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Kuten and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2016-081 (15 December 2016)

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose

Complainant

  • Jay Kuten

Dated

15th December 2016

Number

2016-081

Programme

Story

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

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

An item on Story opened with the news that Air Chathams had recently launched a new flight route from Auckland to Whanganui, following Air New Zealand’s announcement that it would discontinue its flights to the city. The item featured a reporter who visited Whanganui and spoke with the Mayor, residents and business-owners about their experiences and the good and the bad side of living and working in Whanganui. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this item was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfairly portrayed Whanganui and its residents. The introduction to the item was a parody of a popular, long-running Lemon and Paeroa television advertisement, which most viewers would have recognised, and while some of the reporter’s comments were critical of Whanganui, these were balanced with many positive comments made by residents and the item’s presenters.

Not Upheld: Fairness, Balance, Accuracy


Introduction

[1]  An item on Story opened with the news that Air Chathams had recently launched a new flight route from Auckland to Whanganui, following Air New Zealand’s announcement that it would discontinue its flights to the city. The item featured a reporter who visited Whanganui and spoke with the Mayor, residents and business-owners about their experiences and the good and the bad side of living and working in the city.

[2]  Jay Kuten complained that this item as a whole unfairly portrayed Whanganui and its residents negatively, and particularly the business-owners featured in the opening segment. He also submitted that the item as a whole was unbalanced and inaccurate, as it would have discouraged members of the public from visiting the city and investing further in its direction.

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

[4]  The programme was broadcast on 2 August 2016 on TV3 at 7pm. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

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

[5]  The fairness standard (Standard 11) 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.1

The parties’ submissions

[6]  Mr Kuten submitted that:

  • The item created an unfairly negative impression of the city of Whanganui. He argued that the reporter (who was born and raised in Whanganui) displayed a negative bias towards the city and its residents, choosing not to focus on the positive aspects of Whanganui and instead creating an overall tone that was condescending and portrayed Whanganui as a town ‘struggling to stay afloat’.
  • The owners of the fish and chip shop featured in the item’s opening segment were not aware that their shop was being filmed for the item and this segment unfairly disparaged the family’s business.

[7]  MediaWorks submitted that:

  • The city of Whanganui could not be considered an ‘organisation’ to which the fairness standard applied. It did not consider that any other individuals who took part or were referred to were treated unfairly during the broadcast.
  • It did not consider that the reporter’s bias, which was referred to by the item’s presenters, was ‘against’ Whanganui, but instead suggested that the reporter’s background meant she was biased in favour of the city.
  • The opening segment was a parody of the 1994 television advertisement, ‘World Famous in New Zealand’, for Lemon and Paeroa soft drink (L&P).2 This light-hearted spoof did not disparage the fish and chip shop or suggest that the food was of low quality; rather, it suggested that Whanganui (in the reporter’s opinion) was not known for its fine dining. It argued that this parody did not call into question the quality of the cuisine or the character of the shop’s owners.

Our analysis

[8]  The purpose of the fairness standard is to protect the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes, specifically, any individuals or organisations taking part or referred to.3 As such, we are unable to consider the standard in relation to Whanganui as a city, or to its residents, as a group of people. However, we have considered the complainant’s concerns that the overall tone of the item unfairly portrayed the city of Whanganui, as well as its residents, negatively, under the balance standard.

[9]  In relation to the treatment of the business owners featured in the opening segment, this was a parody of the popular, long-running L&P television advertisement, during which a teenager stood outside a burger bar in Paeroa and said, ‘Well, it ain’t famous for its fine restaurants’. During the item, the reporter could be seen exiting a fish and chip shop (with the name of the restaurant briefly visible), saying, ‘It’s not known for its fine dining’. At the end of the segment, the reporter repeated the original advertisement’s tagline, ‘But it is famous!’ and then said, ‘Whanganui. It’s an easy target. But this small town wants us to rewind and set the record straight’.

[10]  A consideration of what is fair under the standard will depend on the nature of the programme, and context will also be considered.4 The Authority has previously acknowledged,5 and some standards in the Code recognise,6 that humour and satire are important forms of speech on which society places value. We therefore need to give due weight to this form of speech in our consideration of the complaint and should not limit this exercise of free expression unless there is a strong justification for doing so.

[11]  This was a satirical segment which addressed some of the misconceptions the reporter considered existed about Whanganui, and challenged viewers to reconsider their perception of the city. The reporter’s closing statement to this segment suggested that viewers should hear from the city’s residents about what life was really like for them, before making any judgements.

[12]  We do not think the opening segment reflected unfavourably on the shop owners or implied that the food bought from the fish and chip shop was of poor quality; most viewers would have understood that New Zealand fish and chips are not generally considered ‘fine dining’, and this statement does not of itself imply that the food was not good quality. While we note the complainant’s concerns that the owners of the business were not consulted about the segment, the footage of the shop was brief and the owners’ participation therefore only very minor in the context of the item as a whole. In these circumstances we do not consider that they were treated unfairly.

[13]  We therefore find no breach of Standard 11.

