Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Fair Go – item reported on saving fuel costs – contained a number statements about hybrid cars, including the following comment which referred to the Toyota Prius, “The bottom line is that the British Consumer’s Institute just did a comparison between a diesel car and a hybrid car and found that the diesel car was in fact more efficient. You know, cars like the Toyota Prius are a great eco public relations gesture” – allegedly in breach of standards relating to accuracy, fairness, discrimination and denigration and responsible programming
Standard 5 (accuracy) – statements clearly distinguishable as interviewees’ opinions and therefore exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a – not upheld
Standard 6 (fairness) – item not unfair to Toyota – not upheld
Standard 8 (responsible programming) – item did not contain any content that would have alarmed or distressed viewers – not upheld
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – complainant did not specify a section of the community who he considered had been denigrated or discriminated against – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An item on Fair Go, broadcast at 7.30pm on Wednesday 25 May 2011, reported on saving fuel costs. Introducing the item, the presenter stated:
Petrol has fallen 17 cents a litre since I started this story, but experts say it can’t last. One [expert] says, “Don’t believe the government’s fuel efficiency figures,” so who should you believe?
 The item cut to a pre-recorded segment, in which the presenter set out to provide advice to viewers about who they should believe regarding fuel efficiency. Explaining the premise of the item, the presenter stated:
We have no control over petrol prices, but we can control what we drive and how we drive. So, can you save yourself some money? Well yes it is possible to make great choices and use less fuel, but you have to be careful what and who you believe.
 The item included a number of comments about hybrid cars, including one reference to the Toyota Prius, for example:
 Continuing the comparison between diesel and hybrid vehicles, the presenter asked, “So, is it true that [hybrids] are gutless?” and Mr Anderson was shown commenting, “The hybrids being sold in New Zealand certainly perform alright. They’re not underpowered at all.”
 Investigating the notion that hybrid vehicles were “gutless”, the presenter entered into a race driving a hybrid vehicle, competing against a ride-on lawn mower. At the end of the item, the presenter noted that the hybrid had won.
 Back in the studio, the presenter informed viewers that the government fuel efficiency figures referred to by Mr Matthew-Wilson could be found online. She stated, “Both Toyota and Honda stand by the figures provided and the testing process. They also offer eight-year warranty on their cars, on their hybrid cars, which includes the battery.”
 Ron Kiernander made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards relating to accuracy, fairness, discrimination and denigration and responsible programming.
 The complainant said that he owned a Toyota Prius, and that it was a very economical and reliable vehicle. He said that he had lodged the complaint because someone had informed him that he intended to sell his Toyota Prius, but that the sale had fallen through after the buyer viewed the Fair Go item.
 Mr Kiernander argued that the item’s reference to the Toyota Prius was misleading and unbalanced because it was made out to be a “lemon with no redeeming features”. He contended that the item was inaccurate because it likened the car to a ride-on lawn mower, claimed that fuel consumption on long trips was little better than other similar cars and that the battery would have to be replaced after five years. He considered that if Fair Go intended to regularly review vehicles it should conduct full and accurate research before doing so.
 Mr Kiernander nominated Standards 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. These provide:
Standard 5 Accuracy
Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:
- is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or
- does not mislead.
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.
Standard 8 Responsible Programming
Broadcasters should ensure programmes:
- are appropriately classified;
- display programme classification information;
- adhere to timebands in accordance with Appendix 1;
- are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress; and
- do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.
 Looking first at accuracy, the broadcaster argued that at no point did the item liken the performance of hybrid vehicles to a ride-on lawn mower. While it accepted that the presenter took part in a light-hearted race with a ride-on lawn mower, it said that this was intended to dispel the “commonly held misconception” that hybrid vehicles were “gutless”. It considered that the message was positive and supportive of hybrid cars, noting that the presenter won the race, thereby establishing “by very unscientific means that hybrids are not gutless”.
 TVNZ asserted that during the item, Mr Matthew-Wilson offered his personal opinion on the performance of hybrid vehicles, to which he was entitled under broadcasting standards. It noted that later in the item, he expressed his understanding of a British Consumers’ Institute report which found that diesels were more efficient than hybrids, and said that it had no reason to disbelieve the veracity of those comments.
