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Ministry of Social Development and Peterson and TVWorks Ltd - 2011-072

Members

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

Complainants

  • Ministry of Social Development (MSD)
  • Priscilla Peterson of Mangonui

Dated

13th September 2011

Number

2011-072

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – four items reporting special investigation into Ministry of Social Development’s “Community Max” projects questioned how millions of dollars had been spent – reporter visited sites of six projects – allegedly in breach of controversial issues, accuracy, fairness, and discrimination and denigration standards

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – items discussed a controversial issue of public importance – broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view on the issue within the period of current interest – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – very small number of minor points had the potential to be misleading – however in the context of four items which legitimately questioned government spending upholding the complaint would unreasonably restrict the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – MSD should expect that as a government Ministry it is subject to scrutiny and criticism – broadcaster offered fair and reasonable opportunities to the Minister, other Government representatives and project providers to comment for the items – no unfairness – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – young workers under the SDS project not a section of the community to which the standard applies – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcasts

3 News 14 February 2011

[1]  An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on 14 February 2011, investigated the Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD) funding of its “Community Max” projects. A 3 News reporter visited the sites of two of the projects, which reportedly cost $700,000 in taxpayer dollars, “to see what we all got for our money”.

[2]  The reporter stated:

We travelled along this dusty dirt road in Northland looking for evidence of Social Development Services, a group given hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Government’s Community Max scheme to employ young people.

And here it is, Paekauri Scenic Reserve, part of a project that received 317,000 taxpayer dollars. This abandoned shearing shed is project HQ and [name] was one of those on the scheme.

[3]  The former Community Max worker was shown saying, “We all believe we did a good job. WINZ and the Community Max people also thought we’d done a good job.”

[4]  Shown walking across an overgrown piece of land, the reporter stated, “And this is part of the good job, an overgrown mess meant to be a community garden. The social development ministry describes it as ‘up and running and supplying food to many elderly people’ but we only found one pumpkin.” She asked the former employee, “overall taxpayers get value for money out of this project?” and he responded, “I’d say so, yeah. I’d say so. Because what I’d say is, the work we did out there was worth more than what we were paid.”

[5]  The reporter said that the former worker and his co-workers “were paid the minimum wage for six months to grow the nonexistent garden and turn the Paekauri Scenic Reserve into a pristine sanctuary and tourist destination. When 3 News visited it was largely inaccessible and far from pristine.” The former worker commented that “Community Max and WINZ they were all amazed with it. But the only downfall was when you finished you had to go and sign up on the dole again, you know.” The reporter stated, “Despite Government claims that 8 out of 10 Community Max workers remain off the benefit after completion, [the former worker] and seven of his co-workers are on the dole. Several more have quit New Zealand for Australia and the rest have temporary work picking watermelons.”

[6]  The reporter then briefly discussed a second Community Max project based in Kawerau, which she said cost $334,000.

[7]  Following the item the 3 News presenter and the reporter had the following exchange:

Presenter:       ...how many of these projects are there and how much money is being spent on them?

Reporter:         ...Well there are hundreds of these projects being run up and down the country and so
                        far they’ve cost the taxpayer over 38 million dollars. Now getting any details around
                        the specific projects has been difficult. It’s taken us over seven months to have the
                        details of just 19 released through the Official Information Act.

Presenter:       ...Paula Bennett’s the Minister in charge of the department, what’s she got to say about
                        your investigation?

Reporter:          Well earlier today we asked Paula Bennett how confident she was that the scheme
                        has been administered properly.

[8]  Paula Bennett was shown saying, “In regards to, I mean the outcomes for young people is what’s important to us, that they are getting into work, that they are gaining work experience, getting a good reference, understanding the value of getting up every day and attending and punctuality and everything else, so that’s what Community Max was about.” The reporter commented, “So the Minister for one satisfied with the outcomes of those 38 million dollars spent.”

[9]  The presenter concluded by saying, “tomorrow [our reporter] will assess the Ministry’s performance of keeping track and accounting for the millions it was spending on Community Max”.

3 News 15 February 2011

[10]  On 15 February 2011, a follow-up item continued the investigation into whether MSD funding of its “Community Max” projects was “money well spent”. The item canvassed the reaction to what was “uncovered” in the previous night’s broadcast, and the 3 News reporter looked into two further projects.

[11]  First, the reporter visited Maungapohatu in the Ureweras where the Government had run several Community Max projects, including the breaking and taming of wild horses. The provider responsible for this particular project was shown saying, “It’s about teaching those young people some sort of worth, work experience, ethics, ethos.” The reporter noted that the provider had received  $170,343 in wage subsidies to fund the project and that four young people had been paid a total of $31,000 to catch 38 wild horses.

[12]  Explaining the project, the provider sated, “We wanted to identify who the owners were and look at the possibility of breaking some of them [the horses] in and on-selling them to an interested party that approached us”. The reporter said that the interested party was the well-known Māori activist, Tame Iti, but that the deal fell through when his offer was not accepted. The reporter said that 27 of the horses were released at the end of the six-month scheme and were now “roaming somewhere in Maungapohatu”. The reporter asserted that, “when we put all of this to the Ministry of Social Development, they tried to stop the interview”. An MSD representative, Debbie Power, was shown responding in an interview, “that’s not the information that I understand”. The reporter said that “WINZ later told us it had ruled out selling the horses to Tama Iti.” She also informed viewers that,One Maungapohatu worker today remains on a benefit and it is thought two more are employed on another Community Max scheme.”

[13]  Investigating another project, the reporter said, “In Moerewa we found the Prime Minister’s cycleway has been creating jobs but these ones are also being funded by the taxpayer.” Describing the project, she said that it primarily involved carving 24 ‘pou’ for the local cycleway which was still under construction, but that the Community Max workers were also trained in waka, powhiri and how to smoke fish.

[14]  The reporter interviewed the provider for this project, who stated:

It’s also the life skills of just turning up and being at work every day and this particular project had very, very good stats in regard to people turning up.  There were those that did miss it but in the main those guys turned up for work every day, excited about what they were doing.

[15]  Commenting on the outcome for the Community Max workers, the reported stated, “The dream continues for four of them, they have been redeployed onto another Community Max carving scheme for the next six months. Two more have been moved onto another government jobs scheme... 3 News is unsure what has happened to the other two.”

[16]  With regard to whether the schemes were “value for money for the taxpayer”, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett was shown saying:

Yeah, that’s a tough one, they are you know, they were at one stage about 13,000 dollars per young person for six months. Now if that gets someone  who might have been long-term on the benefit into work, then I think it is [value for money]. But it is a much more expansive way to do it than anything else that we do.

[17]  The item cut to interview footage of the Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, stating, “We would hope that eventually, those young people who didn’t get jobs have still got something useful on their CV...” 

[18]  With regard to the community garden in Northland, which was canvassed in the 14 February broadcast, the reporter stated, “the Government says that 11 of the 24 workers are back on the dole, some have left for Australia, others have temporary work picking watermelons, and this is just one example from a 57-million-dollar scheme called Community Max.”

[19]  The reporter said that it had taken 3 News seven months to obtain details relating to 19 of the projects and that, although MSD denied a “cover-up”, it was still refusing to hand over paperwork with regard to about 300 projects. Ms Power from MSD was shown saying, “I am satisfied that if you want to ask for more information in relation to the other projects we will consider that.”

[20]  Concluding the item, the reporter said that while MSD considered that the Northland garden was a worthwhile use of taxpayers’ money, the Government had now ordered an internal investigation into the projects.

3 News 16 February 2011

[21]  Two further news items reporting on the “Community Max” scheme were broadcast on 16 February 2011. In a teaser for the first item, the presenter stated, “First it was a pumpkin, then it was a herd, now 3 News reveals the fence the Ministry paid $1000 a metre to build”.

[22]  Introducing the first item, the presenter stated:

The Prime Minister has been forced to defend the Government’s Community Max scheme, saying the vast bulk of people who have been on it have not ended up on the dole. We’ve been examining the scheme in a special 3 News   investigation over the past two nights. Tonight we have one more example and some reaction to the scheme which has cost taxpayers 57 million.

[23]  The project investigated was an ancient pa site in Opotiki. The reporter said that it “was supposedly restored by five Community Max workers. But four months after completion we found it overgrown and incomplete. Even the organisers are disappointed”. The project provider was shown stating, “The project is on hold, nothing’s happening. It’s just been left how it was when the boys came – finished in, I think it was September”. The camera briefly panned tree ferns and a fence made from punga, as the reporter stated, “the five workers had been paid the minimum wage for six months, their big achievement this punga fence. All up they received $50,000.”

[24]  The Prime Minister was shown saying, “The options are we have lots of young people sitting around not engaged, or we put up some schemes. Some people will go back on the dole, some have, but the vast bulk haven’t.”

[25]  The reporter recapped the findings of the 3 News investigation, emphasising the view that the outcomes were largely unsuccessful, both in terms of the projects themselves and for the young people who took part. This was followed by an interview with the Prime Minister, in which the following exchange took place with regard to the outcomes for Community Max workers:

          Prime Minister:      Well the advice we’ve had is that 77 percent aren’t on the benefit...

          Reporter:               How many jobs Prime Minister? How many have jobs?

          Prime Minister:      Well I don’t know the answer to that but I know 77 percent aren’t on a benefit.

          Reporter:               So how do you judge a scheme if you can’t tell me how many people got a
                                       job out of it?

[26]  At the end of the item, the reporter stated, “The Greens are calling the scheme short-sighted. They say it dumps people back on a benefit after six months and fails to provide them with real jobs. They say the scheme does have some merit but it needs a major rework if it’s to help solve youth unemployment.”

[27]  Later in the programme, a second item reporting on the Community Max scheme was broadcast. This item was introduced by the presenter as follows:

In a bid of counter-criticism of the Community Max scheme, the Government brought up a similar Labour scheme, the infamous “hip-hop fact-finding” trip of 2004. But that manoeuvre’s backfired, because it turns out National’s also throwing public money at hip-hop training...

[28]  The reporter maintained that the “The taxpayer forked out 31,000 dollars to catch wild horses for Tame Iti that were then set free. Then there’s the 317,000 dollar project that is now down to just one pumpkin. But the Government is still calling it value for money.” He explained that the National Government had “fired the hip-hop barb at Labour for years”, referring to a 26,000 dollar world hip-hop tour which Labour funded in 2004. The reporter continued:

But National should have done more research about what its Community Max scheme is funding before it brought up the hip-hop. 3 News has learned it has paid out the same amount, about 26,000 dollars, to teach young people to try hip-hop dance as an alternative sporting option.

