BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Foster and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2017-009 (26 April 2017)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Peter Foster
Number
2017-009
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TVNZ 1

Summary

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

An item on 1 News reported on the then President-Elect Donald Trump’s meeting with rapper Kanye West, and President-Elect Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. At the end of the item, the newsreader stated, ‘And Trump has also chosen a climate change denier, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, to become his Secretary of Energy’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the term ‘climate change denier’ was deeply offensive to all climate change sceptics, particularly because it linked them to ‘Holocaust deniers’, and was inaccurate and unbalanced. ‘Climate change sceptics’ are not a recognised section of the community to which the discrimination and denigration standard applies. In any event, the term was used in this item merely to describe a particular perspective on the issue of climate change. The term did not amount to a material point of fact in the item, nor did it amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance. Therefore the requirements of the accuracy and balance standards were not triggered.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration, Accuracy, Balance


Introduction

[1]  An item on 1 News reported on the then President-Elect Donald Trump’s meeting with rapper Kanye West. The item also referred to President-Elect Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. At the end of the item, the newsreader stated:

And Trump has also chosen a climate change denier, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, to become his Secretary of Energy.

[2]  Peter Foster complained that the term ‘climate change denier’ was denigrating and ‘deeply offensive’ to all climate change sceptics, particularly as this linked them to Holocaust deniers. He also complained the use of the term was inaccurate and unbalanced.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration, accuracy and balance standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  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 broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community?

[5]  The objective of the discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) is to protect sections of the community from verbal and other attacks. The standard 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.

[6]  ‘Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment. Denigration is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community.1 The importance of freedom of expression means that a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, will be necessary to conclude that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in contravention of this standard.2

The parties’ submissions

[7]  Mr Foster submitted:

  • The term ‘climate change denier’ was ‘deeply offensive with intended parallels to holocaust denial. It is a term intended to denigrate and marginalise those who do not accept that climate change is caused by CO2’.
  • ‘When [TVNZ 1] in its news brands the US energy secretary as a climate denier, it is branding all skeptics [sic], including myself’.
  • ‘The intention of naming skeptics [sic] of global warming with this... was to marginalise them in the public mind, and thereby reduce the effectiveness of what they had to say’.

[8]  TVNZ submitted:

  • The term ‘climate change denier’ is not pejorative and could not be considered hate speech.
  • ‘Denier’ is defined as ‘a person who denies something, especially someone who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence: “a prominent denier of global warming”, “a climate change denier”.’3
  • The use of the term would not lead to the discrimination or denigration of any section of the community.

Our analysis

[9]  The discrimination and denigration standard applies only to recognised sections of the community, which are consistent with the grounds for discrimination set out in the Human Rights Act 1993.4 ‘Climate change sceptics’ are not a recognised section of the community under that legislation, or to which this standard applies.

[10]  In any event, we do not consider the statement carried the high level of condemnation required to find a breach of this standard. In the context of this item, we see the term ‘climate change denier’ as merely a description of a particular perspective on the issue of climate change.

[11]  For these reasons, we do not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[12]  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.

The parties’ submissions

[13]  Mr Foster submitted that no one denies that climate changes, but evidence and historical facts do not support the conclusion that CO2 is the main driver of climate change.

[14]  TVNZ submitted:

  • The term ‘climate change denier’ is understood to mean a person who does not agree that human-induced global climate change is occurring and/or that this is a bad thing.
  • The term is an accurate description of Mr Perry’s beliefs, as supported by the following statements:
    • In his book Fed Up!, Mr Perry stated that science showing climate change is a ‘contrived phony mess’ and a ‘secular carbon cult’.5
    • During the 2012 presidential campaign, Mr Perry stated that climate change scientists have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.6
  • Mr Perry’s appointment was similarly reported in other New Zealand and international news media.

Our analysis

[15]  The accuracy standard is concerned only with material inaccuracy. Technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.7

[16]  We do not consider the newsreader’s concluding statement, in which he referred to Mr Perry as a ‘climate change denier’, amounted to a material point of fact in the context of the item as a whole. The focus of the broadcast was President-Elect Trump’s meeting with Kanye West, and the Secretary of State appointment. Whether or not Mr Perry was indeed a ‘climate change denier’ was not a point that would have materially affected viewers’ understanding of the item in its entirety.

[17]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the accuracy complaint.

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

[18]  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 about significant issues are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.8

The parties’ submissions

[19]  Mr Foster submitted that ‘like all of [TVNZ 1’s] comments and footage on climate change, it is totally one-sided and ignores the huge amount of evidence against CO2 as the driver of climate change’.

[20]  TVNZ submitted:

  • The brief mention of ‘climate change denier Rick Perry’ being appointed Secretary of Energy by President-Elect Trump does not meet the criterion of being a ‘discussion’ about global climate change.
  • None of the imagery or material outlined in Mr Foster’s complaint was included in this item.

Our analysis

[21]  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’.9

[22]  We are satisfied that the singular, brief statement describing Mr Perry as a ‘climate change denier’ did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance which triggered the requirements of this standard. As we have said in paragraph [16] in relation to the accuracy standard, the reference to Mr Perry constituted only a passing mention at the conclusion of an item reporting on other recent events involving President-Elect Trump.

[23]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint under Standard 8.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
26 April 2017

 

Appendix

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

1     Peter Foster’s formal complaint – 14 December 2016
2     TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 1 February 2017
3     Mr Foster’s referral to the Authority – 17 February 2017
4     TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 24 March 2017
5     Mr Foster’s further comments – 30 March 2017
6     TVNZ response to Mr Foster’s further comments – 7 April 2017

 

 


1 Guideline 6a

2 Guideline 6b

3 https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/denier

4 Section 21

5 https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/19/us/politics/climate-change-trump-administration.html?_r=1 

6 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2011/aug/18/rick-perry-scientists-climate-data 

7 Guideline 9b

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

9 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)