for.

[54]   The Attorney General concluded that the item breached Standard 5 in this respect because Mr Campbell misled viewers and presented information inaccurately in order to paint the Samoan Government in the worst light possible.

“The Government gave them nothing”

[55]   The complainant noted that the follow-up item featured locals from the village of Malaela, where eight people had died in the tsunami, and all 25 of the houses had been destroyed. He alleged that Mr Campbell incorrectly told viewers that “the Government gave them nothing”. Twenty-two of the houses had been rebuilt using aid money and materials, he said. He noted that the former mayor of Malaela, who was interviewed, had been closely involved with the distribution of aid to his village.

[56]   The Attorney General considered that Mr Campbell had contradicted himself by then saying “where the Government has given money...” He said that the Government routinely prioritised how available money was spent and “citizens will not unusually wish that more was spent on their needs”. However, the programme asserted as fact that in this case the Government gave no assistance at all, which he argued was inaccurate in breach of Standard 5.

The houses provided were substandard

[57]   The complainant stated that the item claimed the houses funded by the Government’s Recovery Plan were substandard, saying they had “no floors, no doors, no glass in the windows, no kitchen, no bathroom” and were “little more than a shelter”. He reiterated that a traditional Samoan fale did not have these things, and noted that Mr Campbell acknowledged that “the Samoan Government says people here have always lived like that”, but then the item showed footage of a house that looked more like a New Zealand home, which was of “a very different standard entirely”. He said that this was not indicative of the usual standard of living in Samoa.

[58]   The Attorney General made the same points as in relation to the September item, that a committee had “approved the open fale style because it was familiar to most Samoans and it was simple to construct”. The complainant concluded that the item was inaccurate and misleading in stating that the houses were substandard and insanitary.

[59]   The Attorney General considered that Mr Campbell had implied that there was a contradiction between the Government’s stated aim that the Recovery Plan would stretch over four years, and the fact that “the housing project is now completed”. He said that, in fact, the building and repairing of houses was only one small part of the relief programme, and there was no contradiction. The table he provided showed that the four-year programme touched all aspects of Samoa’s infrastructure, he said, and it was logical that housing was an immediate priority. He concluded that “Any suggestion by the reporter that this is in some way a short-changing of a promise or a deception on the part of the Government is both inaccurate and misleading.”

The amount of aid received was under-valued

[60]   The complainant noted that in the September item Campbell Live claimed that the Samoan Government had received SAT$192 million in aid and donations, while the November item gave figures of SAT$160 million and SAT$152 million. He reiterated the point in his first complaint that as of August 2010 only SAT$35.1 million had been received, although more had been pledged in the immediate aftermath. This did not include SAT$57.09 million donated by the Chinese Government to direct projects, or SAT$95.5 million in loans from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.

[61]   The Attorney General said that these loans were to assist Samoa’s economic development, and that the process of obtaining them was underway prior to the tsunami. The Government therefore did not include the loans in its calculation of tsunami aid, and the loans had to be paid back.

[62]   The complainant also noted that the item referred to US$9.3 million from the IMF and that Mr Campbell said “interestingly” the Government had not publicly acknowledged this donation. The IMF money was not tsunami relief money, he said, but was strictly an emergency assistance fund to help ease pressure on Samoa’s external reserves if required. The money could only be used to bolster reserves and could not be used to supplement expenditure for roads or housing or water supply, the complainant said. The IMF funds remained in the Central Bank unspent and did not form part of the tsunami relief account, the Attorney General argued.

[63]   The complainant concluded that the item’s reporting of the funds was deliberately misleading in breach of Standard 5. He considered that it created the impression that the money was unaccounted for.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[64]   The Attorney General maintained that the item did not deal fairly with the Prime Minister, because Mr Campbell had door-stepped him as he was getting into his car. The complainant said that this occurred after the Prime Minister left a function at 11pm.

[65]   By way of background, the Attorney General said that the Prime Minister’s office was contacted on 21 October by Campbell Live’s producer who requested an interview and was referred to the complainant’s lawyers in New Zealand. Another producer then emailed the lawyers saying that Campbell Live was planning another trip to Samoa the following week and requesting an interview with the Prime Minister. The lawyers responded and said that her request would be considered. On 22 October the producer emailed again and said that Campbell Live was travelling to Samoa and an interview with the Prime Minister “would be ideal”. The complainant considered that it was clear from this correspondence that the programme makers “were always going to Samoa and that in fact their commitment to the trip was made well in advance of any agreement by the Prime Minister”.

