Boyce and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2001-049, 2001-050
- P Cartwright (Chair)
- J H McGregor
- R Bryant
- Simon Boyce
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Holmes – series of items on the "brain drain" – Richard Poole – newspaper advertisement – Business Roundtable backing – unbalanced – news source lacked integrity
Standard G6 – items lacked balance – broadcaster not impartial – Poole’s integrity not forcefully challenged – uphold
Standard G15 – Poole an "information source" as required by standard – broadcaster failed to ascertain adequately his integrity/reliability – uphold
Broadcast of statement
$2,000 costs to Crown
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Items broadcast on the Holmes show on TV One on 4, 5 and 6 October 2000 dealt with a perceived "brain drain" whereby young, educated New Zealanders were allegedly leaving New Zealand permanently for better jobs and an enhanced lifestyle overseas. Holmes is broadcast between 7.00pm and 7.30pm on weekdays.
The items began with a discussion about an advertisement reportedly organised by Richard Poole and placed in the New Zealand Herald by a group of young New Zealanders concerned about the country’s economic direction. The items subsequently dealt with the revelation that the Business Roundtable had helped finance the advertisement, and the ensuing political discussion.
Simon Boyce complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that two of the items, on 4 and 6 October, breached broadcasting standards. He complained that they lacked balance, and that Mr Poole lacked integrity as an information source.
TVNZ responded that balance had been achieved over all three items. It argued that Mr Poole’s reliability as a news source had been adequately canvassed.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Boyce referred the complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority upholds the complaints.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the three Holmes items and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.
Items broadcast on the Holmes show on TV One on 4, 5 and 6 October 2000 dealt with a perceived "brain drain" whereby young, educated New Zealanders were allegedly leaving New Zealand permanently for better jobs and an enhanced lifestyle overseas.
The 4 October item discussed an advertisement entitled "A Generation Lost?" which was said to have been placed in The New Zealand Herald by a group of young New Zealanders concerned about the country’s economic direction. The item comprised an interview with Richard Poole, who was reported to have organised the advertisement; Rob Snelling, from UK Jobs, a company exporting skilled New Zealanders to jobs overseas; and, Roger Bradley, a merchant banker now living in Sydney.
The 5 October item covered the revelation that the Business Roundtable had helped finance the advertisement. The presenter interviewed Prime Minister Helen Clark, who was critical of the advertisement and of the Business Roundtable’s involvement, and who asserted that the rate of net migration loss from New Zealand had dropped off in the last year. The presenter also interviewed Adrian Orr, the Chief Economist at WestpacTrust, who was asked about New Zealand’s economic performance; Mark Newfield, a young New Zealander now working in the information technology industry in London; and, Richard Poole, who was questioned about why he had not acknowledged the Business Roundtable’s involvement in the advertisement when interviewed the night before.
The 6 October item described a young New Zealander who was heading overseas after having been rejected for 250 jobs in New Zealand. After examining some of the migration statistics, the item became a studio-based discussion between Garry Sefton, a Christchurch-based businessman who maintained that business was going well; William Watson, a New Zealand-based entrepreneur who was going to London and then to Ireland; and, Jo King, a young Aucklander about to head to Australia. The item finished with an interview with Dr Roger Kerr, Executive Director of the Business Roundtable.
Simon Boyce complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that two of the items, on 4 and 6 October, breached standards G6 and G15 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
Standard G6 requires broadcasters:
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
The other standard reads:
G15 The standards of integrity and reliability of information sources in news, current affairs and documentaries should be monitored regularly.
Mr Boyce complained that the 4 October item lacked balance because all those on the interview panel had "favourable views, or first-hand experience of living and being employed in Europe." He said that no-one with a positive view of returning to New Zealand for job opportunities or with negative experiences of living overseas had been invited to participate.
In relation to all three items, Mr Boyce said the Holmes programme had "never bothered to find anyone who had used OE to create better job opportunities in New Zealand." He highlighted the lack of any "relatively young person" who might have had a different view from the "bright young things leaving." He said the man from Christchurch who had been interviewed on the 6 October item had no tertiary education and was therefore not part of the "so-called ‘lost generation.’"
Mr Boyce complained that Holmes’ approach to the "brain drain" issue had been centred on an arguably narrow range of people who were "IT savvy." He referred to a number of people he knew who had lived in London and had returned to New Zealand.
