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Oswald and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2016-040A (19 October 2016)

Members

  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose

Complainant

  • John Oswald

Dated

19th October 2016

Number

2016-040A

Programme

Seven Sharp

Channel/Station

TV ONE

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

Summary

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

A Seven Sharp item discussed the reasons that outgoing New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd was not seeking re-election. These included that Mr Judd had suffered abuse and become ‘deeply unpopular’ because of his campaign to increase Māori representation on the New Plymouth District Council, in particular by proposing that a Māori ward be established on the Council. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the reporter’s statements about the referendum regarding the establishment of a Māori ward were inaccurate. While several of the reporter’s statements could be seen to conflate the issues about representation, the surrounding statements clarified what was being discussed so viewers would not have been misled. In the context of the item, these statements did not reach the threshold for breaching the accuracy standard.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


Introduction

[1]  A Seven Sharp item discussed the reasons that outgoing New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd was not seeking re-election. These included that Mr Judd had suffered abuse and become ‘deeply unpopular’ because of his campaign to increase Māori representation on the New Plymouth District Council (the Council), in particular by proposing that a Māori ward be established on the Council.

[2]  John Oswald complained that the reporter’s statements regarding the referendum proposing to establish a Māori ward on the Council were inaccurate and misleading. He considered the statement ‘83 per cent of New Plymouth voters voted no to any Māori at the Council table’ implied that New Plymouth voters did not want any Māori on the Council, whereas the 83 per cent vote in fact was against the establishment of a Māori ward.

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

[4]  The item was broadcast on TV ONE on 5 May 2016. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The item

[5]  The Seven Sharp item was introduced by presenter Toni Street as follows:

It’s the reason why Mayor Andrew Judd is stepping down that will shock you. It’s to do with racism, abuse and trying to do what Judd thinks is right even if it’s deeply unpopular...

[6]  The item began with Mr Judd reading out what people have said to him over the time of his Mayoralty, including:

  • ‘Māori don’t need any special treatment they just need to be more like us.’
  • ‘If I’d have known you supported all this Māori stuff I would never have voted for you.’
  • ‘Enjoy your one term as our mayor fella.’

[7]  Mr Judd also stated he was removed as the patron of a club and uninvited from community events.

[8]  The reporter explained, ‘Andrew Judd is a Pākehā who gets abused by other Pākehā for liking Māori.’ Mr Judd said he was abused in the community and that was when he decided to ‘hide’ his family and not take them to public events.

[9]  A member of the New Plymouth public was then interviewed, saying, ‘when you have the Mayor being spat on, who is a Pākehā, by Pākehā, it’s pretty awful’. The reporter and Mr Judd then confirmed this story, saying:

Reporter: [Name] is right – Andrew Judd was spat on by a woman in the supermarket, right in front of his kids.

Mr Judd: Firstly I was shocked, and [my kids] were looking at me a little bit fearful, so we left.

[10]  Mr Judd and the reporter then had the following exchange:

Mr Judd: My name is Andrew Judd and I am a recovering racist...

Reporter: He says he was a racist when he became Mayor three years ago.

Mr Judd: I spent most of my life deflecting. I said I wasn’t a racist – ‘gosh, we’ve got a Treaty, we’re paying them out. What’s wrong with them? They are the ones with the problem. They don’t get over it. They don’t want to improve themselves.’ I’m sick of it, they’re all in jail. Never ever did I say, ‘have I bothered to learn anything in the Māori world?’ I’d grab a haka as if I owned it. I didn’t even understand it, couldn’t even say it properly...

[11]  The reporter explained how Mr Judd’s role in a Treaty settlement regarding Council land had in turn affected his mayoralty:

It got [Mr Judd] thinking about how Māori weren’t represented on his Council. He suggested a Māori member on Standing Committees; the Council voted against this. Then he suggested a Māori Ward (that’s one Māori seat on the 14-member Council), that was passed but many Councillors didn’t attend the vote. Now a large part – a large, vocal part – were outraged at the thought of Māori getting onto the New Plymouth District Council. So Grey Power forced a petition, which forced a referendum, and 83% of New Plymouth voters voted ‘No’ to any Māori at the Council table. Now this result mirrors similar votes all around New Zealand. The push for Māori representation made Andrew Judd deeply unpopular.

[12]  Mr Judd commented on the reaction he had received from his constituents, including ‘a man dressed in a Nazi uniform coming up to see me’. The reporter also said that ‘other Mayors avoided [Mr Judd] at local government meetings’.

[13]  Mr Judd then stated he would not seek re-election because of the challenges and public backlash he had received as Mayor.

[14]  The item concluded with Mr Judd saying, ‘We need to look after our indigenous people. If we can’t do that, how on earth are we going to grow and become this multicultural country we say we’re going to be?’

[15]  After the item, presenter Mike Hosking commented:

Sad to say – I’d never personally attack him, obviously – but he’s completely out of touch with middle New Zealand. There’s nothing wrong with Māori representation on Councils because any Māori who wants to stand for a Council is more than welcome to do so. And you can sell your message and if you’re good enough, you’ll get voted on – simple as that.

