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Holland and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2017-048 (9 August 2017)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Megan Holland

Dated

9th August 2017

Number

2017-048

Programme

The AM Show

Channel/Station

Three

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

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

The AM Show contained a number of items about Labour Party candidate Willie Jackson’s position on the recently released Labour Party candidate List (the List), and featured interviews with Labour Party leader Andrew Little and Willie Jackson. It was reported several times that Mr Jackson was disappointed with his position of 21 on the List, as Mr Little had ‘promised’ Mr Jackson a top-10 position. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this was inaccurate and unfair. The segments amounted to robust political expression, which is of particular importance in the lead-up to a general election, and carried high value in terms of the right to freedom of expression. Viewers were likely to have understood the comments as political speculation, rather than definitive statements of fact, which is common in the context of political reporting. The audience was provided with ample information on the issue, including Mr Little’s and Mr Jackson’s viewpoints in response. Therefore viewers would have been able to form their own informed opinion on the issue and would not have been misled. Mr Little and Mr Jackson were given extensive opportunities to comment and could reasonably expect scrutiny in relation to their public roles as politicians, so they were not treated unfairly.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Fairness  


Introduction

[1]  The AM Show contained a number of items about Labour Party candidate Willie Jackson’s position on the recently released Labour Party candidate list (the List), and featured interviews with Labour Party leader Andrew Little and Willie Jackson. It was reported several times during the items that Mr Jackson was disappointed with his position of 21 on the List, as Mr Little had ‘promised’ Mr Jackson a top-10 position.

[2]  Megan Holland complained that the statements that Mr Little had ‘promised’ Mr Jackson a top-10 position on the List were inaccurate and unfair.

[3]  The issue raised in Ms Holland’s complaint is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy and fairness standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The items were broadcast on 2 May 2017 on Three. 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.

The parties’ submissions

[6]  Ms Holland submitted:

  • The statements that Mr Jackson had been promised a top-10 position on the List were made as fact, but were incorrect.
  • The presenter did not ‘suggest’ that this had occurred, but very strongly put this point across.
  • It is dubious that the broadcaster’s information about the promised List position was acquired from various sources, as the two men involved (Mr Little and Mr Jackson) denied any promise had been made.

[7]  MediaWorks submitted:

  • The views expressed regarding the issues surrounding Mr Jackson’s position on the List were based on information acquired through various sources.
  • It is not unusual in the context of political reporting for broadcasters to rely on information gathered in this way, nor is it unusual for politicians to be presented with this information and asked to comment on it.
  • During the broadcast, both Mr Little and Mr Jackson were given the opportunity to address the party list issue, explained their views and denied that Mr Jackson had been promised a top-10 position on the List (though Mr Little acknowledged that Mr Jackson had been disappointed with his nominated list position).
  • Viewers were given sufficient information to come to an informed understanding of the issue of Mr Jackson’s position on the List, and the broadcast as a whole was not misleading.

Our analysis

[8]  The starting point in our consideration of any complaint is the right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information. This is an important right in a democratic society, and we may only interfere and uphold a complaint where to do so would impose a limitation on the right which is reasonable and justified in a free and democratic society.1 In deciding whether any limitation on the right to freedom of expression is justified, we first consider the value and public interest in the broadcast, and then weigh that value against any harm that has resulted, or might result, from the broadcast.

[9]  We consider the items subject to complaint had high public interest and value in terms of freedom of expression. This was robust political expression, as the programme presenters discussed topical political issues and aimed to hold our politicians to account, which is of particular importance in the lead up to a general election. Given the high value in the broadcast, the threshold necessary to limit the right to freedom of expression must be correspondingly high, and any potential or actual harm sufficiently serious to justify any limitation. With this in mind, we proceed to consider whether the statements complained about breached the accuracy standard and caused harm by misinforming viewers about this issue.

[10]  The statements that Mr Little had ‘promised’ Mr Jackson a higher position on the Labour Party candidate list were framed in various ways across the items discussing this issue, including as questions or commentary. For example:

  • ‘An inside source has revealed the [Labour] Party’s ruling council dismissed [Mr Jackson’s] bid to have his ranking raised above 21. Newshub political reporter… says it’s a blow, because he was promised a higher ranking by Andrew Little’ (newsreader)
  • ‘Did you, though, say to Willie Jackson that he’d be in the top 10…?’ (presenter to Mr Little)
  • ‘Was Willie Jackson, he was promised a higher placing…’ (presenter to political editor)

[11]  Taking into account the nature of political reporting and the context of the programme – which contained numerous segments on the issue of Mr Jackson’s ranking on the List – we do not consider the broadcast breached the accuracy standard, or that any harm outweighing the right to freedom of expression was caused. Viewing the segments as a whole, it is likely that the audience would have understood that the statements were more in the nature of political speculation rather than definitive statements of fact. This can reasonably be expected from a discussion about the controversy surrounding the recent release of a major political party’s candidate list.

[12]  Importantly, viewers were provided with ample information on the issue, including comment from the two individuals concerned. Both were asked extensively for their comment on the issue, within the programme, and their positions were presented in response, including denying the allegation (though Mr Jackson commented that ‘[Mr Little] said he’ll have a crack for the top 10’). Therefore viewers were able to form their own informed opinion and would not have been misled by the various references to Mr Jackson being ‘promised’ a higher list ranking.

[13]  We also note that the allegation that Mr Little had ‘promised’ Mr Jackson a higher ranking was reported in other media around the time of broadcast,2 so some viewers may have already had a level of awareness of this issue.

[14]  For these reasons, we do not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Were Mr Little or Mr Jackson treated unfairly?

[15]  The fairness standard (Standard 10) 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.3

The parties’ submissions

[16]  Ms Holland submitted that it was not fair to make statements that were not based on fact.

[17]  MediaWorks submitted that both Mr Little and Mr Jackson were interviewed within the broadcast and provided extensive comments on the issue of Mr Jackson’s position on the List.

Our analysis

[18]  It is well established that the threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to politicians or public figures is higher than for a layperson or someone unfamiliar with the media. As politicians, both Mr Little and Mr Jackson can reasonably expect a high level of scrutiny in relation to their public roles, especially in the lead up to general election.

[19]  Importantly, the allegation that Mr Jackson was promised a higher ranking on the List was put to both of the individuals concerned, and they were given an extensive opportunity to put forward their perspective on the issue throughout the programme. We are therefore satisfied that both individuals were treated fairly.

[20]  Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 10.

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

 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
9 August 2017

 

Appendix

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

1      Megan Holland’s formal complaint – 3 May 2017
2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 31 May 2017
3      Ms Holland’s referral to the Authority – 31 May 2017
4      MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 16 June 2017

 


1 See sections 5 and 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and Introduction: Freedom of Expression, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6.

2 See, for example, Willie Jackson fails to lift ranking on Labour’s list and ‘Crisis meeting’ doesn’t deliver Willie Jackson a higher Labour list ranking.

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

4 See, for example, Craig and 4 Others and Television New Zealand Ltd (Decision No. 2013-034).