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Cumin and The Radio Network Ltd - 2014-098

Members

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

Complainant

  • David Cumin of Auckland

Standards Breached

Dated

3rd December 2014

Number

2014-098

Programme

KPMG Early Edition

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


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

During KPMG Early Edition, the host read out an opinion piece criticising Israel’s actions in the Israel-Hamas conflict. She referred to a recent bombing of a UN school which ‘killed everyone inside’. The Authority upheld the complaint that this was inaccurate, as in fact 16 out of 3,300 people sheltering in the school were killed. It did not uphold the complaint other statements were inaccurate, as they were clearly the host’s opinion. The Authority did not make any order, as publication of this decision is sufficient to correct the error.

Upheld: Accuracy

No Order


Introduction

[1]  During Newstalk ZB’s KPMG Early Edition the host read out an opinion piece about the current Israel-Hamas conflict, in which she was heavily critical of Israel’s actions. She condemned Israel for targeting civilians, and stated that a recent bombing of a Palestinian school had ‘killed every civilian inside’.

[2]  David Cumin made a formal complaint to The Radio Network (TRN), raising the controversial issues, accuracy and fairness standards. While he was satisfied with the broadcaster’s response on the controversial issues and fairness standards, he did not agree with TRN’s findings on his accuracy complaint.

[3]  Therefore, the issue is whether the item breached the accuracy standard of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item aired on Newstalk ZB on 1 August 2014. The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence in the Appendix.

Was the item inaccurate or misleading?

[5]  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

Was this a factual programme to which the accuracy standard applies?

[6]  The first question is whether KPMG Early Edition was ‘news, current affairs or factual programming’ to which the standard applied. While this particular segment was an editorial/opinion piece, it formed part of a programme which is described on Newstalk ZB’s website as ‘a fast-paced news programme… across the latest developments both at home and abroad with interviews, international correspondents and a regional wrap-up’. The programme therefore falls within the scope of the standard.

The statements subject to complaint

[7]  Mr Cumin took issue with three of the host’s statements on the Israel-Hamas issue, which he regarded as ‘completely inaccurate and without evidence’. These were:

  • ‘Israel’s actions are abhorrent. The killing, the targeting of civilians, the toddlers, the babies who are dying every day reveals the Israeli regime for what it is: a callous, anti-Palestinian killing machine.’ [Our emphasis]
  • ‘Israel’s conflict should be with Hamas, but it’s not. It’s with the Palestinians.’
  • ‘Then there is the latest war crime, the bombing of a [United Nations] school… 17 times [the UN] gave Israel the coordinates and said the building was housing children and displaced civilians. And yet Israel bombed it. They bombed it, and killed every civilian inside.’ [Our emphasis]

[8]  Mr Cumin argued that Hamas, and not Israel, was targeting civilians. He said that there had never been ‘any sign from Israel that that the current conflict was with the Palestinians’. In relation to the school bombing, he maintained that no other news report had stated that all the civilians inside the school had died.

[9]  In response, TRN argued that the broadcast was ‘clearly the opinion of the host’. It said that while the host and the complainant had a different take on the facts, there was supporting evidence to back up both sides.

Our assessment of the comments

[10]  We agree that the first two statements were expressed as the host’s opinion rather than statements of fact. Guideline 5a exempts statements which are clearly analysis, comment or opinion from the requirement for accuracy. The comments were not made in relation to specific events, but were the host’s own take on the conflict in Gaza. That the comments were her opinion on the issue, was made clear in her introduction, when she stated:

I can’t sit on the political fence anymore on the Israeli-Palestinian situation… There is no placement, we know, for judgement there. Well, for me, not anymore. I can’t report the situation in Gaza with balance, because there simply is none.

[11]  The third statement however, and specifically the host’s assertion that the bombing of the UN school ‘killed every civilian inside’, was in our view a material point of fact. Unlike her other statements, this claim related to a specific incident and was capable of being assessed as factually accurate or inaccurate.

[12]  This statement was inaccurate. Other news coverage of the incident reported that up to 16 people were killed and 200 others injured in the bombing of the school, where some 3,300 people were sheltering.2 We reject TRN’s contention that the number of people killed in the UN school ‘makes no difference to the point that the host is making, that the attack was unacceptable’. While the death of any number of people is a tragedy, it was a significant overstatement to say that all civilians sheltering at the school had been killed, when in fact, 16 out of 3,300 people were killed. The difference between 16 and 3,300 deaths was material, as the host used the incident to bolster her strong position against Israel’s actions toward civilians.

[13]  While hosts are entitled to express their opinions in editorials within news and current affairs programmes, and this is a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression, they must ensure that if they make factual statements material to the issues discussed, these are accurate so that the audience is not misled.

[14]  Accordingly, we are satisfied that upholding the complaint would not unreasonably limit the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and we uphold this aspect of Mr Cumin’s accuracy complaint.

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by The Radio Network Ltd of KPMG Early Edition on 1 August 2014 breachedStandard 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[15]  Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. We are satisfied that publication of this decision is sufficient to remedy the breach and correct the inaccuracy, and that no order is warranted.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

Peter Radich
Chair

3 December 2014

Appendix

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

1                 David Cumin’s formal complaint – 2 August 2014

2                 TRN’s response to the complaint – 4 August 2014

3                 Mr Cumin’s referral to the Authority – 10 August 2014

4                 TRN’s response to the Authority – 19 September 2014

5                 Mr Cumin’s final comments – 13 October 2014


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