[16]  Presenter Toni Street and Mr Hosking then had the following exchange:

Ms Street: Well, clearly the big issue here was his message wasn’t sold before he was elected, and that was the big problem, wasn’t it.

Mr Hosking: If you want to push like representation, specific and artificial representation on Māori Councils, what you do is you go and say, ‘vote for me because this is what I stand for’.

Ms Street: Beforehand.

Mr Hosking: And if you get elected, then you got elected and you’ve got a mandate – simple as that.

[17]  Mr Hosking also interviewed Mr Judd in a follow-up item, broadcast during Seven Sharp on 9 May 2016. The two discussed Mr Judd’s view that there needed to be better Māori representation on councils, why he took this position, and why he considered the options councils currently had for achieving better Māori representation were limited.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[18]  The accuracy standard (Standard 9) 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 being significantly misinformed.

The parties’ submissions

[19]  Mr Oswald argued that the following statements by the reporter were a ‘deliberate misrepresentation of the facts’:

  • ‘Now a large part – a large, vocal part – were outraged at the thought of Māori getting on the New Plymouth District Council.’
  • ‘83 per cent of New Plymouth voters voted “no” to any Māori at the Council table.’

[20]  Mr Oswald noted that the wording of the relevant referendum option was, ‘I vote against the establishment of a Māori ward’ – which would not preclude Māori from being elected to the Council. He therefore considered the reporter’s statement was an inaccurate and misleading extrapolation of the facts which implied that most New Plymouth voters were ‘racist’. Mr Oswald maintained that ‘Voting “no” to any Māori at the Council table would be a racist point of view. Voting “no” to separate, race-based wards is a non-racist point of view where all people are treated equally’.

[21]  TVNZ provided the following evidence to support the statement that ‘a large part’ of the New Plymouth public ‘were outraged’ at Mr Judd’s proposal:

  • Over 4,000 registered voters signed a petition against the Māori ward, forcing a binding referendum.
  • A public forum on the proposed Māori ward was moved from the Council to the city's theatre because of a backlash from voters.
  • Letters to the editor and social media posts were ‘filled with disgust’ at the thought of a Māori ward.
  • Local residents provided anecdotal evidence to this effect.
  • Mr Judd testified to the quantity and ferocity of abuse he received.

[22]  TVNZ noted that the wording of the referendum was:

Do you want a Māori ward in the New Plymouth District Council? A Māori ward is a ward of Māori only constituents who elect a representative onto council. It is a Māori seat on Council like the five national Māori seats in Parliament. You must be on the Māori roll to vote for Māori seats.

[23]  TVNZ maintained that 83 per cent of New Plymouth voters said no to the proposed Māori ward, which it considered was ‘in essence saying no to Māori representation on the council’. It further noted that ‘many of the objections to the Māori seats were based on ethnicity’. For these reasons TVNZ considered the statements in the item were not inaccurate and would not have misled viewers.

Our analysis

[24]  We acknowledge that when taken in isolation, the reporter’s statements could be seen to imply general resistance to any Māori on the Council, rather than to the establishment of a Māori ward. This was a careless and loose explanation and, given the sensitive subject matter discussed, should have been avoided. However, when considered in context, we are satisfied the statements did not reach the necessary threshold for finding a breach of the accuracy standard.

[25]  The item as a whole was primarily framed as a profile piece on Mr Judd, detailing from his perspective his experiences being on the Council and as Mayor, and his reasons for deciding not to seek re-election. It was in this context that the proposed Māori ward on the Council was raised. The statements identified by Mr Oswald were made as part of a lengthy explanation about the proposed Māori ward and the corresponding referendum. The full explanation by the reporter was as follows:

It got [Mr Judd] thinking about how Māori weren’t represented on his Council. He suggested a Māori member on Standing Committees; the Council voted against this. Then he suggested a Māori Ward (that’s one Māori seat on the 14-member Council), that was passed but many Councillors didn’t attend the vote. Now a large part – a large vocal part – were outraged at the thought of Māori getting onto the New Plymouth District Council. So Grey Power forced a petition, which forced a referendum, and 83% of New Plymouth voters voted ‘No’ to any Māori at the Council table. Now this result mirrors similar votes all around New Zealand. The push for Māori representation made Andrew Judd deeply unpopular.

[26]  In light of the preceding statements, we believe viewers would have understood that the ‘public outrage’ and the 83 per cent vote related to the proposed Māori ward, rather than to any Māori on the Council per se, and therefore would not have been misled.

[27]  As we have acknowledged above, while the reporter’s statements were careless and loose, we are satisfied that there was sufficiently precise and accurate commentary surrounding these statements to mitigate any lapses. We recognise that in some cases, a reporter may simplify the subject matter – in this instance, local council referendums – in order to convey the message to viewers. We consider that in this case, in the context of a profile piece about Mr Judd for Seven Sharp, the reporter’s shorthand explanation did not reach the threshold for breaching the accuracy standard.

[28]  Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 9.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Leigh Pearson
Authority Member
19 October 2016

 

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1      John Oswald’s formal complaint – 5 May 2016
2      TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 27 May 2016
3      Mr Oswald’s referral to the Authority – 2 June 2016
4      TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 4 August 2016