Did the item discuss a controversial issue of public importance, such that the presentation of alternative viewpoints was required?

[14]  The balance standard (Standard 8) 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 viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.

The parties’ submissions

[15]  Mr Kuten’s concerns related to the way the city of Whanganui was portrayed during the item. He said that the item unfairly focused on negative aspects of Whanganui, without any consideration of the positives, including the city’s location and scenery, its vibrant arts community, diverse population, low crime rates and low housing prices.

[16]  MediaWorks TV did not consider that the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance. Regardless, it argued that the item contained a range of different viewpoints, many of which commented positively on Whanganui, and these provided balance to the more critical parts of the item.

Our analysis

[17]  A controversial issue of public importance is something that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public. A controversial issue will be one that has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion, or about which there has been ongoing public debate.7

[18]  We do not consider that the item as a whole discussed a controversial issue of public importance as envisaged by the standard. While the launch of a new airline route to Whanganui and the reporter’s discussion with residents about the city may have been of interest to some members of the New Zealand public, this was ultimately a light-hearted snapshot of life in Whanganui, as told by its residents, business-owners and the Mayor. We do not view it as a topic of ongoing public debate or conflicting opinion.

[19]  In any event, we are satisfied that balance was provided within the item. We accept that some aspects of the item were critical about Whanganui, including the high rates of unemployment, insurance premiums for Whanganui’s many heritage buildings, and low rates of consumer confidence. The reporter chose to adopt a cynical tone (in keeping with the satirical opening segment), and did not present a purely positive picture of Whanganui. However, we do not consider that the reporter’s alleged bias resulted in an unbalanced item. The intention of the presenters when discussing the reporter’s bias was to call attention to the fact that the reporter was born and raised in Whanganui, giving her ‘inside knowledge’, and the reporter used her position to comment critically on some aspects of the city.

[20]  Numerous positive comments made by residents of Whanganui were included in the item, which balanced the more critical aspects. Some of the people interviewed by the reporter acknowledged the challenges they faced, but all highlighted the positives – the city and its people’s ‘beauty and ruggedness’, the low housing prices and little traffic, crime and unemployment rates that were proportionate compared with the rest of New Zealand, the beautiful heritage buildings, and the emerging positive energy in the city. Following the item one presenter also informed viewers that her ‘favourite café in the whole world’ was in Whanganui.

[21]  The overall message of the item was that people should visit Whanganui before they judge, leaving viewers to decide whether to visit and form their own views of the city.

[22]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint under Standard 8.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[23]  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

[24]  Mr Kuten submitted that:

  • Viewers who had not visited Whanganui would be adversely affected by the item’s portrayal of the city, and would be discouraged from visiting as a result of the item.
  • The presenters’ comments regarding the closure of Air New Zealand’s route to the city (that the closure was due to the route no longer being ‘economically viable’ and that this was ‘pretty much code for no one wanted to go’), were also inaccurate and misleading. He said the presenters should have ‘decoded Air New Zealand’s message more accurately’, by investigating the removal of Government agencies from the city, which resulted in a flow-on effect on the population and travel needs.

[25]  MediaWorks TV appreciated that there may have been more complex factors behind Air New Zealand’s decision to terminate its service, but considered an in-depth examination of the decision was outside the scope of the item.

Our analysis

[26]  The accuracy standard is concerned only with material points of fact. While the discussion of a new airline route prompted the reporter’s trip to Whanganui, it was not the focus of the item as a whole. As a result, we do not consider that the presenters’ comments about the route termination were material for the purposes of the standard, or would have significantly affected viewers’ understanding of the story.

[27]  The presenters were simply reiterating Air New Zealand’s stance that the route was no longer commercially viable, and while the presenter’s comment suggested that this was due to people no longer wanting to visit Whanganui, these comments were tempered by numerous positive comments made throughout the item (as discussed above in relation to balance). For example, a representative from Air Chathams stated that the airline saw the route as a ‘long-term investment’, and the presenters later discussed positively a café in Whanganui and the recent rise in house prices due to people ‘catching on’ to the great things Whanganui had to offer.

[28]  In these circumstances, the omission of further discussion about the reasons for the route cancellation did not result in the item as a whole being misleading.

[29]  We therefore find no breach of Standard 9.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
15 December 2016

 

Appendix

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

1      Jay Kuten’s formal complaint – 28 August 2016
2      MediaWorks TV’s response to the complaint – 26 September 2016
3      Mr Kuten’s referral to the Authority – 14 October 2016
4      MediaWorks TV’s response to the Authority – 8 November 2016
5      Mr Kuten’s further comments – 1 December 2016

 


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

 2  The advertisement is available to view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZcUbtNIwI0

3  Page 21, Commentary to Standard 11 (Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook)

4  Guideline 11a

5  E.g. Swift and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2012-017

6  See, for example, guideline 11a to Standard 11 (Fairness) and guideline 6c to Standard 6 (Discrimination and Denigration)

7  Page 18, Commentary to Standard 8 (Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook)