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Chapple, Grieve & Shierlaw and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2018-085 (28 January 2019)

Members

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley

Complainant

  • Reuben Chapple, Robin Grieve & Max Shierlaw

Dated

28th January 2019

Number

2018-085

Programme

Sunday

Channel/Station

TVNZ 1

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

Summary

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

The Authority did not uphold three complaints about an episode of Sunday that discussed freedom of expression and hate speech and which featured edited excerpts of an interview with Canadian commentators, Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern. The Authority found the broadcast was balanced, containing a wide range of perspectives on a controversial issue of public importance, being the exercise of the right to freedom of expression in New Zealand. The Authority also found that the interview with Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern was used to illustrate points relevant to the wider topic but was not in itself the central focus of the item. The pending visit of Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern was therefore used to frame the issues in the item. The Authority further determined that, while an interview of Mr Molyneux was heavily edited, the extract was unlikely to mislead viewers or result in any undue harm to the reputations of Mr Molyneux or Ms Southern. Finally, the Authority emphasised the importance of public discussion and discourse about the issues of freedom of expression and harmful speech and the important role broadcasts like this play in that discussion.

Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy, Fairness  


The broadcasts

[1]  An episode of Sunday discussed freedom of expression and hate speech in New Zealand and canvassed a range of perspectives on these issues.

[2]  The item featured a number of interviews, including extracts from an interview with controversial Canadian commentators Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern, which was recorded ahead of their intended visit to New Zealand.

[3]  The item also contained comments from various public figures, some of whom were critical of, and others who were in support of, Ms Southern’s and Mr Molyneux’s right to speak publicly in New Zealand. The item explored whether the right to freedom of speech should ever be limited.

[4]  A segment in the item featured edited excerpts from an interview between reporter, Tania Page, and Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux about their views on various topics. During this segment, Mr Molyneux was asked about claims he supports the theory that a person’s race and IQ are linked. In the edited excerpt Mr Molyneux said the following:

We had a wide variety of experts on the show who have talked about the fact that lQs do differentiate between the races because I think that the facts are important when it comes to talking about things like ethnicity; and so this is very well understood, very well studied.

[5]  The episode was broadcast on 5 August 2018 on TVNZ 1.

The complaints

[6]  The Authority received complaints regarding this broadcast from Reuben Chapple, Robin Grieve and Max Shierlaw. These complaints alleged breaches of the balance, accuracy and fairness standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Because the complaints raised similar issues about the same programme, we considered them together. The submissions are summarised below:

Balance

Max Shierlaw

  • The debate about free speech and hate speech in the broadcast was one sided, as significantly more coverage was afforded to interviewees such as Green Party Co-Leader Marama Davidson and Professor Paul Spoonley.
  • Mr Molyneux’s position on race and IQ was not presented in a balanced way. In the full interview (which was not aired in full in the programme), Mr Molyneux claimed that the majority of science supports the idea that there is a link between a person’s race and IQ. This is not shown in the broadcast. Instead, considerable coverage is given to Ms Davidson’s claim that Mr Molyneux’s view is racist. If there was to be a contrary view to Mr Molyneux’s, it should have come from a scientist.
  • The interview was edited significantly, resulting in an unbalanced portrayal of Mr Molyneux’s and Ms Southern’s views. In the segment of the interview broadcast, certain words were deleted mid-sentence and questions and answers were ‘mismatched’. The interview was edited to suit TVNZ’s own bias.
  • Too much emphasis was placed on the views of Community Leader Fatumata Bah, who believes Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern ‘have no place in New Zealand’, without balancing comment.

Accuracy

Robin Grieve

  • The interview of Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux was edited significantly which resulted in the audience being misled about Mr Molyneux’s and Ms Southern’s answers to the questions.
  • The section of the interview that addressed the alleged link between race and IQ was edited to portray an inaccurate and unfair account of the interview and Mr Molyneux’s position.
  • The interviewer’s question claimed Mr Molyneux had promoted race being linked to lQ. He denied that he had and this comment was edited out. This was important information and its removal changed the meaning of Mr Molyneux’s answer to one that better suited TVNZ’s story.

Reuben Chapple

  • The broadcast withheld material points of fact in order to mislead viewers about the opposition to Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern speaking in New Zealand.
  • The broadcast misled viewers by omitting to inform them the protest in opposition to the speaking tour ‘was whipped up and orchestrated by a network of linked activists of a particular political persuasion.’
  • It was misleading to include comment from many of the people interviewed and not from others.

Fairness

Robin Grieve

  • The editing of the interview did not adequately reflect the full interview and the positions of Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern, specifically Mr Molyneux’s position on the alleged link between race and IQ.
  • What was broadcast was a ‘fabrication’, designed to portray Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern in a negative light and to deceive the audience.
  • Playing a small edited portion of an hour-long interview in the broadcast was unfair to Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern.

