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Eddy and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-087

Members

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

Complainant

  • Ronald Eddy of Nelson

Dated

3rd December 2014

Number

2014-087

Programme

Seven Sharp

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


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

A Seven Sharp item reporting on a forecast increase in New Zealand’s rat, mice and stout population due to a beech mast event, contained footage of 1080 pellets and an aerial 1080 drop. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the item was unbalanced because it did not present the anti-1080 viewpoint. The item’s focus was not the use of 1080 so it was not necessary to put forward views for and against its use, but in any case the broadcaster alluded to three earlier items on this specific beech mast event which did refer to alternative views.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Fairness


Introduction

[1]  An item on Seven Sharp reported on a forecast increase in New Zealand’s rat, mice and stout population due to a beech mast event, the potential impact on native birdlife, and the measures taken by the Department of Conservation (DOC) to mitigate this. The item contained footage of 1080 pellets and an aerial 1080 drop.

[2]  Ronald Eddy complained that the use of 1080 in New Zealand is a very contentious issue and the broadcaster made no effort to present the anti-1080 viewpoint.  

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the controversial issues and fairness standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item was broadcast on TV ONE on 6 June 2014. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the item discuss a controversial issue of public importance which required 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]  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

[7]  The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.3 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.4

[8]  Mr Eddy asserted that the item contained images of the spread of 1080 toxin baits but did not mention ‘the danger these 1080 baits posed to the same native fauna they were supposedly saving’. He argued that the use of 1080 toxin in New Zealand was a very contentious issue and he questioned why no invitation was made for a representative of the anti-1080 viewpoint to appear on the programme.

[9]  TVNZ accepted that the use of 1080 was a controversial issue of public importance. However, it considered that the long-running nature of the issue meant most people could be expected to be aware of significant perspectives on its use to eradicate pests and to have formed their own opinions on this. It asserted that Seven Sharp approached the issue from the perspective that 1080 was ‘helpful’ and opposing views were broadcast over the period of current interest. It provided links to four TVNZ items and five publications from other outlets, reporting on the use of 1080.

[10]  To assess whether the requirement to provide balance was met, we look at the focus of the item. The focus of this item was not the use of 1080 but the upcoming beech mast event. No explicit reference was made to the use of 1080. It was only referred to obliquely through footage which showed an aerial drop and the spread of 1080 pellets. An entomologist was questioned about ‘pre-baiting’ and while this was presented in a positive light, 1080 was not explicitly mentioned.

[11]  As the focus of the item was not 1080 use per se, there was no requirement to provide balance by presenting arguments for and against its use, whether generally or with regard to this particular beech mast event.

[12  In any event, even if a broadcaster has not provided balance within a particular programme, the standard allows for significant viewpoints to be presented ‘within the period of current interest’. This acknowledges that it is not always possible to canvas all sides of a controversial issue of public importance within one programme. The broadcaster provided links to four TVNZ broadcasts on this particular beech mast event and DOC’s ‘Battle for our Birds’ campaign. These items presented or alluded to the anti-1080 viewpoint, as follows:

  • Breakfast item (30 January 2014) presented views ‘from both sides of the debate’, including comment from a representative of the New Zealand Deer Stalkers Association who was opposed to the use of 1080 as a method for controlling pests
  • two One News items (30 November 2013) included reference to the controversy and debate surrounding the use of 1080
  • One News item (7 July 2013) contained comment from a 1080 protest group and an MP opposed to 1080 use, and the presenter made numerous references to 1080 critics.

[13]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Was any individual or organisation taking part or referred to in the broadcast treated unfairly?

[14]  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.5

[15]  Mr Eddy argued that the item was unfair because it did not present the anti-1080 viewpoint. He said that perspective had not been presented to the same extent as the pro-1080 stance, within the period of current interest.

[16]  The fairness standard applies only to individuals or organisations taking part or referred to in programmes, not to particular viewpoints. Mr Eddy’s concerns are squarely focused on the lack of balance in the item, which is properly considered under the controversial issues standard.

[17]  We therefore decline to uphold the fairness complaint.

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

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                 Ronald Eddy’s formal complaint – 16 June 2014

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 9 July 2014

3                 Mr Eddy’s referral to the Authority – 18 July 2014

4                 Further comments from Mr Eddy – 31 July 2014

5                 Mr Eddy’s further comments and attachments – 6 August 2014

6                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 15 October 2014

7                 Mr Eddy’s final comment – 27 October 2014


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

2 For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)

3 Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-125

4 See, for example, Dewe and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-076

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