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Carroll and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-007

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Elizabeth Carroll
Number
2009-007
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One
Standards Breached

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – headline summary on the respective National Party and Labour Party plans to provide financial assistance to New Zealanders who lost their jobs as a result of the economic crisis – allegedly unbalanced and inaccurate

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – statement that Labour’s policy applied to anybody who lost their job was inaccurate – headline summary would have misled viewers – upheld

Standard 4 (balance) – subsumed into consideration of accuracy

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   During a round-up of the day’s top stories on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6.30pm on 31 October 2008, the presenter provided a brief summary on the respective plans being put forward by the National Party and the Labour Party to provide financial assistance to New Zealanders who lost their jobs as a result of the economic crisis.

[2]   In reference to the proposed plans, the presenter stated:

And John Key’s released National’s plan to help New Zealanders who lose their jobs due to the economic crisis. It promises extra financial support for low and middle income earners, while Labour’s plan offers support to anyone, no matter what their take home pay.

Complaint

[3]   Elizabeth Carroll made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging the presenter’s comments were biased and inaccurate. She stated that, “the addition of the comment about Labour’s policy at the end left the impression that the Labour policy was more generous and therefore more worthy of consideration”.

[4]   The complainant went on to say that she had read a newspaper report that stated Labour’s relief policy did not apply to everyone. Ms Carroll noted that the presenter’s comments had not formed part of a “comparison report” and she believed they were inaccurate and showed bias towards the Labour Party.   

Standards

[5]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4 and 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with 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.

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   TVNZ stated that at 6.30pm the presenter gave a round-up of the day’s top stories, part of which referred to the National Party’s assistance proposal for people who may lose their jobs during the economic crisis. It said the presenter’s round-up comment referred to an earlier full story on National’s proposed package. That full story, it said, had analysed the differing policies of the two main political parties.

[7]   The broadcaster pointed out that during the previous evening’s broadcast of One News, TVNZ’s political reporter presented an item giving full consideration to the Labour Party’s assistance policy, which included reference to the fact that Labour’s policy would not involve means testing for those people with partners.

[8]   With respect to Standard 4 (balance),TVNZ argued that the presenter’s brief outline made reference to the proposals of both parties and was a reference to a full report that had been broadcast on One News  earlier that night. It maintained that balanced reporting on each of the parties’ assistance proposals had been achieved over the two days and that the coverage was within the period of current interest. TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4.

[9]   Turning to Standard 5 (accuracy), the broadcaster said it could not identify any errors of fact in the item. It said the brief half-way headline presented at 6.30pm on 31 October was intended to summarise the main points of two full items on One News over two days. In viewing the full coverage of what was being summarised, it considered the presenter’s comment gave an accurate summary about the two proposals released by Labour and National on 30 and 31 October respectively.

[10]   TVNZ argued that, “while the headline summary of both schemes was simplified, the Committee does not consider it constitutes a material error”. It declined to uphold the accuracy complaint.    

Referral to the Authority

[11]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Carroll referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She noted that the presenter’s summary included no attribution to an earlier story. The complainant said that she had not seen the earlier item analysing both policies.

[12]   The complainant maintained that the item was inaccurate, as its reference to the Labour Party policy applying to anybody was wrong. She supplied the Authority with an article from the New Zealand Herald to support her accuracy claims. That article summarised a decision by the New Zealand Press Council that the Herald had accurately stated that the Labour Party policy did not apply to all people who were made redundant.

[13]   Ms Carroll reiterated her belief that the item was biased in favour of Labour.     

Authority's Determination

[14]   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.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[15]   Standard 5 requires news, current affairs and other factual programmes to be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

[16]   In the Authority’s view, the summary headline complained about was referring to the new forms of assistance being offered by Labour and National, above that which already existed, for people who were made redundant.  

[17]   The Authority has read the New Zealand Press Council decision which did not uphold a complaint about a New Zealand Herald article summarising the Labour Party policy. The Press Council found that, “Without a doubt, the policy is aimed at families on two incomes”. The Authority accepts that Labour’s proposed allowance only applied to a person made redundant if his or her partner or spouse also worked. All other people who lost their jobs, such as solo parents or single workers, would receive the same assistance to which they were previously entitled under the existing welfare system.

[18] Accordingly, the Authority finds that the presenter’s statement, “...while Labour’s plan offers support to anyone, no matter what their take-home pay”, would have misled viewers. In the Authority’s view, the statement left a false impression that Labour’s new plan for assistance would apply to anyone who was made redundant.

[19]   Having found that the item was misleading, the Authority must consider whether to uphold the complaint as a breach of Standard 5 (accuracy).

[20]   The Authority acknowledges that upholding the Standard 5 complaint would place a limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. In Decision No. 2008-040, the Authority determined that upholding a complaint under Standard 5 would be prescribed by law and a justified limitation on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression as required by section 5 of the Bill of Rights Act.

[21]   The Authority also considers that it would be a reasonable and proportionate limit on TVNZ’s freedom of expression to uphold a breach of the accuracy standard on this occasion. Upholding Ms Carroll’s complaint clearly promotes the objective of Standard 5, which is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled. In Decision No. 2008-040 the Authority noted that audiences of news, current affairs and factual programmes have the right to receive information that is truthful and accurate. In these circumstances, the Authority upholds the accuracy complaint.

Standard 4 (balance)

[22]   In the Authority’s view, the complainant’s concerns relating to balance have been adequately addressed in its consideration of the accuracy standard. Accordingly, the Authority subsumes the balance complaint into its consideration of Standard 5. 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of an item on One News on 31 October 2008 breached Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[23]    Having upheld the complaint the Authority may impose orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It does not intend to do so on this occasion. The Authority considers this decision is sufficient to remind broadcasters of the need for accurate headline summaries, particularly where they concern matters of public policy.

 Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
26 March 2009

Appendix

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

1.         Elizabeth Carroll’s formal complaint – 21 November 2008
2.         TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 16 December 2008
3.         Ms Carroll’s referral to the Authority – 29 December 2008
4.         TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 5 February 2009