[29]  Labour deputy leader Annette King was shown saying, “They railed against such schemes when we were in Government. They are running them themselves, but they don’t even know it. Which, if it wasn’t so sad, would make you laugh.”

[30]  Concluding the item, the reporter stated, “Taxpayer-funded job schemes have haunted Governments for generations and that clearly continues. National certainly made plenty of mileage out of Labour’s hip-hop tours, but you might find that old tune has just had its last dance.”

Complaints

[31]  The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Priscilla Peterson made formal complaints to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the items breached broadcasting standards.

MSD’s complaint

[32]  MSD argued that the four items breached standards relating to controversial issues, accuracy and fairness. It considered that the items made the Community Max scheme and its projects look “silly and trivial”, when in fact they were successful. By way of background, MSD said that Community Max subsidies were paid for up to six months and were targeted to help prepare young people for further opportunities in the workforce. It said that, as at 31 January 2011, 3,336 young people had completed a Community Max programme, a further 1,181 were due to complete a programme by December 2011, and 67.3 percent of former participants were not receiving a current benefit.

[33]  MSD outlined its arguments under Standards 4, 5 and 6 in relation to each of the Community Max projects reported on in the items.

Northland Social Development Services Project (14 February item)

[34]  MSD said that the Northland project comprised three separate projects: the establishment of a community garden, a conservation clearing project for the Paekauri reserve, and a separate project to administer the first two. These three projects were funded for $317,278, it said, for 24 participants. It said that TV3 was advised that 17 of those former participants were not in receipt of a benefit, while seven were. MSD said that staff visited the project three times during a six month period, and were satisfied that the contract was being completed. The Northland project finished in July 2010, it said.

[35]  MSD argued that the introduction to the item, which stated that the projects cost $700,000, was inaccurate, because the Northland project cost $317,000, and the City on a Hill project cost $46,276. It said it was also inaccurate to describe the Northland project as a “veggie patch”, because it consisted of the three projects outlined above, which was explained to the reporter.

[36]  MSD acknowledged that information provided to the reporter through an Official Information Act request was misleading, because it recorded the project outcomes in the present tense, forming the basis for the presenter’s statement that the community garden was described as “up and running and supplying food to many elderly people”. It said that it would have clarified this if MSD had been asked to comment. However, the reporter did speak to people involved in the projects, who offered to show her photos, but she declined.

[37]  The complainant argued that since the project finished, some of the community had planted another garden, but it had been wiped out by floods. It considered that the item presented an inaccurate picture of the garden since the project’s completion.

[38]  MSD argued that Social Development Services (SDS) was dealt with unfairly, as its staff were not notified of the reporter’s visit, and the two supervisors who were interviewed were told they could view the footage before the item aired, and alleged that the reporter “asked the camera people to turn the audio off whilst down at the garden during the interviews”.

[39]  MSD concluded that the presentation of this project was inaccurate and unfair, and that the item asserted it had no value beyond “one pumpkin”, which was repeated in future broadcasts.

City on a Hill Project (14 February item)

[40]  MSD said that the aim of this project was to teach work and sewing skills to participants. It argued that this part of the item lacked balance. The project was funded for $46,276 for five participants, none of whom were now receiving a benefit. The project ran from January 18 to July 16 2010. MSD argued that the item failed to report on the outcomes for the young people involved and the community value of the project. It said that the participants gained work skills and sewing skills and that many of them had gone on to become involved in other education opportunities.

The Ruatahuna Project (15 February item)

[41]  MSD said that this project aimed to teach animal husbandry skills, and was funded $31,267 to employ four young people to remedy a local problem with wild horses. It said that 34 horses were rounded, and the employees selected seven to break in, which were now being used by the community. It maintained that the young people learned horse management skills and work skills to prepare them for further work opportunities, and that as at the date of broadcast, three of the four young people were not receiving a benefit.

[42]  MSD argued that the reporter misrepresented the project, even though she was in possession of a document which explained the aim of the project and its outcome. It said that the project did not aim to break in all 34 of the horses, and that the reporter misled viewers by suggesting that all of the horses were broken in and then released, implying that the project was “wasteful”. She said that this was repeated in the 16 February item, when the reporter said that “In the Ureweras four young people were paid to catch and tame wild horses that were then let go.”

[43]  MSD said that the reporter interviewed someone about the project, but instead of reporting his views that the project had positive outcomes, the reporter focused on a side issue involving Tame Iti, “which had nothing at all to do with the value for money focus of the story”. It considered that the item was illustrated with “inflammatory pictures” of Tame Iti shooting a flag, and maintained that Tame Iti’s proposal to buy horses from the Maungapohatu Trust had no relation to the Community Max scheme.

The Moerewa Project (15 February item)

[44]  MSD said that this project involved young people collecting historical information from local iwi and hapu for carvings to be displayed as part of the National Cycle Way, and also completing cycle way track work. The project was funded $207,377 for ten participants, it said. MSD argued that the coverage of this project was unbalanced and unfair.

[45]  MSD noted that the chief executive of the Trust responsible for the project was interviewed, and was led to believe the story would be positive. It said that his positive views about the project were not included in the item and he considered that the story “had a totally different slant on what we had said”, which was unfair. MSD provided a statement from him. It argued that the reporter dealt unfairly with the Trust.

[46]  The complainant considered that the reporter unfairly represented the worth of the scheme, only noting that “the dream continues for four of them” and failing to report the Trust’s view that all of the young people had learnt life skills and discipline. It argued that this was unfair to the participants.

The Opotiki Project (16 February item 1)

[47]  MSD said that this project involved young people removing scrub and noxious weeds, clearing defensive ditches around the Pa site and constructing a walking track linking up to another traditional track. It argued that this item was inaccurate and unfair in reporting that the project’s sole achievement was a “$1,000 a metre fence”. It said that the project ran from February to August 2010 and was funded $50,156 for five participants, only one of whom was receiving a benefit at the time of the item.

[48]  MSD said that a Community Max adviser had visited the site after the project was completed and the work had been completed. It said that the fencing work was not initially specified as part of the project and did not require any extra funding, but it was agreed it was culturally appropriate for the Pa site, and contributed to the skill sets of the participants. MSD said that the reporter knew this and was provided with ample information about the project’s aims and outcomes.

[49]  The complainant argued that the reporter was inaccurate in presenting the site as “overgrown and incomplete” and presenting the young people’s “big achievement” as being a “50 metre punga fence”. It considered that showing footage of the fence accompanied by the reporter saying “All up the five received $50,000” implied that the fence alone cost $50,000, which the reporter knew was not the case.

Celebration Centre Trust Project (16 February item 2)

[50]  MSD said that this project began in February 2010 and ran for six months. It had three components: renovating a building for community use, establishing a community gym, and upgrading an existing dance studio and paying two dance tutors to teach a range of dance styles at schools in the community. It noted that the project received $216,109 funding and paid only for the labour; the Trust already owned the buildings.

[51]  MSD maintained that the projects were successfully completed and received positive feedback. Of 18 participants, only two were receiving a benefit at the time of the item, it said.

[52]  The complainant argued that the item was unfair and unbalanced and misled viewers by focusing only on the two dance teachers, who received $26,000. It said that the schools where the teachers taught dance had given very positive feedback, and that both teachers were now off benefits, and the dance school had become popular.

[53]  MSD said that the reporter was sent an email on the day of the broadcast outlining the project’s aims and outcomes, but the item misrepresented these. It considered that it was unbalanced and unfair to not report the outcomes given the story was about “value for money”. It maintained that the project was successful in keeping young people off benefits, providing schools with beneficial activities, and developing a business to employ further staff.

Conclusion

[54]  MSD maintained that TVWorks had “seriously and repeatedly” breached broadcasting standards during this series of items. It considered that TV3 knew from information provided by MSD that the items were inaccurate, that it failed to provide MSD with a fair opportunity to respond on the issues, and that the reporting was unbalanced. It also was of the view that the reports “reflected very unfairly” on the people involved in the Community Max projects who had been “working to improve their own skills and prospects for employment, as well as to make a difference in their community”.

[55]  MSD considered that TVWorks should issue a public correction and apology to the Community Max participants.

Priscilla Peterson’s complaint

[56]  Ms Peterson, who was involved with SDS, argued that the 14 February item breached standards relating to controversial issues, accuracy, fairness and discrimination and denigration.

[57]  The complainant argued that the broadcaster failed to give reasonable opportunities to present significant points of view, in breach of Standard 4 (controversial issues). She said that the reporter had not contacted SDS before visiting the Taupo Bay site, even though its contact details were available through the NZ Companies Office, and that she had only spoken to two supervisors previously employed during the Community Max project, who therefore had no current information on SDS. Ms Peterson also said that the reporter declined SDS’s request for an opportunity to respond to the story.

[58]  The complainant also considered that the item was inaccurate and misleading in breach of Standard 5 (accuracy). She maintained that the Community Max projects commenced in January 2010 and ended in July of 2010, and argued that the reporter had “turned up eight months after the projects had finished and outcomes of the projects [were] met and made out that no garden had been done”.

[59]  Ms Peterson was of the view that the broadcaster had not dealt fairly with SDS because the reporter had not contacted SDS for its side of the story or notified the organisation of her visit. She said that the reporter left her business card and a message for SDS requesting photos of the Community Max projects, but due to personal reasons Ms Peterson was unable to respond before the story went to air.

[60]  The complainant argued that the item breached Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) because it denigrated and undermined SDS’s young employees through references to the “one pumpkin” 3 News found. She said that from January to July 2010 Community Max had employed 24 young people and six supervisors who had worked on three projects: the cleaning of the Paekauri reserve, the community garden, and book-keeping. She said that photos were available of all three projects from various sources including the Department of Conservation.

[61]  In conclusion, Ms Peterson requested an apology to be broadcast on 3 News from the reporter to SDS, its employees on the three Community Max projects, community organisations that helped with the projects, and MSD. She also considered that the reporter and TV3 should apologise in writing to SDS.