Mr Boyce said he did not expect his complaint that standard G6 had been breached to be upheld. However, he said, the "case for a G15 breach is clear." In that regard, he pointed to Mr Poole’s denial on the 4 October item that he was politically motivated. He then referred to the revelation the next day that Dr Roger Kerr of the Business Roundtable had suggested the advertisement and initially funded it. Mr Boyce said:
The idea that a PR company also gets involved and Mr Poole doesn’t ask who funded this is not credible, unless Poole is naive. In my view, Mr Poole was dishonest, and it’s extraordinary that he was given a second bite at the cherry, or the government, but hey, he’s just worried about business confidence, as he told TV3.
TVNZ advised the complainant that when it considered the complaints about the items on 4 and 6 October it had also taken into account the 5 October item. In doing so, the broadcaster referred to section 4(1)(d) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 which states:
4(1) Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes and their presentation, standards which are consistent with –
(d) The principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
TVNZ said section 4(1)(d) made it clear that "balance need not be achieved within a single item, or even two items, but can legitimately be reached over a period of time." It argued that all of TVNZ’s news and current affairs coverage for the period should be examined to establish that the matter had been treated in a fair and balanced manner.
Turning to Standard G6, the broadcaster said a variety of opinions had been aired on Holmes over the three days, both on the credibility issue arising from the Business Roundtable’s involvement in financing the advertisement, and on the issue of how much truth there was in what the advertisement had to say. The broadcaster said:
On the credibility matter for example, Mr Poole’s denial that the advertisement was financed by anybody was firmly rejected by the Prime Minister on air the following night. In relation to the issue itself, the availability of jobs in New Zealand and the relative attractiveness of living in this country were vigorously advanced by Mr Garry Sefton [on the 6 October item].
TVNZ maintained that the advertisement raised an important issue regardless of how it had been funded. It said:
What needed to be discussed (and was in various news programmes and Holmes during this period) was whether the so-called "brain drain" was significantly different now from how it had been in the past (as the advertisement implied), or whether it had always been so, and was a good thing, that skilled New Zealanders spent some time early in their careers in overseas employment (as the government claimed).
TVNZ declined to uphold a breach of standard G6.
In relation to standard G15, TVNZ argued that the "sources" mentioned in the standard were not intended to cover people who were interviewed in relation to specific stories. It said the "sources" which the standard required to be kept under constant review were
surely those that are used regularly for supply of news material and for ‘tip-offs’ rather than people who are approached for interviews about specific matters with which they are linked?
With regard to the issue of Mr Poole’s credibility, TVNZ said the sequence of Holmes items made it clear to viewers that "his integrity was under some question." For example, in the item on 4 October, Mr Poole had been seen in a pre-recorded interview denying that he was "affiliated with a political party". Then, in the studio, the presenter "was seen to carefully check for possible motivation." TVNZ said:
The viewing public thus saw the effort to establish Mr Poole’s credentials and were able to judge those answers against the revelations about Business Roundtable involvement which emerged subsequently.
TVNZ said it appeared that the complainant had concluded, because questions had been raised about Mr Poole’s credibility, that there was in fact no legitimate story about the "brain drain" to explore. In TVNZ’s view, that link could not logically be made. It said:
There may still be a valid story about young educated people choosing to leave the country permanently regardless of how the advertisement was paid for. The issues were separate.
TVNZ reiterated that in its view the "sources" referred to in standard G15 were not intended to extend to people such as Mr Poole. In any case, viewers had been able to hear the presenter ask him questions which impinged on his credibility, it said.
Live programmes cannot be judged retrospectively; obviously questions were raised when the Roundtable’s involvement was revealed but by then Mr Poole was an integral part of the story.
It declined to uphold a breach of standard G15.
In referring his complaints to the Authority, Mr Boyce claimed that TVNZ’s response had been "deliberately misleading."
He referred to a newspaper article entitled "Is TVNZ a lapdog of the New Right’s PR campaign?", in which one of the people Mr Poole had contacted about the advertisement – Mr Jeremy Punnett, a London-based New Zealander – had been quoted as claiming that Holmes knew about the Business Roundtable’s involvement all along.
