BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Council of Licenced Firearms Owners Inc and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2018-038 (23 July 2018)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
Dated
Complainant
  • Council of Licenced Firearms Owners Inc
Number
2018-038
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TVNZ 1

Summary

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

During Breakfast, host Hayley Holt had a conversation with the 1 News US Correspondent about recent school protests in America seeking gun reform. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that Ms Holt’s statement that ‘[w]e, I – here in New Zealand, we think they should ban all guns of course’ was unbalanced and likely to mislead viewers. The Authority found that Ms Holt’s statement was one of generalised opinion and analysis, not a statement of fact. The Authority also noted that this segment solely focused on gun control issues in the USA, not New Zealand, and in this context Ms Holt’s brief comment did not trigger the requirements of the balance standard.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Balance

Introduction

[1]  During Breakfast, host Hayley Holt had a conversation with the 1 News US Correspondent about recent school protests in America seeking gun reform. Ms Holt said to the US Correspondent:

It doesn’t actually seem like they’re asking for much. I mean, the fact that they want to ban assault rifles, I mean it’s ridiculous. We, I – here in New Zealand, we think they should ban all guns of course. Do you think that they could be asking for more broader reform? [emphasis added]

[2]  The Council of Licenced Firearms Owners Inc. (COLFO) complained that Ms Holt’s statement was ‘unprofessional, misleading, inaccurate’ as Ms Holt was passing off her personal view as ‘one of authority and broad representation’.

[3]  The issues raised in COLFO’s complaint are whether the broadcast breached the accuracy and balance standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The programme was broadcast at on TVNZ 1 on 15 March 2018. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Freedom of expression

[5]  The starting point for our determination is to recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression. We may only interfere and uphold a complaint where the limitation this would impose on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified in a free and democratic society.

[6]  In deciding whether any limitation on the right to freedom of expression is justified, we assess the value and public interest in the broadcast, and then weigh that value against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. The focus of this item was on the current political and social climate in America with respect to the issue of gun control, which is both topical and in the public interest to discuss.

[7]  For reasons which we outline below, we do not consider any actual or potential harm arose from Ms Holt’s brief comment, in the context of the broader item, which warrants our intervention or limiting the right to freedom of expression.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[8]  The accuracy standard (Standard 9) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.

[9]  Guideline 9a to the accuracy standard states that the standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.

The parties’ submissions

[10]  COLFO submitted:

  • Ms Holt made the following statement, implying New Zealanders think all guns in New Zealand should be banned:
    The fact that they want to ban Assault Rifles, I mean it’s ridiculous. We… I... here in New Zealand, we think we should ban all guns, of course. [emphasis added]
  • Ms Holt’s statement was inaccurate and misleading as it was not representative of New Zealanders as a whole.
  • Ms Holt tried to pass off her personal view as one of authority and broad representation, of which it is neither.
  • Ms Holt should publicly apologise for her statement.

[11]  TVNZ submitted:

  • Ms Holt was talking about what New Zealand thinks about US gun policy in light of all the mass killings which have happened; not what anyone believes should happen in terms of gun control in New Zealand.
  • There is no policy to ‘ban all guns in New Zealand’.

[12]  After viewing a recording of the broadcast, we are satisfied that Ms Holt said, ‘We, I – here in New Zealand, we think they should ban all guns of course’ [emphasis added] – referring to the US – rather than ‘we think we should ban all guns’ [emphasis added]. We have assessed the complaint and the standards raised against what was actually said in the broadcast, on the basis Ms Holt was referring to the US (‘they’) rather than New Zealand (‘we’).

[13]  Applying the accuracy standard, the first question is whether Ms Holt’s statement was one of fact, or whether it was distinguishable as comment, analysis or opinion. If it was not a statement of fact, then the accuracy standard does not apply.

[14]  In our view, Ms Holt’s statement reflected her own value judgement and subjective analysis of how the majority of New Zealanders feel about American gun legislation and culture, rather than being a statement of fact which could easily be proven or disproven.1

[15]  While we acknowledge COLFO’s concerns that Ms Holt should not have equated the views of all New Zealanders with her own, or assumed all New Zealanders hold the same view with respect to America’s gun control laws, the statement was ultimately Ms Holt’s analysis of how she believes New Zealanders view the issue of gun control in America. We find Ms Holt’s generalised statement to be one of opinion and analysis, therefore the accuracy standard does not apply.

[16]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under this standard.

Was the item sufficiently balanced?

[17]  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. The standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.

The parties’ submissions

[18]  COLFO submitted:

  • Ms Holt’s statement misinformed the public and was unbalanced.
  • The statement was Ms Holt’s personal opinion, and by passing it off as an authoritative view, she had taken advantage of her position in the media and failed in her broadcasting responsibility to inform viewers about important issues in a balanced way.
  • Ms Holt had a possible conflict of interest due to her previous political association with the Green Party of New Zealand.

[19]  TVNZ submitted:

  • A discussion about gun control in the US is not a controversial issue of public importance. Therefore Ms Holt’s observation did not require balancing significant viewpoints.
  • The issue of gun control in New Zealand was not discussed.

Our analysis

[20]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.2

[21]  The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.3 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.4

[22]  We understand COLFO’s concern in relation to the balance standard is that Ms Holt’s statement was her personal opinion, but was presented by her as being authoritative, and therefore she misinformed the public. It has not been suggested that any significant viewpoint was omitted which resulted in the discussion as a whole being unbalanced.

[23]  The focus of this particular segment and Ms Holt’s conversation with the US correspondent was reporting on the American school protests and possible firearm law reform in the US. There was no discussion of gun control law reform in New Zealand during the segment or how the protests or any possible reform in the USA could affect New Zealand.

[24]  In this context, we do not consider Ms Holt’s brief aside comment, which related strictly to the state of gun control in the US, triggered the requirements of the balance standard. The balance standard does not prohibit opinions being broadcast; the key question is what the audience would expect taking into account the nature of the topic and the discussion, and whether they would be left uninformed by the omission of other significant perspectives. We do not think viewers would have expected perspectives countering Ms Holt’s brief comment, or other views regarding what New Zealanders think, to be presented as part of this discussion, which focused solely on the protests occurring in the US.

[25]  Additionally, as we have said in relation to accuracy, in our view Ms Holt’s comment was clearly her opinion and analysis. We do not consider viewers would have taken it as being an authoritative statement, or that they would have been left uninformed as a result of the comment.

[26]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint under this standard.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
23 July 2018


Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 COLFO’s formal complaint – 15 March 2018
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 16 April 2018
3 COLFO’s referral to the Authority – 7 May 2018
4 TVNZ’s response to the referral – 6 June 2018


1 Guidance: Accuracy – Distinguishing fact and analysis, comment or opinion, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 62. 

2 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18

3 As above

4 As above