Standards

[62]  The complainants nominated Standards 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in their complaints. These provide:

Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 5 Accuracy

Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:

  • is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or
  • does not mislead.
Standard 6 Fairness

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

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

Broadcaster’s Response to MSD

Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints)

[63]  TVWorks accepted that the items (which it considered to be one story) discussed a controversial issue to which Standard 4 applied, namely whether the featured projects and the Community Max scheme overall represented good value for taxpayer money. It contended that:

The purpose of this standard is to ensure that the audience can make an informed assessment of the issue focused upon – balance is not required in relation to each and every allegation or factual statement in every story – what is required is an adequate representation of the significant perspectives on the particular issue or focus of the stories. Standing back from the detail the relevant question is, “Did the viewer audience understand the perspectives of those who hold significant points of view on the issue being considered?”

[64]  TVWorks argued that in each story there were comments from people with important perspectives, including Government representatives who could speak to the policy and its administration (Minister Paula Bennett, and Ministry representatives administering the scheme) and representatives of the people in charge of operating the individual projects.

[65]  The broadcaster then considered whether the stories adequately informed viewers of those people’s perspectives. It was of the view that those perspectives, as presented in the item, could be summarised as follows:

  • To some extent the objectives of the individual projects had been met, i.e. some young people had benefited, at least while the projects were operational.
  • However, the success of the individual projects and/or the scheme overall was somewhat limited for a variety of different reasons (e.g. the project did not run for long enough, it was not funded to continue, or not enough of the participants found ongoing employment).

[66]  TVWorks considered that viewers were given enough information about the cost of the scheme and the projects and their rates of success to make up their own minds as to whether the initiatives represented good value for taxpayer money.

[67]  The broadcaster provided a detailed response from the news team and reporters, who responded to each of the points raised by MSD in its complaint, in relation to each standard.

14 February item

[68]  With regard to MSD’s argument that 3 News failed to seek comment from MSD in relation to the first broadcast, the news team argued that it had interviewed Paula Bennett and quoted material released by the MSD about the projects. It said that it had also interviewed a representative from MSD, Debbie Power, and that the Deputy Prime Minister Bill English was interviewed about the garden. The news team noted that all three responses were included in the 15 February item within the period of current interest.

[69]  In terms of including SDS’s view on the Northland project, the 3 News reporter argued that Glen Larkin from SDS was quoted twice in the first item. She said that photos were requested at the time they visited but were unable to be provided, and a week later had still not been provided. She said that they clarified in the second story that “the garden worked for a while” and that the Government “considers the Northland garden to be a worthwhile use of taxpayers’ money”. She said that it was accepted that there had been a garden, but that the item had questioned what had happened to it since the project ended.

[70]  The reporter considered MDS’s argument that 3 News had failed to report on the outcomes or community value of the City on a Hill project, and to present the views of MSD or those involved with the project. The reporter said that it was unclear what the outcome or community value was of this project because it had not met its main objective and instead participants spent six months altering clothes. She said that the Community Max provider for the project and MSD were interviewed for this story, and that the Church was quoted as saying that the participants learnt sewing skills. She said that outcomes were not broadcast because they were unable to verify with the provider where the participants were now. The reporter argued that the main focus of the first story was the administration of the Community Max scheme.

15 February item

[71]  The reporter argued that the item adequately presented Mr Davies’ and the MSD’s views on the outcomes of the carving project, and MSD’s view with regard to the horse project. The reporter said that Mr Davis’ views that the participants learned life skills and work skills, and the outcomes of his project were reported. She said that Paula Bennett was quoted in the story on the issue of whether the projects were value for money, and Bill English was also quoted. Debbie Power was quoted in relation to Tame Iti’s involvement in the horse project, she said.

16 February item (pa site)

[72]  The reporter said that the item on the pa site reported the outcomes including clearing ditches, building walking tracks, and building a fence, and the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that 70 percent of the people involved were off a benefit.

16 February item (hip-hop)

[73]  The reporter considered MSD’s argument that the item failed to present its view or the Trust’s view, resulting in viewers being misinformed about the aim and outcome of the project. The reporter argued that he was not questioning the value for money, but comparing the project with hip-hop project funding under Labour. He said that he contacted the Trust who told him that one teacher had stayed on, and did not know what had happened to the other. He rang MSD and asked for the cost of the two teachers under the Community Max scheme. He maintained that there was no reason to inform viewers about the entire project and its 3 parts, and that therefore MSD’s view on them was not required. He said that it was a “straight political story” and did not go into detail about the project.

[74]  Taking into account the news team’s and reporters’ response, TVWorks declined to uphold MSD’s complaint under Standard 4.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[75]  TVWorks provided a detailed response from the news team to the points raised in MSD’s complaint in relation to each broadcast.

14 February item

[76]  The news team did not consider that the introduction to the item was inaccurate or misleading. In terms of the statement that MSD had been “forced” to provide information, the news team maintained that MSD refused to release the central part of its OIA request. It refined its request but was advised it would still probably be declined, and seven and a half months later it received information about 19 out of 630 projects, is said. The news team therefore considered that “forced” was a fair assessment.

[77]  With regard to its use of the phrase “spending spree”, the news team argued that the scheme was taken up quickly and expanded rapidly. It had a large budget which was allocated in a short space of time and there was urgency around the spending because it aimed to stem youth unemployment during the recession, it said. It therefore considered that “spending spree” was accurate.

[78]  The news team responded to MSD’s argument that the figure of $700,000 was inaccurate because the combined cost of the two featured projects (the Northland project and the City on a Hill church sewing project) cost a total of $363,554. It noted that the introduction said, “The spending falls under a scheme called Community Max, and tonight we’ll look in detail at two of its funding achievements, that veggie patch and one other, which were part of spending that cost the tax payer around $700,000.” It maintained that it referred to the amount given to SDS and City on a Hill, as advised by MSD. The news team said that SDS received $317,000 and City on a Hill received $334,000, totalling $651,000. It noted that these amounts were clarified during the item as follows:

  • “...Paekauri scenic reserve... part of a project that received $317,000 taxpayer dollars.”
  • “Karleen Gardiner and her husband received $334,000 from the Government last year, including nearly 50,000 to sew linen for local marae.”

[79]  The news team did not consider that it was inaccurate to describe the project as a “veggie patch” on the basis that 3 News knew that the project consisted of a community garden, conservation clearing and a clerical project. Itnoted that the item also described the Paekauri reserve project, but said that the focus of the story was the vegetable garden.

[80]  The news team considered the accuracy of the following statement:

An overgrown mess meant to be a community garden. The Social Development Ministry describe it as up and running and supplying food to many elderly people. But we only found one pumpkin.

[81]  It maintained that the statement was based on information provided by MSD (MSD conceded that the information was written in the present tense and therefore misleading). It noted that it took nearly eight months for MSD to release that information, and so it considered that MSD was responsible for the inaccuracy. The reporter said that these discrepancies were put to the Minister on 14 February and her response was broadcast in that item.

[82]  The news team maintained that it was accurate to state that all it had found was one pumpkin when they visited the garden. The team said that the pumpkin was presented by Glen Larkin when they arrived as evidence that the garden had produced vegetables, and that the item did not assert that the garden had no value beyond that pumpkin. Nor did it assert that the garden had never produced vegetables. But it was making the point that it had dwindled quickly given the huge time and resources put into the vegetable patch. The reporter admitted that the pumpkin became symbolic and was picked up on by others, but noted that the debate following focused on the Community Max scheme rather than the project providers.

15 February item

[83]  In terms of describing MSD as “the Ministry of cowboy spending”, the reporter noted that MSD was spending money on training young men to herd animals on horseback and argued that “they’re commonly called cowboys”. She said that it was a reference to the horse catching and training project, and that viewers would have understood this moments later when they saw the story.

[84]  The news team argued that the interview with Debbie Power was not selectively edited and would not have misled viewers about what the Maungapohatu project had achieved. The team said that it had interviewed Richard Tumarae about what the project had achieved and his response was included in the item. It argued that the clip of the interview with Debbie Power was a fair and accurate representation of what happened when it put to her Tama Iti’s possible involvement in purchasing the horses. It said that Ms Power answered the question saying, “that’s not the information that I understand”. It said that it was clear that that part of the item related to the selling of horses to Tama Iti, not to the project, and that the Ministry’s position on that was clarified in the item.

[85]  The news team maintained that the one pumpkin comment was not mentioned in the 15 February item.

[86]  The news team did not consider that it was inaccurate to misleading to say that “27 of the horses were then released at the end of the six-month scheme and are roaming somewhere in Maungapohatu”. The team argued that the story quoted Richard Tumarae as saying that the project looked at the possibility of breaking in some of the horses, after the item said that four young people were paid to catch 38 horses. It considered that Mr Tumarae made it clear that the intention was only to break in some of the horses.

16 February item (pa site)

[87]  With regard to the statement about the horses being let go, the news team reiterated that, “we characterised the project in this way because 27 of the 34 wild horses that were caught were then let go”.

[88]  The reporter said that the item’s introduction, which referred to “the fence the Ministry paid $1000 a metre to build”, was a teaser to encourage viewers to watch, and the context was all explained in the story which made it clear what the project was and what it achieved. The news team maintained that the project providers told the reporter that the fence was their big achievement.

[89]  The news team said that it was told by the project providers that the project was on hold, and was incomplete. It maintained that the outcomes of the project were reported in the item and noted that the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that 70 percent of Community Max participants were off a benefit. It noted the quote outlined above, and considered that this accurately reflected the outcomes of the pa site project.

16 February item (hip-hop)

[90]  The reporter said that this was a political story generated by a comment made by the acting Minister Simon Power who hit back at Labour’s criticism of the Community Max scheme by saying that it was better value for money than a “26,000 hip-hop tour”. He said that the point being made in the item was that National had paid the same amount to fund a hip-hop project under the Community Max scheme. He maintained that the point was to compare the two, not to investigate “value for money” or the other aims of the project. He said that MSD informed him that one teacher had stayed to teach classes, and they did not know where the other one was, and said they would not comment further. The reporter said that he accurately reported that the two teachers cost $26,000 and there was no reason for him to explain the $216,000 overall project and its three components.

[91]  Taking into account the news team’s and reporters’ response, TVWorks declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[92]  The news team and reporter responded to the complainants’ fairness concerns with regard to each broadcast.

