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Golden and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2016-088 (16 February 2017)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Allan Golden

Dated

16th February 2017

Number

2016-088

Channel/Station

TVNZ 1

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

Summary

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

An episode of the documentary series, The Hard Stuff with Nigel Latta, titled ‘Selling Ourselves Short’, focused on the topic of New Zealand’s economy, comparing our standard of living today with the 1960s-70s. The episode examined some of New Zealand’s traditional and upcoming export industries, such as dairy farming, forestry, pharmaceuticals, technology and fashion, and featured interviews with farmers, business owners, economists and academics. At the beginning of the episode, Mr Latta stated, ‘We’re rated as one of the best places in the world to do business and we’re not corrupt.’ The Authority did not uphold a complaint that Mr Latta’s statement was inaccurate and that the episode was unbalanced because it did not address New Zealand’s ‘extensive corruption’ as a reason for our underperforming economy. Mr Latta’s statement was not a material point of fact in the context of the episode as a whole and his brief mention of corruption did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance that triggered the requirements of the balance standard.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Balance, Fairness


Introduction

[1]  An episode of the documentary series, The Hard Stuff with Nigel Latta, titled ‘Selling Ourselves Short’, focused on the topic of New Zealand’s economy, comparing our standard of living today with the 1960s-70s. The episode examined some of New Zealand’s traditional and upcoming export industries, such as dairy farming, forestry, pharmaceuticals, technology and fashion, and featured interviews with farmers, business owners, economists and academics.

[2]  Mr Latta introduced the episode by suggesting that New Zealand should have a more successful economy than it currently does, stating:

We’re constantly told we have low inflation. And we have a flexible and low-wage workforce which, apparently, makes us internationally competitive. We’re rated as one of the best places in the world to do business and we’re not corrupt. So why aren’t economists calling us the New Zealand miracle? Because they’re not – instead they’re calling us the New Zealand paradox.

[3]  Allan Golden made a complaint alleging that New Zealand had one of the most corrupt societies in the Western world and Mr Latta’s statement was therefore inaccurate. He argued it was impossible to analyse New Zealand’s economy without addressing its ‘extensive corruption’.

[4]  The issues raised in Mr Golden’s complaint are whether the broadcast breached the accuracy, balance and fairness standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. 

[5]  The item was broadcast on 25 October 2016 on TVNZ 1 at 8.30pm. 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?

[6]  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

[7]  As part of his complaint alleging that Mr Latta’s statement was inaccurate, Mr Golden provided evidence which he considered proved that New Zealand was commercially and politically corrupt.

[8]  TVNZ submitted that New Zealand was ranked fourth in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2015.1 Given these findings, it did not agree that Mr Latta’s statement was misleading or inaccurate, and said the programme did not discuss the issues raised in the evidence provided alongside Mr Golden’s complaint.

[9]  Mr Golden did not accept New Zealand’s placement on the Corruption Perceptions Index as evidence that New Zealand was not corrupt, stating that this result was not based on ‘actualities’, and noting New Zealand’s drop in points on the Index since 2012.

Our analysis

[10]  The accuracy standard is concerned only with accuracy on points which are material to the programme as a whole. Unimportant points unlikely to affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.2

[11]  While Mr Latta briefly referred to New Zealand’s lack of corruption as a factor relevant to economists’ reference to the ‘New Zealand paradox’, the episode as a whole did not address the topic of corruption in any depth. Mr Latta’s comment was brief and was used only to set the scene for the item’s examination of his views on New Zealand’s under-performing economy, focusing in particular on New Zealand’s support of traditional export industries. Corruption, while it may impact on New Zealand’s economy, was not examined in this episode.

[12]  The Hard Stuff is an authorial documentary series presented as being from Mr Latta’s perspective. The right to freedom of expression allows presenters such as Mr Latta to approach a topic from a particular point of view, so long as standards are maintained. While we recognise Mr Golden would have preferred the episode to examine corruption as a factor contributing to the performance of New Zealand’s economy, the chosen focus for the episode was a matter of editorial discretion, which the broadcaster was entitled to make. We do not consider that Mr Latta’s brief comment regarding corruption in New Zealand was a material point of fact to which the standard applied, or that it would have affected the audience’s understanding of the episode as a whole.

[13]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint under Standard 9.

Was the item sufficiently balanced?

[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 Golden submitted that this episode addressed ‘the failure of the economy to perform as it might’, and that a major cause of this underperformance – Government corruption – was ‘denied in one stressed sentence’.

[16]  TVNZ submitted that the issue of corruption in New Zealand was not ‘discussed’, nor was it ‘controversial’, given the findings of the Corruption Perceptions Index in 2015.

Our analysis

[17]  For the balance standard to apply, the subject matter of a broadcast must be an issue of ‘public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’ and it must be ‘discussed’ in a news, current affairs or factual programme.3

[18]  As we have noted above, the issue of corruption was not examined as a key factor impacting New Zealand’s economy in this episode. This episode was clearly approached from a particular perspective and addressed only a select few of the many reasons why New Zealand’s economy may be underperforming. This was an editorial choice open to the broadcaster and most viewers are familiar with this style of presentation, particularly from well-known presenters such as Mr Latta.

[19]  We do not consider that Mr Latta’s brief mention of corruption, in the context of the programme as a whole, amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance that triggered the requirement to present alternative viewpoints.

[20]  Accordingly we do not uphold the balance complaint.

Did the item breach any other broadcasting standards?

[21]  The complainant also raised the fairness standard as part of his complaint, stating that it was unfair for viewers to be informed that there was no corruption in New Zealand, when this was not the case.

[22]  The fairness standard applies only to individuals or organisations taking part or referred to in a broadcast. It cannot be applied to the general audience of a programme. We have however addressed Mr Golden’s concerns about properly informing the audience in our consideration of the accuracy and balance standards above.

[23]  We therefore do not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich

Chair

16 February 2017


Appendix

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

1     Mr Golden’s formal complaint – 22 October 2016
2     TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 22 November 2016
3     Mr Golden’s referral to the Authority – 24 November 2016
4     Mr Golden’s further comments – 3 December 2016

 


1 It has since been announced, on 25 January 2017, that New Zealand ranked first equal in the world, alongside Denmark, in the Corruption Perceptions Index, scoring 90 points out of 100. See: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/nz-reclaims-top-spot-global-anti-corruption-rankings 

2 Guideline 9b 

Guideline 8a