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Boyce and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2017-087 (15 December 2017)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Simon Boyce

Dated

15th December 2017

Number

2017-087

Programme

The Project

Channel/Station

Three

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary 

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

An item on The Project featured an interview with a ‘political consultant and former National [Party] staffer’. The interviewee provided her perspective on why the National Party received more votes than the Labour Party in the 2017 General Election and the disparity between the election result and poll results prior to the election. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the broadcaster’s choice of political commentator was biased and the programme was misleading by suggesting she was an ‘independent political commentator’. The introduction to the segment did not imply that the interviewee was an independent political commentator, but clearly referred to her as a former National Party staffer. As such it created an audience expectation that the interview would be approaching the topic of National’s initial electoral success from a particular perspective. Therefore viewers would not have been misled.

Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy 


Introduction

[1]  An item on The Project featured an interview with a ‘political consultant and former National [Party] staffer’. The interviewee provided her perspective on why the National Party received more votes than the Labour Party in the recent 2017 General Election and the disparity between the election results and the polls prior to the election.

[2]  Simon Boyce complained that the programme misled audiences by implying in the introduction that the interviewee was an ‘independent political commentator’, and that MediaWorks’ decision to use this particular commentator amounted to biased and partisan election coverage.

[3]  The issues raised in Mr Boyce’s complaint are whether the item breached the balance and accuracy standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The programme was broadcast on 25 September 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.

Did the item discuss a controversial issue of public importance which required the presentation of alternative viewpoints?

[5]  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

[6]  Mr Boyce submitted:

  • The host’s introduction implied that the interviewee was an independent political commentator, which was misleading as, in the complainant’s view, she is not independent but is associated with a National Party MP and is a National Party activist, which amounted to a conflict of interest.
  • The use of the interviewee amounted to ‘biased and partisan’ election coverage.
  • The interviewee offered a biased perspective in the segment, which required alternative viewpoints to be presented.

[7]  MediaWorks submitted:

  • The interviewee was described as a ‘political consultant’, not an ‘independent political commentator’.
  • She was also described as a ‘former National Party staffer’, so audience members would have reasonably concluded that she was affiliated with the National Party.
  • In the circumstances of the broadcast and the election result, the interviewee’s analysis was ‘relatively even-handed’. 
  • The broadcast did not purport to be a balanced examination of the issues under discussion. 
  • The interview provided viewers with one perspective in a ‘vast chorus of analysis and opinion which was expressed in the weeks following the election’.

Our analysis

[8]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.1

[9]  The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.2 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.3

[10]  We accept that the 2017 General Election results and the effectiveness of both major parties’ election campaigns were controversial issues of public importance. However, the segment did not purport to be a balanced discussion of these issues, but rather was clearly presented as only one perspective.4

[11]  A host on The Project introduced the interviewee by saying:

One thing that was really clear on Saturday night was that National got a lot more votes than Labour and our next guest has some very strong feelings about why. [Name] is a political consultant and a former National [Party] staffer, and [name], a lot of the polls had National and Labour much closer than it played out on Saturday night, so what do you think happened?

[12]  The description of the interviewee as a ‘political consultant and former National [Party] staffer’ created an audience expectation from the outset that the interviewee would approach the topic from the National Party’s perspective following its initial election success. The introduction clearly signalled that the interviewee had ‘very strong feelings’ on the topic, and that the nature of the discussion would be limited to the interviewee’s own views on the possible reasons behind National’s success, coming from the perspective of a former National Party staffer – rather than an in-depth or comprehensive examination of the election results. The host began the interview by asking, ‘what do you think happened?’, clearly indicating the item comprised only one person’s viewpoint.

[13]  Additionally, following the initial results of the election, around the time of this broadcast, there was a wide range of analysis and opinion presented across New Zealand media, due to the widespread public interest and the ongoing nature of the electoral process.5 As a result viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware of the ongoing public discussion and alternative perspectives surrounding the election results and the formation of the next New Zealand government.

[14]  For these reasons we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[15]  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 receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.6

The parties’ submissions

[16]  Mr Boyce submitted the introduction and portrayal of the interviewee as an independent political commentator was inaccurate and misleading.

[17]  MediaWorks submitted that the interviewee’s contribution to the broadcast was clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment and opinion, therefore Standard 9 did not apply.

Our analysis

[18]  As we have discussed above in relation to balance, we do not agree that the interviewee was introduced or presented as an ‘independent political commentator’. She was clearly described as ‘a political consultant and a former National [Party] staffer’. The broadcaster’s choice of interviewee, in circumstances where she was transparently described as a former National Party member of staff, was an editorial decision open to the broadcaster and did not result in the item being inaccurate or misleading.

[19]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.

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

 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
15 December 2017

 

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1      Simon Boyce’s formal complaint – 26 September 2017
2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 24 October 2017
3      Mr Boyce’s referral to the Authority – 25 October 2017
4      MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 15 November 2017


Guideline 8a to Standard 8 – Balance
Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-125
See, for example, Dewe and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-076
Guideline 8c
For example, see: http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/election/2017/09/patrick-gower-newshub-s-poll-is-vital-and-correct.html (Newshub, 24 September 2017) http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/mediawatch/audio/201860328/too-much-talk-about-too-few-polls (RNZ, 1 October 2017), https://thespinoff.co.nz/politics/24-09-2017/a-better-visual-breakdown-of-the-2017-election-results/ (The Spinoff, 23 September 2017), https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/97653860/latest-election-results-strip-national-of-its-advantage (Stuff, 7 October 2017).
Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036