14 February item

[93]  In terms of the item’s use of the word “forced”, the news team reiterated that MSD had refused to release the central part of its OIA request. It refined its request but was advised it would still probably be declined, is said, and seven and a half months later it received information about 19 out of 630 projects. It therefore considered that “forced” was a fair assessment.

[94]  The news team argued that the Community Max scheme had a large budget which was allocated in a short space of time and therefore considered that “spending spree” was accurate and fair.

[95]  The news team and reporter reiterated their arguments under accuracy with regard to MSD’s assertions that the item used footage of the garden that was out of date and ignored evidence of the projects’ outcomes. 

[96]  In terms of the complainants’ argument that SDS was treated unfairly, the reporter said that 3 News was under no obligation to notify SDS of its visit. She said that SDS had a full week to contact the reporter who left her business card. The news team noted that it had spoken to two people who were involved in the project and that their views were included in the item. With regard to MSD’s assertion that 3 News had agreed to let someone view the footage before it went to air, the news team said that one of the interviewees had requested this, but that 3 News did not agree to it.

15 February item

[97]  As outlined under accuracy, the news team considered that the clip of Ms Power was a fair and accurate representation of what happened when the reporter put to her Tame Iti’s possible involvement in purchasing the horses. It said that the media advisor had later accepted she had overreacted because the name Tame Iti was controversial, and noted that Ms Power answered the question competently. It said that the team agreed that it was unusual for a media advisor to try and stop an interview and so it became part of the story. It considered that it reflected the hypersensitivity of the Ministry when asked about Tame Iti.

[98]  The news team maintained that the statement “Ministry of cowboy spending” referred to the horse project and the men who were paid to herd animals on horseback, which it considered viewers would have understood when the story started.

[99]  With regard to the item’s use of footage of horses roaming in Maungapohatu, the news team said that the footage was obtained with the permission of the wife of the project provider, and to show what had happened to 27 of the horses since the project finished. It said that the project was not portrayed as worthless, and noted that comments about its outcomes were included from Richard Tumarae. It considered that the item fairly and accurately portrayed the project.

[100]  In terms of MSD’s argument that the item failed to include information about the outcomes of the carving project, and that clips of Mr Davis misrepresented what he said in the interview, the news team noted that the item contained the following comments from Mr Davis:

  • “The boys were initially here to carve the pou for the cycleway but I think that was just the, you know, the tip of it.”
  • “It’s also the life skills of just turning up and being at work every day and this particular project had very good stats in regard to people turning up. There were those that did miss but on the main you know, these guys turned up every day ready for work and really excited about what they were doing.”

[101]   The team said that the item reported the outcomes for the 10 workers, and considered that it was legitimate to report that for a $206,000 scheme only one appeared to have got a job.

16 February items (pa site and hip-hop)

[102]  The news team and reporter reiterated their arguments with regard to accuracy.

[103]  Taking into account the news team’s and reporters’ response, TVWorks declined to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Broadcaster’s Response to Ms Peterson

[104]  Looking first at Standard 4, TVWorks argued that the story about the projects run by SDS was framed in the wider context of the Community Max schemes that were funded by MSD. It considered that significant viewpoints were presented both within the story specific to SDS, and on the wider issue involving MSD funding, within the period of current interest. TVWorks noted that the item included the views of one of the supervisors who worked on the project, and the Minister Paula Bennett, and that at the end of the item viewers were told that more information revealed by the investigation into the Community Max schemes would be given the following evening on 3 News. It said that on 15 February, 3 News covered the reaction to the story, during which the reporter said that “The garden worked for a while and is now an overgrown mess.”

[105]  TVWorks also provided comments from the reporter. The reporter said that she had gone to great lengths to locate and speak to SDS. She said that she and the crew travelled to Northland to find SDS and visit the shearing shed which was thought to be its offices. She said this was necessary because information identifying SDS had been removed from information obtained under the Official Information Act, and because SDS was not listed with the NZ Companies Office; only its parent company was listed and the reporter had no way of knowing that SDS was a subsidiary of that organisation. Accordingly, the reporter travelled to the Paekauri Scenic Reserve, where she spoke to both the representative who featured in the item, and another Community Max supervisor, both of whom had identified themselves as representatives of SDS. The reporter said that she provided the second supervisor with her business card and asked him to email photos of the garden when it was “up and running”; he had a week to provide them but the photos never arrived. The reporter considered that this was “ample time and a reasonable opportunity for [SDS] to present their point of view”. She maintained that she was under no obligation to notify SDS of her visit to the site.

[106]  The reporter said that following the story she had spoken with the complainant, who said that the garden had produced vegetables but had flooded two weeks previously which was why it was overgrown. The reporter maintained that the two supervisors had told her that the garden had been left to grow over after the project finished. The reporter considered that this “raised further questions about the administration of this project – like why a garden funded by the taxpayer at over $100,000 was allotted next to a river that according to Ms Peterson apparently had a history of flooding”.

[107]  In any case, the reporter said, 3 News clarified on 15 February that “the garden worked for a while, but is not just an overgrown mess”. She noted that in the same item Finance Minister Bill English defended the scheme saying, “We would hope eventually, that some of those people who haven’t got jobs have still got something useful on their CV – apart from playing Playstation.” The story also stated that the Government “also considers the Northland garden to be a worthwhile use of taxpayer’s money”, the reporter said, and she reiterated that Paula Bennett’s response had been included in the 14 February item.

[108]  TVWorks therefore considered that significant points of view were presented within the period of current interest. It noted that the reporter had received no communication from SDS after her request for photos, and so ran the story after waiting a week for further information as promised. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 4.

[109]  Turning to Standard 5, TVWorks noted the complainant’s argument that the reporter “turned up eight months after the projects had finished and outcomes of the projects [were] met and made out that no garden had been done”. TVWorks again provided comments from the reporter, who said that she had visited the site six months after the project’s completion. She accepted that the information released to her by MSD under the Official Information Act was incorrect, which had been admitted by MSD, and that this information “contributed to an expectation that the community garden would be up and running when we went to see it”. However, she considered that it was not unreasonable to expect that there would be something left to show for a garden that cost taxpayers over $100,000, but there was only one pumpkin. She said, “This is the state we found the garden in, it’s how it was reported. We weren’t saying the work wasn’t done – we were showing that there was nothing left to show for that spend and questioning whether that was value for money for the taxpayer.” She noted that this was put to the supervisor in the item, and his response was broadcast. The story also stated that the Minister for Social Development was satisfied that the schemes were being properly administered, she said, and the outcomes for the youths that went through the course, namely, that 11 of the workers remained on a benefit, 11 were not on a benefit, and two had gone overseas.

[110]  TVWorks concluded that the item was not misleading and declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

[111]  The broadcaster considered that Ms Peterson’s concerns under Standard 6 had been addressed under Standard 4. It reiterated its view that 3 News had provided representatives of SDS with an opportunity to provide further information on the project. It argued that following the lack of response from those people, “3 News had no responsibility to follow this up further”. TVWorks said that it understood that the complainant was unable to respond due to personal reasons, however she did not inform the reporter, and “given that [the SDS] project was part of a wider investigation by the team, they saw no reason not to address [that] project in the story with the information [they] had”. The broadcaster therefore declined to uphold the complaint that SDS had been treated unfairly in breach of Standard 6.

[112]  Noting Ms Peterson’s argument that the “pumpkin joke” denigrated young people, TVWorks considered that the reference to the pumpkin “clearly does not denigrate or blacken the reputation of young people” as envisaged by the standard. It said that the comment was made with regard to the overall investigation of whether MSD had provided taxpayers with value for money with regard to the Community Max schemes across the country, rather than referring to young people. TVWorks declined to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Referrals to the Authority

[113]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, MSD and Ms Peterson referred their complaints to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

MSD’s referral

[114]  MSD maintained that the items breached Standards 4, 5 and 6.

[115]  By way of background, MSD noted that on 26 July 2010, a 3 News reporter made an Official Information Act (OIA) request for information about the Government’s Community Max scheme. It said that the OIA request covered thousands of pages of information about hundreds of individual projects spread over 300 sites. It asserted that, over a period of months, the reporter agreed to refine her request and she received information about 19 of the projects.

[116]  MSD maintained that the Ministry was not approached for comment or explanation before the first story aired on 14 February. It accepted that on 15 February 3 News interviewed Debbie Power and that an excerpt from that interview was included in the broadcast that evening.

[117]  The complainant argued that, taken together, the items were intended to make the Community Max scheme look “poorly managed and pointless”. It asserted that the scheme was properly administered and achieved its objectives. MSD considered that, given the information and potential sources available to the 3 News reporter, “it is difficult to escape the impression that she deliberately misled her audience in order to create public scandal”.

[118]  While the complainant accepted that government agencies should be subject to rigorous public scrutiny, it argued that this was only valuable and constructive if based on accurate information. In fact, it considered that such scrutiny could be harmful if based on information presented in way that was “deliberately” misleading. It maintained that viewers could not have gained an accurate impression of the Community Max schemes from the stories that were broadcast.

[119]  In MSD’s view, the broadcaster’s response failed to deal with the substance of its complaint, namely, that the reports deliberately ignored parts of the schemes that were worthwhile and successful. It argued that the response relied on statements from reporters with regard to their intentions and motivations, which failed to address the issues raised in its original complaint.

[120]  Turning to consider Standard 4, MSD maintained that the Ministry was not contacted for comment before the first item aired, and argued that when it was given the opportunity to provide comment and information, its viewpoint was often disregarded, not included in the reports, or treated dismissively. It accepted that the reporter approached the Minister prior to the first broadcast. MSD reiterated its view that some of the reports failed to accurately present the providers’ perspectives on the outcomes of the scheme.

[121]  The complainant asserted that 3 News was aware that the information it provided with regard to the garden project was incorrectly written in that it said that the garden was “up and running” instead of saying that it “had been” up and running. MSA argued that the 3 News reporter “deliberately capitalised on this error to paint a picture she knew to be inaccurate”. It considered that the reporter “had every right to criticise the Ministry for providing wrong information and could have done so in the broadcast, while at the same time ensuring viewers understood there had previously been a thriving garden”. It maintained that 3 News sought to make the pumpkin “symbolic”, mentioning it repeatedly and derisively.

[122]  MSD acknowledged that 3 News conducted an interview with Debbie Power, which lasted for nearly half an hour, in which she explained the Community Max policy and how it was administered by the Ministry. While it accepted that 3 News was free to edit interview footage, it argued that, on this occasion, the footage broadcast did not reflect any of the information that Ms Power provided; “it just showed Ms Power’s and the Ministry’s media advisor’s legitimate surprise”.