[66]   On 23 October, the lawyers wrote to Mr Campbell confirming an interview time of Wednesday at 11am. On 26 October the complainant sent the first formal complaint about the September item to TVWorks. The interview time was again confirmed in an email and Campbell Live were asked to “indicate what you wish to discuss” so that the Prime Minister could have the necessary information at hand. On 27 October the Prime Minister wrote to Mr Campbell deferring the interview until the following week because he had not received any indication of what the interview would be about. The complainant said that the request to TV3 for this information was made five times before the producer stated on 28 October that “It’s not our policy to give a question line”.

[67]   The Attorney General argued that it was not unreasonable to expect Mr Campbell to provide an outline of the issues he wished to cover in the interview, noting that the post-tsunami reconstruction covered a wide range of issues and concerns. The Prime Minister wanted to be fully briefed on the aspects Mr Campbell intended to raise, he said. Further, “the Prime Minister was wary of Mr Campbell’s attitude after having been so unfairly edited and misrepresented in the September item”, and he wanted the November item to correct the inaccuracies in the earlier item, by taking the camera crew on a tour of the new infrastructure funded by aid money. The complainant said that “such a tour would take time and organisation and for this reason the Prime Minister changed the interview’s time”. Mr Campbell “ambushed” the Prime Minister that evening with cameras rolling, he said.

[68]   The Attorney General accepted that the Prime Minister changed the time of the interview, but said “that is all he did”. He did not refuse to be interviewed, he said, and did not entice TV3 to spend money flying to Samoa. The complainant concluded that the Prime Minister had been treated unfairly in breach of Standard 6.

Conclusion

[69]   The complainant considered that the November item was an opportunity for Campbell Live to correct the earlier item, but that instead it “put a new gloss on the previously aired claims and in so doing further harmed the reputation of the Samoan Government”. He noted a Sunday Star Times article published the day before the item said that New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and a group of MPs had travelled to Samoa and were “satisfied” with how the aid money had been used. He also noted that on 11 October Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs had been interviewed about Samoa’s management of the aid money, and that when asked about the Campbell Live story, he said:

I am aware of that report and I think it was rubbish actually. Looking at what has been done in Samoa in such a short period of time, it is amazing, it really is, and it is hard to imagine aid money and money being donated in response to that tragedy being spent better.

There are large parts of the tsunami-affected area which have been reconstructed. It’s not to say that the effort is complete by any means. It will take more than a year to recover from such a traumatic natural disaster, but enormous progress has been made.

We went to Lalomanu Beach which was completely ravaged by the tsunami and you look at the pictures that were taken immediately after the tsunami and you look at Lalomanu Beach now and it is genuinely amazing.

There are fales that have been rebuilt, there are businesses which were engaged in tourism which were utterly destroyed on that day, which are now back engaged in tourism, and most importantly, there are tourists there and I think the Samoan Government has been heroic in the way in which they have gone about their reconstruction efforts and as an aid donor, I don’t think we could have wanted for a better partner in putting in place that assistance.

[70]   The Attorney General therefore considered that “In the wake of comments such as these, it is deeply concerning that the November item continued to insist that none of this has occurred and that the Samoan Government has misspent or mismanaged aid money.”

[71]   The complainant again requested that Campbell Live broadcast an apology and statement reassuring New Zealand taxpayers and donors that the aid money had been well spent.

Standards

[72]   Standards 5 and 6 and guidelines 5a, 5c, 6a and 6b are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These 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.

Guidelines

5a   The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly
       distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.

5c   News must be impartial.

Standard 6 Fairness

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

Guidelines

6a   A consideration of what is fair will depend upon the genre of the programme (e.g.
       talk/talk back radio, or factual, dramatic, comedic and satirical programmes).

6b  Broadcasters should exercise care in editing programme material to ensure that the
      extracts used are not a distortion of the original event or the overall views expressed.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[73]   TVWorks provided a detailed response to the complaints from Campbell Live’s producer.

