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Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand Inc and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2007-044

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand Inc
Number
2007-044
Programme
3 News
Broadcaster
CanWest TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 2

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – reported reaction of recreational groups and farmers to recommendations made by the government’s Walking Access Consultation Panel – allegedly inaccurate and unbalanced

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – item would not have misled viewers – not upheld

Standard 4 (balance) – did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – balance standard did not apply – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on 7 March 2007, discussed the release of the recommendations made by the government’s Walking Access Consultation Panel. The panel had been established to identify the concerns of interest groups and the extent to which agreement could be reached on measures such as clarifying existing public access rights along water margins, establishing the location of gaps in the Queen’s Chain, and protecting the security of landholders.

[2]   The reporter said:

Recreational groups are criticising the Government’s preferred plan to resolve walking track issues, saying it gives too much power to private property owners.

[3]   The item included an excerpt from an interview with Charlie Pedersen from Federated Farmers, who said that the panel’s recommendations were a “victory for common sense”. The reporter commented that this view had “angered some”, and Hugh Barr from Outdoor Recreation said:

The steps [the panel] recommend – some of them won’t work particularly well and others we think are too cautious and there is the prospect that farmer groups may actually gain control.

[4]   The reporter introduced Bryce Johnson as having “represented recreation groups on the consultation panel”. Mr Johnson said:

There are farmers out there who are less public spirited than used to be the case and this whole enquiry’s about trying to restore that and my concern is that the recommendations don’t quite go far enough to help secure that.

Complaint

[5]   Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand Inc (FMC) made a formal complaint to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was unbalanced and inaccurate. The complainant noted that the item did not contain any comment by recreation groups favourable of the panel’s recommendations. It pointed out that the 3 News reporter had spoken to the FMC president on the day of the broadcast, and he had told her that the FMC was “delighted with the panel’s recommendations”. The president had also emailed FMC’s written statement to the reporter, which was positive about the proposals.

[6]   FMC added that published statements from Fish & Game New Zealand, Public Access New Zealand (PANZ) and the Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations (CORANZ) had also contained positive comments, although some had included specific criticisms of the proposals.

[7]   The complainant maintained that CanWest had failed to make a reasonable effort to present significant points of view in the programme, or within the period of current interest. It also contended that the item was factually inaccurate as 3 News had misrepresented the views of recreational groups.

Standards

[8]   CanWest assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by the complainant. 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

[9]   CanWest considered the requirements of Standards 4 and 5 together. It maintained that in the context of a short news report, the item encapsulated the concerns that remained in some outdoor recreation groups. It noted that these concerns were confirmed in the media release by CORANZ.

[10]   The broadcast observed that the item had included comments from the Rural Affairs Minister, Federated Farmers, Hugh Barr and Bryce Johnson – who represented outdoor groups on the panel. In light of this, it considered that the item adequately and evenly addressed the different viewpoints on the issue and accurately reflected ongoing concerns with the process.

[11]   CanWest declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, FMC referred its complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It noted that CanWest had found the item accurately encapsulated the concerns that remained in some outdoor groups. However, it wrote, this was not FMC’s complaint. Rather, the complaint was that the item represented only the concerns of, to the exclusion of predominantly positive comments from, recreational groups. FMC wrote:

What the item did not do was represent the reality – that the reaction of recreational groups was largely supportive.

The fact that the reaction of recreational groups was predominantly positive was communicated to the reporter on the day of the broadcast. The broadcaster had all the relevant information.

[13]    In FMC’s view, Standard 5 (accuracy) was breached because the news item did not accurately represent the reaction of recreational groups to the panel’s recommendations.

[14]   Turning to Standard 4 (balance), the complainant accepted that the item included the views of a range of interested parties. However, it said, the broadcaster had not considered whether the item had struck a “reasonable balance” when it represented the totality of the views of the recreational bodies as entirely negative. FMC said:

The four relevant media releases told the broadcaster clearly that, as a group, the recreational bodies were largely supportive of the panel’s recommendations, albeit with some reservations. Notwithstanding this evidence, the item portrayed them as unreservedly critical.

[15]   FMC confirmed that the reporter had spoken by phone to its president, and she had received from him the FMC and PANZ releases by email. She also had the CORANZ and Fish & Game press releases, it said. The views of these organisations could not be summarised by the item’s statement that recreational groups were “criticising the government’s preferred plan”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[16]   In its response to the Authority, CanWest contended that the complainant was arguing it should have given more weight to certain press releases than to the interview material in the item. It noted that the two representatives who were interviewed were both negative about the scope of the plan, and they had authority to speak as representatives for the groups they represented. The broadcaster added that FMC, which was not identified in the item, had no mandate to represent the groups that were identified in the item.

[17]    In CanWest’s view, the report was accurate in its reflection of the views of those interviewed. There was no implication that the item was a report in relation to the views of all recreational groups, it said, and this was clear from the reporter’s comment “…that has angered some…”.

[18]   The broadcaster contended that the item had not dealt with a controversial issue of public importance, and therefore it found Standard 4 did not apply. It wrote:

While the access to walkways is obviously of great significance to the various interest groups associated with use – e.g. recreational groups and farmers – for the vast majority of the New Zealand public the issue is not of critical importance or interest.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[19]   The complainant reiterated its view that the overall tenor of the news item could not be reconciled with the overall tenor of the four media releases from recreational groups. All had been provided to the broadcaster in ample time, it said. FMC argued that CanWest’s assertion that “there was no implication that the item was a report in relation to the views of all recreational groups…” was unsustainable. It noted that the item began by saying “Recreational groups are criticising…” and at no point was this unqualified statement modified or limited.

Authority's Determination

[20]   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)

[21]   FMC has contended that the item was misleading because 3 News misrepresented the reaction of recreational groups to the Walking Access Consultation Panel’s recommendations. Apart from some specific criticisms, it said, the feedback had been predominantly positive and the broadcaster was aware of this prior to the broadcast.

[22]   The Authority accepts that the positive reaction of recreational groups was not included in the story. However, it does not agree that this made the story inaccurate or misleading.

[23]   In the Authority's view, the focus of the item was the criticism from those who felt the outcome had favoured farmer groups and did not go far enough in ensuring public access.  While this may not have been clear in the introduction to the item, it was reinforced in body of the report, which gave the positive reaction of farmers to the proposal but noted that it had "angered some". This was followed by comments from a representative of Outdoor Education, and also Bryce Johnson, who had represented recreation groups on the consultation panel. In the Authority’s view, the item did not imply that the plan had provoked criticism from every recreational group, but clearly focused on the concerns of “some” groups.

[24]   Accordingly, the Authority finds that the item was not misleading or inaccurate, and it declines to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

Standard 4 (balance)

[25]   Standard 4 applies to items which discuss controversial issues of public importance. In the Authority’s view, this item did not discuss such an issue. It focussed on the reaction of interested parties – such as farmers and recreational groups – to the Walking Access Consultation Panel’s recommendations. While this would have been of interest to certain people, the Authority does not consider that it was a controversial issue of public importance as envisaged by the balance standard.

[26]   Accordingly, the Authority finds that Standard 4 did not apply to this broadcast, and it declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
25 September 2007

Appendix

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

1.            Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand Inc’s formal complaint – 16 March 2007
2.           CanWest TVWorks Ltd’s decision on the formal complaint – 17 April 2007
3.           FMC’s referral to the Authority – 17 May 2007
4.           CanWest’s response to the Authority – 26 July 2007
5.           FMC’s final submissions – 10 and 13 August 2007