The article, by Chris Trotter, also quotes a PR consultant, Catherine Judd, from Jacques Martin. She apparently stated that the Holmes show had been aware of Mr Poole for some time, and that the programme on him was scheduled well in advance, before she became involved in the issue. This information wasn’t available when I made the original complaint, and, according to recent advice, such newspaper articles are not admissible at this stage.
In relation to standard G15, Mr Boyce argued that TVNZ had "edited" the standard so as to claim Mr Poole was not an information source at all. By "editing" the standard, TVNZ was able to claim that only those who supplied news material regularly and "tip-offs" were included, he said.
In relation to Mr Poole’s credibility, Mr Boyce referred to the interviewer questioning Mr Poole about whether he had the backing of the Business Roundtable. The complainant said:
Though [TVNZ] claims that viewers saw Poole struggle for credibility, the issue is why he [Mr Poole] wasn’t up-front to begin with.
Referring to TVNZ’s argument that the "brain drain" issue was valid regardless of how the advertisement had been paid for, Mr Boyce said that his complaint under standard G6 was that Holmes "never allowed any of Mr Poole’s peers who disagreed with him, to appear on the programme."
Mr Boyce challenged TVNZ’s assertion that a "variety of opinions" had been aired. He said:
The truth is that Holmes continued to favour one side of the story the whole way through. Perhaps this is an example of advocacy journalism, if it is journalism at all. I think my original complaint makes it quite clear that no-one from the same – apparently lost – generation was given a look-in if they disagreed, apart from the ageing car salesman.
In relation to the "brain drain" issue, Mr Boyce said TVNZ had not appeared to "notice for nine years when the National party were in government" and that the broadcaster had not responded to charges of "political motives for creating a programme around Mr Poole’s agenda, and ignoring the warning of [Mr Poole’s] critics." He also complained that Dr Roger Kerr had "managed to get a whole programme segment to himself."
In its response to the Authority, TVNZ submitted that Mr Boyce could not make a case about lack of balance by ignoring the 5 October item. It said:
Section 4(1)(d) [of the Broadcasting Act] is explicit in stating that balance can be achieved over the period of current interest. Accordingly, in our dealing with this complaint we have considered the content of items broadcast on 4, 5 and 6 October.
In relation to the newspaper report that Mr Punnett had advised Holmes in advance of the broadcast that there was a link between the Business Roundtable and the advertisement, the broadcaster noted that, "like all news services, TVNZ receives scores of tips from members of the public." It said:
It is true that Mr Punnett did mention Roundtable involvement. At the same time, Holmes received a tip from another source which suggested that in fact it was a named political party which was behind the advertisement. Neither tip could be corroborated before the broadcast on 4 October. Furthermore, when Mr Richard Poole was challenged off-camera on the information provided by both sources he categorically denied them. In the absence of corroborative evidence and with Mr Poole’s denial in mind, it would have been foolish journalistically to name on air either the Roundtable or the political party as backers of the newspaper advertisement. Instead Mr Poole was asked specifically during the interview whether (a) he was "political" and (b) whether he had been "financed into this." As the item shows, he denied both.
TVNZ said, once the Business Roundtable’s involvement had emerged on the programme on 5 October, that Mr Poole had been "subjected to a second, searching interview by the presenter seeking to find out why he had denied outside financing the night before." From that interview, TVNZ argued, viewers were able to draw their own conclusions about Mr Poole’s credibility, "an important aspect of the story."
Finally, TVNZ responded to Mr Boyce’s allegation that the interview with Dr Kerr was not balanced. It said:
We would have thought that the interview with the Prime Minister on the 5th October provided the alternative view of the Roundtable’s involvement.
In his final comment, Mr Boyce said TVNZ now acknowledged Mr Punnett’s views, and TVNZ’s Chief Executive had told a Select Committee that an investigation into Holmes would take place, "but with no result".
Mr Boyce reiterated that his complaint was that none of Mr Poole’s critics, including contemporaries who dissented from his view, had been given an opportunity to contribute to the debate. He said the Prime Minister had been asked to appear on the 5 October item in order to debate with Mr Poole, not with Dr Kerr. He said:
The reason for my complaint about the subsequent 6 October episode, is the way in which Holmes introduced new young emigres, as if this was a vindication of the initial stance. The only opposing voice was a man seen outside a used car yard, and he only appeared because he had already been in print, in the Press newspaper.
