BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Green and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2014-147

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Peter Green
Number
2014-147
Programme
3 News
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 4

Summary 

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

An item on 3 News covered the state of the Labour Party leadership after the 2014 general election. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the item contained multiple errors of fact and the political editor misrepresented David Cunliffe’s stated position. While errors were made in the broadcast (which were acknowledged by the broadcaster), they were technical in nature and not material to the focus of the item, which was the confusion surrounding the Labour Party leadership. The explanations given in the broadcast would not have misled viewers as to the general Labour Party process for leadership elections, and any misunderstanding around Mr Cunliffe’s position was due to his own contradictory statements.    Not Upheld: Accuracy


Introduction 

[1]  An item on 3 News covered the state of the Labour Party leadership after the 2014 general election. The item featured a press conference given by the then party leader David Cunliffe and the 3 News political editor’s analysis of a potential leadership vote.    [2]  Peter Green complained that the item contained multiple errors of fact and that the political editor misrepresented Mr Cunliffe’s stated position on the Labour Party leadership.   [3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy standard as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.    [4]  The item was broadcast during the 6pm news on TV3 on 23 September 2014. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[5]  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    [6]  Mr Green identified four alleged inaccuracies in the broadcast:

1. The political editor’s statement that there were only two ways of triggering a party-wide leadership vote (resignation or a vote of no-confidence) was incorrect, as the Labour Party constitution provides three ways of triggering a leadership vote – a resignation, a no-confidence vote or a leadership vote requested by a simple majority of the caucus. Mr Green argued this was a material omission, as the focus of the item was that resigning or losing a no-confidence vote would have been embarrassing for Mr Cunliffe.   2. The political editor misrepresented Mr Cunliffe’s stated position by stating he wanted a no-confidence vote, immediately after Mr Cunliffe was shown saying that was a matter to be decided by the caucus.   3. The political editor inaccurately applied the Labour Party rules to his analysis of a potential leadership vote, which showed a ‘serious misunderstanding’ of the rules. The claim that the ‘Anyone But Cunliffe’ faction required ‘60% + 1’ MP for a no-confidence motion was incorrect, as in fact it was Mr Cunliffe who required the support of ‘60% + 1’ MP, in a vote held within three months of the election, to retain leadership.   4. 60% + 1 MP is 21 MPs in a caucus of 32, not 20 as stated by the political editor. 

[7]  MediaWorks responded as follows:

1. The statement was substantially correct as two of the options were essentially no-confidence votes, as confirmed by the Labour Party General Secretary.   2. Any inconsistency was due to Mr Cunliffe’s own ‘contradictory and confusing position’, not any misrepresentation by the political editor.    3. (and 4.) MediaWorks conceded errors were made in respect of these points, in particular the statement that Mr Cunliffe required the support of 20 MPs rather than 21. However, it maintained that the errors were not material as the focus of the item was the disorder of the Labour Party caucus over its leadership. MediaWorks argued that the errors were made during challenging circumstances – breaking news, a live broadcast covering the recent national election and the fact the Labour Party leadership rules were contained in a very recent and complex document that the reporter had to quickly come to terms with. It was satisfied that a similar mistake occurring again was unlikely. 

[8]  Although MediaWorks has conceded there were inaccuracies in the item, we agree with the broadcaster that these were technical in nature and were not material to the focus of the story – namely, the confusion surrounding the Labour Party leadership.    [9]  While each point raised by the complainant is technically correct, we recognise that the relevant Labour Party rules and processes are highly complex and cumbersome and that they would be difficult to convey simply to the average viewer, in the context of a brief news report.    [10]  We do not think the explanation given in the item would have misled viewers as to the Labour Party’s general process for a leadership election. There were contradictions in Mr Cunliffe’s statements as to his position on the Labour Party leadership, and it was clear that the political editor’s objective was to demonstrate these inconsistencies. In our view the manner in which he portrayed this was over-hyped, which did not serve viewers. However, taking the item in its entirety we do not think that viewers would have been significantly misled such that the accuracy standard was breached.    [11]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 5.   For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.   Signed for and on behalf of the Authority         Peter Radich Chair 1 April 2015    

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:   1      Peter Green’s formal complaint – 23 September 2014 2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 18 November 2014 3      Mr Green’s referral to the Authority – 2 December 2014 4      MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 27 January 2015 5      Mr Green’s final comments – 30 January 2015 6      MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 5 February 2015    


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