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Lowes and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2016-072 (2 December 2016)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Archie Lowes

Dated

2nd December 2016

Number

2016-072

Programme

Paul Henry

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd


An appeal against this decision was dismissed in the High Court: CIV-2017-485-71.12 MB


Summary

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

An item on Paul Henry about Independence Day celebrations in the USA featured an interview with the USA’s Ambassador to New Zealand. Prior to the interview, Paul Henry referred to the USA claiming ‘its independence from England’. He later quoted Margaret Thatcher, referring to her as the ‘Prime Minister of England’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that Mr Henry’s statements were inaccurate and discriminatory in that he should have referred to Great Britain or the United Kingdom, rather than England. The item was focused primarily on Independence Day celebrations and the statements would not have affected viewers’ understanding of the item as a whole. There was also no suggestion that Mr Henry intended to discriminate or denigrate against people of the United Kingdom who were not English.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  An item on Paul Henry about Independence Day celebrations in the USA featured an interview with the USA’s Ambassador to New Zealand. Prior to the interview, Paul Henry referred to the USA claiming ‘its independence from England’. He later quoted Margaret Thatcher, referring to her as the ‘Prime Minister of England’.

[2]  Archie Lowes complained that Mr Henry’s statements were inaccurate and discriminatory. He said that the USA gained independence from Great Britain, not England, and similarly that Margaret Thatcher was the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He said that by excluding other parts of the United Kingdom, Mr Henry implied that ‘only the English mattered in international relations’.

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

[4]  The item was broadcast on 4 July 2016 on TV3. 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 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.

[6]  MediaWorks submitted that the item was framed as being ‘about how and why Americans celebrate Independence Day’, not about the historical or ‘technical details’ of how independence was achieved. While it accepted Mr Henry’s comments were imprecise, it argued that the accuracy standard was only concerned with material inaccuracy, and Mr Henry’s statements were unlikely to have significantly affected viewers’ understanding of the item as a whole.

[7]  Mr Lowes argued that the context of the item was statehood, ‘for which independence is the starting point’. By introducing broader themes, Mr Henry took the item beyond the topic of ‘celebration only’ and his comments were therefore material, Mr Lowes said.

[8]  The accuracy standard is concerned only with material accuracy. Unimportant points unlikely to affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.1

[9]  MediaWorks has acknowledged Mr Henry’s error, and we would have expected a greater degree of care on this topic from the broadcaster. Nevertheless, we agree that it was not material in the context. This was a light-hearted item concerned primarily with how Americans, including expats such as the Ambassador, celebrate Independence Day. The item was not focused on the historic detail of America’s independence, and Mr Henry’s comments simply provided background context for the brief and general discussion. Viewers would not have been misled by Mr Henry’s imprecise remark, and would have appreciated his intended meaning. The point being made was not lost.

[10]  We therefore do not uphold the accuracy complaint.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, people of the United Kingdom as a section of the community?

[11]  The objective of the discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) is to protect sections of the community from verbal and other attacks. The standard protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

[12]  Mr Lowes submitted that Mr Henry’s comments suggested that ‘the class of people having the particular attribute of being English are superior beings’, and amounted to ‘virtual ethnic cleansing’ of others in the United Kingdom who were not English (ie, Scottish, Irish and Welsh).

[13]  MediaWorks submitted that Mr Henry’s statements were genuine errors on his part and were not intended to discriminate against or denigrate the reputation of a class of people. The comments were plainly intended to provide context to the discussion and were not motivated by malice or nastiness, MediaWorks argued.

[14]  We agree that Mr Henry’s statements amounted to careless errors and there was no suggestion during the broadcast that he intended to denigrate or discriminate against people of the United Kingdom who were not English. Mr Henry’s comments were intended to provide a brief and thought-provoking context to his interview with the Ambassador, and did not carry the level of condemnation required to find a breach under the standard.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich

Chair

2 December 2016

 

Appendix

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

1      Archie Lowes’ formal complaint – 21 July 2016
2      MediaWorks TV’s response to the complaint – 26 August 2016
3      Mr Lowes’ response to MediaWorks TV – 13 September 2016
4      Mr Lowes’ referral to the Authority – 13 September 2016
5      MediaWorks TV’s confirmation of no further comment – 21 September 2016

 


1 Guideline 9b