BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Edwards and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2017-050 (4 September 2017)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
Dated
Complainant
  • Steven Edwards
Number
2017-050
Programme
Newshub
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

An item on Newshub reported on Waitangi Day events around New Zealand, including Bill English’s first Waitangi Day as Prime Minister and his phone call with US President Donald Trump. The item also featured comment on English’s attendance at Waitangi Day celebrations in Auckland, rather than at Waitangi. Comment was provided by Mr English, as well as political editor Patrick Gower, who said: ‘Waitangi Day celebrations will go on the road… away from Waitangi, away from the cauldron that is Te Tii Marae’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this item reflected the Government’s desire to control the image of, and de-politicise, Waitangi Day. The Authority acknowledged the national significance of Waitangi Day, and the views of the complainant as to how it should be celebrated. However, it found that Mr English’s and Mr Gower’s comments did not amount to material points of fact in the item, being analysis or commentary on the events of the day. This was a generally straightforward news item reporting on key events during Waitangi Day, and did not purport to provide in-depth commentary on historic controversies canvassed by the complaint.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Fairness 


Introduction

[1]  An item on Newshub reported on Waitangi Day events around New Zealand, including Bill English’s first Waitangi Day as Prime Minister and his phone call with US President Donald Trump. The item also featured comment on English’s attendance at Waitangi Day celebrations in Auckland, rather than at Waitangi, with English commenting, ‘New Zealanders will want more of this now they’ve seen it’.

[2]  During an in-studio interview, political editor Patrick Gower gave his views on what this would mean for Waitangi Day in the future, saying:

Waitangi Day celebrations will go on the road. I think we will see next year the Prime Minister move to take it somewhere else – other parts of New Zealand, away from Waitangi, away from the cauldron that is Te Tii Marae.

[3]  Steven Edwards raised a number of concerns about this broadcast, as well as Newshub’s coverage of Waitangi Day preparations on 4 February 2016. Mr Edwards complained that these items reflected the Government’s desire to control the image of, and de-politicise, Waitangi Day, with Patrick Gower’s comments ‘distorting’ the ‘deceptive decision behind English’s predecessor [pulling] out of Waitangi in 2016’.

[4]  The issues raised in Mr Edwards’ complaint are whether the item breached the accuracy and fairness standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The item was broadcast at 6pm on 6 February 2017 on Three. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Preliminary issues 

4 February 2016 broadcast 

[6]  In his referral to the Authority, Mr Edwards complained that the 6 February 2017 item omitted key facts about the events of the year prior, including information about a 4 February 2016 Newshub item, which reported on preparations for Waitangi Day that year. He submitted that Te Tii Marae had in fact offered John Key a one-hour speaking slot at the Marae in 2016, and that Newshub failed to address this issue in the 2017 broadcast.

[7]  In its response to his complaint, MediaWorks stated that it did not accept Mr Edwards’ complaint about the 4 February 2016 Newshub item, as this was received outside the 20-working-day time limit for complaints.

[8]  In our view, there was no indication from the 6 February 2017 broadcast that MediaWorks or Patrick Gower were complicit in any agenda regarding the portrayal of Waitangi Day events. Given our findings set out below, and after reviewing Mr Edwards’ complaint and MediaWorks’ correspondence, we do not consider we are required to view the February 2016 broadcast or consider it as part of our determination.

Balance standard

[9]  Mr Edwards also submitted that his complaint implicitly raised the balance standard, specifically when he stated that the broadcast was ‘scripted, edited and editorialised to mislead the audience over how the English Ministry had achieved a “happy Waitangi” in 2017’. He submitted in his referral that, by omitting key material, the 4 February 2016 and 6 February 2017 broadcasts were not only inaccurate and unfair, but unbalanced, and ‘tilted in favour of those who benefited from the malicious deceptions’.

[10]  MediaWorks submitted that while it accepted the original complaint implicitly nominated the accuracy and fairness standards, it did not raise issues of balance. In any event, the issue of the Prime Minister’s decision not to attend Waitangi Day was not the focus of the broadcast, which did not examine the reasons for the Prime Minister’s decision to ‘take Waitangi Day on the road’.

[11]  We therefore agree with the broadcaster’s assessment of Mr Edwards’ submissions. Mr Edwards’ complaint was couched in terms of the accuracy and fairness standards, and focused particularly on the omission of information, such as the alleged offer by Te Tii Marae for John Key to speak at the Marae in 2016, which Mr Edwards considered would mislead audiences.

