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Both and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2015-068 (1 December 2015)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Andrew Both

Dated

1st December 2015

Number

2015-068

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 New Zealand’s efforts to remove the veto power held by permanent member states on the United Nations Security Council. Both the presenter and reporter referred to a recent example of Russia exercising its veto in relation to a proposed tribunal to investigate the crash of flight MH17. The Authority declined to uphold a complaint that the item was misleading and unbalanced because Russia in fact was supportive of investigating the MH17 tragedy and holding those responsible to account, but was not in favour of setting up a tribunal on the matter. The item was materially accurate and the reference to Russia’s exercise of the veto power did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance which triggered the need to present alternative views.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Controversial Issues, Law and Order, Fairness


Introduction

[1]  An item on 3 News discussed New Zealand’s efforts to remove the veto power held by permanent member states on the United Nations Security Council. Both the presenter and reporter referred to a recent example of the veto being exercised, saying, ‘Russia used the veto yesterday during a vote on whether to prosecute the people who shot down flight MH17’ and ‘Yesterday Russia, immovable, vetoed plans to prosecute those behind the MH17 crash’.

[2]  Andrew Both complained that the item was deliberately misleading and unbalanced, as Russia in fact was supportive of investigating the MH17 tragedy and holding those responsible to account; it was not, however, supportive of setting up a tribunal on the matter.

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

[4]  The item was broadcast on TV3 on 31 July 2015. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was the broadcast 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

[6] Mr Both argued that the comments were either ‘fraudulent’ or ‘accidentally misleading’, as they suggested that Russia did not support an investigation into the MH17 tragedy. In fact, he said, Russia had drafted and supported a resolution to investigate the incident and hold those responsible,2 and it was only a proposed tribunal which Russia had vetoed. Mr Both maintained that these were ‘completely different’ things. Mr Both also argued that the item should have included further details about the MH17 investigation.

[7]  MediaWorks argued that the function of the proposed MH17 tribunal was not at issue in the report, which was about the veto power in general and New Zealand’s and other small countries’ opposition to it. It said that the recent Russian veto of the proposed tribunal was included as an example of that power in action. MediaWorks maintained that the additional detail about the MH17 investigation was not of material importance to the story.

[8]  The item was accurate in stating that Russia had exercised its veto power in relation to the proposed MH17 tribunal. Mr Both has not disputed this. His concern is that by not also reporting on Russia’s stance on the MH17 investigation in general, viewers were misled. However, the item’s focus was the UN Security Council veto power and New Zealand’s efforts to have that power removed – not the MH17 investigation. Accordingly, it was not misleading for the item not to mention additional facts about the MH17 investigation in this context. Russia’s use of the veto was given only as an example of the veto power being exercised, and its reasons for using it were not material here.

[9] Accordingly we are satisfied that the item was not materially inaccurate or misleading and we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

Did the item discuss a controversial issue of public importance which required the presentation of alternative viewpoints?

[10]  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.3

[11]  Mr Both argued that the item misrepresented or ignored Russia’s actual stance on the MH17 investigation. MediaWorks responded that the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance, but even if it did, the item covered a newsworthy development in an ongoing issue, therefore balancing perspectives were not necessary.

[12]  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’.4

[13]  We do not consider that a brief reference to Russia exercising its veto power, as one recent example of how that power had been used, amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance which triggered the need to present alternative views. As we have said, the focus of the story was the opposition of New Zealand’s delegation to the veto power generally, not the MH17 investigation. Therefore it was not necessary for the broadcaster to present alternative points of view on Russia’s position in relation to the investigation.

[14]  For this reason we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 4.

Did the broadcast breach any other broadcasting standards?

[15]  Mr Both also complained that the broadcast breached the law and order standard and the fairness standard because it unfairly ‘evaluate[d] the Russian veto of the proposed tribunal’.

[16]  These standards were either not applicable or not breached because:

  •  The broadcast did not encourage listeners to break the law or promote or condone criminal activity (Standard 2); and
  •  The fairness standard only applies to individuals or organisations taking part or referred to in a broadcast. Mr Both did not identify any individual or organisation he believed was treated unfairly (Standard 6).

[17]  We therefore decline to uphold these aspects of the complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

 

Peter Radich

Chair

1 December 2015

 

Appendix

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

1      Andrew Both’s formal complaint – 11 August 2015

2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 1 September 2015

3      Mr Both’s referral to the Authority – 6 September 2015

4      MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 1 October 2015

 


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

2United Nation Security Council Resolution 2166 (2014)

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

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)