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Steel and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2016-079 (15 December 2016)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Robin Steel

Dated

15th December 2016

Number

2016-079

Programme

ONE News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

Summary

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

An item on ONE News discussed the New Zealand Government’s ‘open door policy’ on allowing foreign visitors in New Zealand to drive. The item featured an interview with a road safety campaigner, who said it was unfair that Chinese visitors were able to drive in New Zealand with international licences, while New Zealanders had to apply for a permit to drive in China. The item included numerous references to Chinese drivers in New Zealand, and featured footage of Chinese members of the public. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this item was discriminatory towards Chinese people. The item was framed around the campaigner’s opinion that there was not a ‘level playing field’ between China and New Zealand. While viewers may not have agreed with the campaigner’s views, his comments did not reach the high threshold required to encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, Chinese people. The comments that were critical of Chinese drivers were also balanced during the item with comments from a Government representative, and the reporter’s comments about accidents in New Zealand involving other nationalities.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  An item on ONE News discussed the New Zealand Government’s ‘open door policy’ on allowing foreign visitors in New Zealand to drive with international licences. The item featured an interview with a road safety campaigner, who said it was unfair that Chinese visitors were able to drive with international licences in New Zealand, while New Zealanders had to apply for a permit to drive in China. The item included numerous references to Chinese drivers in New Zealand, and featured footage of Chinese members of the public.

[2]  Robin Steel complained that the item was discriminatory towards Chinese people. He considered the item encouraged casual racism towards Chinese drivers and reinforced racist stereotypes.

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

[4]  The item was broadcast during the 6pm news on 12 September 2016 on TV ONE. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The programme

[5]  The item subject to complaint was introduced by the presenters as follows:

The Government’s sticking to its open door policy on foreign drivers, despite criticism from a long-time road safety campaigner. [The campaigner] says it isn’t fair that Chinese tourists can easily get behind the wheel here, when Kiwis can’t do the same in China.

[6]  A graphic of an international driving permit, with Chinese characters, was shown behind the presenters during this introduction.

[7]  The reporter then began the item by saying:

Life-threatening encounters like this landed a Chinese visitor in Court in February – just one of a series of accidents raising questions about the skills of some foreign drivers.

[8]  The item moved to an interview with the road safety campaigner, who said, ‘The Government has encouraged millions of people to come here and drive, who simply don’t have the skills to drive here safely’.

[9]  In a voiceover, the reporter said:

He’s particularly cross that our Government allows Chinese visitors to drive on international licences, when Kiwis must get a permit to drive there.

[10]  During this voiceover, footage was shown of Chinese tourists in public. The campaigner then said, ‘All I’m asking for is a level playing field. If it’s not safe for New Zealanders to drive in China, why is it safe for Chinese drivers to drive here?’

[11]  The item also featured comment from the Associate Transport Minister, who outlined the safeguards the Government had put in place for foreign drivers in New Zealand.

[12]  Towards the end of the item the reporter stated:

Ministry of Transport figures show Australians and Germans are involved in the most accidents here, followed by drivers from China, India, the UK and United States.

Although we know six percent of all injury and fatal accidents involve foreign licence holders, we don’t know whether drivers from any particular country are more accident-prone than others.

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

[13]  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.

[14]  ‘Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment. ‘Denigration’ is defined as devaluing the reputation of a class of people.1

The parties’ submissions

[15]  Mr Steel submitted that while the item was ‘ostensibly about proposed tighter restrictions to the issuance of foreign drivers licences’, the item instead focused on Chinese people, ‘reinforcing the racist stereotype that they are inherently bad drivers’. He argued these references encouraged casual racism and racist stereotypes, and that greater sensitivity was needed towards these issues.

[16]  TVNZ submitted that there was nothing in the item that amounted to hate speech or discrimination against Chinese people. It said that the item reported on facts, including the campaigner’s opinion that ‘a “level playing field” didn’t exist between the two countries in terms of licensing visiting drivers’. It said that the campaigner’s comments focused on the ‘lack of reciprocity with China’ and that ‘the report attempted to reflect this in the selection of images’.

[17]  TVNZ also argued that differing viewpoints were provided in the story, including comments from a Government representative and the reporter’s references to other nationalities.

Our analysis

[18]  Guideline 6b to the standard states that a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, will be necessary to conclude that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in contravention of the standard. Additionally, the standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is factual, or a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion.2

[19]  This item was framed around the opinion of the road safety campaigner, who was commenting primarily on the perceived inequality between New Zealand and China in relation to foreign visitors’ ability to drive. In our view, the campaigner’s views informed the angle of the item and this was the reason why Chinese drivers in particular were the focus. While viewers may not have agreed with the campaigner’s comments or the story’s focus, there was no element of malice and the broadcast could not be said to have encouraged discrimination against, or denigration of, all Chinese people.

[20]  The campaigner’s views were also balanced by other content in the item. The Government representative interviewed gave his view that the current safeguards in place were working well, and evidently did not share the campaigner’s view that foreign visitors should not be able to drive on international licences in New Zealand.

[21]  The reporter’s comments at the end of the item also made it clear that people of other nationalities were involved in road accidents in New Zealand, and that Chinese people were not the nationality involved in the most accidents. The reporter also noted it was impossible to determine whether foreign visitors from any particular country were more ‘accident-prone’ as this data is not collected.

[22] For these reasons, 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
15 December 2016

 

Appendix

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

1      Robin Steel’s formal complaint – 13 September 2016
2      TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 7 October 2016
3      Mr Steel’s referral to the Authority – 8 October 2016
4      TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 23 November 2016

 


1  See guideline 6a to Standard 6.

2  Guideline 6c