[123]  The complainant argued that the items were constructed to “mock” the project providers and their viewpoints, and maintained that the broadcasts were derisive and unfair. 

[124]  Turning to Standard 5, the complainant disputed the broadcaster’s contention that the alleged inaccuracies were not material points of fact. It argued that 3 News resisted the Ministry’s efforts to correct the inaccuracies and repeated those inaccuracies in subsequent reports, which in its view, was a clear breach of guideline 5b. In particular, MSD maintained that the 14 February item created an inaccurate, unfair and misleading impression for viewers that the footage showed a “currently funded, but failed garden”.

Ms Peterson’s referral

[125]  Ms Peterson argued that the item breached Standards 4, 5, 6 and 7.

[126]  Ms Peterson maintained that SDS and its contact details could be found through the Companies Office. She reiterated her view that current SDS staff were not contacted for comment prior to the broadcast. The complainant was of the view that, while TVWorks argued that the SDS projects were part of a wider investigation, the story opened with, and focused on, two of its projects. She also said that the supervisor who was interviewed was employed on conservation projects so he had limited knowledge about the community garden. Ms Peterson stated that she had phoned the reporter the day after the broadcast and requested that SDS be given an opportunity to respond, but this was declined.

[127]  Ms Peterson maintained that SDS had met its legal obligations in relation to the Community Max funding, but this was not reported. She argued that the item also omitted to report the start and end dates for the projects, the fact that three projects were run with the Community Max funding SDS received, and the agreed outcomes of the projects between SDS and MSD. She therefore considered that the item “misled the public into ridiculing our organisation, the young people who had worked on the projects and the community groups who had helped.”

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[128]  In response to MSD’s referral, TVWorks provided further detailed comments from the reporter, as well as the OIA material she obtained, and two newspaper articles in support.

[129]  The reporter noted that back in 2009 when the Government had announced the Community Max scheme, Paula Bennett said, “We see this as a very positive approach to addressing youth unemployment while helping fund useful community projects.” The reporter said that unemployment figures showed that the scheme “has failed to address youth unemployment,” which was at an all time high. She noted that in its complaint, MSD maintained that the scheme was not designed “to create jobs”, while the Prime Minister had publicly commented that “it’s creating employment”. The reporter considered that two years on from the scheme being announced, “it was very important for 3 News to report on this as part of the ongoing scrutiny of public spending, which is an important function of news reporting”. The reporter noted that “Community Max has now been scrapped, which might be seen as further proof that it was an expensive, poorly conceived policy which failed to make any gains in containing youth unemployment”.

[130]  With regard to the points raised in MSD’s complaint under each standard, the reporter reiterated the arguments made in the news team’s original response to the complaint.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[131]  MSD provided further comments in response. It argued that “written responses to discrete elements of the stories do not do justice to [the] complaint that the overall tenor of the broadcasts was predetermined, misleading and in many circumstances inaccurate”.

[132]  MSD maintained that the Ministry, and not just the Minister, should have been approached for comment before the first item, because it was concerned with administrative issues, about which the Minister could not reasonably be expected to have information.

[133]  The complainant argued that the Community Max scheme was never designed to create permanent jobs, which the Prime Minister had acknowledged, and that it was a temporary programme.

[134]  MSD pointed out that it had provided information to 3 News under the Official Information Act on four occasions, to demonstrate that the information it had supplied was consistent throughout, and should not have been misrepresented in the items.

[135]  With regard to fairness, MSD maintained that the project providers had been treated unfairly, and that they should have been notified prior to TV3’s visits as they were unfamiliar with dealing with the media, and were not given sufficient information to respond to the matters raised. It argued that the items had a damaging effect on the providers’ reputations and the work they were doing.

[136]  In summary, MSD wrote:

[We] contend that if 3 News had taken all reasonable steps, including referencing all material provided by the Ministry, referencing the Prime Minister’s and other ministers’ official descriptions of the scheme, and contacting the Ministry in advance of broadcasting, then this complaint would never have existed.

Broadcaster’s Final Comment

[137]  TVWorks again provided a detailed response from one of the 3 News reporters involved in the stories.

[138]  The reporter noted that on 15 July 2011, the Office of the Ombudsman had ruled in favour of 3 News regarding its OIA request to the Ministry. She said the Ombudsman found that MSD had failed to respond within the timeframes imposed by the Act. The reporter reiterated her view that there were errors in the information provided by MSD, so 3 News could not be blamed for errors in the items.

[139]  The reporter disputed MSD’s claim that after the first broadcast it had sent a statement providing information to correct inaccuracies. The reporter provided a copy of the statement and maintained that, while it sought a right of reply, MSD had already been interviewed by that time, and it did not ask for a correction or assert that the item was inaccurate.

[140]  The reporter maintained that the “fundamentals of this story” were that “Community Max was a policy designed specifically to help solve youth unemployment – it cost $57 million and it delivered negligible results; youth unemployment has never been higher.” She considered that throughout its correspondence, MSD had not provided any evidence that the scheme worked, and noted that in August 2011 it emerged that 58,000 young people were not in education, training or employment. The reporter reiterated that “This was a series of stories showing our viewers what the government was funding, asking whether the policy was working and whether it was value for money.” She was of the view that it was a vital function of the media to “highlight areas of policy failure like this and to bring them to the public’s attention for debate”.

[141]  With regard to Standard 5, the reporter considered that MSD had not provided any evidence of inaccuracies, or of TVWorks’ failure to make reasonable efforts to ensure the items were accurate. The reporter was of the view that all of the people and organisations featured in the stories were treated fairly.

Complainant’s Response

[142]  MSD provided a copy of a letter from the Office of the Ombudsmen, stating that MSD had not complied with the statutory timeframes when responding to TV3’s OIA request. MSD said, “You will note that it finds that the Ministry breached the timeframe only. There is no upholding of a complaint in relation to the material being substandard, factually inaccurate or entirely misleading as [the reporter] claims.”

Authority’s Determination

[143]  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.

Overview

[144]  Over three nights, 3 News presented a series of items investigating the value of MSD’s Community Max scheme. Each of these items offered bite-sized illustrations of this scheme. It was obvious that these were stories which were intended to be politically challenging and delivered into a robust political arena. The stories used individual projects as a basis for their challenge but the focus of the series was the wider scheme. The stories were subject to the time constraints of having to be accommodated within a news programme.

[145]  The government agency whose spending was being scrutinised and challenged has raised these complaints. It has focused on the detail of particular components of the stories and has broadly said that because of some alleged inaccuracies of detail, the stories were unbalanced, unfair and inaccurate.

[146]  These complaints raise the very important issue of the proper balance between the right which broadcasters have to freedom of expression, and the obligations they have to viewers and listeners and to those who may be the subject of any broadcast, to balance, accuracy and fairness when presenting news items. These complaints also raise in a particular way the position of a government entity in relation to broadcasts which may seem to be critical of the government entity.

[147]  Investigations of this nature, which involve tough scrutiny of a government entity and Government spending, are a vital component of freedom of expression. We consider that 3 News raised legitimate questions about how MSD had spent $57 million of taxpayers’ money in delivering on a Government policy.

[148]  In our approach to complaints of this kind we are anxious to find the proper balance between the public interest in ensuring that news items and similar programmes are accurate and balanced, and the public interest in allowing free criticism of those who govern. While it is important that the information that we receive as news is accurate and balanced, it is also very important that the freedom to criticise be maintained. The proper balance will need to be found in each case, to ensure that in an open and democratic society, the freedom to criticise is not smothered.

[149]  Against this background, we now turn to consider the standards raised by the complainants, in relation to each item. In determining MSD’s complaint, we have followed the format of the distilled points outlined by MSD in the table it provided to TVWorks. Ms Peterson’s arguments are addressed in relation to the 14 February item.

Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints)

[150]  Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[151]  Ms Peterson argued that the 14 February item was unbalanced because TV3 did not approach SDS for comment.

[152]  MSD argued that the following aspects of the four items it nominated breached Standard 4:

  • 3 News did not obtain comment from MSD in relation to the first broadcast (14 Feb item)
  • Reporting on the Northland SDS project (14 Feb item)
  • Reporting on the City on a Hill project (14 Feb item)
  • Reporting on the carving project did not adequately present Mr Davis’ view, or MSD’s view of the outcomes of the project (15 Feb item)
  • Reporting on the horse project didn’t present the Ministry’s view (15 Feb item)
  • Reporting of the Opotiki pa site project (16 Feb item 1)
  • 3 News did not present MSD’s view or the Celebration Centre Trust’s view (16 Feb item 2).

[153]  Our first task is to determine whether the programmes discussed a controversial issue of public interest to which Standard 4 applied. In our view, with the exception of the “hip-hop item” on 16 February, the other news items, broadcast on 14 to 16 February, all discussed whether MSD’s Community Max scheme (using a number of individual projects as examples) represented value for money, given the amount of taxpayer dollars being spent on them. We consider that this amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue for the purposes of Standard 4.

[154]  We note that Standard 4 allows for balance to be achieved across programmes within the period of current interest. In our view, across the three items, 3 News made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view on whether the Community Max scheme was valuable. Comments were obtained, and broadcast, from the Minister Paula Bennett, Debbie Power from MSD, Finance Minister Bill English, Prime Minister John Key, and a number of representatives from the project providers, who offered perspectives in favour of the scheme. For example:

  •  “We all believe we did a good job. WINZ and the Community Max people also felt we’d done a good job.” (Glen Larkin from SDS project, 14 Feb item)
  • “Glen, overall taxpayers get value for money out of this project?” (reporter) “I’d say so, yes. I’d say so. Because what I’d say is the work we did out there was worth more than what we were paid.” (Glen Larkin, 14 Feb item)
  • “In regards to, I mean the outcomes for young people is what’s important to us, that they are getting into work, that they are gaining work experience, getting a good reference, understanding the value of getting up every day and attending and punctuality and everything else, so that’s what Community Max was about.” (Paula Bennett, 14 Feb item)
  • “It’s about teaching those young people some worth, some work experience, ethics, ethos.” (Richard Tu Marae from the Maungapohatu project, 15 Feb item)
  • “It’s also the life skills of just turning up and being at work every day and this particular project had very good stats in regard to people turning up. You know, there were those that did miss but in the main these guys turned up every day ready for work and really excited about what they were doing.” (Ngahoe Davis, pou carving project, 15 Feb item)
  • “We would hope that eventually those young people who didn’t get jobs have still got something useful on their CV apart from playing on a Playstation.” (Bill English, 15 Feb item)
  • “The Ministry also considers the Northland garden to be a worthwhile use of taxpayers’ money.” (reporter, 15 Feb item)
  • “The Prime Minister has been forced to defend the Government’s Community Max scheme, saying the vast bulk of people who’ve been on it have not ended up on the dole.” (reporter, 16 Feb item 1)
  • “The options are we have lots of young people sitting around not engaged, or we put up some schemes. Some people will go back on the dole, some have, but the vast bulk haven’t.” (John Key, 16 Feb item 1)
  • “The advice we’ve had is that 77 percent [of Community Max workers] aren’t on a benefit” (John Key, 16 Feb item 1).

