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Dempsey and 3 others and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-047

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Leigh Pearson

Complainants

  • Lynne Dempsey of Auckland
  • Damon Keen of Auckland
  • David Kraitzick of Auckland
  • Jeremy Steinberg of Auckland

Dated

9th September 2014

Number

2014-047

Programme

Seven Sharp

Channel/Station

TV ONE

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

Te Raumawhitu Kupenga declared a conflict of interest and did not participate in the determination of this complaint.


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

At the end of an episode of Seven Sharp, presenter Mike Hosking made comments about the most recent report of the IPCC. The Authority did not uphold four complaints that his comments were misleading and irresponsible. The comments were clearly Mr Hosking’s opinion, and the right to freedom of speech explicitly protects expressions of opinion even if they are unpopular or incorrect. Mr Hosking is well known for this type of monologue where he offers his opinion on any number of issues, sometimes in a provocative manner.   

Not Upheld: Accuracy        


Introduction

[1]  At the end of an episode of Seven Sharp, one of the presenters commented on the most recent report (AR5 Report) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as follows:

Bad news, I’m afraid: the IPCC… has issued its latest report. It’s 2,600 pages long and spans 32 volumes, but I can sum it up for you: we’re stuffed. The seas are rising, the storms are coming, the locusts are close, we are going to climate hell in a handcart. That’s, of course, if you believe them, which as it turns out, I don’t. Twenty years ago they said we had twenty years to turn things around – we haven’t. The Kyoto Protocol was a last ditch attempt to save us all. No one adhered to it. The lesson they have not learnt is that freaking people out doesn’t get buy-in. I mean, if the Met Service struggles with the accuracy of a five-day forecast, I’m thinking a long-range forecast that takes in 86 years might be a bit dodgy. So, my advice, don’t let it ruin your night.

[2]  The programme was broadcast on 1 April 2014 on TV ONE.

[3]  Lynne Dempsey, Damon Keen, David Kraitzick, and Jeremy Steinberg made formal complaints to Television New Zealand Ltd (TVNZ), alleging that the presenter’s comments were partial and highly irresponsible as they encouraged viewers to ignore the pressing urgency of the need to take action on climate change. The complaints were specifically limited to matters of accuracy.

[4]  The issue therefore is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

The accuracy complaints

[6]  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

[7]  The complainants argued that Mr Hosking’s comments were inaccurate and misleading. In particular, they objected to his comparison between short-term weather forecasting and climate science. The complainants considered it highly irresponsible for Mr Hosking to dismiss the scientific findings of the AR5 Report, and Mr Keen stated, ‘scientifically, there’s as much certainty that humans are the main cause of climate change as there is that smoking causes certain kinds of cancer’. Ms Dempsey considered that ‘poorly informed and vulnerable’ viewers of Seven Sharp – which purports to be a news and current affairs programme – would assume the information relayed by Mr Hosking was accurate. Mr Kraitzick argued that inaccurate statements of fact from a ‘well-known and trusted public figure’ fostered a ‘false belief’ and encouraged complacency on the ‘biggest issue the world faces today’.

[8]  Mr Hosking’s comments attracted considerable public criticism, including on social media and from a media law commentator.2 His comments were labelled ‘uninformed’. Many questioned whether he had read the AR5 Report, which, for example, provides a detailed answer to the question, ‘If You Cannot Predict the Weather Next Month, How Can You Predict Climate for the Coming Decade?’ The report says, for example:

Although weather and climate are intertwined, they are in fact different things. Weather is defined as the state of the atmosphere at a given time and place, and can change from hour to hour and day to day. Climate, on the other hand, generally refers to the statistics of weather conditions over a decade or more. An ability to predict future climate without the need to accurately predict weather is more commonplace than it might first seem… factors exist… that can underpin skill in predicting changes in climate over a coming period that does not depend on accuracy in predicting weather over the same period…

Were Mr Hosking’s comments inaccurate or misleading?

[9]  TVNZ’s main arguments in response to the complaints were as follows:

…the issue of human caused global climate change is one which is accepted by most governments around the world. However it is also one which excites passionate debate from individuals and parties from a wide spectrum of positions about this issue. This is a long-running discussion and it reasonable to expect that the vast majority of people are aware of significant perspectives on human induced global climate change, and have formed their own view on this.