27 September item

[74]   The producer stated that while in Samoa, the programme makers and Mr Campbell had not met one person who was satisfied with the Government’s spending. She said that they had spoken to many more people who were not included in the story, and that many people said they were fearful of the Government. She said that many families had told them that their families in New Zealand and Australia were funding the rebuilding of their homes, and that they were frustrated at the lack of support from the Government.

[75]   With regard to the quote from the Prime Minister, the producer said that he was not available when they were in Samoa and instead conducted an interview with the Deputy Prime Minister, and included the Prime Minister’s quote from Tagata Pasifika. The producer said that they returned to Samoa for a second visit so that the Prime Minister could address his concerns about the first item and give his side of the story. The interview was arranged, she said, but the Prime Minister made himself unavailable. The Deputy Prime Minister had provided the report on the tsunami and this was used in the story.

[76]   The producer maintained that Campbell Live did not claim that the aid money had been misspent. She said that the people in the communities raised the issue, and that they had simply asked where the money had been spent. They were still waiting for an audited report, she said.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[77]   With regard to the points raised by the complainant under accuracy, the producer maintained that they were all accurate.

Amount donated

[78]   Regarding the amount donated, the producer stated that the figures quoted in the item were taken from the report, and that these figures were released to Samoan media by the Government. The figures were converted into Samoan Tala and included money in the report that was to be received. In the second item, the figures were sourced by personally contacting each of the donors, she said, who confirmed that the Government had received more than SAT$35 million. With regard to Samoa’s “reign” over how the money was spent, the producer said that the Prime Minister could have addressed this issue in his interview. The producer disputed that the Government’s report was audited; she said that the office of its Minister of Finance had confirmed that the report was not audited.

Water supply

[79]   The producer disagreed that the water supply was the “principal focus” of the item, as alleged by the complainant. Rather, the story was about housing and the standard of living post-tsunami, she said. The producer said they were told by the locals that they were without water. She said while they did not expect those who had moved inland to have water within weeks, a year later it was a reasonable issue for Campbell Live to raise. The producer considered that the Prime Minister could have explained the points raised by the complainant. She maintained that they had met many families who were still without water, and who were relying on water delivered by truck only once a month.

Public housing

[80]   The producer argued that the Government itself had admitted that SAT$18,000 was not enough to build a house and that relatives would have to supplement this amount. She said that the Deputy Prime Minister said the amount was for building materials and that “the labour is left up to the people... It wasn’t meant to be an insurance thing to compensate you for your loss”. She noted that the report said that the Government built only 321 houses. The producer reiterated that everyone Campbell Live spoke to said they had not received enough Government assistance and that houses had been left incomplete, and that in many cases, several houses pre-tsunami had been replaced with only one house.

Item was misleading

[81]   The producer said that questions had been put about the Government’s Recovery Plan but answers had not been made available. She said that they were not aware of the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment report. The producer said that, as the Tsunami report was not audited, they did not feel able to rely solely on that, which was why Mr Campbell had scheduled an interview with the Prime Minister. The producer said that Campbell Live did not “accuse anyone of anything”, but simply asked where the money had gone.

Item was not impartial

[82]   The producer maintained that many houses that were not approved were being built, and that many people living in the approved fales were unsatisfied with the assistance they had received from the Government. With regard to the Prime Minister’s quote, the producer reiterated that it had been taken from a TVNZ programme.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[83]   The producer argued that Campbell Live had “exhausted all avenues seeking clarification from the Samoan Government” both before and after the first item. She said that the Government had turned down multiple requests to either appear on the programme in New Zealand or to allow Campbell Live to speak with the Prime Minister in Samoa. She disagreed that the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments in the item totalled only 20 seconds, and that he was interviewed for more than an hour. She said that in fact his response was at least a minute long, and that most of what he had said in the interview did not make sense and was therefore unusable.

[84]   With regard to the Prime Minister’s quote that the tsunami was “no longer newsworthy”, followed by Mr Campbell’s reference to the “no longer newsworthy people”, the producer said that “this is how people we spoke to, including people in the Prime Minister’s own village, feel”, that is, that the Prime Minister was not concerned with his people. She also noted that the programme clearly stated that the quote had come from Tagata Pasifika.

