BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Boyce and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-169

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • Simon Boyce
Number
2002-169
Channel/Station
TV One
Standards Breached

Complaint
Assignment election special – inaccurate statement regarding student loans

Findings
Standard 5 – requirement for accuracy is absolute – minor breach – uphold

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] An Assignment programme broadcast on TV One at 8.00pm on 10 July 2002 was an election special, which analysed the Auckland electorates in the context of the upcoming General Election.

[2] Simon Boyce complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the Prime Minister’s comments regarding student loans were inaccurate, and that Ms Harré was treated unfairly on the programme.

[3] In declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ said that the Prime Minister’s comments were "essentially correct" and that Ms Harré was dealt with fairly in the context of the programme.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision in regard to the statements about student loans, Mr Boyce referred that aspect of his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] An Assignment programme broadcast on TV One at 8.00pm on 10 July 2002 was an election special, which analysed the Auckland electorates in the context of the upcoming General Election. It also broadly reviewed the campaign strategies of the various political parties.

The Complaint

[7] Simon Boyce complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the Prime Minister’s comments regarding student loans were inaccurate, and that Ms Harré was treated unfairly on the programme.

[8] In relation to the fairness aspect of his complaint, Mr Boyce’s concern was the coverage relating to the contest between candidates, Ms Harré and Ms Pillay, for the Waitakere seat.

[9] Mr Boyce claimed that the Prime Minister was portrayed favourably in relation to education issues, and "her comments were accepted entirely uncritically." The specific inaccuracy alleged by Mr Boyce, was the Prime Minister’s claim that tertiary students in full-time study are not charged interest on student loans. Mr Boyce said that that "policy claim is actually false". Enclosing his own student loan statement, Mr Boyce stated:

The statement clearly shows that base and ‘adjustment’ interest is charged every month while studying. Therefore, there is a policy of still charging students interest on loans, and while the interest is written-off under some circumstances, this is not the case if the student gets a job in the following financial year which means that the income threshold is crossed.

[10] Mr Boyce criticised TVNZ for accepting "that the policy is a fact, without any question of accuracy."

The Standards

[11] TVNZ assessed the complaint against the standards in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice nominated by Mr Boyce. They read:

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[12] In declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ first considered the context of the programme:

The programme examined Auckland in the context of the coming General Election. The first half examined how Labour had come to dominate electorates in the Greater Auckland area in recent times and looked set to continue that domination. Also included in the first half was reference to other parties of the left and their candidates (The Greens, and the Alliance). Attention in the second half switched to National’s effort to regain its former position in Auckland, together with references to New Zealand First and ACT, two other parties looking for strong support among Auckland voters.

[13] Turning to the specific aspects of the programme complained about, in relation to Standard 6, TVNZ submitted that in the "context" of the programme it was not unfair to Ms Harré. TVNZ noted that the programme broadly considered party strategies for the Auckland area, and was not an individual review of each Auckland electorate. It emphasised this point by adding that the segment which featured Ms Harré "was not a review of Waitakere and the candidates seeking election there."

[14] In TVNZ’s opinion the footage of the Prime Minister greeting the school-children was appropriate because the multi-ethnicity of the Auckland area was an issue which the programme highlighted "as making the area significantly different in terms of issues relevant to voters."

[15] In relation to Mr Boyce’s criticism regarding the favourable coverage of Labour, TVNZ said in its view the second half of the programme which examined National’s campaign provided balance to Labour’s coverage. It considered that both major parties had been fairly treated. TVNZ concluded that Standard 6 had not been breached.

[16] Turning to Standard 5, TVNZ considered that the Prime Minister’s comments about student loans were "essentially correct." While acknowledging Mr Boyce’s student loan record, TVNZ noted that his own personal education situation was unique.

[17] TVNZ submitted that "politicians at election time speak in general terms, and there is rarely an opportunity to get into the small details." In its view, there was "no conflict between" Mr Boyce’s experience and the Prime Minister’s claims. Accordingly, TVNZ found Standard 5 had not been breached.

The Referral to the Authority

[18] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response Mr Boyce sought to clarify the student loan aspect of his complaint. He disagreed with TVNZ regarding the accuracy of the Prime Minister’s comments. He argued that the Prime Minister’s statement was incorrect, because based on his loan statement, a full-time student was charged interest while they are studying. Mr Boyce wrote:

The question is whether TVNZ, and the media in general, should be expected to make clear what the student loan policy actually is. My statement suggests that every student in their final year of study will accrue interest, and if they don’t continue study, and cross the threshold in the following year, the interest burden while studying remains. This would apply to any full-time student doing a one-year degree, so my MA is not atypical at all – the only difference is the lower course fee and being able to borrow for a full year.

