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Macfarlane and TVWorks Ltd - 2012-001

Members

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

Complainant

  • Stuart Macfarlane of Auckland

Dated

27th March 2012

Number

2012-001

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item included clips in which reporter tried to obtain comment from ACT leader Don Brash, and Mr Brash refused – allegedly unfair

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – item broadcast in lead-up to the general election – Mr Brash chose to refuse to comment on a subject that other party leaders had freely commented on – clips themselves were not edited – not unfair to Mr Brash – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on 31 October 2011 reported that political party leaders were meeting to discuss Labour’s proposal to raise the retirement age. The reporter explained that he had tried to get comment on the issue from the then ACT Party leader Don Brash, who refused. The item showed four different clips of the reporter trying to obtain comment from Mr Brash, who responded with comments such as, “I don’t want to talk to you”. The item included comment from Labour leader Phil Goff, and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

[2]  Stuart Macfarlane made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the reporter “presented a clip in which Don Brash was shown rapidly repeating the same phrase to the general effect of ‘No, I did not’”, and “rapidly repeating a refusal to give an interview”. The complainant considered that “the series of shots was gratuitous and designed to make him look foolish”, that one clip would have made the point that Mr Brash refused to be interviewed, and that the clips amounted to electioneering by the reporter.

[3]  The issue is whether the item breached Standard 6 (fairness) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was Don Brash treated unfairly?

[5]  Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.1

[6]  TVWorks disagreed that the story made Mr Brash look foolish. It considered that the attempts to obtain comment from him were relevant because political party leaders had met with business leaders to discuss the retirement age, and other leaders had provided comment on that issue. It said that the footage demonstrated his reluctance to be interviewed, Mr Brash knew he was being filmed, and his choice not to respond was an informed one.

[7]  The Authority has generally accepted that the threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to politicians or public figures is higher than for a lay person or someone unfamiliar with dealing with the media.2 This item was broadcast in the context of election campaigning leading up to the general election, and discussed one of the key policy issues canvassed during the election period. Politicians should expect to be questioned and asked for comment on election issues. While other party leaders had openly commented on that issue following their meeting with business leaders, Mr Brash had chosen not to comment, and it was legitimate to demonstrate this in the item.

[8]  Further, while the item showed several clips of Mr Brash, each instance was shown unedited. We disagree that simply by showing multiple clips the broadcaster made Mr Brash look “foolish”.

[9]  The item was broadcast in a robust political environment, and political discussion – especially in the lead-up to a general election – is a key component of the right to freedom of expression. We therefore find that Mr Brash was not treated unfairly and we decline to uphold the complaint.  

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
27 March 2012

Appendix

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

1                  Stuart Macfarlane’s formal complaint – 18 November 2011

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 21 December 2011

3                 Mr Macfarlane’s referral to the Authority – 9 January 2012

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 1 February 2012


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

2See, for example, Bauld and RNZ, Decision No. 2011-150 at paragraph [8].