 The broadcaster noted that both Honda and Toyota were consulted prior to the broadcast and that their perspectives were included in the back-announce to the story when the presenter stated, “Both Toyota and Honda stand by the figures provided and the testing process. They also offer eight-year warranty on their hybrid cars, which includes the battery.” It considered that this clarified any confusion over the battery life of hybrids, and that, in any event, the item did not explicitly state that hybrid batteries would need to be replaced after five years. TVNZ was of the view that the point being made by Mr Anderson, when he gave his personal opinion that second-hand cars would need their batteries replaced, related more to the cost of the battery, as opposed to the battery life.
 TVNZ concluded that most viewers would have been able to distinguish between the facts presented on the programme and the comments made by guests, which constituted their personal opinions. It did not consider that the item contained any material errors of fact or that it would have misled viewers. Accordingly, it declined to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.
 The broadcaster noted that Standard 6 was designed to ensure that individuals and organisations referred to in broadcasts were treated fairly. It considered this part of the complaint in terms of fairness to Toyota, in particular with regard to the item’s reference to the Toyota Prius. TVNZ asserted that the focus of the item was the performance of hybrid cars in general, and that it did not investigate the performance of specific makes and models. Further, it said that the item did not contain any footage of the Toyota Prius and there was only one verbal reference to “cars like the Toyota Prius”, which was not specifically directed at that type of vehicle. It reiterated that Fair Go had consulted Toyota prior to the broadcast and that its perspective on the issues was included at the end of the story. TVNZ maintained that Toyota was “comfortable” with the item’s content, and noted that the company had not complained about the item.
 For these reasons, the broadcaster considered that Toyota was treated fairly and it declined to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.
 With regard to Standard 7, TVNZ noted that the complainant had not identified any section of the community he considered had been discriminated against or denigrated in the item. Accordingly, it declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 7.
 The broadcaster stated that the responsible programming standard existed to ensure that programmes were correctly classified and that ratings were displayed. It noted that Fair Go was unclassified because it was a “topical weekly programme which sits under the news and current affairs banner”. It considered that the content of this episode was consistent with the programme’s PGR timeslot and argued that it did not contain any material that would have caused panic, unwarranted alarm or undue distress.
 Accordingly, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 8.
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Kiernander referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He provided the Authority with a number of documents and articles about the Toyota Prius.
 The complainant contended that, as far as performance was concerned, the item did nothing “to dispel the notion that hybrids are gutless”. In his view, Fair Go had relied on the opinions of “two self-styled experts”, and argued that this was only acceptable where there was also “balance backed by facts”. He contended that the figures reported in the item for the hybrids made by Toyota and Honda were prepared by the Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), “not the New Zealand Government Fuel Economy figures”.
 Mr Kiernander argued that Mr Matthew-Wilson’s comments regarding highway cruising were not supported by ANCAP test runs. He referred to the comment that “[hybrid vehicles’] party trick is two things: one, they creep forward on battery power alone in stop-start traffic, and two, they can switch themselves off at the lights”. He conceded that while this may have been correct, “the main reason for their economy is that when slowing for a corner, traffic lights, or on a downhill slope the battery is charged by the electric motor on the overrun. That energy is then used to augment the petrol motor on a flat or an inclining road.”
 The complainant referred to Mr Anderson’s statement “When they’re six or seven years old the cars will be basically scrap”. He asserted that, “even allowing for some negotiating of prices it would appear that the Prius used prices reflect an average depreciation considering the mileage.” Further, he contended that Toyota had confirmed that it had never replaced a battery in New Zealand and so the battery life of the Toyota Prius remained unknown.
 With regard to the broadcaster’s assertion that the Fair Go item would not have caused undue distress, Mr Kiernander said that the person he knew whose car sale had fallen through had certainly suffered some distress. In his view, the item was irresponsible because it was in the national interest to see oil-based fuel replaced with electricity.
 The complainant maintained that Standards 5, 6, 7 and 8 had been breached.
 The broadcaster argued that Mr Kiernander’s complaint related to his personal preferences in terms of what he considered should have been included in the item. It asserted that the way in which Fair Go presented the programme was a matter of editorial discretion and not an issue of broadcasting standards capable of being resolved by this complaints procedure.
