BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Anson and Mediaworks TV Ltd - 2018-087 (28 January 2019)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainant
  • Grant Anson
Number
2018-087
Programme
The Project
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

The Authority did not uphold a complaint that statements made by Jesse Mulligan during a segment of The Project breached the accuracy standard. Mr Mulligan criticised National MP Judith Collins for retweeting a story in relation to changes to France’s child sex laws, stating the story was ‘made up’ and claiming Ms Collins was ‘learning that in 2018 you don't need to show people the truth’. The Authority found Mr Mulligan’s statements were statements of opinion and analysis and therefore the accuracy standard did not apply. In reaching the decision the Authority considered the context in which the comments were made, including the focus of the segment as a whole and audience expectations of The Project.

Not Upheld: Accuracy 



The broadcast

[1]  A segment of The Project discussed National MP Judith Collins’ tweet of a story published by yournewswire.com (since renamed newspunch.com) entitled: ‘France Passes Law Saying Children Can Consent To Sex With Adults’.

[2]  The Project suggested that the story inaccurately claimed that ‘France had just made it easier for adults to legally have sex with children’, whereas in fact the laws protecting children had been strengthened.

[3]  Host Jesse Mulligan began the segment by saying:

First up tonight on the show I want to talk about something, something that used to be just an overseas problem. But this week New Zealand got its own fake news.

[4]  Later in the segment, Mr Mulligan said:

On Monday this happened: Judith Collins tweeted a story that France had just made it easier for adults to legally have sex with children. But that's not true. What's true is the opposite. France has passed a law that strengthens consent laws - not weakens them. And Judith's story is made up…

[5]  Later in the segment Mr Mulligan said Ms Collins was ‘learning that in 2018 you don't need to show people the truth’ and asked her to ‘delete the tweet’.

[6]  The item was broadcast on 8 August 2018 on Three.

The complaint

[7]  Grant Anson complained the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:

  • Neither Ms Collins nor the story stated that France ‘had just made it easier for adults to legally have sex with children.’ The story did not suggest that the law had been changed or relaxed: rather that a proposal to tighten it had been voted down. There had been an expectation that the draft minimum age of consent would become law and when it did not, the news item and the headline reflected the reaction of those who were disappointed.
  • The assertion this story was 'fake news' was unsupported by any reference or expert.
  • There was clear political bias in the broadcast and the broadcaster did not make reasonable efforts to be accurate or to avoid misleading the audience.
  • The headline does not imply that France made it easier for adults to legally have sex with children. In any event headlines are held to a different standard than the item itself.
  • The Project’s assertion that Ms Collins was dishonest was also inaccurate.
  • The Project’s inaccuracies were not merely technical or unimportant because they were the foundation for criticism of Ms Collins.
  • The ‘real harm and danger and incredible damage’ caused by fake news was attributed to Ms Collins and The Project sought to incite its audience to attack her via Twitter by devising a hashtag ‘#deletethetweet’.
  • Opinions expressed on Snopes or FactCheck as cited by MediaWorks are not authoritative sources for analysis of French criminal legislation.

The broadcaster’s response

[8]  MediaWorks submitted the broadcast did not breach the accuracy standard for the following reasons:

  • Despite new legislation strengthening the legal protection for children in France against sexual abuse, the article clearly set out to project the opposite impression. It was accurate for The Project to characterise the Yournewswire article and the Judith Collins tweet as ‘fake news’.
  • Criticisms of the legislation centred on the decision not to introduce a mandatory age of consent (which France has never had). Nevertheless, the new legislation gives prosecutors more grounds to bring rape charges against adults having sex with children. It would not allow children to consent to sex with adults.
  • The broadcast’s assessment of the Yournewswire story was verified using fact-checking websites Snopes and FactCheck.
  • In his referral the complainant suggests that headlines may be subject to a lower standard of accuracy than articles. This is not the position in New Zealand, as per the New Zealand Media Council’s Principles. As the Yournewswire article was not published in New Zealand, the Principles do not apply.

The standard

[9]  The accuracy standard (Standard 9) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming are accurate in relation to all material points of fact and do not mislead. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.

[10] The requirement for accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact. 1

Our findings

[11]  Our starting point is that we recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression, which includes both the broadcaster’s right to present information and ideas to the public and the audience’s right to receive that information. We weigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast, either to an individual or to society or the audience generally.

[12]  When we make a decision on a complaint under the accuracy standard, we ask whether the statements complained about amount to comment, opinion or analysis, to which the accuracy standard does not apply, or whether they amount to statements of fact. A fact is verifiable: something that can be proved right or wrong. An opinion is someone’s view: it is contestable.2 However, it is not always clear whether a statement is an assertion of fact or opinion and every case must be assessed on its merits. Relevant factors that can assist in our determination include: the language used in the statements and in the item as a whole; the type of programme; and the subject matter, such as whether the topic discussed is controversial.3

[13] Taking into account the above factors and the context of the item as a whole, we consider the statements complained about amounted to Mr Mulligan’s opinion and analysis of Ms Collins’ tweet, the associated article and the potential for harm they could cause.

[14]  Mr Mulligan began the segment by saying, ‘I want to talk about something’, pointing to himself and emphasising that this was a topic he personally wanted to discuss. Mr Mulligan’s further statements, that the article Ms Collins tweeted was ‘made up’ and that she was ‘learning that in 2018 you don't need to show people the truth’, are in our view his own assessment of the tweet and Ms Collins’ actions.4 This is consistent with audience expectations of The Project as a ‘news analysis’ programme, in which hosts discuss and debate current events.5 We also note fake news has become an increasingly controversial issue in modern society and this was in part the subject of the comments made.6

[15]  Mr Mulligan’s statements were made in the context of a segment in which he discussed the increase of fake news in the media and the damaging effect it can have. Ms Collins’ tweet was pointed to as an example of what Mr Mulligan believed was fake news being disseminated in New Zealand. Mr Mulligan then went on to discuss the harm this tweet could cause in New Zealand before asking Ms Collins to ‘delete the tweet’. A discussion followed where other panellists gave their opinions on the situation.7

[16]  Considering the context of the segment as a whole, alongside audience expectations of The Project, we find Mr Mulligan’s statements amounted to his analysis and commentary about the validity of the tweet, the news story, Ms Collins’ actions and their potential to cause societal harm. We therefore find that the requirements of the accuracy standard do not apply.

[17]  Accordingly we do not uphold this complaint.

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

 

 


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:

1     Grant Anson’s formal complaint – 10 August 2018
2     MediaWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 7 September 2018
3     Mr Anson’s referral to the Authority – 4 October 2018
4     MediaWorks’ further comments – 17 October 2018
5     Mr Anson’s final comments – 2 November 2018


Guideline 9a

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

3 As above

As above

5 As above

6 As above

7 As above