[12]  This item provided broad coverage of the events of Waitangi Day and covered a variety of topics, including English’s phone call with Donald Trump, and Waitangi Day celebrations elsewhere in New Zealand. We have therefore focused our consideration of this complaint on the accuracy and fairness standards.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[13]  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 being significantly misinformed.

[14]  The standard applies only to material statements of fact broadcast during news, current affairs or factual programmes. It does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.1

The parties’ submissions

[15]  Mr Edwards submitted that:

  • MediaWorks, along with Patrick Gower and the item’s presenters, framed Waitangi Day coverage with the intent to mislead audiences. Patrick Gower’s uncritical ‘on the road’ framing favoured the National Government’s desire to ‘control the imagery of Waitangi Day’, by applying the party’s ‘positive spin that “that’s how Kiwis want it”’.
  • Newshub failed to address the critical context of why Bill English would no longer be attending celebrations at Waitangi, including that John Key had in fact received an invitation from Te Tii Marae to speak for one hour the previous year.

[16]  MediaWorks submitted that:

  • The requirement for accuracy does not apply to statements which were clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.
  • Mr English’s comment (that New Zealanders would want to see the Prime Minister celebrate Waitangi Day away from Waitangi), was clearly his own opinion.
  • Mr Gower’s view that ‘Waitangi Day celebrations will go on the road’ represented his analysis of the day’s events and Mr English’s views on the matter.

Our analysis

[17]  Our task in determining this complaint is to weigh the value of the news item, as well as the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and the audience’s right to receive information, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. In this case, the question is whether Newshub’s coverage of Waitangi Day was misleading.

[18]  We acknowledge the national significance of Waitangi Day, and the right of all New Zealanders to express their opinion about how it is celebrated and presented in New Zealand media.

[19]  In relation to Mr Edwards’ complaint however, we agree that both Mr Gower’s and Mr English’s comments did not amount to material statements of fact to which the accuracy standard applied, but instead represented opinion or political analysis on the events of the day.

[20]  This was a generally straightforward news item reporting on key events during Waitangi Day, and did not purport to provide in-depth commentary on historic controversies. In these circumstances, we do not consider viewers would have expected the broadcast to canvass the varied topics covered in Mr Edwards’ complaint, and nor would viewers have been misled by their omission.

[21]  We have therefore not identified any harm arising from this broadcast which outweighed the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression and the audience’s right to receive the broadcast in this case.

[22]  For the above reasons we do not uphold the accuracy complaint.

Was any individual or organisation taking part or referred to in the broadcast treated unfairly?

[23]  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. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.2

The parties’ submissions

[24]  Mr Edwards submitted that:

  • Patrick Gower had no regard for the dignity, reputation and customary rights of Te Tii Marae, Ngāpuhi and others.
  • The broadcast was unfair and discriminated against Māori groups, Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement protestors, and audiences.

[25]  MediaWorks submitted that it was satisfied the broadcast did not contain any material likely to have harmed the dignity or reputation of those featured in the broadcast.

Our analysis

[26]  This item briefly covered Mr English’s refusal to appear at Waitangi, by highlighting the Deputy Prime Minister’s appearance at the Marae in his place, and featured commentary on what this meant for the future of Waitangi Day celebrations. However, while the commentary presented by Mr Gower (mainly on Mr English’s performance and likely future celebrations) was robust, this remained politically-focused and did not stray into the personally abusive.

[27]  The item also touched on protests which occurred at the end of the ceremony at Waitangi. The presenter said that: ‘It was a peaceful and dignified affair, apart from a handful of protestors who marred the end of the ceremony’, and the reporter also commented that protestors ‘briefly disturbed proceedings’.

[28]  While we agree that the item was therefore mildly critical of Waitangi protestors, there was no suggestion of ‘institutionalised racism’, as submitted by Mr Edwards. During this segment, the Deputy Prime Minister commented that, ‘…people are entitled to have an opinion, and a different one, and voice it in this country, so bring it on. But I do think also that there’s a coming together that we need to work on too’.

[29]  The item therefore focused on a clear message of hope for unity and a ‘coming together’ on Waitangi Day, and as such, we do not consider the broadcast contained any derogatory or racist comments about particular individuals or organisations to whom the fairness standard might apply.

[30]  Accordingly we do not uphold the fairness complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
4 September 2017

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1      Steven Edwards’ formal complaint – 6 March 2017
2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 5 May 2017
3      Mr Edwards’ referral to the Authority – 2 June 2017
4      MediaWorks’ response to the referral – 30 June 2017

 


1 Guideline 9a

2Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014