 Mr Kiernander provided the Authority with further information on hybrid cars. He asserted that research indicated that by 2012, 25 major manufacturers would be offering hybrids in their range, including performance cars which claimed increased acceleration and top speed. He contended that overseas hybrids were considered to be very important in reducing the use of oil and the reduction of emissions, and that to this end, many European countries offered purchasing incentives for hybrid vehicles.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 Standard 5 states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.
 The complainant argued that the item was inaccurate and misleading because it compared the Toyota Prius to a ride-on lawn mower, claimed that its fuel consumption on long trips was little better than other similar cars, and claimed that the battery would have to be replaced after five years.
 While the item included various statements about the efficiency of hybrid vehicles in general, we note that it only contained one specific reference to the Toyota Prius, when Mr Matthew-Wilson stated:
The bottom line is that the British Consumer’s Institute just did a comparison between a diesel car and a hybrid car and found that the diesel car was in fact more efficient. You know, cars like the Toyota Prius are a great eco public relations gesture. (our emphasis)
 In our view, this statement was clearly distinguishable as Mr Matthew-Wilson’s commentary and personal opinion on hybrid cars, including the Toyota Prius, and was clearly sourced to a reputable outlet. Accordingly, we find that this statement was exempt from standards of accuracy in accordance with Guideline 5a, which states that Standard 5 does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.
 In addition, the item contained the following statements with regard to hybrid vehicles (not specifically the Toyota Prius):
 In our view, these statements also fell within the ambit of guideline 5a to Standard 5, as they were clearly the opinions of the interviewees. We consider that these comments were highly informative and unbiased; the guests explicitly identified some positive features of hybrid vehicles, while also listing aspects they considered to be the hybrids’ downfall.
 For these reasons, we do not consider that the item was inaccurate or that it would have misled viewers in any of the respects alleged by the complainant. We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.
 Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.
 The complainant did not make any specific arguments with regard to fairness. TVNZ assessed the complaint in terms of fairness to Toyota, being an organisation referred to in the programme for the purposes of Standard 6.
 At the outset, we emphasise our view that the focus of the item was the performance of hybrid cars in general, and not an investigation into the performance of specific makes and models. The item provided useful information and advice to viewers with regard to getting good value for money when purchasing a vehicle. In this respect, we consider that Mr Matthew-Wilson’s reference to the Toyota Prius was not specifically directed at that make and model, but was used as an example of a hybrid car, in the context of relaying the results of a report which found that diesel vehicles were more efficient than hybrids.
 As noted above, the item included comments which listed the positive features of hybrid cars, for example, Mr Anderson stated, “You’re driving a very fuel efficient car with low emissions which is good for the environment and getting good fuel consumption...” On this basis, we do not consider that viewers would have been left with an unfair impression that the fuel efficiency of the Toyota Prius “was little better than other similar cars”, as contended by the complainant.
 Further, we note that TVNZ gave Toyota an opportunity to comment for the item, and its perspective was included, when the presenter stated, “Both Toyota and Honda stand by the figures provided and the testing process. They also offer eight-year warranty on their hybrid cars which includes the battery.”
 For these reasons, we do not consider that Toyota was treated unfairly in breach of Standard 6 and we therefore decline to uphold this part of the complaint.
 Standard 8 requires that programmes are correctly classified, display programme classification information, and adhere to the time-bands set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code. It also requires that programmes are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, unwarranted alarm, or undue distress.
 In his referral, Mr Kiernander argued that the item was irresponsible because it was in the national interest to see oil based fuel replaced with electricity. He also said that the item had caused undue distress to his acquaintance.
 We note that Fair Go is an unclassified consumer affairs programme with an adult target audience. For the reasons discussed above under Standards 5 and 6, we do not consider that the item contained anything that would have alarmed or distressed most viewers.
 Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.
 Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.
 Mr Kiernander did not make any arguments under Standard 7 or identify a section of the community that he considered had been denigrated or discriminated against. Accordingly, we have no basis on which to uphold the complaint under Standard 7.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
18 October 2011
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Ron Kiernander’s formal complaint – 8 June 2011
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 8 July 2011
3 Mr Kiernander’s referral to the Authority – 29 July 2011
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 1 September 2011
5 Mr Kiernander’s further comments – 13 September 2011