Mr Boyce argued it was a breach of standard G6 that none of Mr Poole’s critics had been given an opportunity to appear in the period of current interest. He asked why Mr Poole had reappeared on Holmes when "he was proven to be a liar", and his "accusers" were not asked to appear, in spite of having been vindicated.
Mr Poole said:
The Business Roundtable had tried to manipulate the media by funding the campaign that Poole fronted, then get an entire programme segment.
According to Mr Poole, TVNZ was arguing that, because other media had exposed Mr Poole’s connections, the 4 October item was "exonerated" as Mr Poole had been "cross-examined" the next night. He said:
They [TVNZ] seem to suggest that Mr Punnett’s tip was discounted, because it appeared to conflict with another tip, which claimed the involvement of a political party. Besides ignoring these tips, there seems to be a distinction between a political affiliation, and the funding from a lobby group such as the Business Roundtable. Yet the right-wing parties have an agenda in common with the Roundtable in representing "business", and portraying the government as "anti-business". The "brain-drain" issue was construed as one of business confidence by Mr Poole, on TV3.
Mr Boyce referred to a radio report in which a member of the Business Roundtable had suggested the revelations about the Business Roundtable’s involvement were not significant. He said the member had accused the radio journalist of attempting to discredit the campaign for his own political reasons. Mr Boyce said:
The practice of journalism is therefore seen as politically motivated, but funding PR campaigns is not, at least when buying the commercial media, including TVNZ.
The Authority’s Findings
At the outset, the Authority wishes to place on record its awareness of news media reports relating to the extent to which the Holmes show might have known about the Business Roundtable’s involvement in the advertisement, prior to the 4 October item going to air. Nevertheless, the Authority has restricted its determination of these complaints to an examination of the three items, and the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
Before turning to consider whether the items breached standards G6 or G15 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, the Authority considers it helpful to set out in more detail some of the content of the items.
Item 1–4 October 2000
The first of the three items, broadcast on 4 October, began with the announcement that a group of young New Zealanders concerned about the country’s economic direction were placing an advertisement entitled "A Generation Lost" in the following day’s New Zealand Herald. The item described how Richard Poole had written to the Prime Minister asking how she planned to stop the brain drain. The reporter said:
The Government told him that policies were in place. Richard didn’t like the response so he has launched a newspaper campaign to make the Government listen.
Richard Poole was then shown telling the reporter:
It’s absolute passion. It’s not affiliated with any political party.
The item then quoted a number of young people living overseas because they were being paid more than they would be in New Zealand and were experiencing a better quality of life.
It then went to a studio discussion with Richard Poole, described by the presenter as "the man behind the advertisement"; Rob Snelling, from UK Jobs, a company which sends New Zealanders to jobs overseas; and a merchant banker now living in Sydney, Roger Bradley. The discussion canvassed some of the reasons why young New Zealanders were going overseas and not returning home.
During the discussion, the following exchange took place between the presenter and Richard Poole:
Presenter: Are you political? Are you a front for a political party?
Poole: No, absolutely not.
Presenter: Has anyone financed you into this?
Poole: No. No, the names that appear on the ad tomorrow really speak for themselves.
The item ended in the following manner:
Presenter: Gentlemen, I thank you very much for your time. And, of course, you list on the
bottom of the advertisement a place where people can send a donation.
Presenter: To the campaign.
Poole: Well, we’re interested in who else might support this and if we have similar feeling
throughout New Zealand.
Presenter: Good on you, Richard. Well done.
Item 2–5 October 2000
The following night, the Holmes programme was again devoted to the brain drain issue and the newspaper advertisement. The first person to be interviewed was Prime Minister Helen Clark, who was introduced in the following terms:
Presenter (to camera):
… He [Richard Poole] seems to have tapped into a raging stream of unease throughout New Zealand – … unease at where we’re going in the world, at where we are, unease at the departure of our best and our brightest overseas for better money and better opportunities. And since Richard Poole appeared last night on the programme there hasn’t been another subject on anyone’s lips – the brain drain, the departure of our people, the health of our economy, the survival of our country, the employment of our talent. The Prime Minister, however, thinks it’s a nonsense – she sees a plot inspired by enemies of her government. She has declined to debate with Mr Poole, so I’ll speak to Helen Clark first.
