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Woods and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2015-062 (1 December 2015)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Matt Woods

Dated

1st December 2015

Number

2015-062

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

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

A 3 News item reported on Labour Party leader Andrew Little’s response to questions about his party’s use of data allegedly showing the percentage of offshore Chinese home-buyers in Auckland. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the item lacked balance because it was dominated by the political editor’s point of view. The item included balancing comment from both Mr Little and Labour Housing Spokesman Phil Twyford and it would have been clear to viewers that the political editor was giving his own robust commentary and analysis of the issue.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues


Introduction

[1]  A 3 News item reported on Labour Party leader Andrew Little’s response to questions about his party’s use of real estate data allegedly showing the percentage of offshore Chinese home-buyers in Auckland. Political editor Patrick Gower offered his analysis of the issue, saying, ‘You’ve got to remember this is a deeply cynical exercise in wedge politics by the Labour Party’.

[2]  Matt Woods complained that the item lacked balance as it was dominated by Mr Gower’s point of view.

[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 21 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 item sufficiently balanced?

[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 Woods argued that the item was dominated by Mr Gower’s point of view, which breached the requirement for a fair and representative range of views to be presented. He felt this was especially necessary in a news item which requires the highest level of balance, as prime-time news is where viewers will often go as a first point of reference to the current affairs of the day and therefore cannot be assumed to be aware of all views on the matter. Mr Woods considered Mr Gower’s view was almost ‘politically partisan’ and should be presented as such, pointing to his comment, ‘this is a deeply cynical exercise in wedge politics by the Labour Party’ as an example.

[7]  MediaWorks noted that the report specifically covered Mr Little’s reaction to questions about the real estate data put to him by Mr Gower, so most viewers would have understood the item was narrowly focused and not framed as a comprehensive investigation of the issue. In any event, MediaWorks argued that, given Labour’s use of the real estate data was discussed at length and in detail across many different media outlets, viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage. Therefore it considered it was not necessary for a range of views to be presented within this item. MediaWorks conceded that some viewers may not enjoy Mr Gower’s style of presentation, but stated his role is to analyse and interpret complex political matters: ‘In accordance with his role as political editor, Mr Gower provided his appraisal of the issue, adding to the chorus of analysis occurring across news media’. MediaWorks characterised the real estate data issue as ‘an issue of significant importance and potential divisiveness’ which necessitated robust analysis.

[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 are satisfied that the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance. The Labour Party’s gathering and use of real estate data purporting to show the percentage of offshore Chinese home-buyers in Auckland generated considerable controversy, debate and media coverage. While the item covered Mr Little’s response to the ‘political heat’ generated by the issue, it also discussed the issue in a broader sense by detailing Labour’s analysis of the data and criticism of this analysis.

[11]  In our view, the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to include balancing comment in the item from both Mr Little and Labour Housing Spokesman Phil Twyford. Mr Little was shown saying the Labour Party ‘had a moral duty to release that information, as uncomfortable as it was; as imprecise as the conclusions were’. He also commented Mr Gower did not understand the issue, was ‘making stuff up’ and was using ‘inflammatory’ language. Mr Twyford commented to a reporter, ‘The Auckland housing market is not some kind of morality play for you to be the referee in... it’s a market’. While Mr Gower did give his point of view during the item, we consider these statements from the Labour Party provided ample balance to his critique of Labour’s actions and ensured his view did not dominate the item.

[12]  In any case, we agree with the broadcaster that it would have been clear to viewers that Mr Gower, as TV3’s political editor, was offering his opinion and analysis of the real estate data issue.5 Viewers generally expect robust political commentary from reporters in this role, which can at times include strong or provocative language. Mr Gower’s description of the Labour Party’s ‘deeply cynical exercise in wedge politics’ was consistent with this expectation. As noted by the broadcaster, this issue was widely publicised so it was reasonable to expect viewers would appreciate that Mr Gower’s view was only one perspective and they were able to form their own opinions on the topic with reference to both the comments from the Labour Party within the item, and other readily available information.

[13]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the balance 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      Matt Woods’ formal complaint – 21 July 2015
2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 17 August 2015
3      Mr Woods’ referral to the Authority – 18 August 2015
4      MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 14 September 2015

 


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)

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

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

Litmus testing of some of the Authority’s decisions demonstrated that viewers use a number of cues to distinguish opinion from fact, including the persona, reputation and well-known style of particular presenters: Litmus Testing 2015 (Accuracy), Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2015