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Green and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2015-051

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose

Complainant

  • Peter Green

Dated

10th November 2015

Number

2015-051

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
 
An item on 3 News discussed a leaked internal report which reviewed the Labour Party's election strategy. Towards the conclusion of the item the reporter briefly referred to the recent installation of security doors between the Labour and National Party offices at a cost of $30,000. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the item lacked balance on this point. The brief reference to the installation of the doors did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance in the context of this item, which focused on the leaked Labour Party report – so the requirement to present alternative views was not triggered.
 

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues


Introduction

[1]  An item on 3 News reported on a leaked internal report which reviewed the Labour Party's election strategy. The report, among other things, stated that Labour suffered from a lack of financial resources. The 3 News political reporter analysed the report and towards the conclusion of the item he briefly mentioned that Labour had recently installed security doors between their offices and the National Party offices, at a cost of $30,000.

[2]  Peter Green complained that the item lacked balance as it failed to acknowledge, as other news sources had, that the doors were proposed by the National Party.

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

[4]  The item was broadcast on TV3 on 3 June 2015. 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 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]  Mr Green considered the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance, saying, 'If use of taxpayer money on parliamentary doors was not a matter of concern to members of the New Zealand public, why would 3 News make a point of including it in their broadcast?' He argued the item was one-sided, as it ignored other news reports which claimed the doors were proposed by National. Mr Green noted that most members of the public are not watching every channel's news and reading every newspaper – therefore they should have some expectation that a 6pm news bulletin is presenting issues impartially.

[7]  MediaWorks argued that the political reporter's reference to the cost to Parliamentary Services of installing doors between the Labour Party and National Party offices was peripheral to the main story, which focused on the leaked report and the reporter's analysis that it was a waste of time and money, so the balance standard did not apply.

[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]  We accept that, generally, the expenditure of taxpayer dollars – particularly where the spending is perceived to be unnecessary or unjustified – will amount to a controversial issue of public importance, as it is clearly of concern to the New Zealand public and commonly incites debate.

[11]  However, the cost of the parliamentary doors was not the issue under discussion in this item. The item's focus was the leaked internal report on Labour Party's election strategy, and comprised the political reporter's analysis of that report. Towards the end of the item he briefly referred to the installation of the doors as an example of what was, in his opinion, unwise expenditure, given that one of the findings of the report was that Labour suffered from a lack of financial resources. The mention of the doors clearly formed part of the reporter's political analysis and was incidental to the main issue discussed. In this context reasonable viewers would not have expected to be presented with a balanced presentation of significant viewpoints about the installation of the doors or what they cost.

[12]  In any case, as the complainant notes, other news stories which did focus on the cost of the doors reported the information he believed should have been included here – that the doors were proposed by the National Party – so that information was readily available elsewhere.

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

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
10 November 2015

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1      Peter Green's formal complaint – 3 June 2015
2      MediaWorks' response to the complaint – 1 July 2015
3      Mr Green's referral to the Authority – 25 July 2015
4      MediaWorks' response to the Authority – 24 August 2015
5      Mr Green's final comments – 7 September 2015

 


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) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)

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

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