BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Dewhurst and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2015-040

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Roger Dewhurst
Number
2015-040
Programme
Re-Think
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 4

Te Raumawhitu Kupenga declared a conflict of interest and did not participate in the determination of this complaint. 

Summary

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

An episode of Re-Think featured a panel discussion about how to encourage people to care about, and take action on, climate change. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the item lacked balance because it did not present the view that climate change is natural and not caused by humans. The item was clearly framed from the outset as not delving into the controversial aspects of climate change or its causes, so viewers would not have expected a balanced debate about those issues. Rather, the programme brought the topic down to a community level and offered practical lifestyle tips.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues

 


Introduction

[1]  An episode of Re-Think featured a panel discussion about how to encourage people to 'care about' and take action on climate change. The panel members – a climate scientist, a Green Party MP and the founder of a climate action organisation – discussed attitudes towards climate change and what practical steps could be taken by individuals and communities.

[2]  Roger Dewhurst complained about the 'total lack of balance' in the programme. He said 'the impression that humanity is responsible for climate change... is dangerously misleading and an opportunity must be made to redress this misinformation'.

[3]  The issue is whether the item breached the controversial issues standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item was broadcast on TV3 on 17 May 2015. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the item discuss a controversial issue of public importance which required the presentation of alternative viewpoints?

[5]  The balance standard (Standard 4) 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.1

[6]  Mr Dewhurst argued that climate change is natural and always has been, and that 'mankind had nothing whatever to do with it'. He considered the programme was unbalanced because it 'conveyed the impression that humanity is responsible for climate change' and 'that human action does make a difference to climate', which was 'dangerously misleading'.

[7]  MediaWorks accepted that climate change is a controversial issue of public importance, but said it was 'reasonable to expect viewers to understand that there are many wide ranging views of the broader subject and for them to have access to these outside of this programme'. In addition, it maintained the programme 'made it clear that it was taking [a] particular angle' in its introduction.

[8]  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

[9]  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'.A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.4

[10]  This Authority has previously accepted, as has the broadcaster, that climate change, and particularly human-induced climate change, is a topic which has excited conflicting opinion and debate.5 The question, then, is whether this programme contained a 'discussion' of this issue that triggered the requirement for alternative viewpoints to be presented.

[11]  Re-Think is described as a current affairs programme featuring 'creative people generating creative solutions to issues affecting New Zealand and New Zealanders'.6 Considering this particular episode, we agree with MediaWorks that the introduction transparently framed its focus – specifically not the controversial aspects of climate change or its causes. The introduction was as follows:

Today on Re-Think, we're not going to redefine the issue or argue about the role of humans in planetary warming. What we are going to do is to explore how we get people to care about climate change: care on an individual and global basis; care about what it means for you. [our emphasis]

[12] This made it clear to viewers that the programme had no intention of delving into any 'detail, or in-depth analysis, of the controversial aspects of climate change',7 so viewers would not have expected that. Rather, the discussion was brought to a community level about attitudes and practical methods of raising awareness. For example, the panellists talked about media coverage of, and the language used to talk about, climate change issues, and encouraged individuals to take simple steps like using reusable shopping bags and recycling. It is unreasonable to suggest that the broadcast of tips such as these resulted in any harm to society or harm in terms of the objectives of the standard.

[13] For these reasons, we find that the criteria for triggering Standard 4 were not met (see paragraph [8]), and therefore it was not necessary to present an alternative view which the complainant wished to be presented. We note, however, that this view was acknowledged to some extent, for example, when the presenter said, 'Some politicians, quite famously, keep on denying something that you say is undeniable'. A panellist also said, 'The fact is, at a very high level of government in New Zealand, we've got people who seem, for all intents and purposes... to be climate deniers.'

[14] Accordingly we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
25 August 2015

 

Appendix

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

1      Roger Dewhurst's formal complaint – 17 May 2015

2      MediaWorks' response to the complaint – 12 June 2015

3      Mr Dewhurst's referral to the Authority – 15 June 2015

4      Mr Dewhurst's further comment on referral – 15 June 2015

5      MediaWorks' response to the Authority – 8 July 2015

6      Mr Dewhurst's final comment – 10 July 2015

7      MediaWorks' final comment – 24 July 2015

 


Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)

Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-125

See, for example, Dewe and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-076

See, for example, Wieland and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2014-060

6https://www.facebook.com/pages/ReThink-TV3/250992724912260  

See McMillan and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-025