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Craig and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2015-096 (12 May 2016)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Ross Craig

Dated

12th May 2016

Number

2015-096

Programme

Prime News

Channel/Station

Prime TV

Broadcaster

SKY Network Television Ltd

Summary

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

A Prime News item reported on the Conservative Party Annual General Meeting, which was the subject of a police call-out because a former Board member attempted to attend the meeting and was issued a trespass notice. The Authority did not uphold a complaint alleging that the item lacked balance, was inaccurate and was unfair to the Conservative Party and its former leader Colin Craig. The item was a straightforward news report that was not unfair to the Conservative Party or Colin Craig, who as a public figure should expect to be subject to some criticism and scrutiny. The item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance that required the presentation of other views and was not inaccurate.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Accuracy, Fairness


Introduction

[1]  A Prime News item reported on the Conservative Party Annual General Meeting, which was the subject of a police call-out because a former Board member attempted to attend the meeting and was issued a trespass notice.

[2]  Ross Craig complained that the item lacked balance, was inaccurate and was unfair towards the Conservative Party and its former leader Colin Craig.

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

[4]  The item was broadcast on Prime on 7 November 2015. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Scope of the complaint

[5]  Mr Craig did not explicitly nominate standards in his original complaint, which included allegations that the item in question was ‘defamatory’, ‘inaccurate’, ‘lacked balance, giving only one side’ and was ‘unfair’. In its response SKY considered the complaint under the accuracy and fairness standards. In his referral to the Authority, Mr Craig again did not specify which standards he was referring his complaint under.

[6]  During the course of considering Mr Craig’s complaint, on the basis of his statement that the item ‘lacked balance giving only one side’, we invited SKY to make further submissions on the controversial issues (balance) standard. SKY submitted that it was not open for the Authority to also consider the complaint under this standard as it was not specifically raised in the original complaint, and to do so would be inconsistent with our advice to complainants and previous decisions.

[7]  The Authority's established approach to the issue of the scope of complaints and their determination has been to accept jurisdiction over standards raised either explicitly or implicitly in the original complaint (or, conversely, to decline jurisdiction to consider a standard where it was not raised either explicitly or implicitly in the original complaint).1 We think it is clear from Mr Craig’s statement that the item ‘lacked balance, giving only one side’ that he implicitly raised the balance standard in his original complaint. We have therefore proceeded to determine Mr Craig’s complaint under the balance, accuracy and fairness standards.

The item

[8]  The item subject to complaint was 48 seconds in length and was introduced by the presenter as follows:

The Conservative Party’s Annual General Meeting has been marred by a police call-out after a former Board member refused to stay away. [Name] was issued a trespass notice after making it clear he would try and stop the Party’s members from electing a new Board.

[9]  Footage was then shown of the former Board member leaving the building where the AGM was being held, holding a trespass notice. In a voiceover the presenter explained:

[Name] warned the Conservatives they were going against party protocol and wants them to steer clear of controversial former leader Colin Craig. He says it’s a shame he was pushed out.

[10]  The former Board member then commented:

It rapidly looks like it is becoming a personality cult centred around Colin Craig, with fear, intimidation, threats and legal suits. We’re now up to nine being initiated around Colin Craig.

[11]  The item concluded with the presenter stating, ‘[Colin] Craig was not at today’s meeting and says that was to avoid conflict’.

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

[12]  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.2

[13]  Mr Craig argued the item lacked balance because the former Board member ‘was allowed to speak unchallenged’ and because the item did not include comment from Colin Craig or the Conservative Party. He said, ‘it concerns me greatly that one party to a High Court proceeding can ask a broadcaster to cover a stunt that he is pulling and his propaganda is broadcast without any journalistic filter being applied’. Mr Craig maintained that audiences only viewing the Prime News item would be left with a biased impression of the incident and viewers could not be reasonably expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage, especially coverage on other channels.

[14]  SKY argued that the item was balanced, as it was concluded with a statement summarising Colin Craig’s position. It also noted that it had on many other occasions covered Colin Craig’s events, including when he announced he would be taking legal action against the former Board member. SKY considered that matters relating to the Conservative Party and conflict between leadership and (former) Board members were the subject of numerous media reports during the period of current interest and viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage. SKY also confirmed that there was no invitation from the former Board member to cover any event and that the police activity at the AGM was unexpected, but was included in the report as it was a matter of public interest.