[155]  Accordingly, we are satisfied that the broadcaster adequately presented the view that the Community Max scheme represented value for money and was achieving positive outcomes. As outlined above, we consider that the featured projects were simply illustrations of the scheme as a whole. In our view, it was not necessary for, nor reasonable to expect, the items to present more detailed views on each of the projects, and for this reason we find that the broadcaster was not required to specifically approach SDS for comment on the 14 February item, as argued by Ms Peterson.

[156]  Further, with regard to MSD’s argument that the Ministry itself should have been approached for comment, we consider that the Minister Paula Bennett was the appropriate spokesperson for the Ministry, and that the broadcaster was not required to offer additional opportunities to the Ministry to respond to the issues raised in the items.

[157]  We are therefore satisfied that the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view on the value of the Community Max scheme, across the three items broadcast on 14, 15 and 16 February, within the period of current interest.

[158]  With regard to the 16 February “hip-hop item”, we consider that the focus of the item was not the Community Max scheme, but rather that it was a purely political story, comparing the funding of two hip-hop-related projects under the current Government and the former Labour government. Accordingly, it was not necessary to present detailed information about the three projects run by the Celebration Centre Trust, or to present a specific response from MSD. In any case, the reporter had contacted the Trust and MSD about the outcomes of the hip-hop project, and that information was reported.

[159]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaints that the items were unbalanced in breach of Standard 4.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[160]  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.

[161]  As noted in our overview above, we consider that the 3 News items subject to complaint were highly politically-charged stories, presented in the context of a robust political arena. We also consider that viewers would have understood that the items were offering highly charged political commentary, and that they would have viewed them accordingly, aware that some aspects of the stories might be spun or exaggerated.

[162]  MSD argued that a number of aspects of the programmes were inaccurate or misleading in breach of Standard 5, and Ms Peterson argued that the 14 February item breached Standard 5. We have considered the accuracy of each item in turn.

14 February item

[163]  Ms Peterson maintained that the item was inaccurate and misleading because the Community Max projects commenced in January 2010 and ended in July of 2010, and the reporter “turned up eight months after the projects had finished and outcomes of the projects [were] met and made out that no garden had been done”.

[164]  MSD argued that the item was inaccurate in the following respects:

  • The introduction for the item referred to MSD being “forced” to provide information
  • The introduction described MSD as having a “spending spree”
  • Statement that the two featured projects cost $700,000
  • Description of the Northland project as a “veggie patch”
  • Comment, “An overgrown mess meant to be a community garden. The Social Development Ministry describe it as up and running and supplying food to many elderly people. But we only found one pumpkin.”
  • Repetition of the “one pumpkin” comment.

[165]  We address each of the complainants’ arguments below.

Reference to MSD being “forced” to provide information

[166]  MSD argued that it was inaccurate to say that it had to be “forced” to provide information, because it never refused to provide information. TVWorks maintained that MSD refused to release the central part of its OIA request. It refined its request but was advised it would still probably be declined. Seven-and-a-half months later it received information about 19 out of 630 projects. It therefore considered that “forced” was a fair assessment.

[167]  In our view, the use of the word “forced” did not amount to a statement of fact that was material to the item. However, we agree with TVWorks that, given the length of time it took for MSD to provide information about the scheme, the comment fairly reflected the situation. We consider that the word “forced” was acceptable shorthand to describe the reporter’s OIA request which was drawn out by MSD for nearly eight months before it released the requested information. Accordingly, we do not consider that the item was inaccurate or misleading in this respect.

Reference to MSD’s “spending spree”

[168]  MSD objected to the reference to its “spending spree”, because it said the Ministry was implementing Government policy intended to get young people with low skills into work. TVWorks argued that the scheme was taken up quickly and expanded rapidly. It maintained that MSD had a large budget which was allocated in a short space of time and there was urgency around the spending because it aimed to stem youth unemployment during the recession. TVWorks therefore considered that “spending spree” was accurate.

[169]  We accept that, given that the core issue that was focused on in the items was the money being spent, the reference to MSD’s “spending spree” was material. In our view, “spending spree” was acceptable shorthand to refer to a large amount of money – $57 million in total – being allocated to a substantial number of projects. We consider that 3 News was employing hyperbole to characterise the scale of the spending taking place. Further, the item went on to explain in more detail how much money was being spent and on which projects. Accordingly, we do not consider that the reference to a “spending spree” was inaccurate or misleading.

Figure of $700,000

[170]  MSD argued that the figure of $700,000 was inaccurate because the combined cost of the two featured projects (the Northland project and the City on a Hill church sewing project) was $363,554. TVWorks noted that the introduction said, “The spending falls under a scheme called Community Max, and tonight we’ll look in detail at two of its funding achievements, that veggie patch and one other, which were part of spending that cost the tax payer around $700,000.” It maintained that it referred to the amount given to SDS and City on a Hill, as advised by MSD. The news team said that SDS received $317,000 and City on a Hill received $334,000, totalling $651,000. It also noted that these amounts were clarified during the item as follows:

  • “...Paekauri scenic reserve... part of a project that received $317,000 taxpayer dollars...”
  • “[Woman’s name] and her husband received $334,000 from the Government last year, including nearly 50,000 to sew linen for local marae.”

[171]  In our view, it was not stated as fact that the combined cost of the community garden and the sewing project was $700,000. The introduction made it clear that the projects were “part of spending that cost the tax payer around $700,000”, and the item itself clearly stated that the sewing project cost around $50,000. Accordingly, we find that this statement was not inaccurate, and would not have misled viewers.

“Veggie patch”

[172]  MSD argued that it was inaccurate to describe the project as a “veggie patch” because 3 News knew the project consisted of a community garden, conservation clearing and a clerical project. TVWorks maintained that it was accurate to refer to a vegetable patch. It noted that the item also described the Paekauri reserve project, but said that the focus of the story was the vegetable garden.

[173]  In our view, the angle of the story was clearly designed to devalue the Northland SDS project, and the references to a “veggie patch” served that aim. However, we note that this reference occurred in the introduction to the item, and that it was made clear that it was “part of spending” and not the entire project. The item then went on to state that the Paekauri reserve was also “part of a project that received $317,000 taxpayer dollars”, and that the garden was “part of the good job”. In these circumstances, we do not consider that viewers would have been misled by the reference in the introduction to a “veggie patch”.

Statement, “An overgrown mess meant to be a community garden. The Social Development Ministry describe it as up and running and supplying food to many elderly people. But we only found one pumpkin.”

[174]  MSD argued that 3 News did not ensure the accuracy of this statement by asking it for comment, and because the reporter declined to view photos of when the project was underway and was aware that the project had ended. MSD also noted that Ms Peterson had informed the reporter that the garden was overgrown due to heavy flooding in the two weeks prior. Ms Peterson maintained that the Community Max projects commenced in January 2010 and ended in July of 2010, and argued that the reporter had “turned up eight months after the projects had finished and outcomes of the projects [were] met and made out that no garden had been done”.

[175]  TVWorks maintained that it faithfully reported the information MSD provided and noted that it took nearly eight months for MSD to release that information, so it considered that MSD was responsible for the inaccuracy. The reporter said that these discrepancies were put to the Minister on 14 February and her response was broadcast in the item.

[176]  MSD has conceded that the report on the community garden which was provided to TV3 was written in the present tense, and was therefore misleading as to the current state of the garden. Furthermore, we accept that the reporter gave SDS a week to supply photos of the garden from when it was up and running, and SDS failed to provide photos in that timeframe.

[177]  In our view, the item should have made it clear that the project concluded in July 2010, and viewers would have been misled in this respect, given that the report said that the garden was “up and running”. However, we consider that the broadcaster was entitled to rely on the information provided by MSD, and that it made reasonable efforts in this respect, and by inviting SDS to supply photos, to ensure the accuracy of the item.

References to “one pumpkin”

[178]  MSD argued that this was “selective reporting” which misled viewers about the aim and outcomes of the garden project. TVWorks maintained that it was accurate to state that all the reporter had found when she visited the garden was one pumpkin. It said that the item did not assert that the garden had no value beyond that pumpkin, or that the garden had never produced vegetables, but 3 News was making the point that the garden had dwindled quickly given the huge time and resources put into it. The reporter admitted that the pumpkin became symbolic and was picked up on by others, but noted that the debate focused on the Community Max scheme rather than the project providers.

[179]  In our view, the references to “one pumpkin” did not amount to material points of fact. As outlined above, we do consider that it was misleading to not mention that the project concluded eight months before the item was broadcast, given that the report stated that the garden was “up and running”. However, MSD was responsible for the error in the report, which it has acknowledged, and responsible for the eight-month delay in releasing the report to 3 News.

15 February item

[180]  MSD argued that the following aspects of the 15 February item were inaccurate or misleading:

  • Describing MSD as “the Ministry of cowboy spending”
  • Interview with Debbie Power
  • Statement that “when we put all of this to the Ministry of Social Development they tried to stop the interview”
  • Repetition of “one pumpkin” comment
  • Comment that “27 of the horses were then released at the end of the six month scheme and are roaming somewhere in Maungapohatu”.

[181]  We address each of these points below.

Reference to “the Ministry of cowboy spending”

[182]  MSD argued that this description was inaccurate and misleading. It said that the Ministry’s use of taxpayer funds is on public record and audited annually. The reporter argued that it was a reference to the Maungapohatu horse project, and that viewers would have understood this moments later when they saw the story.