Reuben Chapple

  • When Ms Southern was introduced on the programme she was labelled as part of the ‘alt-right’ and was associated with Nazi imagery on the screen. Ms Bah was not treated in the same manner in the broadcast, despite Ms Bah being used as a ‘counterpoint’ to Ms Southern.

The broadcaster’s response

[7]  In response to the complaints, TVNZ submitted the following:

Balance

  • Balance cannot be measured by a stop-watch (with the same amount of time granted to each speaker); it is sufficient that significant viewpoints are adequately represented. This occurred with comments from Stefan Molyneux, Lauren Southern, Deputy Leader of the New Conservative Party, Elliot Ikilei, Ms Davidson, Ms Bah, Martin Cocker of NetSafe and Professor Spoonley.
  • Stefan Molyneux’s comment that the majority of science supports his comments on race and IQ is included in the item. Stefan Molyneux does not give sources for this claim in his full interview other than to say: ‘I had the editor of a magazine called Intelligence on the show, and he said ‘at about the age of 78 your IQ, intelligence is 80% genetic’, this does not constitute a list of ‘the majority of science supporting his position.’
  • An alternative viewpoint on the effects of multiculturalism is included in commentary from Lauren Southern and Elliot Ikilei.

Accuracy in response to Mr Grieve

  • While the interview is edited, the substance of Mr Molyneux's position is not altered.
  • Mr Molyneux is shown shaking his head ‘no’ and saying that the idea of the link between IQ and race is something which experts on his show have put forward.
  • The focus of the item was freedom of expression, not IQ and race, but Mr Molyneux has talked in detail about the link between ethnicity and IQ.

Accuracy in response to Mr Chapple

  • The item reported that there was a protest held to oppose Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern speaking. However, the focus was not on the protest but rather the issue of free speech.
  • It was legitimate to include the opinions of Professor Spoonley, Ms Davidson and Ms Bah on the issues of freedom of expression and hate speech in the item.

Fairness in response to Mr Grieve

  • While some of the commentary included interiewee’s personal opinions about Ms Southern‘s and Mr Molyneux‘s views, this commentary did not stray into the personally abusive.
  • While the interview was edited the substance of Mr Molyneux’s position was not altered.

Fairness in response to Mr Chapple

  • Ms Southern is described as being at the ‘polite’ end of the alt-right spectrum. White supremacism is described as being ‘sometimes’ part of the alt-right tradition. This description was included in the programme, as ‘alt-right’ is a relatively new term to New Zealand. The footage shown is an example of this political perspective.
  • Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern are familiar with the media and handled the discussion adeptly. Their positions were put across in the item.

The standards

[8]  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 arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.

[9]  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.

[10]  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. Edited excerpts should fairly reflect the tenor of the overall events or views expressed.1

Our findings

[11]  We have given careful consideration to these complaints. The issues discussed in the broadcast – the right to freedom of expression, how hate speech ought to be defined and treated and the question of what limits may be placed on those who seek to express controversial views – are important and have high public interest in New Zealand and globally. Broadcasters have an important role to play in raising these issues for discussion and consideration by the community. Broadcasting standards exist to ensure that when they do, they do so in a fair, balanced and accurate way.

[12]  As we discuss below, we consider that in this case the Sunday programme sought to address the wider issues of freedom of expression and harmful speech, and the limits that may exist in New Zealand. It was not an exposé focused solely on Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern. Rather, it drew on the views and experiences of a wide range of individuals to explore the broader issues. In this case, we consider that the item was fair, balanced and reasonably presented the views of a number of people. We discuss our findings further below.

Freedom of expression

[13]  In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. Accordingly, when we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we first look at the right to freedom of expression. We weigh the value of the programme, and the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast, whether to individuals or to audiences generally.

[14]  As we have noted above, the broadcast in question addressed the issue of freedom of expression and its possible limitations, and considered a range of views about hate speech. It was part of an ongoing national discourse about these ideas. We consider this broadcast had a high level of public interest and value through its contribution to the public debate. Accordingly, the threshold for restricting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion is high.

Balance

[15]  The first question we consider when we look at a balance complaint is whether the broadcast discussed a controversial issue of public importance. An 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 which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.2

[16]  As mentioned above, in this case we consider that the broadcast focused on the ideas of freedom of speech and hate speech. It explored differing opinions on what constitutes hate speech, how hate speech should be treated in New Zealand and when, if ever, freedom of speech should be restricted.

[17]  From the outset of the broadcast, host Miriama Kamo framed the discussion around the idea of freedom of speech and whether people with extreme views, such as Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern, ought to be able to express these views or whether their right to freedom of expression should be limited. The broadcast was not intended to be an in-depth analysis of Mr Molyneux’s and Ms Southern’s views, rather they were used as an example of public figures who espouse what some consider to be harmful speech (or hate speech).