Presenter (to Prime Minister):
You believe this is all politically motivated – in what way was it, what is the evidence?
The interview with the Prime Minister covered a variety of issues, including the Business Roundtable’s involvement in the advertisement. Miss Clark emphasised that the brain drain had been "going on for years" and she asserted that New Zealand had not suffered net migration loss for the last two years. The presenter questioned her in depth about an email sent by the Deputy Prime Minister’s senior political adviser to Richard Poole, describing Mr Poole as a "half wit" and the advertisement as a "silly scheme."
Following the interview with Miss Clark, Richard Poole was interviewed again.
The following exchange took place:
The Prime Minister is convinced you are politically motivated – you come from a
National Party family. One or two people mentioned in your advertisement today
have expressed the idea things are not what they seem. What do you say to that?
Just honestly – there has been no motivation from the beginning. I’m more disillusioned
than I was before I started this process now.
Look, tell me what you told me … why didn’t you tell me last night about Roundtable
involvement? I asked you on the programme last night and I asked you on the radio
You did, that’s right, and I wasn’t aware of the ad payment.
You weren’t aware the Roundtable had paid ten grand to the Herald to get the ad in.
That’s right, it was coming from New Zealanders.
Right, so to try and explain this then – how did you actually get involved? You went
overseas for a bit of OE in June and July.
That's right. I went to…
Went to Europe, saw your mates.
Yes, I did see my mates.
They’re doing well?
You said, "When are you coming home?"
They said, "We’re not."
And why did you come home?
I was just lucky enough to get some time off work at the time and I was never
planning to go back again. However…
But you want to live here, right?
I certainly do.
You sent the letter to the Prime Minister first.
She said, "Your questions can be better answered by the Minister of Overseas
Development", who is Mr Anderton.
You did not hear from Mr Anderton until you heard from this person today.
That was a few days ago.
Yeah, sorry. Right. So you waited…
Oh no, sorry, Mr Anderton – I heard from him six weeks after I sent out the original letter.
Right. But then you sent the same letter to other groups as well, including the
… when you had not heard from Mr Anderton a month after…
That’s exactly right. I sent it out to a number of media – I was crying out for attention –
the reason I’d sent this letter to the Prime Minister in the first place was to say, hey,
I’m on the verge of leaving, please tell me why I should stay here.
She referred the letter to Mr Anderton, a month went by, you then started to send the
Yeah, that’s right.
Why did you do this? Is this normal…
Well, I was just saying who else is going to help me on this. I mean I was about to
take off. I mean, I want to be here and I was 50/50 about whether or not I would still
And you weren’t getting an answer.
You sent it to the Roundtable, amongst other people. Ralph Norris sent you a very nice
Yes, he did.
… as Chairman of the Roundtable. A few days later Roger Kerr from the Roundtable,
the Executive Director, contacted you and he had a talk with you.
He did. I was more than happy to talk to anyone who would listen.
Did he suggest the advertisement?
We talked about a few ideas because I said, how do you think I can take this further,
that it’s a mood of the country, we’re not happy. And he suggested well maybe,
yeah we talked about it, maybe an ad was a good idea to see if there were other
New Zealanders who thought the same – you know, if it really was true, or maybe it
was just something I thought.
Did he say at that time, we’ll pay for it?
He said that the fact was that we would probably get enough money from all the
people. But, yes, if there was a shortfall in that, yes the Business Roundtable would
be happy to, if it was a genuine view and a genuine cause.
Sometime after that you hear from a PR company.
They say, well if you’re going to put an ad in you’d better book it.
Yeah, that’s right.
And they said what?
Well, they told me that it would have to be paid for.
And what did they say about who would look after that bill?
We didn’t talk about it, it was taken care of.
When did you find out the Roundtable had paid for the bill effectively?
Well, late last night.
Why didn’t you tell me a bit of this last night?
I didn’t know that last night.
Right. What reaction have you had today then – to your appearance last night?
It’s all be favourable. I have had … there have been another 250 emails that
have come in and we’ve also had 366 emails coming from a site. So I don’t know
how many hits the site’s had, but I’ve had … it’s been overwhelming support.
I haven’t had a negative email today.
Have you repaid the $10,000 the Business Roundtable spent?