In this case the presenter discussed his opinion on the IPCC Report. His commentary was clearly presented in the programme as his opinion. Opinion and commentary is permitted under this standard. The right to make such commentary is permitted as it what is commonly termed “freedom of speech” and protected under the Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Standard 5 is not designed to regulate personal opinion or commentary (as per guideline 5a). No breach of standard 5 has been identified.

[10]  The complainants, however, did not accept the broadcaster’s reasons, and referred their complaints to this Authority, on the basis Mr Hosking’s comments were inaccurate and misleading.

[11]  Mr Keen in his referral asserted that TVNZ had not considered his complaint that the item was ‘shallow’ and that Mr Hosking prevented the viewer from acquiring a proper understanding of the issue. He considered the item breached guideline 5c, which requires news to be impartial.

[12]  In her referral, Ms Dempsey objected to the application of the exemption in guideline 5a to opinion on the issue of climate change. She considered this issue too important to allow a television personality in a position of influence to make such comments in a news and current affairs programme.

[13]  Mr Kraitzick was not satisfied with TVNZ’s treatment of Mr Hosking’s statement, ‘I mean, if the met serve struggles with the accuracy of a five-day forecast, I’m thinking a long-range forecast that takes in 86 years might be a bit dodgy.’ He argued that this particular comment was fact, not opinion. He argued, ‘this statement presented itself as the justification for the opinions preceding it. In the ordinary and logical course of things a statement used to support an opinion will necessarily be a statement of fact’.

[14]  Having had regard to all of the information and arguments before us, we have reached the conclusion that we agree with the broadcaster’s position.

[15]  Mr Hosking’s comments were clearly expressed as his personal opinion on, and specifically his scepticism of, the IPCC’s findings and human-induced climate change in general. Guideline 5a to the accuracy standard states that it does not apply to analysis, comment or opinion. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 explicitly protects the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to express one’s opinions, even if they are considered by many to be wrong. The accuracy standard must be applied in such a way as to impose the minimum restriction on free speech, and can only be applied to inaccurate material statements of fact.

[16]  The complainants’ arguments, in our view, read too much into Mr Hosking’s comment. Viewers would have realised that this monologue was an expression of his opinion, and would not have taken the comments as an authoritative conclusion on the topic. He was not speaking as a logician. His opinion might suffer from a ‘logical fallacy’. Regardless, it remains his opinion, albeit, perhaps, an illogical opinion. We do not agree that viewers would confuse his layman’s opinion for that of a scientist or logician.

[17]  Further, while Seven Sharp is a news and current affairs programme, it takes a sometimes non-traditional, light-hearted or comedic approach to topical issues. Part of the standard format of Seven Sharp is the presenters’ ‘final word’ at the end of each evening’s episode, in which they give their views on a chosen topic of the day. We think viewers would have appreciated in this context that Mr Hosking was not in this segment delivering ‘news’; he was offering his own views in a provocative manner, and he was going against the general consensus (though he is unlikely to be the only person who holds this opinion). Mr Hosking is well-known for this type of monologue where he gives his opinion on any number of issues. Freedom of speech as preserved by the Bill of Rights explicitly entitles Mr Hosking to hold and express an opinion that challenges orthodoxy on the issue of climate change, even if that opinion is unpopular or incorrect.

[18]  For these reasons, and in particular that the comments were clearly opinion to which the standard does not apply, we decline to uphold the complaints.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 


Peter Radich
Chair
9 September 2014

Appendix

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

1          Lynne Dempsey’s formal complaint – 10 April 2014

2          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 12 May 2014

3          Ms Dempsey’s referral to the Authority – 25 May 2014

4          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 11 June 2014

 

1          Damon Keen’s formal complaint – 7 April 2014

2          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 7 May 2014

3          Mr Keen’s referral to the Authority – 7 May 2014

4          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 19 May 2014

 

1          David Kraitzick’s  formal complaint – 9 April 2014

2          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 12 May 2014

3          Mr Kraitzick’s referral to the Authority – 25 May 2014

4          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 13 June 2014

5          Mr Kraitzick’s final comment – 16 June 2014

6          TVNZ’s confirmation of no final comment – 16 June 2014

 

1          Jeremy Steinberg’s formal complaint – 18 April 2014

2          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 21 May 2014

3          Dr Steinberg’s referral to the Authority – 4 June 2014

4          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 11 June 2014