Edgington and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2018-047 (24 August 2018)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Paula Rose
- Wendy Palmer
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Ursula Edgington
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint that an item on 1 News, about claims from the Department of Conservation (DOC) that staff had been abused and attacked by anti-1080 protestors, breached broadcasting standards. The Authority found the item was unlikely to mislead or misinform audiences, as it contained comments from various parties including a DOC representative, an anti-1080 campaigner and a National Party MP. The Authority highlighted the importance of the reporting on issues of public importance in an accurate and balanced manner, finding that the broadcaster did so on this occasion.
Not Upheld: Accuracy, Balance, Law and Order, Discrimination and Denigration, Privacy, Fairness
 An item on 1 News reported on claims from the Department of Conservation (DOC) that staff had been abused and attacked by anti-1080 protestors, and reported about the general rise in attacks on DOC staff. The item featured interviews with a DOC representative, a National Party MP and an anti-1080 protestor. The item also featured footage from anti-1080 protests and Facebook comments that were threatening towards DOC. Finally the item noted that freedom campers were another reason for the rise in attacks.
 Dr Ursula Edgington complained that the item breached the accuracy, balance, law and order, discrimination and denigration, fairness and privacy standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 Dr Edgington submitted:
- The item omitted key contextual information and presented biased information without evidence to support DOC’s claims.
- The item was biased towards DOC and there was no evidence to support DOC’s claim that staff or vehicles were being attacked.
- The claim that anti-1080 activists were involved in tampering with DOC vehicles was proven to be incorrect.
- The item omitted key details and contextual information about the anti-1080 campaigner’s court case, including that he had been in a carpark where 1080 was being stored illegally, and was attacked without provocation by DOC staff.
The broadcaster’s response
 In response to the complaint, the broadcaster submitted:
- The item accurately reported DOC’s claims and these claims were clearly presented as DOC’s comment or opinion on the issue.
- There was no claim made during the item that all anti-1080 campaigners were involved in such actions.
- The item featured balancing comment from an anti-1080 campaigner. The campaigner gave his informed consent to appear in the item and the item accurately and fairly reflected his views.
- The item did not glamorise crime or condone the actions of criminals, and was not in breach of the law and order standard.
- The item would not lead to the denigration or discrimination of any section of the community.
 In considering the complaint, the members of the Authority have viewed a recording of item, broadcast on 15 April 2018 on TVNZ 1, and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 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 balance standard (Standard 8) aims to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable viewers to form their own informed and reasoned opinion about controversial issues of public importance.
 The intent behind the law and order standard (Standard 5) is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity.
 The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.
 The privacy standard (Standard 10) states that broadcasters should maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual. The standard exists to protect individuals from undesired access to, and disclosure of, information about themselves and their affairs. This is in order to maintain their dignity, choice, mental wellbeing and reputation, and their ability to develop relationships and opinions away from the glare of publicity.
 The fairness standard (Standard 11) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct.
 In this case we consider that the important aspects of the complaint relate to accuracy and balance, and this was the primary focus in our deliberations. Our starting point is that we recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression, which includes both the broadcaster’s freedom to present information and ideas to the public, and the audience’s right to receive that information. We weigh the value of the broadcast item, as well as the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast either to an individual or to society or the audience generally.
 For the reasons outlined below, we have not identified any actual or potential harm arising from the broadcasts which justifies restricting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. The issue discussed in the item carried a high level of public interest. It is the responsibility of news and current affairs programmes to not only keep the public informed on issues that affect the operation of government, but to do so in an accurate and balanced way that is consistent with broadcasting standards. We find that TVNZ did so on this occasion.
 We set out below our findings under the standards raised.
 The item reported on the rising number of incidents of abuse and harassment against DOC staff, including attacks on staff vehicles, and DOC’s response. It did not imply that anti-1080 activists were wholly responsible for such attacks. Rather, TVNZ reasonably relied on an authoritative source, the DOC representative, who commented that there was an increasing number of incidents involving anti-1080 activists and freedom campers. This comment was based on reported incidents released under the Official Information Act 1982.
 The accuracy standard does not apply to statements that are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.1 In this item the DOC representative gave his informed opinion on the possible causes of the increase in incidents, which we consider he was entitled to do. We do not consider TVNZ misled viewers by including the DOC representative’s opinion.
 As noted previously, the primary focus of the item was on the increased attacks on DOC staff. We therefore do not find it inaccurate or misleading that the broadcast omitted details about the anti-1080 campaigner’s court case.
 The item focussed on the treatment of government employees by members of the public and the effect this treatment has on DOC and its ability to operate. The operation of government organisations such as DOC affects a significant number of New Zealanders, therefore we consider this to be a controversial issue of public importance for the purposes of this standard.
 The item included an interview with an anti-1080 campaigner, who was the subject of legal action following an incident with DOC staff that was subsequently dismissed. The campaigner stated in the broadcast that the court found he was acting in self-defence and that he believed DOC staff were too ‘heavy-handed’. We consider the inclusion of these views, alongside that of the DOC representative and a National Party MP, provided appropriate balance around the issue covered in the item and allowed viewers to form their own reasoned opinions about the increase in attacks on DOC staff.
Discrimination and Denigration
 A high level of condemnation, usually with an element of malice or nastiness, is necessary to find a breach of this standard.2 While the DOC representative mentioned seeing ‘more [incidents] around the anti-1080 space’ it was open to the interviewee, as a DOC representative, to hold this opinion. Identifying the anti-1080 movement as one of the reasons behind the increase in incidents does not carry the level of condemnation required to amount to a breach of this standard.
Law and Order
 We found nothing in this item that encouraged criminal behaviour or undermined law and order.
 For the privacy standard to be triggered the individual concerned must have been identified and had private facts revealed about them.3 The complainant did not identify any such individual. We also note that all individuals who were interviewed in the broadcast participated willingly.
 The complainant did not explicitly identify any person or organisation taking part in or referred to in the broadcast who had been treated unfairly. The item contained excerpts from the anti-1080 campaigner concerning the outcome of his court case and the ‘heavy handed’ nature of DOC workers. There is nothing to suggest these excerpts did not fairly reflect the tenor of the overall views expressed on the issue being examined.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
24 August 2018
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Dr Ursula Edgington’s formal complaint – 17 April 2018
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 16 May 2018
3 Dr Edgington’s referral to the Authority – 7 June 2018
4 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 20 July 2018
1 Guideline 9a.
2 Discrimination and Denigration Commentary, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
3 Guidelines 10a and 10c