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Jenkinson and Johnson and TVWorks Ltd - 2014-006

Members

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

Complainants

  • Stephen Jenkinson of Waipawa
  • Jeffrey Johnson of Auckland

Dated

2nd May 2014

Number

2014-006

Programme

3 News: Firstline

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


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

During 3 News: Firstline, TV3’s political correspondent commented that Colin Craig was the ‘toilet paper’ of conservative politics and ‘he’s got the Christians [voting for him]’. The Authority did not uphold two complaints that these comments were unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair. The segment clearly comprised the correspondent’s own analysis and commentary rather than statements of fact, so viewers would not have been misled and the broadcaster was not required to present other views. As the leader of a political party, Mr Craig should expect criticism and scrutiny, so the comments were not unfair.

Not Upheld: Fairness, Accuracy, Controversial Issues, Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  During 3 News: Firstline, TV3’s political correspondent commented that Colin Craig was the ‘toilet paper’ of conservative politics, and that ‘he’s got the Christians [voting for him]’. The item was broadcast on TV3 on 24 October 2013.

[2]  Stephen Jenkinson and Jeffrey Johnson made formal complaints to TVWorks Ltd, alleging that these comments were inaccurate, unbalanced and unfair to Colin Craig and the Conservative Party.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the fairness, accuracy and controversial issues standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. We have summarised our findings on the other standards raised at paragraph [23] below.

[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 Colin Craig treated unfairly?

[5]  The fairness standard (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]  While commenting on the rivalry developing between New Zealand First and the Conservative Party, the political correspondent said:

Now I have to say, [presenter’s name], that Winston Peters is the silk of socially conservative politics in New Zealand, and Colin Craig is, by comparison… the toilet paper of conservative politics… He’s got the Christians, but he hasn’t gone any further than that.

[7]  Mr Jenkinson argued that the ‘comparison of Mr Craig to toilet paper and the suggestion that his supporters consisted exclusively of Christians was untrue and unfair.’ The broadcaster maintained that Mr Craig should expect public scrutiny, and that the comments did not amount to personal abuse.

[8]  The Authority has consistently recognised 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 The fairness standard does not prevent criticism of public figures, as such criticism and scrutiny is an essential element of free speech in a democratic society. The question for us is whether the comments went beyond criticising Mr Craig in his professional or political capacity, and strayed into abusively personal territory.3

[9]  We do not think that they did. The comments were clearly aimed at Mr Craig in his capacity as the leader of the Conservative Party, and did not amount to personal abuse. We agree with the broadcaster that, as a leader of a political party, and within a robust political environment, Mr Craig should expect to be subject to a high degree of public scrutiny and commentary.4

[10]  The correspondent’s comment that Mr Craig has ‘got the Christians’ was clearly his own analysis regarding voters of the Conservative Party, and it was not unfair in the context of a political commentary.

[11]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the fairness complaints.

Were the comments inaccurate or misleading?

[12]  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.5

[13]  Mr Jenkinson argued that the political correspondent’s statement that Mr Craig has ‘got the Christians’ was inaccurate and misleading as not all Christians support the Conservative Party.

[14]  Guideline 5a to the accuracy standard states that it does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, commentary or opinion. In our view, this was obviously a segment comprising the correspondent’s own analysis of, and commentary on, the current political climate and the week’s political news. This was clear from the presenter’s introduction of the political correspondent:

As John Banks’ Act Party are starting to fall, Colin Craig’s Conservative Party are trying to rise… just another week in politics… Joining me now to discuss it is political editor [name].

[15]  Reasonable viewers would have understood that this was a commentary piece and would not have interpreted the correspondent’s comments as statements of fact, so they would not have been misled.

[16]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaints under Standard 5.

Did the broadcast require the presentation of alternative views?

[17]  The balance standard (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. The standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.6

[18]  The complainants argued that the broadcast was unbalanced because it did not present other significant viewpoints on the topic. In particular, Mr Johnson argued that the item discussed the ‘comparison and competition’ between New Zealand First and the Conservative Party, but the political correspondent’s comments were not ‘signalled as a personal perspective’.

[19]  TVWorks argued that the broadcast was not a ‘factual news report’ but an ‘editorial piece’ consisting of discussion with a journalist about his analysis of the political issues of the day, so it was not necessary to present a range of significant viewpoints. It saw the political correspondent’s analogy as illustrative of his own ‘analysis of [the] socially conservative perception of the two [political parties]’.

[20]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.7

[21]  While in general political issues could be considered controversial and of public importance, this item focused only on one person’s – the political editor’s – own commentary and analysis. It therefore did not amount to a ‘discussion’ of a particular controversial issue. As we have said, the presenter’s introduction made it clear that the comments were the political correspondent’s take on the issues, so viewers would not have expected the short segment to present a comprehensive or balanced examination of the numerous topics mentioned. Further, the audience could reasonably be expected to be aware of alternative political views put forward in other media coverage.

[22]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaints under Standard 4.

Did the broadcast breach any other standards?

[23]  Mr Jenkinson also raised the good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards in his complaint. In summary, these standards were not breached because:

  • The good taste and decency standard is primarily concerned with sexual material, nudity, coarse language and violence. Most viewers would not have been offended by the reference to Colin Craig as the ‘toilet paper’ of conservative politics, in the context of robust political commentary broadcast during an unclassified news programme (Standard 1).
  • The discrimination and denigration applies only to sections of the community, and therefore does not apply to Colin Craig as an individual (Standard 7).

[24]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that these standards were breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
2 May 2014

Appendix

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

Stephen Jenkinson’s complaint

1                  Stephen Jenkinson’s formal complaint – 20 November 2013

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 19 December 2013

3                 Mr Jenkinson’s referral to the Authority – 20 January 2014

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 27 February 2014

Jeffrey Johnson’s complaint

5                 Jeffrey Johnson’s formal complaint – 6 November 2013

6                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 19 December 2013

7                 Mr Johnson’s referral to the Authority – 20 January 2014

8                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 27 February 2014


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, 2008-014

2See, for example, Craig and 4 Others and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-034.

3Kiro and RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-108

5Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036

6Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

7For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010)