[18]  These are issues the Authority deals with regularly and we consider them to be important to New Zealand, due to the significant and widespread effect they can have on society. We also note the substantial media coverage and public discourse regarding freedom of speech and hate speech that occurred prior to and during Mr Molyneux’s and Ms Southern’s visit, as evidence of the ‘topical currency’ of the issue of freedom of expression in New Zealand.3 Accordingly, we agree that the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance to which the balance standard applies.

[19]  The next question we must consider is whether a reasonable range of competing viewpoints were presented, either within the broadcast or within the period of current interest, to allow the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion. Ultimately we consider the broadcast provided a thorough, in-depth portrait of the freedom of speech debate through a large number of public figures who provided significant, differing views.

[20]  The broadcast contained comment from individuals who considered Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern’s views to be hate speech which ought not to be given a platform in New Zealand (eg Ms Davidson, Professor Spoonley and Ms Bah). The broadcast also featured extensive comment from Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern, alongside comment from Elliot Ikilei, New Conservative Party Deputy Leader, who supported their right to come and speak in New Zealand and advocated for no restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.

[21]  Additionally, we note that the standard allows for balance to be achieved over time, ‘within the period of current interest’.4 As we have said above, there was a significant amount of New Zealand media coverage about what constituted hate speech and whether Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern should be given a platform to speak in New Zealand during this period.5 Accordingly, we find there was a wide range of competing viewpoints regarding these issues presented within the broadcast and also during the period of current interest. This ensured the public were aware of the range of perspectives and enabled them to arrive at their own informed opinions about these issues.

[22]  Mr Shierlaw also submitted that Mr Molyneux’s position on the alleged link between race and IQ was not presented in a balanced way. We do not consider that the balance standard applies to this specific issue. Mr Molyneux’s comments on race and IQ were used as an example of what some consider to be hate speech, within the wider discussion of freedom of expression. We therefore do not consider Mr Molyneux’s comments regarding the alleged link between race and IQ amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance that required the presentation of significant alternative viewpoints. We address the question of how the interview was presented under fairness below.

[23]  For these reasons, we do not uphold the complaints under this standard.

Accuracy

[24]  Mr Grieve’s primary concern under the accuracy standard is that a lengthy interview between reporter Tania Page, Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern was edited to the extent that their views were not accurately presented.

[25]  In particular, Mr Grieve submitted that Mr Molyneux’s perspective on the issue of the alleged link between race and IQ was edited to portray an inaccurate account of Mr Molyneux’s position.

[26]  The accuracy standard does not apply to statements of comment, analysis or opinion.6 An opinion is someone’s view. It is contestable, and others may hold a different view.7 Whether a statement is an assertion of fact or opinion will depend on the context and presentation of the statements and how a reasonable listener would perceive them.8

[27]  In our view, Mr Molyneux’s statements in response to Ms Page’s question about the alleged link between race and IQ are statements of opinion to which the accuracy standard does not apply.

[28]  While Mr Molyneux makes reference to ‘scientific facts’ in his response, we consider his responses to be statements of opinion and analysis which he had formed based on the work of people he has interviewed on his show.

[29]  We consider the question of whether Mr Molyneux’s views were accurately reflected in the edited excerpts of the interview to be a question of fairness.9 Accordingly we address this submission in our discussion of the fairness standard below.

[30]  Mr Chapple submitted that the inclusion of the views of some third parties in the broadcast, and the exclusion of the views of others who he felt ought to have been interviewed, resulted in inaccuracy and would have misled viewers. We do not agree. The broadcaster has editorial discretion as to who they interview and as discussed under the balance standard above, a wide range of views were presented.

[31]  Finally, Mr Chapple submitted that detailed information about the organisation of protests against Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern ought to have been included in the broadcast. Again we do not agree. The item focused on the issue of freedom of expression generally, and was not presented as a detailed narrative about the visit by the Canadian speakers. The broadcaster retained editorial discretion to determine which matters ought to be included in the programme with respect to aspects relating to the visit.

[32]  For these reasons we do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.

Fairness

[33]  Under this standard we have considered whether Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern were dealt with fairly in this programme, particularly with respect to how Ms Southern was presented and how Mr Molyneux’s interview was edited.

[34]  Under the fairness standard, edited excerpts should fairly reflect the tenor of the overall events or views expressed.10 We have therefore considered whether the edited interview fairly reflected Ms Southern’s and Mr Molyneux’s views. For the reasons set out below, we find that while the interview and Mr Molyneux’s responses were heavily edited, overall it fairly reflected the tenor of Mr Molyneux’s views and did not result in any unfairness or undue harm to his reputation.

