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Butler and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2014-044

Members

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

Complainant

  • Mike Butler of Hastings

Dated

21st August 2014

Number

2014-044

Programme

Campbell Live

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd


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

Campbell Live’s presenter travelled to Northland to gain a better understanding of Ngāpuhi people and their lifestyle in light of an upcoming Treaty of Waitangi settlement with the government. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the item was inaccurate and unbalanced because it misrepresented Ngāpuhi’s economic situation and historical land loss. This was a human interest piece framed from the perspective of John Campbell, and largely comprising the personal opinions and experiences of the people he visited. The community was the focus, not the settlement, and viewers would not have been misled in this context.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Accuracy


Introduction

[1]  Campbell Live’s presenter travelled to Northland to gain a better understanding of Ngāpuhi people and their lifestyle in light of an upcoming Treaty of Waitangi (Treaty) settlement with the government. He interviewed the tribe’s chairman, an elder and the principal and students of Northland College. The item also contained footage of the township of Kaikohe, and graphics detailing Māori land loss between 1860 and 1939. The item aired on TV3 on 4 March 2014.

[2]  Mike Butler made a formal complaint to MediaWorks TV Ltd (MediaWorks), alleging that the item failed to present alternative viewpoints, and contained inaccurate and misleading information about Ngāpuhi’s current economic situation and historical land loss. He described the broadcast as ‘short on fact and long in emotion’.

[3]  The issue is whether the item breached the controversial issues and accuracy standards, as set out in 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.

Did the item discuss a controversial issue of public importance requiring the presentation of alternative viewpoints?

[5]  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.1

[6]  Mr Butler argued that the item did not contain alternative viewpoints on the Ngāpuhi Treaty settlement, as the presenter only briefly mentioned opposition to the settlement in a ‘pejorative’ way when he said the proposal ‘triggered a round of Treaty bashing and outrage’ (see paragraph [9] below).

[7]  MediaWorks argued that the item did not seek to address the antagonistic views evident in some public debates over the settlements, but instead ‘emphasised the quest to learn about a community that the government has already acknowledged it wishes to compensate for historical breaches of the Treaty’.

[8]  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’.2

[9]  We agree with the broadcaster that the introduction to the item ‘clearly framed it as an insight into the far north community against the recent development in the claims process and did not [purport] to be a detailed summary or investigation into the [Ngāpuhi] claim’. The presenter introduced the item as follows:

On Waitangi Day news broke that Ngāpuhi were after a Treaty settlement in the region of 500 million dollars. It won’t be anywhere near that high, but it’s still triggered a round of Treaty bashing and outrage. The government wants to do a deal with Ngāpuhi and will do one possibly in the ballpark of 280 to 300 million dollars. …It’s 100 million more than [other tribes] received almost two decades ago. Why? Well, there’s 125,000 people who describe themselves as Ngāpuhi – they’re our biggest iwi by far – and I’m ashamed to say that other than the fact that they’re from Northland, I didn’t know much about them at all. So because the settlement will happen, I went north to learn.[our emphasis]

[10]  While the Treaty settlement formed the background to the item, and made it topically relevant, the settlement was not the item’s focus. This was a human interest piece, and the premise of the item, as outlined in the introduction, was John Campbell’s journey to the far north of New Zealand to meet some members of Ngāpuhi and to learn more about them. It was about getting to know the community. The story did not purport to be a discussion of the Treaty settlement or whether or not it was fair or justified, so the broadcaster was not required to present alternative viewpoints on that issue. The introduction did, however, acknowledge that the settlement had triggered outrage, alerting the audience to opposing views on this matter, which was sufficient given the story’s focus on the community.

[11]  Additionally, the period of current interest is ongoing until a settlement is reached. The Crown has made it clear that it intends to provide redress for accepted breaches of the Treaty, and it is likely that significant views on the quantum and make-up of Ngāpuhi’s Treaty settlement will be the subject of other media coverage as the settlement develops.

[12]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the balance complaint.

Was the item inaccurate or misleading?

[13]  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.3

[14]  Mr Butler argued that the item misled viewers in relation to Ngāpuhi’s current economic situation and the way in which Ngāpuhi lost ownership of its traditional land. Specifically he took issue with:

  • the statement by Ngāpuhi’s Chairman that ‘Ngāpuhi is really deprived. It’s at a low point in our development at this point in time’
  • the statement by Ngāpuhi’s Chairman that ‘there are some people continuing to live in cowsheds and tents and caravans’
  • the inclusion of footage of closed businesses and empty shops in Kaikohe, without also showing ‘the busy part’
  • the Chairman’s comment that Ngāpuhi ‘lost, by dubious means, 2.1 million acres of land’
  • graphics showing Māori land ownership in 1860 compared to 1939.

Ngāpuhi is ‘really deprived’ and ‘at a low point in its development’

[15]   Mr Butler took issue with the statement made by Ngāpuhi’s Chairman, that:

Ngāpuhi in terms of an economy, in the north here, Ngāpuhi is really deprived… It’s at a low point in our development at this point in time…

[16]  Mr Butler said more in-depth research ‘would have found that Ngāpuhi [is] a medium-sized business’ with revenue of $19.2 million, and is not at a low point in its development compared to a few years ago.

