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McGlinn and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-108

Members

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

Complainant

  • Diana McGlinn of Christchurch

Dated

22nd November 2011

Number

2011-108

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – reported on impact of the warm winter on New Zealand’s winter athletes and their training regimes – newsreader and reporter described Piera Hudson as “one of the world’s top junior skiers” and “one of the top junior female skiers in the world, [who] has recently been selected in the New Zealand Junior Winter Olympics squad” – included footage of Piera competing at Topolino ski games as voiceover stated, “Piera ended the European season well, seen here competing at the junior world champs in Italy in March where she came fourteenth in the slalom” – statements allegedly inaccurate

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – average viewer would have interpreted terms “junior” and “top” skier in accordance with their ordinary meaning – phrase “junior world champs” was used colloquially and not to denote formal title of event – item correctly stated that Piera had been selected for the New Zealand Junior Winter Olympics Squad – item was not inaccurate and would not have mislead viewers – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]  An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 2 July 2011, reported on the impact of the warm winter on New Zealand’s winter athletes and their training regimes. The item focused on 15-year-old Piera Hudson, who the newsreader and reporter described as “one of the world’s top junior skiers” and “one of the top junior female skiers in the world, [who] has recently been selected in the New Zealand Junior Winter Olympics Squad.” The item included footage of Piera competing at the Topolino ski games, as the reporter stated, via voiceover, “Piera ended the European season well, seen here competing at the junior world champs in Italy in March where she came fourteenth in the slalom.”

Complaint

[2]  Diana McGlinn made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the news item breached Standard 5 (accuracy).

[3]  The complainant argued that it was inaccurate to describe Piera as “one of the world’s top junior female skiers”. She noted that ski racers up to the age of 14 raced in the categories E1, E2, K1 and K2 depending on their age, and asserted that, until the end of June, Piera was classed as a K2 athlete. As the K2 athletes had no world ranking system, she argued that it was inaccurate to describe Piera as was one of the “world’s best”, as there was no system to measure her results against her peers’. She also argued that it was inaccurate to describe Piera as a “junior” because in ski racing that term applied to athletes aged from 15 to 20 years. She contended that Piera only became eligible to race as a junior in the season commencing 1 July 2011.

[4]  Ms McGlinn argued that the item’s reference to the “junior world champs” in Italy was also inaccurate. She asserted that the Junior World Champs were held in Switzerland and that the races referred to in the item were a series of children’s races held annually in Topolino.  

[5]  In addition, the complainant argued that the news item created an inaccurate impression that Piera had already been selected to represent New Zealand at the Junior Olympics. She asserted that the two athletes representing New Zealand in alpine ski racing would not be selected until after the conclusion of FIS racing in September.

Standards

[6]  The complainant raised Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in her complaint, which provides:

Standard 5 Accuracy

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

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

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[7]  TVNZ contended that the facts in the item came from Ski Racing New Zealand (SRNZ), a credible source, which had confirmed that the information presented was correct. It said that the organisation had informed it that Piera was one of the world’s top junior skiers and that she had been selected for the New Zealand Junior Winter Olympics Squad. On this basis, the broadcaster considered that Piera was internationally competitive and achieving at the top level, and that it was fair to describe her as “one of the world’s top junior female skiers” who had been selected for the Junior Olympics Squad.

[8]  The broadcaster asserted that SRNZ “says that ‘junior’ is a term that is used very loosely throughout the world”, and that it was confusing and could have different meanings in different countries. The organisation confirmed that Piera was definitely regarded as a junior skier in New Zealand as she was 15 years old, it said. In addition, it said that SRNZ had confirmed that Topolino was regarded as the World Championship event and the top international event for junior racers.

[9]  TVNZ said that it was confident in the veracity of the information obtained from SRNZ and it declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[10]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms McGlinn referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She maintained that the information contained in the news item was inaccurate and asserted that SRNZ, whom TVNZ described as a “credible source”, no longer existed as it was dissolved in 2010.

Authority’s Request for Further Information

[11]  We asked Snow Sport New Zealand (SSNZ) to provide us with information to assist with the determination of this complaint. In response, the Chair of SSNZ provided the following comments with regard to each of the alleged inaccuracies:

“Piera Hudson is one of the world’s top junior skiers”

[12]  The Chair noted that the term “junior” in ski racing referred to competitors aged 15-19 years, and observed that at the time of the report, Piera was a Kinder 2 competitor aged 13-14 years. Therefore the Chair stated that it was technically incorrect to describe Piera as a “junior”, although they noted that to a lay person the term could also mean “child”. They advised that there are no world rankings for children in ski racing, but said “There is no doubt that Piera is very talented and has been successful”. The Chair stated, “One could argue that because she has competed with top 10 results at Topolino and Whistler Cup that she was indeed world class as a Kinder athlete.”