[183]  In our view, this comment was material, given that the focus of the item was how MSD was spending taxpayer dollars. We consider that it would not have been obvious to viewers that it was a play on words, and we agree that it implied that MSD was responsible for wanton spending. However, we consider that 3 News was clearly employing hyperbole, and that given the highly political nature of the story, and the fact that the spending was discussed in more detail during the item, viewers would not have been misled. In our view, this comment would be more appropriately dealt with as a matter of fairness.

Interview with Debbie Power from MSD

[184]  MSD argued that the interview was selectively edited and misled viewers about what the Maungopohatu project achieved. It argued that the comment that MSD “tried to stop the interview” gave a misleading impression that MSD would not comment on the project. TVWorks argued that the clip of the interview with Ms Power was a fair and accurate representation of what happened when the reporter put to her Tame Iti’s possible involvement in purchasing the horses. It noted that Ms Power answered the question saying, “that’s not the information that I understand”. It considered that it was clear that that part of the item related to the selling of horses to Tame Iti, not to the project, and that the Ministry’s position on that was clarified in the item.

[185]  In our view, the statement that MSD “tried to stop the interview” was not material to the focus of the item. We agree that it was clear that this segment related to the alleged proposal by Tame Iti to buy the horses, and that Ms Power responded when this matter was put to her, despite media advisors objecting to the question. We therefore find that this part of the item was not inaccurate, and that viewers would not have been misled.

Repetition of “one pumpkin” comment

[186]  MSD argued that it was inaccurate and misleading to repeat references to “one pumpkin”. TVWorks maintained that this was not mentioned in the 15 Feb item.

[187]  We note that the following comments were made at the beginning of the item:

Presenter:        Last night as part of our investigation we visited a community funded by the taxpayer at
                       a cost of more than 300,000 dollars. There, we found a pumpkin. It was enough for
                       Labour to say it regarded the Community Max scheme as a lemon, but perhaps it’s a
                       pumpkin instead...

Reporter:         One pumpkin. That was all we could find left as part of this 317,000 dollar
                       taxpayer-funded jobs project. And a similar fruit of this failure made its way to
                       Parliament.

Labour MP:      Why has she spent more than 300,000 dollars on a garden that has left participants
                       unemployed and produced just one pumpkin?

[188]  In our view, it was accurate to report that the news team had only found one pumpkin, and it was clear in this context that Labour had chosen to emphasise the pumpkin as a basis for criticism of the scheme. We do not consider that the item was inaccurate in this respect or that it would have misled viewers.

Comment that “27 of the horses were then released at the end of the six-month scheme and are roaming somewhere in Maungapohatu”

[189]  MSD argued that this was inaccurate because the seven best horses were selected and broken in, and the remaining 27 were released once they were determined unsuitable, not at the end of the project. It considered that the statement gave the misleading impression that they had been broken in and then released.

[190]  TVWorks argued that the story quoted the project provider as saying that the project looked at the possibility of breaking in some of the horses, and the item also stated that four young people were paid to “catch” 38 horses. It considered that the project provider made it clear that the intention was only to break in some of the horses.

[191]  We note that the relevant statements in the item were presented as follows:

Reporter:      ...Four [workers] were paid a total of $31,000 to catch 38 wild horses.

Provider:       We want to identify who the owners were and to look at the possibility of breaking some
                     of them in and on-selling them to an interested party that approached us.

Reporter:      ...27 of the horses were then released at the end of the six-month scheme and are
                    roaming somewhere in Maungapohatu.

[192]  In our view, the item did not state as fact that all 38 horses had been tamed, and then 27 had been released. It clearly stated that the project’s workers were paid to catch 38 horses, and then the interviewee made it clear that one of the project’s aims was to break in “some” of the horses. Accordingly, we do not consider that this statement was inaccurate or misleading.

16 February item 1

[193]  MSD argued that the following aspects of the 16 February item about the Opotiki pa site were inaccurate or misleading:

  • “One pumpkin” comment
  • Statement that “in the Ureweras four young people were paid to catch and tame wild horses that were then let go”
  • Teaser stating, “First it was a pumpkin, then it was a herd, now 3 News reveals the fence the Ministry paid $1000 a metre to build”
  • Statement that “their big achievement was this 50-metre punga fence”
  • Selective reporting of the pa site project.

[194]  We have already determined above that the references to “one pumpkin” were not inaccurate or misleading. We turn to consider the other alleged inaccuracies.

Statement that “in the Ureweras four young people were paid to catch and tame wild horses that were then let go”

[195]  MSD argued that this was inaccurate and misleading because it suggested that all of the horses were tamed and released. The news team said, “we characterised the project in this way because 27 of the 38 wild horses that were caught were then let go”.

[196]  In our view, the statement was ambiguous and general in nature, and did not create a clear impression that all of the horses were tamed and then released. The comment was part of a shorthand summary by the reporter of the previous stories and the numerous projects that had been covered, and it was not material to the focus of the 16 February item, which was the Opotiki pa site. As outlined above in paragraph [161], we consider that viewers would have watched the items recognising that they were offering highly charged political commentary which might exaggerate aspects of the story.

[197]  Accordingly, we do not consider that viewers would have been misled by this brief comment in the 16 February item.

3 News teaser referring to “the fence the Ministry paid $1000 a metre to build”

[198]  MSD maintained that this was inaccurate. It argued that the whole project cost $50,000, and that the fence was not part of the project’s original objectives, but was completed at no extra cost. The reporter argued that the introduction was a teaser to encourage viewers to watch, and that it was very clear from the story what the project was and what it achieved.

[199]  We note that the item said that:

This ancient pa site in Opotiki was supposedly restored by five Community Max workers but four months after completion we found it overgrown and incomplete. The pa site and these ditches are said to have been cleared and three and a half walking tracks completed. The five workers were paid the minimum wage for six months. Their big achievement was this 50-metre punga fence. All up the five received $50,000.

[200]  In our view, the teaser was clearly hyperbole, designed to attract viewers to watch the full story. While in itself it could have misled viewers, the item then clearly explained that the fence was completed by five workers, as part of a project which “all up” cost $50,000. We consider that it would have been clear to viewers that the five workers were paid to do a range of work, such as clearing the pa site and ditches, and completing walking tracks, all of which were mentioned in the item.

[201]  Accordingly, we find that this part of the item was not inaccurate or misleading.

The comment that “their big achievement was this 50-metre punga fence”

[202]  MSD argued that this was an inaccurate and misleading representation of what was achieved by the project. TVWorks maintained that the project providers told the reporter that the fence was their big achievement.

[203]  As noted above, the item clearly explained that the project involved a range of work. We consider that referring to the fence as the workers’ “big achievement” was clearly analysis and commentary, rather than a statement of fact, and also represented the opinion of the workers and the project providers. Accordingly, we find that the comment was exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a.

Selective reporting of the project

[204]  MSD argued that 3 News did not adequately report the outcomes for the projects or for the participants. It considered that in the context of an item about “value for money” failing to report this was misleading and left viewers with an inaccurate idea of what was achieved. The news team said that it was told by the project providers that the project was on hold, and was incomplete. It maintained that the outcomes of the project were reported in the item and noted that the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that 77 percent of Community Max participants were off a benefit. It considered that the statement in paragraph [199] accurately reflected the outcomes of the pa site project.

[205]  We note that immediately following that statement, the following comments were broadcast:

Reporter:      We asked the Prime Minister if Community Max is value for taxpayers’ money.

John Key:     The options are we have lots of young people sitting around not engaged, or we put up
                    some schemes. Some people will go back on the dole, some have, but the vast bulk
                    haven’t.

[206]  The item then also contained these comments:

Reporter:      Given that Community Max is intended to prepare young people for further opportunities,
                    in the workforce, we asked if the programme’s working.

John Key:     Well the advice we’ve had is that 77 percent aren’t on the benefit...

Reporter:      How many jobs Prime Minister? How many have jobs?

John Key:     Well I don't know the answer to that but I know 77 percent aren’t on a benefit.

[207]  In our view, while the Prime Minister’s comments did not refer specifically to the outcomes for the five workers on the Opotiki project, they adequately reflected the Government’s position on the efficacy and value of the Community Max scheme overall. As outlined under Standard 4, we are of the view that the story’s overall focus was whether the scheme represented value for money. Accordingly, we are satisfied that viewers would not have been misled by the omission of specific information about what the five workers were now doing. Furthermore, we have found above that the item adequately explained what the Opotiki project had achieved (paragraphs [199] to [200]). We therefore find that the item was not inaccurate or misleading in this respect.

16 February item 2

[208]  MSD argued that this item was inaccurate and misleading in the following respects:

  • Comment that “the taxpayer forked out $31,000 to catch wild horses for Tame Iti that were then set free”
  • Selective reporting of the Celebration Centre Trust project.

Comment that “the taxpayer forked out $31,000 to catch wild horses for Tame Iti that were then set free”

[209]  MSD argued that the comment was inaccurate and created the impression that the aim of the project was to catch horses for Tame Iti. It said that 3 News had information about the project’s aims.

[210]  We note that the comment was part of the item’s introduction, recapping the previous nights’ stories about Community Max. In our view, this was another example of the use of both exaggeration to attract viewers’ attention, and shorthand to summarise the three previous items. It was not stated as fact that the aim of the project was to catch horses for Tame Iti. Furthermore, this brief statement relating to the previous stories was not material to the focus of this particular item, which compared spending by the current Government and a former Labour Government on projects related to hip-hop dance.

[211]  Accordingly, we find that the statement was not inaccurate or misleading.

Selective reporting of the Celebration Centre Trust project

[212]  MSD argued that the item was misleading because it did not include information about the aims and outcomes of the project, which consisted of three projects, not just the hip-hop teachers.

[213]  The reporter said that it was a political story generated by a comment made by the acting Minister Simon Power who hit back at Labour’s criticism of the Community Max scheme by saying that it was better value for money than a “$26,000 hip-hop tour”. He said the point being made in the item was that National had paid the same amount to fund a hip-hop project under the Community Max scheme. He maintained that the point was to compare the two, not to investigate “value for money” or the other aims of the project. He said that MSD informed him that one teacher had stayed to teach classes, and did not know where the other one was, and said they would not comment further. The reporter said that he accurately reported that the two teachers cost $26,000 and there was no reason for him to explain the $216,000 overall project and its three components.

