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Anson and TVWorks Ltd - 2011-051

Members

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

Complainant

  • Grant Anson of Kerikeri

Dated

8th July 2011

Number

2011-051

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item on Government’s spending review to assist with the cost of the Christchurch earthquake – showed footage of students helping with the clean-up and stated that “Canterbury students have been out on the streets cleaning up Christchurch, but today they weren’t being thanked, they were being targeted by the Finance Minister” – showed Finance Minister stating that the Government was not “ruling anything in or out” – allegedly in breach of accuracy and fairness standards

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – statement that students were being “targeted” amounted to political commentary – exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – Mr English is a political figure – item clearly portrayed his position on interest-free student loans – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]  An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on Tuesday 1 March 2011, reported on the Government’s spending review to assist with the cost of the Christchurch earthquake. The presenter introduced the item as follows:

As the Government looks at ways to pay for the Christchurch quake, Finance Minister Bill English is refusing to rule out changes to interest-free student loans and Working for Families payments.

[2]  The item showed footage of students helping to clean up the damage caused by the earthquake as a voiceover from TV3’s political editor stated, “Canterbury students have been out on the streets cleaning up Christchurch, but today they weren’t being thanked, they were being targeted by the Finance Minister”. The Finance Minister was shown repeatedly saying that the Government was not “ruling anything in or out”, edited between comments from the political editor to the effect that Mr English had been asked about changes to interest-free student loans on numerous occasions. 

[3]  Towards the end of the item, the political editor stated:

Cutting interest-free student loans and making 535,000 students pay interest again would be most unpopular, especially given armies of students are helping to clean up Christchurch. And Bill English’s failure to rule out changes looked slightly sloppy and politically naive today. My sources tell me John Key won’t agree to any changes to student loans.

Complaint

[4]  Grant Anson made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached Standards 5 (accuracy) and 6 (fairness).

[5]  The complainant considered that it was “particularly inflammatory” for TV3’s political editor to claim that the Finance Minister was “targeting” students, especially when juxtaposed with footage of the “student volunteer army” cleaning up the damage caused by the earthquake. He argued that the claim was not justified by the interview with the Finance Minister who clearly stated that the Government was not “ruling anything in or out” because it was too early to make decisions on cost-cutting measures. Despite this, TV3’s political editor “arrogantly” claimed that the Finance Minister had been given successive opportunities to answer questions about changes to interest-free student loans, he said.

Standards

[6]  Mr Anson nominated Standards 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. Guidelines 5a is also relevant. 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.

Guideline 5a   

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

Standard 6 Fairness

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

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[7]  The broadcaster said that, when considering complaints under Standard 5, it first had to establish that the statements were material points of fact rather than opinion, comment or analysis. It considered that the political editor’s statement that Canterbury students were being “targeted” constituted analysis, in the context of the Finance Minister’s refusal to rule out changes to interest-free student loans.

[8]  TVWorks considered that it was the political editor’s job to “analyse and interpret political matters. It is politically significant when a minister of finance chooses not to rule things in or out”. It considered that interest-free student loans and Working for Families were “politically contentious” areas as they had previously been ruled off-limits.

[9]  In the broadcaster’s view, the item contained facts which clearly signalled that the statement was analysis and therefore exempt from standards of accuracy (guideline 5a). For example, it said that the item included the Finance Minister’s “direct response” to questions posed by 3 News which indicated that the Government was considering all options. Further, the political editor mentioned that the Prime Minister had ruled out making changes to interest-free student loans, it said.

[10]  TVWorks argued that the juxtaposition of footage of students assisting with the earthquake recovery was not inflammatory, and was used because it was the most recent and relevant to the story.

[11]  For the above reasons, the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the news item breached Standard 5.

[12]  Turning to Standard 6, TVWorks considered whether the item was unfair to the Finance Minister. It said that politicians were subject to checks and balances on their power which included analysis of public statements and political decisions. On this basis, the broadcaster said that it was not unfair to the Finance Minister to report his response and subsequently analyse the contents of that response.

[13]  Accordingly, TVWorks declined to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.        

Referral to the Authority

[14]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Anson referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[15]  The complainant disputed TVWorks’ contention that the item constituted analysis, because, in his view, it was not “clearly distinguishable as analysis” as required by guideline 5a to Standard 5. Mr Anson argued that the broadcaster’s use of footage of the “student volunteer army” was deliberate and misleading when accompanied by “unsubstantiated claims that Canterbury students such as those in the student volunteer army” were being targeted by the Finance Minister. He reiterated his view that the Finance Minister was treated unfairly in the item.

[16]  The complainant maintained that Standards 5 and 6 had been breached.

Authority’s Determination

[17]  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 (accuracy)

[18]  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. Guideline 5a states that the accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.

[19]  The news item subject to complaint speculated on possible spending cuts in the upcoming Government Budget to assist with the costs of the Christchurch earthquake. It focused on potential changes to interest-free student loans and Working for Families tax credits.

[20]  The complainant argued that it was inaccurate for the item to state that students were being “targeted” by the Finance Minister, especially when accompanied by footage of students helping to clean up the damage caused by the earthquake.

[21]  We note that the item contained the following statements:

  • “...Finance Minister Bill English is refusing to rule out changes to interest-free student loans...” (presenter)
  • “Canterbury students... were being targeted by the Finance Minister.” (political editor)
  • “My sources tell me John Key won’t agree to any changes to student loans.” (political editor)
  • “[The Government] is not ruling anything in or out.” (Bill English)

[22]  It is evident from these statements that the content of the news story was inconsistent with the introduction, as no firm plans to change the student loan scheme or “target students” had been made. However, with regard to the complaint that the item was inaccurate, we consider that the political editor’s statement that student’s were being “targeted” by the Finance Minister amounted to political commentary relating to possible strategies the Government was considering to pay for the damage caused by the Christchurch earthquake. Statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion and exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a to Standard 5.

[23]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaint. 

Standard 6 (fairness)

[24]  Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in programmes.

[25]  The complainant argued that the news item was unfair to the Finance Minister.

[26]  We note that Mr English is a political figure with extensive media experience. In our view, the interview footage clearly portrayed his position with regard to interest-free student loans, irrespective of the comment about “targeting students”, namely that the Government was “not ruling anything in or out”. It was not unfair to broadcast his response on the issue, or to highlight that he had given the same response when asked several times about the matter. We consider that, overall Mr English was treated fairly and we therefore decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 6 was breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
8 July 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Grant Anson’s formal complaint – 1 March 2011

2                 TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 28 March 2011

3                 Mr Anson’s referral to the Authority – 18 April 2011

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 13 May 2011