1 November item

[85]   The producer provided the following comments on the points raised in the second complaint.

The Samoan Government was “outraged” at being asked to account for the money”

[86]   The producer stated that the Prime Minister’s public reaction to the first story led to that conclusion. For example, he had called John Campbell “stupid, stupid, stupid”.

No one knows where the aid money has gone

[87]   The producer reiterated that the Tsunami report was unaudited so to date there was no proof as to where the money had been spent.

The Government had understated how much money it received in aid and donations

[88]   The producer maintained that this was accurate. She said that the report’s list of donors said the Government had received donations and loans from several companies and financial organisations, but that after the first story the Prime Minister claimed the Government had not actually received some of this money. She said that he could have clarified this if he had gone ahead with the interview, as “the reality as the Government sees it differs from their public unaudited document”.

The villagers of Maleala had received “nothing” from the Government

[89]   The producer said that the villagers they spoke to told them they had received nothing. She again said that the Prime Minister could have clarified and given his view on this if he had agreed to the interview.

The Government’s housing subsidy was inadequate

[90]   The producer considered that the Government was blurring the line between aid provided by the Government and by aid agencies. She said that “over and over again, villagers showed us unsatisfactory third world living conditions”, and reiterated that the Prime Minister could have commented on this in the interview.

The Prime Minister reneged on an undertaking to be interviewed

[91]   The producer maintained that this was accurate. She said that Campbell Live had confirmation from the Government’s lawyers that the Prime Minister would do an interview at 11am on 27 October. She said that Campbell Live was also in Samoa to do a follow-up item for a previous story, but that “we would not have travelled to Samoa solely for an interview with [the man featured in the other item]”. She said that as Campbell Live was aware of the Attorney General’s complaint about the September item, they offered the Prime Minister an opportunity to discuss his concerns about the first story.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[92]   The producer responded to each of the complainant’s accuracy concerns.

Use of the money

[93]   The producer said that Campbell Live stood by its introduction for the story, which said, “Yes there are new roads, and electricity is back to the region. They say they’ve spent 68.73 million tala so far but many tsunami victims feel deserted by their Government and wonder why so little of the money has made its way to them.” She said that the Prime Minister could have commented on the alleged wide range of infrastructure projects the Government had undertaken in an interview.

[94]   The producer maintained that many Samoans, visitors to Samoa, and Samoans living offshore were asking where the money had gone even before it ran the two stories. She reiterated that an audited report would answer this question, and that the report provided by the Government was not audited.

[95]   The producer concluded by reiterating that the people in the villages said that the Government had given them nothing, and that those who did receive assistance believed it was not enough.

“The Government gave them nothing”

[96]   The producer said that the community of Malaela had received money from their Church, not from the Government. She noted that the mayor had told them he had built his own house with materials from the tsunami wreckage. The producer maintained that the Government had not funded the rebuilding of all of the houses, as aid organisations had funded some of them. She reiterated that in many cases, several houses had been replaced with one for an extended family.

The houses provided are substandard

[97]   The producer maintained that “this is what we saw and what the residents told us”. She said that locals from the area told them that people had lived in fales with windows and floors and running water before the tsunami, and that the village that was not damaged was a reflection of what many of the destroyed communities used to look like. She asserted that many people living in the rebuilt houses in the approved design were not happy and that “their families overseas expected more”. She said that they told her they had no money, and that “household after household were asking us for help to get their homes up to scratch. We had no reason to make this up.” The producer reiterated that the report stated that the housing project was complete, while “people living in the community told us their housing needs are ongoing”.

The amount of aid received is undervalued

[98]   The producer reiterated the points she made in relation to the September item, namely, that the figures had been quoted from the Government’s report, while in addition, the November item was based on Campbell Live directly contacting each of the donors to confirm their contributions. She maintained that after the first story the figures in the report had been changed by the Government, for example removing the loan figures. She said that the Prime Minister could have clarified this in the interview. The producer maintained that the IMF told them they had given US$9.3 million to the Samoan Government and that this was not in the report. She said they wanted to ask the Prime Minister why but he made himself unavailable. The producer noted that a media release from the IMF stated that “the $9.3m is to help the country recover from the damage caused by the devastating earthquake and tsunami on September 29, 2009”. She said that the money was obviously intended for tsunami relief and this was confirmed when they contacted the IMF.

