BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Golden and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2013-026

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Allan Golden
Number
2013-026
Programme
Nine to Noon
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Nine to Noon – political commentator made comments about the background to negotiations between the Government and Rio Tinto over the Tiwai Point smelter – allegedly in breach of accuracy standard

Findings

Standard 5 (accuracy) – panellist’s comments amounted to his opinion, not statements of fact – exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a – high value speech – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  “Politics with Matthew Hooton and Mike Williams” on Nine to Noon contained political commentary on the Government’s negotiations with Rio Tinto Alcan Ltd (Rio Tinto), over the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter in Southland. The programme was broadcast on 2 April 2013 on Radio New Zealand National.

[2]  Allan Golden made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging that Mr Hooton made inaccurate statements about what was envisaged at the time the smelter was built.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy standard as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[5]  Nine to Noon is a news, current affairs and lifestyle programme. The comments subject to complaint formed part of a segment titled “Politics with Matthew Hooton and Mike Williams” which is dedicated exclusively to discussing topical political issues with two political commentators – Mr Hooton taking the right-wing perspective, and Mr Williams coming from the left. The discussion about the Government’s negotiations with Rio Tinto focused on the appropriateness of government intervention in the private market – a topic attracting conflicting arguments on either side of the political divide. The discussion contained intellectual and educational speech in the form of comment and opinion on a political issue which carries high public interest and is valuable in terms of freedom of expression.

[6]  The accuracy standard (Standard 5) 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 receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.1

[7]  Mr Golden argued that the item contained inaccurate statements about what was envisaged at the time the smelter was built. Specifically, he referred to Mr Hooton’s alleged statement that “when the original Tiwai Point smelter agreement was negotiated the smelter company was only looking 50 years ahead”. Mr Golden stated, “I don’t believe [he] had any evidence to support those statements because I am sure the deal was for 99 years at an electricity price of 0.2 cents per kilowatt”.

[8]  In the programme, the Nine to Noon presenter asked Mr Hooton for his “take on things”, and Mr Hooton responded:

…I think to understand the politics of this you have to look at the underlying economics of electricity generation and aluminium smelting. When you put in a large scale electricity generator like a dam… it is horrendously expensive, so you don’t build it for current needs, but for a generation or two down the track… you build far more generation than you could possibly need in the short-run and you go to a major user like a smelter to soak up that extra electricity in the short-term… and that’s exactly what Labour did when they set this up. Labour proposed this in 1960. It was the original public-private partnership – the Government would build the dam and the private sector would build the smelter next to it – but inherent in this, smelters all around the world, after 50 or 60 years, they all close, because that demand for that electricity reaches the supply, and that’s exactly what’s happening here… [our emphasis]

[9]  Towards the end of the discussion, the presenter said, “We are left not knowing who is going to blink and what is going to happen, but what are your instincts…?” Mr Hooton responded:

…My pick is that a natural process that was known when Labour decided to set this up in 1960… which has always been known [will occur]... around about a half a century… after it was opened… it would close, and that process is happening, and the market would have already taken into account that the smelter won’t be around forever.

[10]  To find a breach of the standard, the comments complained about must be material points of fact, or must have misled viewers in a significant respect. Guideline 5a to the standard states the requirement for accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion. We are satisfied that the statements made by Mr Hooton were clearly his personal commentary, not points of fact. The presenter prompted Mr Hooton for his “take on things” and his “instincts”, and Mr Hooton preceded his answers with the words “I think” and “My pick”, so listeners would have understood he was expressing his opinion. He was not making factual statements about what was envisaged by the Labour Government and the smelting company in 1971, or the terms of their agreement.

[11]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item was inaccurate or misleading in breach of Standard 5.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
3 September 2013


1Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036