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Association for Independent Research Inc and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2013-059

Members

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

Complainant

  • Association for Independent Research Inc of Christchurch

Dated

1st April 2014

Number

2013-059

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

An item on One News reported on overseas studies showing that even low levels of air pollution can be harmful. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the comment that ‘the European Union’s recommended standard… is even more stringent than the standard here’, and the accompanying graphic, were inaccurate. Taken in the context of the whole item, the statement was sufficiently clarified so viewers would not have been misled. The key message was that air pollution is a serious problem impacting on public health, so New Zealand should consider adopting standards applied in other countries, not currently applied here.

Not Upheld: Accuracy           


Introduction

[1]  An item on One News reported on overseas studies showing that even low levels of air pollution can be harmful. The presenter asked, ‘So how does New Zealand stack up in relation to the major research from Europe and China?’ The reporter briefly outlined the research results, and stated:

The research… found that even low levels of air pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer… levels below the European Union’s recommended standard, which is even more stringent than the standard here…[our emphasis]

[2]  A graphic appeared onscreen depicting a graph with horizontal lines representing the ‘EU Standards’, the ‘NZ Standards’ and ‘Actual Levels’ of air pollution in New Zealand. The ‘EU Standards’ appeared at the lowest point on the graph, with the ‘NZ Standards’ slightly higher. The third line – representing ‘Actual Levels’ of air pollution – moved upwards to the highest point on the graph, as the reporter continued:

…and on many days here in New Zealand, particularly in winter, towns and cities across the country far exceed those standards.

[3]  The item was broadcast on TV ONE on 16 July 2013.

Scope of complaint

[4]  The Association of Independent Research Incorporated (AIR Inc.) made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the reporter inaccurately stated that European Union standards for acceptable air pollution were ‘more stringent’ than the equivalent New Zealand standards.

[5]  AIR Inc. did not explicitly raise any standards in its original complaint. On this basis, TVNZ considered the complaint under Standard 5 (accuracy) only, and advised AIR Inc. to contact it within a week if it wanted other standards considered. The complainant responded: ‘your decision to investigate this complaint under Standard 5 Accuracy in the first instance seems to us appropriate in the circumstances’. AIR Inc. then sought to raise additional standards and issues in its referral.

[6]  Pursuant to the Broadcasting Act 1989, our task is to review the broadcaster’s decision, meaning we cannot consider matters which did not form part of the original complaint. Accordingly, we have limited our determination to Standard 5. The issue therefore is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy standard, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

Was the item inaccurate or misleading?

[8]  The accuracy standard (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 objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.1

[9]  The issue is whether the reporter’s statement comparing air pollution standards in New Zealand and Europe, and the graph plotting ‘EU Standards’, ‘NZ Standards’, and ‘Actual levels’ of air pollution, were inaccurate or misleading.

[10]  AIR Inc. distinguished between two types of air pollution: PM10 and PM2.5. It argued that the reporter’s statement was inaccurate ‘at least insofar as PM10 is concerned…’, and, ‘as for PM2.5… while no such standard applies in New Zealand currently, since the World Health Organisation [WHO] guideline for PM10... is frequently met… I imagine the EU PM2.5 standard… would, typically, be more easily attainable in New Zealand’. The complainant argued that the item inaccurately portrayed Europe’s air pollution standard for PM10 as ‘more stringent’ than the equivalent New Zealand standard.

[11]  TVNZ maintained the report was accurate, saying that health issues caused by PM2.5 (not PM10) were the focus of the One News item. It said that while New Zealand standards for ‘some airborne contaminants including… PM10… are similar or equivalent to the EU standards, EU standards also cover contaminants such as PM2.5 which New Zealand standards do not’. In regard to the health implications of PM2.5, it referred to the WHO estimate that:

…fine particulate air pollution (PM(2.5)), causes about 3% of mortality from cardiopulmonary disease, about 5% of mortality from cancer of the trachea, bronchus, and lung, and about 5% of mortality from acute respiratory infections in children under 5 [years], worldwide.

[12]  We asked the Ministry for the Environment (MfE), as the appropriate agency dealing with environmental issues, for its expert opinion on the accuracy of the item.

[13]  MfE advised that ‘there are two main components to a standard, namely, the threshold concentration for a contaminant and the permitted exceedances of the standard’. It said that while the EU standards were more stringent in some instances, New Zealand standards were more stringent in others, depending on the specific contaminants and permitted exceedances being referred to. MfE concluded that ‘it would not be possible to compare the stringency of our standards with [the EU’s] by generally referring to “air pollution” without identifying which contaminant and what aspects of the standard are being compared’.

[14]  The reporter’s statement that the EU standard was ‘more stringent than the standard here’ and the graph comparing standards and actual level of air pollution in New Zealand, did not explicitly identify which standards or contaminants were being compared. When considered in isolation, the statement was open to being interpreted as a general reference to air pollution standards (or according to the complainant, to PM10), which could be considered misleading given MfE’s advice that:

Different areas in NZ have different permissible exceedances for PM10 based on the area’s status. For non-polluted areas, the permissible exceedance is 1 in a 12-month period, hence, it may be considered more stringent than the 35 allowed by the EU standard… [our emphasis]

[15]  However, the statement cannot be interpreted in isolation; it must be taken in the context of the report as a whole. Taking the report in its entirety, we are satisfied that adequate clarification was given to indicate that the focus of the report was PM2.5. Following the statement and graphic, the reporter went on to clarify, saying:

In New Zealand there are standards for PM10 which is the kind of pollution that comes from burning coal and wood and from petrol exhaust fumes, but none for PM2.5 which are the much smaller particles which come from diesel exhaust. [our emphasis]

[16]  This was followed by comment from a doctor from Emission Impossible Ltd:

Certainly, given the press that we are seeing in places like China, Chile, [and] now the study from Europe, showing that [PM]2.5 is a serious emerging issue, we really should be looking at it for New Zealand. [our emphasis]

[17]  When taken in context, it is apparent that the comment and graphic were intended to give a general picture of how New Zealand compared to Europe, with the latter comments (at paragraphs [15] and [16]) explaining why EU standards were interpreted as being ‘more stringent’. The oral and graphic comparison between EU and New Zealand standards were intended to represent PM2.5, not air pollution standards generally, and not PM10. As the EU has standards for PM2.5 which New Zealand does not, it was accurate to describe the EU standards as ‘more stringent’ in this respect.

[18]  The key message conveyed by the report was that air pollution is a serious problem impacting on public health, as studies show that even low levels, and specifically PM2.5 particles, can cause significant health issues, and that New Zealand does not currently have standards covering these contaminants, as other countries do. The technicalities of the different types of air pollution, and different standards covering those, would have gone over the heads of most viewers. It was not necessary to give a more detailed breakdown of the standards and how they compared, in this brief report.

[19]  We are therefore satisfied that the summary of the relative differences between the EU and New Zealand standards for air pollution would not have misled viewers, 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
1 April 2014

Appendix
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1                  AIR Inc.’s formal complaint emails – 18 and 22 July 2013

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 16 August 2013

3                 AIR Inc.’s referral to the Authority – 1 September 2013

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 16 October 2013

5                 AIR Inc.’s final comment – 30 October 2013

6                 Further comments from AIR Inc. – 26 December 2013

7                 MfE’s response to Authority’s request for further information – 28 January 2014

8                 AIR Inc.’s response to information provided by MfE – 6 February 2014

9                 TVNZ’s response to information provided by MfE – 13 February 2014

10               AIR Inc.’s response to TVNZ – 14 February 2014


1Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036