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Insley and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-114

Members

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

Complainant

  • Chris Insley of Gisborne

Dated

3rd December 2014

Number

2014-114

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.]

A Seven Sharp item discussed the release of Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics and included an interview with Mr Hager. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the Seven Sharp host was biased and treated Mr Hager unfairly. The host’s comments were clearly his opinion, and Mr Hager was given a fair and reasonable opportunity to put forward his position.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Accuracy, Fairness


Introduction

[1]  An item on Seven Sharp was introduced by the hosts, Mike Hosking and Toni Street, as follows:

Hosking:  So, question: are we shocked at what Nicky Hager has in his book, Dirty Politics? In a word, I think no. it is not the big exposé Hager claims it is; there is no smoking gun. Sure, it links dirty tricks to the Minister’s staff but nothing directly to the Prime Minister himself.

Street:  Still, it’s an interesting insight into just how nasty things can get behind the scenes – think Judith Collins’ name calling and we are the first to talk to her about those comments. [Our] reporter spent last night reading Dirty Politics just for you.

[2]  Mr Hosking interviewed Mr Hager and a National MP about the truth of the allegations made in the book and its potential impact on the upcoming general election.

[3]  Chris Insley complained that Mr Hosking displayed bias in favour of the National Party and treated Mr Hager unfairly.

[4]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy, fairness and balance standards, set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The item was broadcast on TV ONE on 14 August 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 breach the balance standard?

[6]  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

[7]  The complainant argued that Mr Hosking ‘displayed a clear bias’ towards the National Party and ‘deliberately sought to sway the watching New Zealand public… to shut down public discussion on the serious issues revealed in the [book]’. He considered that Mr Hosking was ‘incapable of encouraging balanced, robust and open debate on an issue central to our democracy’.

[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]  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

[10]  TVNZ accepted that the revelations in Dirty Politics and the subsequent disclosures on this topic were controversial and of public importance. We agree. The book contained strong allegations against government ministers, which were of great concern to members of the public and stimulated heated debate. The timing of the book’s release, a few weeks before the 2014 general election, added to the importance and significance of the book and the discussion it engendered.

[11]  We are satisfied that the item contained adequate balance. Mr Hager was given a reasonable opportunity to speak about the allegations made in Dirty Politics and to refute the host’s claims that there was no truth in the book. During the interview, Mr Hager answered the host’s questions and put forward his position as follows:

  • ‘One of the sad things about doing pieces of work like this is that you hope that people would sometimes admit that they’ve done something wrong. But you’re [the host] quite right. All of the key figures have said “no, no, didn’t do it”. But it’s a book full of communications and exact documentary evidence so they’re just hoping people who haven’t seen the book will believe them…’
  • ‘If you show the public silly little trivial or petty things, Judith Collins says, they won’t think there’s much of a story… Let me give you a different story, from the Judith Collins chapter… that was a Minister of Police, Minister of Corrections, who is giving unsubstantiated information to a blogger and having the guy crucified. Now, that’s just not how Ministers should act…’
  • ‘I believe that… most New Zealanders will say, “hang on a minute, can we debate issues, can we debate policies, not have those dirty tricks going on with our Cabinet Ministers?” I feel confident that the public would feel the same way I do on this’.

[12]  We also note that Mr Hosking’s co-presenter, Ms Street, injected some balance into the discussion, for example in her introductory comments (see paragraph [1]).

[13]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the balance complaint.

Was the item misleading or inaccurate?

[14]  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

[15]  Mr Insley argued that Mr Hosking was biased and said, ‘It is most definitely not the role of [Mr] Hosking or TV ONE to determine “the truth” of the allegations [made in Dirty Politics] [as] he shamefully conducted [the] interview’.

[16]  TVNZ responded that the host’s commentary on the book was clearly presented as his opinion so was exempt from complying with the accuracy standard. It maintained that it was entirely acceptable for Mr Hosking to challenge the claims made in Dirty Politics, because the emails behind the book had not yet been disclosed at the time of the broadcast.

[17]  We agree that the host’s commentary was presented as his opinion. Guideline 5a exempts statements which are clearly analysis, comment or opinion from the requirement for accuracy. The host began his summary by saying ‘here’s my take on Nicky Hager’s efforts’. He then described the impact that he personally thought the book was going to have on the general election. Seven Sharp is known for its opinionated angle and non-traditional approach to news and current affairs, and viewers would not have taken the host’s comments as statements of fact. The broadcaster was not required to ensure that the host’s statements were accurate as they were his opinion, rather than material points of fact.

[18]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the accuracy complaint.

Was the item unfair to Nicky Hager?

[19]  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.6

[20]  Mr Insley argued that Mr Hosking’s summary of the book ‘was clearly dismissive of Hager’s research’ and that he ‘taunted and hectored Mr Hager unashamedly’.

[21]  TVNZ said that the host’s commentary on and criticism of Dirty Politics was aimed at Mr Hager in his professional capacity, and was not personally abusive. It considered that Mr Hager handled the discussion adeptly and was able to put his position across ‘in a professional and composed manner’.

[22]  We are satisfied that Mr Hager was given a fair and reasonable opportunity to defend the claims made his book. We do not think that he was treated unfairly, and he came across well in the interview. Mr Hager would have expected some criticism and scrutiny in the media after the release a book which was intended to be provocative and inevitably controversial.

[23]  Accordingly, we 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            Chris Insley’s formal complaint – 14 August 2014

2            TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 11 September 2014

3            Mr Insley’s referral to the Authority – 15 September 2014

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

6            TVNZ’s response to the Authority’s request for further comment – 31 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 Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036

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