“Piera ended the European season well, seen here competing at the Junior World Champs in Italy...”

[13]  The Chair noted that the official Junior World Champs were not held in Italy, that Piera did not attend the Junior World Champs and was not eligible to attend the event as she was too young at the time. She did however attend the international children’s event at Topolino in Italy, which is “viewed as the pinnacle event for children each season”, they said.

“[Piera] has recently been selected in the New Zealand Junior Winter Olympics Squad”

[14]  The Chair confirmed that Piera was named in the New Zealand Junior Olympics (training) Squad in May 2011, and was selected as part of the team in September 2011.

Broadcaster’s Final Comment

[15]  TVNZ contended that the complaint was one of semantics in that the complainant sought to apply the strict ski meaning to terms that most viewers would have understood in their much broader sense.

[16]  The broadcaster said that, while it understood the term “junior” had a specific meaning in the ski racing world, it was used in the item to mean young person or child, and considered that this was how it would have been understood by the average news viewer.

[17]  TVNZ maintained that it was accurate to describe Piera as “one of the top junior female skiers in the world”. The item did not claim that she had been ranked, but referred to the fact that she was placing well as she finished in the top 10 at two of the world’s premier children’s events, it said.

[18]  With regard to the statement that Piera had recently been selected in the New Zealand Junior Winter Olympics Squad, the broadcaster pointed to SSNZ’s response which confirmed that Piera was named in the New Zealand Junior Winter Olympic (training) Squad in May 2011, and selected for the team in September. On this basis, it maintained that the item was accurate and would not have misled viewers.

[19]  The broadcaster asserted that the term “junior world champs” was used on the basis of information provided by the Director of Coach Development (director) at SSNZ. It therefore considered that One News made reasonable efforts to ensure that the information was accurate and did not mislead.

[20]  TVNZ provided comment from the reporter, who said that the terms “top” and “junior” were used in their generic, as opposed to technical sense. By way of clarification, the reporter noted that the director said he was from SRNZ, though that organisation had officially now become SSNZ, and she asserted that they were essentially the same organisation.

[21]  The broadcaster concluded that the issues raised in the complaint were not material to the item, and that in any event, reasonable efforts were made to ensure that the item was accurate. Accordingly, it maintained that Standard 5 had not been breached.

Authority’s Determination

[22]  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.

[23]  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 breached Standard 5 because it contained a number of statements that used ski racing terminology in a manner that was technically imprecise. 

[24]  The Authority has previously stated that the purpose of the accuracy standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled. Therefore, in determining whether to uphold the complaint, we take into account the nature and focus of the item, in terms of how it would have been interpreted and understood by the average viewer. We note that the general focus of the item was the impact of the warm weather on New Zealand’s winter athletes. To illustrate this point, the reporter interviewed Piera Hudson, a young successful New Zealand ski racer.

[25]  In these circumstances, we consider that the average viewer of the news item would have interpreted the terms “junior” and “top” skier in accordance with their ordinary, colloquial meaning, as opposed to denoting technical ski racing terminology. In our view, the lack of preciseness in the use of the terms did not result in the item being inaccurate or misleading for the purposes of Standard 5. Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

[26]  Similarly, we do not consider that the phrase “junior world champs” was used in a technical sense to refer to the official title of the ski racing event (the FIS Alpine World Junior Ski Championships) or that viewers would have interpreted it that way. Rather, it was used colloquially to refer to a set of well known international races described by SSNZ as “the pinnacle event for children each season”. Further, we emphasise that the reporter based this statement on information obtained from SSNZ, and we therefore consider that reasonable efforts were made to ensure that this aspect of the item was accurate and did not mislead.

[27]  SSNZ informed us that Piera was selected for the New Zealand Junior Olympics (training) Squad in May 2011, and was selected for the team in September. Accordingly, we find that it was not inaccurate or misleading for the reporter to say that she had been selected for the squad.

[28]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
22 November 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Diana McGlinn’s formal complaint – 4 July 2011

2                 Ms McGlinn’s further submissions on her complaint – 13 July 2011

3                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 1 August 2011

4                 Ms McGlinn’s referral to the Authority – 16 August 2011

5                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 23 September 2011

6                 Authority’s request for information from SSNZ – 11 October 2011

7                 SSNZ’s response to the Authority’s request for further information – 18 October 2011

8                 TVNZ’s final comment – 1 November 2011