[15]  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’.3

[16]  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’.4 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.5

[17]  The focus of the item was the police call-out to the Conservative Party AGM, and the subsequent issuing of a trespass notice to a former Board member. While the background context to these developments was the conflict between Conservative Party leadership and former Board members, which could be considered to be a controversial issue of public importance, the item did not discuss this broader issue. It was instead a brief, straightforward news report that was concerned with the narrower issue of the incident at the AGM. This was not a controversial issue of public importance that triggered the requirement to present alternative significant points of view. However, we note that in any case the presenter did provide balance by summarising Colin Craig’s position at the end of the item, saying, ‘Craig was not at today’s meeting, and says that was to avoid conflict’.

[18]  For these reasons we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 4.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[19]  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.6

[20]  Mr Craig argued that the former Board member’s comments during the item were inaccurate, and in particular he stated that there had been no breach of Conservative Party protocol as alleged.

[21]  SKY noted that the accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, and argued the comments made were clearly the opinion of the former Board member.

[22]  The statement made by the presenter during the report was that ‘[Name of former Board member] warned the Conservatives they were going against Party protocol’. We agree with the broadcaster that this was clearly framed as the former Board member’s opinion, therefore it was exempt from the requirement to be accurate. The statement was attributed to the former Board member, who was evidently unwelcome at the Conservative Party AGM and had just been issued a trespass notice. As an allegation made in the context of a clearly established conflict between the former Board member and the Conservative Party, a reasonable viewer would have interpreted it as his opinion and not an authoritative statement of fact about the Party’s actions.

[23]  Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

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

[24]  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.7

[25]  Mr Craig argued that the former Board member’s comments were defamatory of both Colin Craig and the Conservative Party.

[26]  SKY submitted that the fairness standard states that broadcasters should respect the rights of individuals to express their own opinions, and the comments made were clearly the opinion of the former Board member. It noted that there is a certain level of robust debate expected in politics and the item was an example of such. SKY considered it was in the public interest to cover differing views within politics, and within political circles.

[27]  We do not consider the item, which was a straightforward news report, contained any material which was unfair towards the Conservative Party or Colin Craig. The Authority has consistently recognised that the threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to politicians or public figures is higher than for a lay person or someone unfamiliar with dealing with the media. Politicians must expect a certain amount of criticism and scrutiny in relation to their public roles.8 We acknowledge that the former Board member’s comment that ‘It rapidly looks like it is becoming a personality cult centred around Colin Craig with fear, intimidation, threats and legal suits’ was critical of Colin Craig and the Conservative Party. However, we do not think this strayed beyond criticism of Colin Craig’s and the Conservative Party’s political activities into personal abuse, which could be said to be unfair.9 The comments were focused on Colin Craig in his capacity as former leader of the Conservative Party and on the Party itself.

[28]  As stated in our discussion of the accuracy standard, the comment was made in the context of a robust political environment and a clearly established conflict between the former Board member and the Conservative Party. It was not supported in any way by the presenter, who gave a neutral report on the developments of the day. The item made it clear that the former Board member was the subject of a police call-out and had been trespassed from the AGM, which could be said to reflect negatively on him rather than on Colin Craig or the Conservative Party.

[29]  While the item did not feature direct comment from Colin Craig or other members of the Conservative Party, Colin Craig’s position was adequately referenced at the end of the report (see paragraph [17]). In a news report that was less than one minute in length, it was not necessary, in the interests of fairness, for the broadcaster to feature more substantive comment from Colin Craig or other members of the Conservative Party.

[30]  Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 6.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
12 May 2016

 

Appendix

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

1      Ross Craig’s formal complaint – 9 November 2015
2      Mr Craig’s additional comments on formal complaint – 10 December 2015
3      SKY’s response to the complaint – 14 December 2015
4      Mr Craig’s referral to the Authority – 17 December 2015
5      SKY’s response to the Authority – 12 February 2016
6      Mr Craig’s final comment – 18 February 2016
7      SKY’s response to the Authority’s request for further submissions – 23 March 2016
8      Mr Craig’s response to the Authority’s request for further submissions – 24 March 2016

 

 


1 For example, see: Dunstan and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2015-052 at [7]; Morse and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2014-094 at [3]; NZ Timber Preservation Council Inc and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-032 at [24]

2Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

3 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)

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

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

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

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

8 For example, see Jenkinson and Johnson and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2014-006 at [8]

9 See the Authority’s discussion, for example, in Kiro and RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-108 at [78]