[99]   The producer maintained that Mr Campbell did not have anything to gain by inflating the situation in Samoa regarding aid money, and only wanted to give the Prime Minister an opportunity to clarify the Government’s position after the issues were raised in the first item.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[100]   The producer considered that the Prime Minister should have told Campbell Live before they arrived that 27 October was not suitable for an interview. She said that the opportunity remained open for him to appear on the programme while in New Zealand. The producer was of the view that they had no other choice but to door-step the Prime Minister, as the interview was postponed for no reason, less than 24 hours before it was scheduled. She said they were told that he had a Cabinet meeting starting at midday on 27 October, the scheduled meeting was for 11am, and he was only allowing ten minutes, which “would have left him with plenty of spare time afterwards”. The producer maintained that their flights were not booked until after they had confirmation from the lawyers that an interview was scheduled with the Prime Minister, and that they would not have spent the money if the Prime Minister had not already agreed to an interview.

[101]   The producer maintained that the item was accurate in stating that Mr Campbell had been promised an interview. She noted that following the first complaint, they had asked the Government’s lawyers for a copy of the complaint so that the points could be canvassed in the interview.

[102]   The producer argued that Campbell Live never provided exact questions to any interview subjects. However she noted that the Prime Minister and his lawyers were aware that the subject was tsunami aid money spending. With regard to the Prime Minister’s proposed tour, the producer considered that the Prime Minister should have suggested a tour ahead of the interview, and that his desire to take them on a tour was not indicated by anyone, including the lawyers.

[103]   The producer concluded by noting that Campbell Live had invited both the Prime Minister and New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs for interviews. She considered that the comments from the Australian Secretary cited by the complainant were not relevant to Campbell Live, although she noted that the people of Lalomanu had told Campbell Live that what had been achieved in their community was the result of private donations, not support from the Government. She reiterated that the Prime Minister had been sent four formal requests to appear on Campbell Live while he was in New Zealand.

Conclusion

[104]   Having regard to the producer’s comments, the broadcaster said that it was satisfied that:

  • The items were part of an ongoing report; the programme was still seeking information and the opportunity to interview the Prime Minister.
  • The items were based on careful research, material provided by the Government, and in person interviews and inspections.
  • Campbell Live was motivated only by a desire to fully understand what had been done to help the people of Samoa with the money that had been provided by the international community.
  • The reporting was robust and fearless while still being objective and impartial.
  • Everyone referred to in the items was treated fairly and afforded ample opportunities to comment on the relevant issues.

[105]   TVWorks said that for these reasons, and in light of the producer’s response and the lack of any objective audited report that contradicted the material facts contained in the items, it declined to uphold the complaints.

Referrals to the Authority

[106]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, the Attorney General referred his complaints about both items to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[107]   The complainant noted that Mr Campbell had posed the question “Where has all the aid money gone?” five times in the September item, and seven times in the November item. He maintained that the items left viewers with the impression that aid money had either been misspent or unaccounted for and that the Government had left many Samoans with little or no assistance, which he argued was “completely untrue”. The Attorney General noted that the programme makers had the report outlining the first phase of the Government’s Recovery Plan, which showed details of where the money had been spent, including on rebuilding infrastructure, building houses, health clinics, schools and managing a national immunisation campaign. None of this was mentioned in the items, the complainant said.

[108]   The complainant disagreed with TVWorks that the stories were part of an “ongoing issue”. He considered it unacceptable to claim that the programme did not answer the question “where has all the money gone” because they were “still asking it”. Nor did he consider it acceptable to claim that the reports were based on what “many people we spoke to feel”. He said the items did not purport to portray public perception, but were framed as stories which would tell viewers what happened to the money that was donated. The complainant reiterated that the broadcaster had received its first complaint before the second item went to air, and considered that the programme “chose to ignore it and in some respects repeated the inaccuracies”.

[109]   The Attorney General also disputed that the stories were based on “careful research”. He gave two examples. First, he said, the September item made 22 references to the lack of water affecting communities. He reiterated the arguments made in the two formal complaints in this respect, which he said demonstrated that the situation was complex, especially regarding those people who had moved inland. He accepted that some people would be unhappy with the rate of progress but considered that Campbell Live ignored the complexity of the situation. Second, he said, both items emphasised the view that the new housing was inadequate, despite the fact Campbell Live was aware that the houses funded by aid money were built according to an approved design which was in the style of a traditional Samoan fale. He maintained that many Samoans had always lived in dwellings like this.