[214]  As already outlined in paragraph [158] above, we consider that this item had a different focus to the preceding three items. It was a purely political story comparing similar spending by two different Governments, and was not concerned with the larger Celebration Centre Trust project as part of the Community Max scheme. Accordingly, it was not misleading to omit detailed information about the three branches of the project.

Bill of Rights

[215]  As outlined above in paragraphs [144] to [148], we consider that it is a vital component of the right to freedom of expression that these types of investigations be allowed, and welcomed. For this reason, while a small number of the points raised by the complainants had the potential to be misleading, we find that overall, upholding the complaints under Standard 5 would unreasonably restrict TVWorks’ right to freedom of expression, including its freedom to make allegations of the kind demonstrated in these stories.

Standard 6 (fairness)

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

[217]  As we have already intimated, we consider that the stories were highly politically-charged, and presented in a political context. As a government department, MSD should expect robust criticism and questioning in relation to the expenditure of taxpayers’ money, and, in our view, the 3 News items raised legitimate questions about the value of the Community Max scheme. We consider that, throughout the preparation of these stories, MSD, the Minister, other government representatives, and the project providers, were given fair and reasonable opportunities to supply relevant information and to comment for the items.

[218]  With this in mind, we deal with each of the aspects of the items which the complainants considered to be unfair.

14 February item

[219]  MSD argued that the following aspects of the 14 February item were unfair:

  • The introduction’s reference to MSD being “forced” to reveal information
  • Reference to MSD’s “spending spree”
  • Selective use of footage that was out of date
  • Ignoring evidence of the projects’ outcomes
  • The treatment of SDS.

References to MSD being “forced” to provide information, and to its “spending spree”

[220]  We have already determined above under accuracy that the introduction was not misleading in its references to MSD being “forced” to provide information, and to its “spending spree”. We are therefore satisfied that MSD was not treated unfairly in this respect.

Use of out of date footage

[221]  MSD argued that the footage was used to create the impression that no garden ever existed and therefore the project was worthless. Ms Peterson argued that she had informed the reporter that the garden was overgrown due to heavy flooding in the two weeks prior. The news team said that the footage was obtained the week before the item, and that it was a true reflection of the state of the garden when they visited. It argued that the item made it clear that there had been a garden, for example through the comments from the people interviewed. However it had since been allowed to grow over, it said. It noted that neither the Minister nor the Prime Minister was concerned that the garden was not still up and running, but they pointed out that the aim was to teach skills to young people. It maintained that the footage was not used to create the impression that the garden did not exist, but to show the current state of the garden which cost $100,000.

[222]  In our view, it was not unfair to show footage of the garden in its current state, at the time of the reporter’s visit. In terms of whether the item should have included images of the garden when it was up and running, we reiterate that the reporter allowed SDS a week to provide photos of the garden, and these were not forthcoming. Accordingly, we find that neither MSD, nor SDS, was treated unfairly in this respect.

Ignoring evidence of the projects’ outcomes

[223]  MSD argued that failing to report on the evidence of the garden or the conservation project’s outcomes distorted the results of those projects. It maintained that SDS had offered to show the reporter photos of the garden but she had declined.

[224]  In our view, the outcomes of the SDS projects were sufficiently presented through comments made by the representatives of SDS who were interviewed. The reporter explained that work had been done at the Paekauri reserve. We have already noted that the reporter gave SDS a week to provide photos of the garden, which in our view was a reasonable timeframe. Accordingly, we find that the item was fair in this respect.

Treatment of SDS

[225]  Both MSD and Ms Peterson argued that SDS was treated unfairly. They noted that SDS had not been contacted prior to the news team’s visit. MSD argued that 3 News had agreed to let someone from SDS view the footage before it went to air, but did not honour this. Ms Peterson argued that it was unfair for the reporter not to contact SDS for its side of the story.

[226]  The reporter considered that 3 News was under no obligation to notify SDS of its visit. She said that SDS had a full week to contact her and that she had left her business card. TVWorks noted that 3 News had spoken to two people who were involved in the project and their views were included in the item. The news team maintained that it had not agreed to let SDS view the footage prior to broadcast.

[227]  In our view, it was not necessary in the interests of fairness for 3 News to specifically offer SDS an opportunity to comment for the story. Its views were adequately presented by the two representatives of the project who were interviewed for the item. Further, we consider that it was adequate that the reporter left her business card and requested photos, and allowed SDS a week to contact her. The broadcaster was under no obligation to allow SDS to view the footage for the story before it went to air, or to contact SDS prior to the reporter’s visit to the site.

[228]  We are satisfied that SDS was treated fairly, and we therefore decline to uphold this part of the complaints.

15 February item

[229]  MSD argued that the following aspects of the 15 February item were unfair:

  • The interview with Debbie Power
  • Reference to MSD as “the Ministry of cowboy spending”
  • Footage of the horse project
  • Editing of Mr Davis’ interview.

Interview with Debbie Power

[230]  MSD argued that the interview was edited in a manner that distorted what the Maungapohatu project achieved. It considered that it made Ms Power look evasive, when the reporter said that MSD “tried to stop the interview”. The news team said that it had interviewed the project provider Richard Tu Marae about the outcomes of the project, and his responses were included in the item. It maintained that the clip of Ms Power was a fair and accurate representation of what happened when the reporter put to her Tame Iti’s possible involvement in purchasing the horses.

[231]  We have already found under accuracy that the clip of Ms Power’s interview was not misleading. It was clear that Ms Power had answered the question put to her, saying, “that’s not the information that I understand”, and that it was someone else who had tried to stop the interview. We consider that it was legitimate for 3 News to ask Ms Power about Tame Iti’s involvement with the project. We also agree that Mr Tu Marae was given a fair and reasonable opportunity to present his views on the aims and outcomes of the project.

[232]  Accordingly, we find that the item was not unfair to Ms Power or MSD in this respect.

Reference to “the Ministry of cowboy spending”

[233]  We have found under accuracy that this comment, while hyperbolic, was not misleading because the spending was covered in more detail during the item (see paragraph [183]). While we consider that the comment was somewhat sensational, we are satisfied that as a government Ministry, MSD should expect scrutiny and criticism of this nature in relation to its spending. Accordingly, we find that the comment was not unfair.

Footage used in relation to the horse project

[234]  MSD argued that the footage of horses roaming in Maungapohatu made it appear that no horses were broken in, or if they had been they had been released, which implied that the project was worthless. It argued that this was unfair. The news team said that the footage was obtained with the permission of the wife of the project provider, and to show what had happened to 27 of the horses since the project finished. It said that the project was not portrayed as worthless, and noted that comments about its outcomes were included from Richard Tumarae. It considered that the item fairly and accurately portrayed the project.

[235]  We consider that, as television is a visual medium, it was not unexpected that an item about a project involving horses would be illustrated using footage of horses. In our view, the footage would not have created any lasting impression for viewers about the value of the Maungapohatu project or its outcomes. We therefore find that the item was not unfair in this respect.

Editing of Mr Davis’ interview

[236]  MSD argued that the item failed to include information about the outcomes of the carving project. It argued that Mr Davis considered the clips of him misrepresented what he said in the interview, and included a statement from him. The news team said that the item reported the outcomes for the 10 workers involved, and considered that it was legitimate to report that for a $206,000 scheme, only one appeared to have got a job.

[237]  We note that the item contained the following comments from Mr Davis:

  • “The boys were initially here to carve the pou for the cycleway but I think that was just the, you know, the tip of it.”
  • “It’s also the life skills of just turning up and being at work every day and this particular project had very good stats in regard to people turning up. There were those that did miss [days] but in the main you know, these guys turned up every day ready for work and really excited about what they were doing.”

[238]  In our view, the item adequately presented Mr Davis’ views on the worth of the project and its outcomes. We do not consider that the item was unfair in this respect.

16 February item 1

[239]  MSD argued that the item created the impression that it paid $1000 a metre to have a fence built, which was unfair.

[240]  We found above under accuracy that the comment in the teaser for this item, “the fence the Ministry paid $1000 a metre to build”, had the potential to be misleading (see paragraph [200]). However, we concluded that the item clarified this point, and clearly explained that the Opotiki project involved a wide range of work, done by five workers, and that “all up” it cost $50,000. It was clear from the item that the 50-metre fence did not cost $1,000 per metre to build.

[241]  Accordingly, we are satisfied that the item was not unfair to MSD.

16 February item 2

[242]  MSD argued that the coverage of the Celebration Centre Trust project misled viewers by focusing only on one aspect of the project. As outlined under accuracy, the reporter maintained that the angle of the story was comparing two hip-hop projects funded by National and Labour. He outlined the cost and outcomes of the hip-hop aspect of the Celebration Centre Trust project, and considered it unnecessary to explain the other aspects of the project.

[243]  We have already found above that this item was not unbalanced or misleading. We reiterate our view that the focus of the item was not the Community Max projects, but rather, as described by the reporter, a comparison of two hip-hop related projects funded under different governments. Accordingly, it was not unfair to omit detailed information about the Trust’s projects.

Conclusion

[244]  For the reasons outlined in paragraphs [144] to [148] and [217] above, and taking into account TVWorks’ right to freedom of expression, we are satisfied that MSD was not treated unfairly in the presentation of these items.

[245]  We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaints.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[246]  Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community. Ms Peterson argued that the 14 February item denigrated the young people who worked on the SDS garden project.

[247]  In our view, the workers on the community garden project do not constitute a “section of the community” to which Standard 7 applies. In any case, we have found above under fairness that the items did not make any judgement about the workers or the quality of their work, but rather focused on the value of MSD’s Community Max scheme.

[248]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of Ms Peterson’s complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
13 September 2011

Appendix

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

MSD’s complaint

1                 Ministry of Social Development’s formal complaint – 3 March 2011

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 6 April 2011

3                 MSD’s referral to the Authority – 8 April 2011

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 29 June and 1 July 2011

5                 MSD’s final comment – 12 July 2011

6                 TVWorks’ final comment – 31 August 2011

7                 MSD’s response to the final comment – 5 September 2011

 

Priscilla Peterson’s complaint

8                 Priscilla Peterson’s formal complaint – 3 March 2011

9                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 6 April 2011

10               Ms Peterson’s referral to the Authority – 8 April 2011

11               TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 4 May 2011