Averis and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2017-036 (17 July 2017)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Paula Rose
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Grant Averis
BroadcasterMediaWorks TV Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
An item on Newshub reported on renewed efforts by the New Zealand Government to secure a free trade deal with Russia, after negotiations were ‘put on hold when Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea two years ago’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the use of the term ‘invaded’ was inaccurate as no invasion had in fact occurred. The Authority acknowledged that a range of terms were used across national and international media coverage to describe Russia’s actions in Crimea. It emphasised the importance of using precise and correct language when reporting on contentious and complex international conflicts, where the potential to misinform audiences is great. However, taking into account the definition of ‘invade’, the findings of the International Criminal Court and the context of this particular news item, the Authority found overall that the broadcast did not breach the accuracy standard. The item was primarily about current trade developments and did not purport to be a detailed examination of Russia’s actions in Crimea in 2014. A variety of topics were covered during the short item, and some economies of language were necessary to convey the events of the complex Crimea conflict to viewers in a way that could be easily understood.
Not Upheld: Accuracy, Programme Information
 An item on Newshub reported on renewed efforts by the New Zealand Government to secure a free trade deal with Russia. The newsreader introduced the item by saying, ‘The Government is looking to reboot its free trade negotiations with Russia. They were put on hold when Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea two years ago’.
 Later in the item, in response to Minister of Trade Todd McLay’s statement, ‘The Russian market is a priority for New Zealand exporters, therefore it must be a priority for the New Zealand Government’, the reporter commented, ‘That’s a change in attitude, since New Zealand put its negotiations on hold after Vladimir Putin’s troops invaded Crimea’.
 Grant Averis complained that the use of the term ‘invaded’ was inaccurate, as no invasion had in fact occurred.
 The issue raised in Mr Averis’ complaint is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy and programme information standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The item was broadcast on 25 March 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.
 Mr Averis’ complaint relates to the accuracy of the description of Russia’s actions in Crimea in 2014.
 Our understanding of the key background facts are as follows:1
- On 27 February 2014, reportedly armed and uniformed Russian military personnel wearing no identifying insignia seized control of Government buildings in Crimea.
- The same day, in the presence of armed men, the Crimean regional parliament reportedly decided to appoint a new prime minister and hold a referendum on the status of Crimea. The incorporation of Crimea into the Russian federation was announced on 18 March 2014, following a referendum held two days earlier that was declared invalid by the interim Ukrainian Government and by a majority of states of the United Nations General Assembly (including New Zealand).
- The Russian Federation later admitted its military personnel had been involved in taking control of the Crimean peninsula, justifying the intervention on the basis of alleged threats to the safety of Russian citizens.
- The assumption of control over Crimea by the Russian Federation occurred for the most part without exchange of fire.
 In November 2016, the International Criminal Court (the ICC) found that:2
- The situation within the territory of Crimea amounts to an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
- The Russian Federation deployed members of its armed forces to gain control over parts of Ukrainian territory without the consent of the Ukrainian Government.
- The situation within Crimea amounts to an ongoing state of occupation.
 At the time, New Zealand’s then Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully stated that Russia’s actions amounted to a breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.3
Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?
 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
 Mr Averis submitted:
- The statement that Russia ‘invaded’ Crimea was factually incorrect. For an invasion to take place, borders must be crossed and military action/violence must occur.
- It is accepted that Russia had a military base in Crimea and this was at the invitation of the democratically elected government.
- ‘Other news organisations around the world have used the word annexed and while I would consider this debatable, I would accept it’.
- The Russian military presence in Crimea ensured peace and stability, similar to the New Zealand military being used during civil emergencies.
 MediaWorks submitted:
- Ahead of Crimea’s annexation from Ukraine, Russian troops without insignia took over strategic Crimean points such as airports and military bases, and Mr Putin has admitted that this took place.
- The Crimean referendum took place after the invasion and its legality has been disputed or rejected by many governments and international bodies, including the United Nations, the European Union and the New Zealand Government. Therefore, the referendum cannot be considered as being supportive of the complainant’s claim that Russia did not invade Crimea.
 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, is the starting point in our consideration of complaints. If we are considering upholding a complaint, we must be satisfied that to do so would place a limitation on the right that is reasonable and justified in a free and democratic society.4
 We consider the news item in question was in the public interest and carried high value in providing information to viewers about an important national issue, namely trade. Our task is to weigh the value of the programme against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. Here, Mr Averis has submitted that the item caused harm by misinforming viewers about Russia’s actions in Crimea in 2014.
 We note first that it is not the role of this Authority to make a finding of fact as to whether or not Russia invaded Crimea. Our task is rather to assess whether the statements in the news item that Russian troops ‘invaded’ Crimea were in breach of the accuracy standard, having regard to the context of this item, the parties’ submissions, and the particular circumstances of this case.
 We understand that, over the last three years, a range of terms have been used across national and international media coverage to describe Russia’s actions in Crimea, including ‘invasion’, ‘annexation’, ‘military intervention’ and ‘occupation’.5 We recognise the importance of broadcasters using precise and correct language, particularly when describing contentious and complex international conflicts where the potential to misinform audiences is great. Nevertheless, for the reasons which follow we find that in this case, the broadcast did not contravene the requirements of the accuracy standard.
 ‘Invade’ is defined as ‘(of an armed force) enter (a country or region) so as to subjugate or occupy it’; ‘enter (a place, situation or sphere of activity) in large numbers, especially with intrusive effect’.6 Taking into account this definition, the ICC’s findings (summarised at paragraphs  to  above), and the context of this particular item, we do not consider that the broadcaster’s choice of language in this case resulted in a breach of broadcasting standards. The news item was predominantly focused on current trade developments, and referred to Russia’s historic actions in Crimea in order to provide background information. The broadcast did not purport to be a detailed examination of what occurred in Crimea three years ago, and briefly covered a variety of topics in a short space of time (just over two minutes). In this context, some economies of language were necessary in order to convey the events of the complex Crimea conflict in a way that was easily understood by viewers.
 We therefore do not consider that the audience would have been misinformed or misled, or that any harm was caused by the item that would outweigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and viewers’ right to receive the information broadcast. Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 9.
Did the broadcast breach the programme information standard?
 The purpose of the programme information standard (Standard 2) is to ensure that audiences are properly informed about programme content. Typically, this standard is concerned with programme classifications, time of broadcast and advisories (warnings).
 We do not consider Mr Averis’ complaint raises any programme information issues, and in our view his concerns have been properly addressed under the accuracy standard.
 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
17 July 2017
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Grant Averis’ formal complaint – 27 March 2017
2 MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 26 April 2017
3 Mr Averis’ referral to the Authority – received 4 May 2017
4 MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 18 May 2017
1As set out in Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2016, the Office of the Prosecutor – International Criminal Court, 14 November 2016.
2 As above
4 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.
5 For example, see G7 nations condemn Russia over Ukraine; Russia’s Crimea plan detailed, secret and successful; Russia ‘invasion’ of Crimea fuels fear of Ukraine conflict; Russia: ‘We’re not returning our territory’ Crimea to Ukraine’.