BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Barnett and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2018-055 (10 October 2018)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
Dated
Complainant
  • Michael Barnett
Number
2018-055
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TVNZ 1

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about a newsreader’s use of the term ‘rogue state’ in the introduction to a news item, referring to North Korea. The item reported on the resumption of peace talks between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, and segued into an investigation about the effects of economic sanctions on the people of North Korea. The complaint was that using the term was biased and lacked balance, and the term was better suited to describe the United States. In its decision the Authority noted that the term complained about was used only once, fleetingly, in the newsreader’s introduction and would not have affected viewers’ understanding of the item as a whole. The Authority concluded the use of the term did not trigger the requirements of the balance standard, and neither the programme information standard, nor the fairness standard, was applicable.

Not Upheld: Balance, Programme Information, Fairness  

The broadcast

[1]  A 1 News item reported on the resumption of peace talks between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, and segued into an investigation about the effects of economic sanctions on the people of North Korea. At the end of the introduction to the item newsreader Peter Williams said: ‘The BBC’s [reporter] headed to China’s border with the rogue state to find out.’ [emphasis added]

[2]  The item was broadcast on 28 May 2018 on TVNZ 1. In determining the complaint members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[3]  Michael Barnett complained that the newsreader’s use of the term ‘rogue state’ in reference to North Korea displayed ‘bias’ and a ‘complete lack of balance’. Mr Barnett said it is the US that is the ‘rogue state’, considering its current leadership regime and its human rights record, among other factors. Mr Barnett said this issue ‘goes to the heart of what good journalism and media reporting should be in an open and democratic society that we in New Zealand claim to be’.

[4] Mr Barnett submitted the broadcast breached the balance, programme information and fairness standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  In response to the complaint, TVNZ submitted the term ‘rogue state’ in reference to North Korea: ‘arises from North Korea’s Human Rights violations as described in the Human Rights Council’s Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and nuclear weapons program development violating its obligations under international conventions’.1

[6]  TVNZ did not consider the nominated broadcasting standards were breached, for the following reasons:

Balance

  • The issue of USA-North Korea peace summits and the US sanctions on North Korea does not amount to a ‘controversial issue of public importance’ for the purposes of this standard.
  • Even if it was found to be a controversial issue of public importance, the use of the term ‘rogue state’ in reference to North Korea does not breach the standard.
  • ‘The main focus of the news item was an investigation into North Korea’s relationship with China in order to understand the effectiveness of international economic sanctions and the political considerations. A range of information in relation to this angle was provided.’

Programme Information

  • This standard, which is concerned primarily with programme classifications, is not applicable as the segment was a part of an unclassified news programme.

Fairness

  • Mr Barnett did not identify any ‘individual or organisation’ taking part or referred to in the broadcast that was treated unfairly.

The standards

[7]  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.

[8]  Under the programme information standard (Standard 2), broadcasters should ensure that programmes are correctly classified and screened in appropriate timebands, and issue an audience advisory where the content of a broadcast may not be suitable for likely viewers.

[9]  The fairness standard (Standard 11) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

[10 ] In consideration of the complaint the Authority found the balance standard was the most relevant to Mr Barnett’s concerns, and so we have focused our determination on that issue.

Our findings

[11]  In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. So 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. This could be harm to an individual, or, as alleged in this case, harm to society or the audience generally.

[12]  Keeping people informed on issues of international and political significance helps create a well-informed and engaged public, and is an important part of a free and democratic society. Accordingly, there was public interest in this news item and the threshold for restricting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression is high.

Balance

[13]  We first asked ourselves whether the interview discussed a controversial issue of public importance which triggered the requirements of the balance standard. In our view, considering the potential international implications, the USA-North Korea peace summit and sanctions on North Korea could be considered such an issue.

[14]  Mr Barnett’s primary concern is the use of the term ‘rogue state’ to refer to North Korea in the introduction to the news item, which he considered displayed bias as the term is, in his view, better suited to describing the US.

[15]  We have previously discussed the importance of terminology in broadcasts that report on international political conflict.2 We also acknowledge that there is international contention regarding what defines a ‘rogue state’.3 However, the key question arising from this particular complaint is whether the use of this term resulted in the item as a whole being unbalanced.

[16]  This item was a straightforward news report that predominantly focused on how sanctions were affecting North Korea. It was not a broader discussion of the merits of the ongoing negotiations between the US and North Korea, their nuclear arms programmes, or their human rights records. In this context, we do not think the use of the term ‘rogue state’ once, fleetingly, in the item’s introduction would have affected viewers’ understanding of the item as a whole or left them significantly misinformed. In making this finding we have also had regard to the prevalence of the USA-North Korea relationship in the media and the ongoing coverage surrounding the negotiations and the respective positions of both nations.4

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

Programme Information

[18]  The purpose of the programme information standard (Standard 2) is to ensure that audiences are properly informed about the content of the programmes on offer, including through programme classifications and audience advisories.51 News is an unclassified news and current affairs programme, so the programme information standard is not applicable to the complainant’s concerns,6 and we do not uphold this part of the complaint.

Fairness

[19]  The complainant has not identified any person or organisation as being the subject of any unfairness arising from the broadcast. North Korea as a nation is not an ‘organisation’ for the purposes of this standard.7 We therefore do not uphold the fairness complaint.

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
10 October 2018

 


Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Michael Barnett’s formal complaint – 29 May 2018
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 25 June 2018
3 Mr Barnett’s referral to the Authority – 9 July 2018
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 31 August 2018


1 Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Human Rights Council), 7 February 2014

2Wellington Palestine Group and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2018-053

3 See for example: Analysis: The new bogeymen (BBC, 12 December 2001) and http://encyclopedia.uia.org/en/problem/138622

4 See, for example: North Korea Declares U.S. Diplomacy “Gangster-Like(The New Yorker, 8 July 2018), Why North Korea is in no hurry to do what the US wants (BBC, 25 July 2018) and

US wants to restart nuclear talks with Pyongyang after North-South summit (CNN, 19 September 2018).

5 Commentary: Programme Information, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12

6 Guideline 2c to Standard 2

7 See also Kuten and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2016-081, at paragraph [8] where we found the city of Whanganui was not an ‘organisation’ for the purposes of the fairness standard.