[19] As to Labour’s coverage regarding education, Mr Boyce said the programme "portrayed the Prime Minister as ensuring the young school students would have access to tertiary education." He concluded by saying:

TVNZ’s point about the coverage during the second half of the programme is irrelevant, as the complaint is about education.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[20] TVNZ noted that Mr Boyce appeared only to have referred one aspect of his formal complaint to the Authority. It reiterated that the Prime Minister’s comments about interest charges on student loans were made in the "context of an election campaign." It added:

While we acknowledge that a general statement such as she made excludes some detail and some conditions, we suggest that in general it was not incompatible with the section in Mr Boyce’s student account (last page) headed ‘Your interest may be written off’.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[21] In response to TVNZ’s comments that he had only referred part of his formal complaint, Mr Boyce said, "events overtake an election campaign complaint." He reiterated his comments that his own education experience, verified by his loan statement, contradicted the Prime Minister’s claims. He wrote:

However, if there was no interest charged, the interest totals would not appear on my statement, and there would be no question of the interest being written-off. I maintain that the loan statement does make Ms Clarke’s comment incompatible with the actual practice of the loan scheme. … If the students have a loan, interest is charged and accrued while studying.

[22] Mr Boyce said that the programme implied that the Government had assisted tertiary education students. Mr Boyce claimed that the scene showing the Prime Minister greeting a multi-cultural group of children, had been used by the Prime Minister to insinuate that "the young children could all expect lower cost tertiary education." Mr Boyce concluded:

In fact, the Labour Party only streamlined the existing loan scheme, and don’t appear to have the slightest intention of reducing interest costs for students across-the-board. Most students still don’t qualify for any ‘assistance’ (or loan) during the summer semester. The truth about tertiary education policies has been obfuscated by TVNZ.

The Authority’s Determination

[23] The Prime Minister’s comment in relation to student loans is the only aspect of the complaint which has been referred to the Authority. In Mr Boyce’s view the Prime Minister’s comments on the Assignment programme regarding interest on student loans were inaccurate. He contended that students are charged interest while they undertake study. He complained that the factual inaccuracy breached Standard 5 of the Television Code.

[24] In order to assess the accuracy of the statement, the Authority made enquiries of the Inland Revenue Department regarding student loans. It was advised as follows:

Interest is charged on all student loans from the day money is drawn down.

Eligible borrowers then have their interest written off after the end of the income year (31 March) in which the interest was charged.

Borrowers who are eligible for a full interest write off are full time, full year students and part time students who earn $25,378 or less.

[25] The Authority concludes, on the basis of this information, that the Prime Minister’s comments were inaccurate. While it accepts TVNZ’s submission that the Prime Minister was speaking in general terms about the cost of tertiary education, and was explaining the reduced financial burden, in the "context of an election campaign", the Authority does not agree with TVNZ’s claim that the Prime Minister’s statement was "essentially correct".

[26] In the Authority’s view the discrepancy was that the Prime Minister said that students were not "charged" interest, as opposed to "required to pay" interest, while they study. The Authority has ascertained that students are charged interest on their student loans, but may be entitled to a full write-off of the interest charged at the end of the income year. The Authority recognises that the distinction maybe considered as relatively minor. Nonetheless it notes that the requirement in Standard 5 for such statements to be accurate, impartial and objective is an absolute one. Accordingly, it concludes that the Prime Minister’s statement was inaccurate. Therefore, the Authority upholds this aspect of the complaint.

[27] The social objective of regulating broadcasting standards is to guard against broadcasters behaving unfairly, offensively, or otherwise excessively. The Broadcasting Act clearly limits freedom of expression. Section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that the right to freedom of expression may be limited by "such reasonable limits which are prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". For the reasons given in Decision Nos. 2002-071/072, the Authority is firmly of the opinion that the limits in the Broadcasting Act are reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. The Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 when exercising its powers under the Broadcasting Act on this occasion. For the reasons given in this decision, the Authority considers that the exercise of its powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. In reaching this conclusion, the Authority has taken into account all the circumstances of this complaint, including the nature of the complaint.

 

For the reasons given above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of an Assignment programme on 10 July 2002 breached Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[28] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Having considered all the circumstances of the complaint and taking into account the minor nature of the breach, the Authority does not consider that an order is appropriate.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
17 October 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Simon Boyce’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd
    – 11 July 2002 (plus attachments)
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 22 July 2002
  3. Mr Boyce’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 29 July 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 6 August 2002
  5. Mr Boyce’s Final Comment – 14 August 2002
  6. Mr Boyce’s Further Submission – 21 September 2002