[110]   With regard to TVWorks’ argument that the reporting was “robust and fearless”, the complainant reiterated his view that it was in fact inaccurate and unfair. He repeated the example of the “cruelly edited” quote from the Prime Minister, and maintained that it was not fair to ambush him at 11pm at night with cameras rolling. The Attorney General also argued that it was not fair for TVWorks to argue that his concerns could have been addressed if the Prime Minister had agreed to the interview. He was always willing to be interviewed, the complainant said, although not on the date originally agreed to. Regardless, the complainant argued, the broadcaster’s obligations under the Code “exist independently of any single interview subject. TV3 had a duty to be accurate and not to mislead irrespective of who they did or did not interview.”

[111]   In response to TVWorks’ assertions that the Government had not released an audited report, the complainant maintained that the Tsunami report was an official Government publication, and it disagreed that it should not be relied on because it was unaudited. He argued that the report contradicted the assertions made in the two items, and that the Code did not give broadcasters a licence to decide which “facts” they did not deem worthy of reporting. The complainant maintained that Campbell Live was provided with “an official source of information”, yet they chose to ignore it, “reporting instead as if there was no publicly available information”.

[112]   The complainant also noted that the broadcaster had chosen to deem irrelevant the comments he provided from “a high ranking Australian politician”. He supplied a copy of an article from the Samoa Observer, titled “Australia says tsunami recover ‘miraculous’”, dated 12 December 2010, which contained lengthy comments from the same politician.

[113]   In conclusion, the complainant argued that the Campbell Live items would have prompted New Zealanders to wonder whether their generosity in making donations had been abused. He maintained that this was not the case, and that aid money and volunteer support had rebuilt much of what was destroyed and under a four-year plan continued to assist Samoa’s recovery.

Authority’s Request for Further Information

[114]   The Authority asked TVWorks to provide a copy of the report relied on by both parties, “Tsunami: Samoa, 29 September 2009”.

Authority’s Determination

[115]   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 complaints without a formal hearing.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[116]   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.

[117]   At the outset, we would like to make some general observations about the nature of the programmes, and the nature of the accuracy complaints. In our view, both stories would have left viewers with the impression that, following the tsunami, the Samoan Government had not taken sufficient action with regard to restoring the water supply to affected areas, and rebuilding housing in those areas. The tenor of both items implied that the Government had mismanaged or misspent aid money and donations.

[118]   The complainant argued that the items were inaccurate in this respect. However, it is not the role of this Authority, nor are we able, to determine what action by the Samoan Government would have been “adequate” following a catastrophic natural disaster, and similarly whether or not the Government had mismanaged tsunami relief money. Accordingly, we find ourselves in the position of having to decline to determine the following inaccuracies alleged by the complainant:

  • That the Government had not taken sufficient action to restore the water supply for affected locals.
  • That the Government’s public housing subsidy was inadequate, and the houses being rebuilt were substandard.
  • That the amount of aid received had been publicly under-valued.

[119]   In our view, these matters would have been more appropriately addressed as matters of balance, considering whether the Government’s perspective on these matters was adequately presented. The Attorney General did not raise Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) in his original complaints so we do not have jurisdiction to consider it now.

[120]   Accordingly, we now turn to consider the remaining accuracy points raised in the complaint:

  • That Campbell Live on 27 September inaccurately reported the amount donated to the Samoan Government following the tsunami.
  • That the items were misleading because they did not give enough information from the Government’s “Tsunami” report.
  • The claim that “the Government gave them nothing”.

 Amount donated

[121]   The Attorney General noted that the 27 September item claimed that Samoa had received 192 million tala, and also gave the figure of 79 million tala. He maintained that by 26 August 2010, the Government had only received 35.1 million tala. Campbell Live’s executive producer said that these figures had come from the “Tsunami” report which was provided to them by the Samoan Government, and that they had converted the amounts into Samoan Tala.

