BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Brown and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-116

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Warren Brown
Number
2008-116
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item reported share market crash – political editor said it was “the worst financial crisis since the Wall Street crash of 1929” – allegedly inaccurate

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – political editor was referring to wider financial crisis not share market crash – no inaccuracies – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 16 September 2008, was introduced as follows:

Presenter 1:     We begin tonight with the world’s worst financial crisis in years.
Presenter 2:    It’s even drawing comparisons with the Great Depression of the 1930s.

[2] The One News political editor stated that “as New Zealand markets reacted to some of Wall Street’s darkest hours, the Finance Minister certainly wasn’t playing things down”. The then Finance Minister Michael Cullen was shown saying, “This is probably the worst financial crisis for a very long time indeed”, and suggested that the then Leader of the Opposition John Key’s credentials as a past employee for global financial services firm Merrill Lynch, which was acquired by the Bank of America in 2008, meant that he was not fit to run the New Zealand economy.

[3] The One News presenter asked the political editor if there was a risk this attack on Mr Key would backfire on the Labour Party. He replied:

I think there is a real risk of that. I mean, the worst financial crisis since the Wall Street crash of 1929 claims a company that John Key used to work for years ago and somehow that means he’s not fit to run the country...

[4] The presenter then said that “the financial turmoil has also become a hot topic for the politicians campaigning for the American presidency”. The One News US correspondent reported that:

Barack Obama and John McCain blame Wall Street and Washington for this colossal financial meltdown...
The Olympic gold-winning US women’s soccer team closed the trading day on Wall Street after the biggest one-day fall since the 9/11 attacks seven years ago.

[5] The US correspondent went on to say:

Joining Lehman Brothers which declared bankruptcy yesterday, Wall Street giant Merrill Lynch disappeared, bought up by Bank of America rather than face financial ruin. The cause? Bad loans falling due in the worst US housing market since the Depression.

[6] One News also spoke to its Europe correspondent, who reported that for its share market it had been “London’s worst trading day since January”.

Complaint

[7] Warren Brown made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was inaccurate in stating that the share market crash was the worst since the 1929 Depression. In fact, he said, it was only the worst since 2001, when the American share markets reopened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This had been reported in newspapers, he said.

[8] Mr Brown considered that this breached guideline 5b to the accuracy standard, because it would have unnecessarily alarmed viewers. He said it may have prompted investors in New Zealand to “sell up in fear of bad economic times ahead”. The item also breached guideline 5e, he argued, because broadcasters could have easily logged on to share market websites and found the correct information before the item was broadcast. Mr Brown maintained that TVNZ had breached guideline 5a, because the error of fact was not corrected in TV One’s 10.30pm news broadcast. He noted that share markets recovered slightly following the item, and there was no evidence from recent share trading that the world economy was falling into a depression. He considered that One News should broadcast a prominent correction.

Standards

[9] Mr Brown nominated Standard 5 and guidelines 5a, 5b and 5e of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. They provide:

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.

Guidelines

5a   Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

5b   Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

5e   Broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to ensure at all times that the information sources for news, current affairs and documentaries are reliable.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[10] TVNZ maintained that the One News presenters had introduced the item by drawing a comparison to the financial crisis of the 1930s; they did not state that the day’s trading was the worst since the 1929 Depression. One News correspondents then each reported on the region they were covering.

[11] TVNZ considered that the political editor had put the story about “some of Wall Street’s darkest hours” into a New Zealand context. It argued that his reference to “the worst financial crisis since the Wall Street crash of 1929” was simply paraphrasing the Finance Minister’s comment that “this is probably the worst financial crisis for a very long time indeed”.

[12] The broadcaster concluded that the item did not contain any errors of fact and was not in any way misleading. It declined to uphold the accuracy complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[13] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Brown referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He noted that TVNZ had not responded to his specific complaints under guidelines 5a, 5b and 5e.

[14] Mr Brown said that he was “shocked at 6pm at the negative connotations that One News had put on the share market information”. He argued that he could reasonably be expected to conclude from the presenter’s statement that “we begin tonight with the world’s worst financial crisis in years” that it was the worst financial crisis in 79 years. However, it was in fact only the worst financial crisis in seven years, and therefore the introduction to the item was not truthful and accurate on points of fact, he said.

[15] Mr Brown acknowledged that the US correspondent had referred to “the biggest one-day fall since the 9/11 attacks seven years ago”, and the Europe correspondent commented that it was “London’s worst trading day since January”. He noted that no financial commentators on the programme had drawn comparisons with the 1930s Depression, so that the One News presenter’s “inflammatory claim [that the financial crisis was drawing comparisons with the Great Depression] was not backed up on One News”, he said.

[16] The complainant maintained that the Finance Minister’s comments in the item were referring not to that trading day but to the “credit crunch” that had been reported with increasing frequency. That was a banking issue, he said, and banking was only part of the financial sector. Mr Brown considered that the political editor was wrong to paraphrase the Minister as saying it was “the worst financial crisis since the Wall Street crash of 1929”. That was not what the Minister said in the item, he said.

[17] The political editor also referred to “some of Wall Street’s darkest hours”. Mr Brown argued that 16 September 2008 did not contain “some of Wall Street’s darkest hours”. The fall in the Dow Jones on that day was less than after the 2001 terrorist attacks, he said, and the fall in the NZX led to a rise on 17 September. The behaviour of the New Zealand share market investors did not suggest that there would be another “Great Depression of the 1930s” in the near future.

Authority's Determination

[18] The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[19] The complainant argued that the item was inaccurate in stating that “the share market crash was the worst since the 1929 Depression”. However, the Authority notes that the statement referred to by the complainant was not actually made in the item. The One News political editor and presenters referred to the wider “financial crisis” as potentially the worst since the Depression, as opposed to the crash of the share market, which was only one part of that crisis. For example:

  • the One News political editor stated that “the worst financial crisis since 1929” had led to the collapse of Merrill Lynch.
  • a One News presenter referred to “the worst financial crisis in years”, followed by the other presenter saying “it’s even drawing comparisons with the Great Depression of the 1930s”.
  • the US correspondent reported that Merrill Lynch had fallen because of “the worst US housing market since the Depression”.
  • the US correspondent also stated that Wall Street’s trading day had been closed after “the biggest one-day fall since the 9/11 attacks seven years ago”.
  • the Europe correspondent reported that London had had its “worst trading day since January”.

[20] Further, the statements made by the One News presenters and correspondents – for example, that Merrill Lynch had fallen due to “the worst US housing market since the Depression” – were placed in the New Zealand context of the Finance Minister using the fall of John Key’s former employer as political ammunition.

[21] In these circumstances, the Authority considers that the item was not inaccurate. It declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5 (accuracy).

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 December 2008

Appendix

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

1.      Warren Brown’s formal complaint – 17 September 2008
2.     TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 14 October 2008
3.     Mr Brown’s referral to the Authority – 21 October 2008
4.     TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 13 November 2008