[35]  Mr Grieve submitted the editing of Mr Molyneux’s responses to Ms Page’s questions about the alleged link between race and IQ resulted in an unfair representation of the views expressed by Mr Molyneux. In the full interview, Mr Molyneux expressly objected to Ms Page’s question about the alleged link between race and IQ and made it clear that it was not his idea that was being promoted, but the idea of other people who had appeared on his show. He then explained why he supported that position. The extract of the interview in the programme includes Mr Molyneux’s clarification about the ownership of the idea, attributing it to ‘experts’:

We had a wide variety of experts on the show who have talked about the fact that lQs do differentiate between the races because I think that the facts are important when it comes to talking about things like ethnicity; and so this is very well understood, very well studied.

[36]  We acknowledge the interview was edited to remove Mr Molyneux’s express objection to Ms Page’s question about the alleged link between race and IQ and his clarification that it not his idea that was being promoted. However, we consider the overall tenor of Mr Molyneux’s views were still fairly reflected through the broadcast of the statement above.

[37]  In addition, we consider that in the context of the broadcast as a whole, the editing of the interview did not result in any unfairness to Mr Molyneux. As discussed above, the focus of the broadcast was not to examine in detail Mr Molyneux’s or Ms Southern’s specific perspectives, rather they were used as an example in considering the wider debate regarding freedom of expression and hate speech.

[38]  Finally, we note that it is a well-established principle that the threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard is higher for political and public figures than it is for laypeople.11 Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern are both well-known public figures whose views are widely promulgated and available online.12 They are experienced in dealing with media and presenting their views publicly.

[39]  Mr Chapple submitted the labelling of Ms Southern as part of the ‘alt-right’ was unfair to Ms Southern. We understand that the term ‘alt-right’ has regularly been used to describe Ms Southern’s views in the mainstream media, despite Ms Southern rejecting it.13 The use of the term ‘alt-right’ has become prevalent in the United States and global media to describe a wide range of US far-right groups and public figures who hold conservative views (often on issues involving race) and who rose to prominence through social media.14

[40]  While some people may find the use of this term offensive, it is regularly used to describe Ms Southern and she has responded to its use on various platforms. Considering her internet prominence and the wide promulgation of her opinions on social issues, we do not consider the use of the term ‘alt-right’ to describe her in this broadcast was unfair or resulted in any undue harm to her reputation.

[41]  Accordingly we do not uphold the complaints under the fairness standard.

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

 

 

 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judge Bill Hastings
Chair
28 January 2019

 

 

Appendix

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

Max Shierlaw’s formal complaint

1    Max Shierlaw’s formal complaint – 9 August 2018
2    TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 6 September 2018
3    Mr Shierlaw’s referral to the Authority – 1 October 2018
4   TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 7 November 2018

Robin Grieve’s formal complaint

5   Robin Grieve’s formal complaint – 24 August 2018
6   TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 21 September 2018
7   Mr Grieve’s referral to the Authority – 4 October 2018
8   TVNZ’s further comments – 9 November 2018
9   Mr Grieve’s final comments – 23 November 2018

Reuben Chapple’s formal complaint 

10   Reuben Chapple’s formal complaint – 3 September 2018
11   TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 1 October 2018
12   Mr Chapple’s referral to the Authority – 30 October 2018
13   TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 7 November 2018


1 Guideline 11f

2 Commentary – Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 14

3 See: Media in the middle of Lauren Southern, Stefan Molyneux free speech frenzy (RNZ, 12 August 2018); Alt-right extremists Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux arrive in NZ (NZ Herald, 2 August 2018); Explainer: What do far-right Canadian speakers Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern believe? (Newshub, 20 July 2018); Whakawhanaungatanga, not censorship: A Māori perspective on ‘free speech’ (The Spinoff, 24 July 2018); Southern and Molyneux good test for our free speech tolerance (Stuff, 20 July 2018); The law and Southern-Molyneux: even terrible, no good people have rights (The Spinoff, 11 July 2018)

4 Commentary – Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 14

5 See footnote 3 above

6 Guideline 9a

7 Guidance: Accuracy – Distinguishing Fact and Analysis, Comment or Opinion, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 62

8 As above.

9 See Guideline 11f

10  Above

11 See for example: Frewen and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2017-091 and Cape and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2018-018

12 Stefan Molyneux’s YouTube channel has 894,479 subscribers and Lauren Southern’s has 683,907

13 See, for example: A European alt-right group wants to take to the sea to stop rescuers from saving migrants  (Vox, 17 July 2018); Alt-right speakers Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern anger NZ Muslim (RNZ, 21 July 2018); Starve alt-right pair of attention: Immigration Minister (Otago Daily Times, 20 July 2018); and Alt-right extremists Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux arrive in NZ (NZ Herald, 2 August 2018)

14 See: What the Alt-Right Really Means (The NY Times, 2 December 2016) and Explained: Alt-right, alt-light and militias in the US (Al Jazeera, 13 October 2017)