[122]   We accept that the amount received by the Government was a material point of fact for the purposes of the item. However, the complainant has not actually provided any evidence of what he considers to be an accurate figure representing the donations received. Having considered the Tsunami report, and the relevant table, “Donors and Donations to Recovery Plan”, we are of the view that it was not clear which money was a loan as opposed to a donation, and which of those amounts was specifically donated for tsunami relief. Accordingly we have nothing against which to compare the figures used by the broadcaster and are unable to determine whether these were accurate.

[123]   However, irrespective of whether the figures were accurate, we consider that the broadcaster was entitled to rely on the document, which was provided by the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa himself, and that it therefore made reasonable efforts to ensure that the item was accurate in this respect. Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaints.

The items were misleading

[124]   The complainant argued that the items were misleading because they did not contain enough information about the Government’s Recovery Plan, such as that 862 houses had been built, all ten access roads along the coastline to the relocated communities had been upgraded, one of two new inland routes was under construction with the aim of completing the second route in 2-3 years, telephone connections and services had been restored in the affected areas, and radio and TV broadcasting transmitter sites had been shifted to safer ground.

[125]   With regard to the 27 September item, we note that the Deputy Prime Minister made the following comments:

  • “I guess the important thing is to balance people’s needs and people’s wants. We’ve been working very, very hard to ensure that their needs are met...”
  • “In terms of the actual infrastructure assistance, you will see for instance that we’ve got here water, 5 million, 75 percent has been utilised...”
  • “...well you see the initial source of the water was always more inland.”
  • “That’s really the test, you know, are the people out there as happy and as content as they should be, given all this massive influx of stuff that we’ve done and we’ve tried to do. And if we haven’t achieved that then I think we need to re-examine what we’re doing, not just in terms of whether we have sufficient resources, but how we’re using those resources.”

[126]   While the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments were mostly general in relation to the Government’s position, we consider that viewers would have understood that the Government had made efforts to meet the needs of affected locals.

[127]   In the 1 November item Mr Campbell stated:

  • “Yes there are new roads and electricity is back to the region. The Government says they’ve spent 68.7 million tala so far.”
  • “The Government claims that its relief programme is being spread over four years, but in housing, where the people around the coast are least happy, their own document directly contradicts that claim, allocating a total of just 9 million tala, that’s 5 million NZ dollars, for all housing. This document says, and I quote, ‘The housing project is now completed.’”

[128]   We therefore are of the view that the 1 November item did contain some information about, and figures from, the Government’s Recovery Plan. It was clearly stated that the Government had made efforts to restore the water supply, roadways, electricity, and housing to affected areas. We do not consider that the omission of further information, for example from the tables in the report relied on by the complainant, resulted in the item being misleading. Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaints.

“The Government gave them nothing”

[129]   The complainant alleged that Mr Campbell incorrectly told viewers in the 1 November item that “the Government gave them nothing” in relation to the village of Malaela. We note that in the item this statement appeared in the context of Mr Campbell’s interview with the former mayor of the village, as follows:

Campbell:        ...So 8 people died, you lost your entire village, 25 homes, and how much money
                      have you had from the Government?

Mayor:            I don’t know. I don’t receive any money from the Government. Nothing.

Campbell:        Nothing. It’s such a simple word. [The former mayor] built this house himself with
                      debris left after the tsunami. The water tank’s from Red Cross. He lives here with
                      his children and his grandchildren. Their clothes were sent from New Zealand. The
                      Government gave them nothing.

[130]   In our view, viewers would have understood that Mr Campbell’s statement, “The Government gave them nothing” reflected the personal views and experiences of the former mayor. Comments which are clearly distinguishable as opinion are exempt from accuracy under guideline 5a to Standard 5. Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the accuracy complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[131]   Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

Deputy Prime Minister

[132]   The complainant argued that the 27 September item was unfair to the Deputy Prime Minister. He argued that he was interviewed for an hour but only 20 seconds of his comments were included, and they did not fairly represent his views. We again note that the item contained a number of comments from the Deputy Prime Minister (see paragraph [125]).

[133]   In our view, the Deputy Prime Minister was given a fair and reasonable opportunity to comment on the issues raised in the programme. The host clearly put to him issues relating to the water supply and his responses were broadcast. The Deputy Prime Minister also made general comments about the Government’s position. We consider that he came across as measured and composed, and that viewers would not have been left with a negative impression of him.