[17]   MediaWorks consulted Ngāpuhi representatives for comment, who said that ‘$19 million… is piddling for Aotearoa’s biggest iwi’. Iwi are intergenerational organisations, Ngāpuhi said, which aim to grow their assets for greater distribution across later generations. It noted that $19 million divided between 125,000 Ngāpuhi was ‘$152 each’, while another iwi with only 5,000 members had assets of $300 million. In response to Mr Butler’s argument that Ngāpuhi was not actually at a low point in its development, MediaWorks said the Chairman was referring to the ‘context of their known history’, rather than this exact moment in time.

[18]  In our view, this comment was clearly based on the Chairman’s personal opinions and experiences. Guideline 5a to the accuracy standard states that it does not apply to analysis, comment or opinion. It was made clear to viewers that the Ngāpuhi Chairman was the great, great, great grandson of one of the first chiefs to sign the Treaty, and he was the person now responsible for ‘negotiating Ngāpuhi’s settlement’. The audience would have understood that the Chairman was coming from that perspective; one of the utmost support for Ngāpuhi, and one of advocacy for a successful settlement for his iwi. Accordingly, viewers would not have been misled by him painting a picture of deprivation and economic challenge, in support of a larger settlement. The context provided by Ngāpuhi representatives to MediaWorks explains why he holds the views he put forward in the programme. The host also clarified with the Chairman that when saying Ngāpuhi is ‘at a low point in its development’, he meant, ‘in [its] history’ and not in comparison to recent years, as Mr Butler argued.

[19]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that these comments were inaccurate or misleading.

‘There are some people continuing to live in cowsheds and tents and caravans’

[20]  Ngāpuhi’s Chairman also said, ‘there are some people continuing to live in cowsheds and tents and caravans and it’s just devastation in Ngāpuhi itself’. Mr Butler considered ‘a viewer could be left with the impression that all of the tribe’s 125,000 people live in devastation, in tents, caravans and cowsheds’.

[21]  MediaWorks said it would have been clear to most viewers that the Chairman was not referring to ‘the entire Ngāpuhi iwi’ when he said that ‘some people’ continue to live in cowsheds, tents and caravans.

[22]  We agree. The Chairman clearly referred to ‘some people’ and did not suggest all 125,000 members of Ngāpuhi had these living conditions. This statement would not have misled viewers.

Footage of closed businesses and empty shops

[23]  Mr Butler argued that the footage in the item of closed businesses and empty shops in Kaikohe was misleading as ‘it did not show the busy part’ and was ‘a selective drive through’.

[24]  This footage was included as a visual accompaniment to Mr Campbell’s experience of Kaikohe when he went there. This was what he witnessed on his visit. To say that he should have visited a different area or filmed different shops is a matter of editorial discretion, and did not result in the item being misleading.

Ngāpuhi ‘lost, by dubious means, 2.1 million acres of land’ and suggestion land was confiscated

[25]  Mr Butler argued that it was misleading for Mr Campbell not to correct the Chairman’s comment, ‘We lost, by dubious means, 2.1 million acres of land’. He provided documentation to support his argument that Ngāpuhi ‘mostly deprived themselves of the land by selling it’. He considered that the word ‘lost’ was used to give the impression that Ngāpuhi were ‘victimised’ and deprived of their land. Mr Butler also questioned, ‘Why does Campbell allude to land confiscations in a report on Ngāpuhi if not to create the impression that Ngāpuhi were subjected to mass land confiscations?’

[26]  MediaWorks argued that ‘the Crown agrees that iwi have legitimate grievances about land loss’, so it was not inaccurate or misleading to say its land was ‘lost by dubious means’. It said the graphics included from the Waitangi Tribunal showed Māori land ownership in 1860 as compared with 1939, and at no time did the item state land was ‘confiscated’.

[27]  We agree. The item emphasised in the introduction that the government has already acknowledged that a settlement is warranted. How the Treaty was breached or how land was lost was not material to the focus of the item, which was, as we have said above, about getting to know the Ngāpuhi community in the far north. In any case, Mr Butler himself acknowledged that ‘lost’ could mean a number of things, including a ‘change of ownership by being gifted, sold, confiscated or taken’ [our emphasis].

[28]  The graphics showing land ownership were not exclusively in relation to Ngāpuhi, but gave context around Māori land ownership in general, and fed into a discussion about the difficulties Māori faced when trying to develop land. The item did not state that Ngāpuhi land was confiscated.

[29]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
21 August 2014

Appendix

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

1            Mike Butler’s formal complaint – 12 March 2014

2            MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 23 April 2014

3            Mr Butler’s referral to the Authority – 2 May 2014

4            MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 5 June 2014

5            Mr Butler’s final comment – 10 June 2014


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014
2For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010)
3Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036