Yes, I have. I realised that that was obviously something that people, you know
that was causing an issue – and as soon as it was realised then, you know, I wanted
to fix that problem. But I still don’t, to be honest, you know…
Well, they’re not a banned organisation after all.
That’s right. I mean, I don’t know a heap about them.
So, you wrote what’s in the ad.
That’s right, yes I did.
You collected the names.
Yes, I did.
The presenter then went on to talk to Adrian Orr, until recently the Reserve Bank’s chief economist, and Mark Newfield, a young New Zealander described as "making lots of money in London".
Item 3–6 October 2000
The third item, broadcast on 6 October 2000, was introduced in the following terms:
Good evening. Well, the faxes and the emails of support for Richard Poole continue to pour in. His concern this week has been the departure of our best and our brightest and the perception of limited opportunities here. Response since he appeared earlier in the week on the programme has been huge. But the Government continues to react with fury – it has condemned Mr Poole and the Business Roundtable. Nevertheless, Richard Poole tells us tonight that his web site has now had 10,000 hits. Now Helen Clark has vented her fury at Dr Roger Kerr, the Director of the Business Roundtable – she says he's got to go. We're going to be speaking to him shortly. But on the programme last night, the Prime Minister disputed the figures, she denied there is a brain drain at all, which has been one of the premises of the week. Now, let's be clear about these figures as they relate to people between 20 and 39 years old, the people with the skills, young people – qualified many of them, graduates many of them, making lives for themselves. Here’s [reporter].
The item reported on a young New Zealander who was heading overseas after having been rejected for 250 jobs in New Zealand. After examining some of the migration statistics, the item went to a studio discussion between Garry Sefton, a Christchurch-based businessman who reported that business was going well; William Watson, a New Zealand-based entrepreneur who was going to London and then Ireland; and, Jo King, a young Aucklander about to head to Australia.
The item finished with an interview with Dr Roger Kerr, Executive Director of the Business Roundtable, who denied being "anti-government" or part of a "conspiracy" with Richard Poole, and said he would not be resigning, as suggested by the Prime Minister.
The standard requires broadcasters:
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
Mr Boyce complained that the items lacked balance because no-one had been interviewed who had used their overseas experience to create better job opportunities in New Zealand. The one person interviewed with a positive view of where New Zealand was heading was a man from Christchurch who was not tertiary qualified and therefore did not fit the criteria for the "so-called ‘lost generation’", the complainant argued. He also complained that none of Mr Poole’s peers who disagreed with him had been invited to appear on the programme. In his view, Holmes had favoured "one side of the story the whole way through." The interviews with "new young emigres" in the final item appeared to be a "vindication of the initial stance," he said.
TVNZ responded that a variety of opinions had been aired over the three items, and that the relative attractiveness of living in New Zealand had been "vigorously advanced" by the man from Christchurch in the final item. In its view, the interview with the Prime Minister on 5 October was sufficient to provide an alternative view to that of the Business Roundtable.
The Authority considers that all three items must be looked at together to determine whether balance, impartiality and fairness were achieved. When it does that, the Authority has no difficulty in finding a clear breach of standard G6. Any semblance of balance which may have been achieved by the interview with the Prime Minister on the second item was undone the following night. Other than the interview with the Prime Minister and the interview with the man from Christchurch, the Authority considers very little attempt was made to provide balance.
In the Authority’s view, of more concern than any lack of balance is the clear breach of the requirement in standard G6 that the broadcaster demonstrate impartiality. The presenter’s empathy for Mr Poole’s point of view, regardless of his integrity as a news source, was evident throughout the three items. In his enthusiasm for the story, the presenter failed to demonstrate the impartiality required of him. When the presenter did challenge Mr Poole as to why he had not previously acknowledged the Business Roundtable’s involvement, the lengthy exchange quoted earlier in this Decision took place. In the Authority’s view, the presenter failed to challenge Mr Poole’s credibility in the forceful manner which would be expected of an impartial broadcaster. It was not, contrary to TVNZ’s assertion, "a searching interview."
In spite of the reasons advanced by the broadcaster to justify not initially naming the Business Roundtable when it received the uncorroborated tip from Mr Punnett, the Authority notes that when the presenter came to interview Dr Kerr on 6 October, Dr Kerr was asked only one question about the advertisement before the presenter moved to a different line of questioning. The conciliatory style the presenter adopted to interview both Mr Poole and Dr Kerr was in stark contrast to the forceful style adopted in the interview with the Prime Minister.
