BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Grieve and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-017

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Robin Grieve
Number
2010-017
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item on the new Emissions Trading Scheme reported that “farmers may have to fork out an extra $3000 a year in pollution taxes by the year 2030” and that “agriculture is our biggest polluter” – allegedly inaccurate

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – acceptable shorthand for communicating a scientific concept to the audience – viewers would not have been misled – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on Wednesday 18 November 2009, discussed the Government’s new Emissions Trading Scheme. The news presenter introduced the item by saying:

Farmers may have to fork out an extra $3000 a year in pollution taxes by the year 2030. The Prime Minister says the Agricultural Sector must pay its share under the Emissions Trading Scheme.

[2]   Immediately after the introduction, the reporter stated that “Agriculture is our biggest polluter, but farmers say they’re being stung for more than their fair share.”

Complaint

[3]   Robin Grieve made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that two statements in the item were inaccurate. First, Mr Grieve argued that the news reader’s statement, “Farmers may have to fork out an extra $3000 a year in pollution taxes by the year 2030” was inaccurate because the tax was for carbon emissions, not pollution. He considered that the use of the word “pollution” painted the farming activities in an unfavourable light.

[4]   Secondly, Mr Grieve maintained that the reporter’s comment that “agriculture is our biggest polluter” was inaccurate for the same reasons, namely that “carbon dioxide equivalents are not a pollutant, therefore an emitter of it is not a polluter”. Agriculture added no carbon and no methane to the atmosphere, he said.

Standards

[5]   Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to the determination of this complaint. It provides:

Standard 5 Accuracy

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/or

• does not mislead.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   With regard to Mr Grieve’s first point, TVNZ contended that it had been recognised by the New Zealand Government and internationally that greenhouse gases were contributing to global climate change. It said:

The purpose of an emissions scheme is to protect the environment by penalising those industries that are contributing to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere but not bearing the cost of this damage in their business. The cost of this tax in the business will then theoretically more accurately reflect the cost of the goods’ production to society and lead to the reduction of the release of these pollutants. ...In this way of thinking factors that damage the environment are pollutants.

[7]   The broadcaster noted that the Cambridge Learners Dictionary defined pollution as “the damage caused to water, air, etc by harmful substances or waste”.

[8]   TVNZ concluded that it was accurate to use the term “pollution tax” when referring to “carbon tax” or the Emissions Trading Scheme.

[9]   Looking at Mr Grieve’s second point, TVNZ pointed out that the Authority had previously noted that:1

...a report released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) states:

Methane and nitrous oxide play an important role in the radiative balance of the atmosphere, and are particularly significant because their global warming potentials (GWP) are greater than that of carbon dioxide...

New Zealand is not a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, but its emissions are significant for the following reasons:

  • Methane and nitrous oxide are dominant in the national emissions profile, i.e. 59.5% of total emissions on carbon dioxide equivalent basis (National Inventory).
  • The principal sources of methane and nitrous oxide are from pastoral agricultural lands and the animals that graze on them (55% of total emissions in 2000).
  • The gross levels of New Zealand’s emissions (ignoring sinks) are steadily increasing and will exceed the 1990 levels by 50-75,000,000 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent in the first commitment period on a ‘business-as-usual’ basis (Ministry for the Environment).

On that basis, the Authority finds that it was not inaccurate to imply that farmers were “the really big polluters”, because MAF’s statistics show that agricultural land and animals are responsible for a significant proportion of national emissions.

[10]   TVNZ therefore concluded that it was accurate to state in the item that agriculture was New Zealand’s biggest polluter.

Referral to the Authority

[11]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Grieve referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide were not “pollutants”, and that agriculture could not be described as a polluter unless it produced a pollutant. Mr Grieve also reiterated that the tax for farmers was for carbon emissions and that “unless TVNZ can provide empirical evidence that carbon emissions from agriculture damage the air or the environment the use of the word ‘pollution’ is inaccurate.”

Authority's Determination

[12]   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.

[13]   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.

[14]   Mr Grieve argued that the references to “pollution” in the item were inaccurate as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are not pollutants. The debate among politicians, scientists and industry as to whether such natural components of the Earth’s atmosphere should be considered pollutants is not one we can determine.

[15]   However, the USA Environmental Protection Agency has classified rising gas omissions as a hazard to human health because of their role in propagating climate change. As noted in Butler, Dunleavy and Prior and TVNZ, MAF has found that in New Zealand the principal source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions is agriculture.2 It was in the context of a short item on New Zealand’s “Emissions Trading Scheme”, which aims for the reduction in the emission of such gases, that these gases were referred to as a “pollutants”. In that context we find the word “pollutant” was an acceptable shorthand used by the presenter and the reporter. Scientific precision was not necessary.

[16]   We find viewers would not have been misled by the references to “pollution” and we decline to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
27 April 2010

Appendix

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

1.           Robin Grieve’s formal complaint – 2 December 2009
2.          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 20 January 2010
3.          Mr Grieve’s referral to the Authority – 9 February 2010
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 11 March 2010


1Butler, Dunleavy and Prior and TVNZ, Decision No. 2009-063, paragraphs [96] to [97]

2Decision No. 2009-063