[134]   Accordingly, we find that the selection of excerpts included in the 27 September item from the Deputy Prime Minister’s interview did not result in him being treated unfairly and we decline to uphold this part of the fairness complaint.

Prime Minister

[135]   The Attorney General argued that the 27 September item was unfair to the Prime Minister because his quote that the tsunami was “no longer a newsworthy issue” had been unfairly edited, and was in fact made in the context of celebrating the Samoan Rugby Sevens team’s win at the World Sevens.

[136]   In our view, it was clear that the comment itself, “You don’t seem to put your mind off [the] tsunami. It’s no longer a newsworthy issue,” was shown unedited. The complainant accepted that “he replied as quoted” (see paragraph [45]). The Prime Minister’s remark may have imparted a message other than what was intended. The comment was made by the Prime Minister during a media interview in his role as Prime Minister of Samoa. In our view, politicians should and usually will be aware of the hazards arising from comments where words are not carefully chosen and become open to misinterpretation. Part of the democratic process involves politicians being exposed to a testing examination of what they have said and what they have meant. Politicians, especially Prime Ministers, have access to media to give responses.

[137]   In any event we consider that most viewers would have appreciated from the words which the Prime Minister used that he was responding to an issue other than the tsunami, and that they therefore had some context with which to make their own judgement about the meaning of the comment. Accordingly, we do not consider that the inclusion of the comment in the 27 September item was unfair to the Prime Minister but rather it was part of the sort of exposure that politicians in democratic and open societies have to expect and to which they can respond.

[138]   The complainant argued that the host’s door-stepping of the Prime Minister in the 1 November item was also unfair, and that the Prime Minister should have been provided with written questions in advance.

[139]   The Authority has applied a strict approach to door-stepping in past decisions, particularly where the interviewee has had little or no experience in appearing on television. It has previously stated that door-stepping will normally be found to be unfair unless every alternative legitimate way either to obtain the information sought, or to ensure that a person being investigated is given the opportunity to respond, has been exhausted (for example, Riddell and TVWorks Ltd1 and Willcock and TVNZ2). However, for the reasons outlined below, we find that door-stepping was not unfair on this occasion.

[140]   As the Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi is directly accountable to the public for his actions. We consider that Campbell Live was entitled to ask on behalf of New Zealand, which had donated a substantial amount to the Samoan Government following the tsunami, how that money had been spent.

[141]   We also are of the view that the Campbell Live crew was duly respectful in its efforts to schedule an interview at a time that suited the Prime Minister; the programme’s producers contacted both the Prime Minister’s office and his lawyers in New Zealand. Both parties agree that an interview with the Prime Minister had been confirmed in writing for 11am on 27 October. The Prime Minister then postponed that interview the night before it was due to take place, on the basis that he had not been provided with a question line in advance.

[142]   In our view, the Prime Minister would have been well aware of the nature of the November programme and the story. His Deputy Prime Minister gave an interview in his place for the September item because he was unavailable. The Prime Minister then publicly discussed with media his views on the September item. Campbell Live requested an interview with him for the follow-up item less than a month after that programme was broadcast.

[143]   In these circumstances, we consider that it was unreasonable for the Prime Minister to cancel the interview on the basis that he had not been provided with written questions. This made it difficult for Campbell Live to obtain a response from him on the issues raised in the programmes, particularly while the crew was still in Samoa.

[144]   Accordingly, we are satisfied that Campbell Live had made considerable effort to obtain comment from the Prime Minister, and that Mr Campbell was justified in approaching him directly after he cancelled their scheduled interview. We therefore decline to uphold the complaint that the door-stepping was unfair in breach of Standard 6.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
5 May 2011

Appendix

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

1                 The Attorney General’s formal complaint about 27 September item – 26 October 2010

2                 The Attorney General’s formal complaint about 1 November item – 23 November 2010

3                 TVWorks’ response to the complaints – 3 December 2010

4                 The Attorney General’s referral of both complaints to the Authority – 16 December 2010

5                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 21 March 2011

6                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority’s request for a copy of the Tsunami report –
                   30 March 2011


1Decision No. 2009-038

2Decision No. 2009-056