In the Authority’s view, the three items taken together lacked balance and impartiality.
This standard reads:
G15 The standards of integrity and reliability of information sources in news, current affairs and documentaries should be monitored regularly.
Mr Boyce complained that TVNZ breached the standard by failing to check Richard Poole’s integrity and reliability. TVNZ argued that the "sources" mentioned in the standard were not intended to cover people being interviewed in relation to specific stories. In the broadcaster’s view, the standard was designed to ensure the review of sources which are used regularly for the supply of news material, and for the review of "tip-offs". In any event, TVNZ said the presenter had carefully questioned Mr Poole for possible political motivation. When it subsequently emerged that the Business Roundtable had been involved in the advertisement, it had been clear to viewers that Mr Poole’s "integrity was under some question," the broadcaster said. TVNZ also argued that the complainant seemed to have concluded that, because questions had been raised about Mr Poole’s credibility, there was in fact no legitimate story about the "brain drain" to explore. TVNZ disputed that there was no legitimate story.
It is not for the Authority to comment on whether or not there was a legitimate story to explore. The Authority, however, disagrees with the broadcaster’s interpretation of this standard. Standard G15 makes no distinction between different types of information sources. Nor does it apply only to "regular" sources. The word "regularly" in the standard relates to the need to monitor sources, not to how often one source or another is used for information.
In the Authority’s view, the integrity and reliability of all news sources is fundamental to the essence of journalism. It runs counter to accepted journalistic practice to suggest that people interviewed in relation to specific stories are not "sources" under standard G15.
There is no question that Mr Poole was an "information source" under the standard. It follows, therefore, that TVNZ was required to check his integrity and reliability as an information source. Indeed, in the face of such a controversial and politically charged subject as the "brain drain", the Authority is of the view that the broadcaster’s obligation to establish Mr Poole’s credibility was even greater.
In the Authority’s view, the broadcaster failed to ascertain adequately Mr Poole’s integrity or reliability before it chose to use him as a news source. The Authority makes no judgement as to whether the broadcaster knew of the Business Roundtable’s involvement prior to the first of the three broadcasts. However, it does find TVNZ’s argument in relation to the "tip-off" received from Mr Punnett – that "like all news services, TVNZ receives scores of tips from members of the public" – somewhat inconsistent with the apparent ease with which it was prepared to trust that Mr Poole was telling the truth. It also finds the comparatively cursory manner in which the presenter questioned Mr Poole about whether he was politically motivated, to be at odds with the adversarial approach the presenter took in his interview the following night with the Prime Minister.
The Authority upholds the complaint that the items breached standard G15.
For the reasons given, the Authority upholds the complaints that the items broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd on Holmes on 4 and 6 October 2000 breached standards G6 and G15 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Accordingly, it invited the parties to make submissions on penalty.
In his submission, Mr Boyce requested that the Authority order TVNZ to refrain from advertising for a period of time, and that the Authority order TVNZ to broadcast a statement in relation to the complaints.
TVNZ submitted that no penalty was warranted, given that publication of the decision was likely to attract publicity.
The Authority has considered the submissions made by the parties. Taking into account the seriousness of the breach on this occasion, the Authority imposes the following orders:
Pursuant to section 13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders Television New Zealand Ltd to broadcast, within one month of the date of this decision, a statement explaining why the complaints were upheld. The statement shall be approved by the Authority and shall be broadcast at a time and date to be approved by the Authority.
Pursuant to section 16(4) of the Act, the Authority orders Television New Zealand Ltd to pay, within one month of the date of this decision, the sum of $2,000 by way of costs to the Crown.
The Authority draws the broadcaster’s attention to the requirement in section 13(3)(b) of the Act for the broadcaster to give notice to the Authority and the complainant of the manner in which the order has been complied with.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
7 June 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Simon Boyce’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 6 October 2000
- TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 6 November 2000
- Mr Boyce’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 10 November 2000
- TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 5 December 2000
- Mr Boyce’s Final Comment – 9 December 2000
- Mr Boyce’s Submission on Penalty – 16 May 2001
- TVNZ’s Submission on Penalty – 18 May 2001