BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Grieve and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-120

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Robin Grieve
One News
TV One


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item reported on Australia’s recent attempts to reduce pollution by introducing a carbon tax scheme – referred to “pollution”, “polluters” and “carbon” – allegedly inaccurate

Standard 5 (accuracy) – item used simplified language to convey scientific concepts to the average viewer – not inaccurate or misleading – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 10 July 2011, reported on Australia’s recent attempts to reduce pollution by introducing a carbon tax scheme. The item contained the following statements:

  • “Australia is following New Zealand’s lead on reducing pollution by unveiling a new carbon tax scheme.” (newsreader)
  • “The science is clear. Our planet is warming. That warming is caused by carbon pollution by human activity and we need to cut carbon pollution.” (Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard)
  • “Australia’s 500 biggest polluters will pay 23 Australian dollars per tonne of carbon they produce.” (reporter)
  • “...this step by Australia to price their carbon pollution...” (New Zealand Environment Minister Nick Smith).

[2]  Robin Grieve made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the terms “pollution” and “polluters” were “an inaccurate description of carbon emissions and someone who emits them”. He also argued that the use of the term “carbon” to describe a “carbon dioxide equivalent” and the references to a “carbon tax scheme” were inaccurate.

[3]  The issue is whether the item’s use of these words breached Standard 5 of 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.

Was the item inaccurate or misleading?

[5]  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.

[6]  We note that Mr Grieve has previously complained that references to “pollution” and “polluters” in a news item were inaccurate. The Authority declined to uphold the complaint, saying:1

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.

...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.

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

[7]  We consider that the same reasoning applies in this case, to the use of the terms “pollution”, “polluters”, and “carbon”, in the context of an item about Australia’s proposal for reducing carbon emissions. It is common and acceptable for news reports to employ informal or simplified language of this nature in order to convey matters of science to the average viewer in a manner that will be easily understood. We do not consider that the scientific differences between “pollution” and “emissions”, or “carbon” and “carbon dioxide equivalent”, would have misled viewers or affected their understanding of the item, which focused on the steps being taken by the Australian Government to combat global warming.

[8]  Accordingly, we find that the item was not inaccurate or misleading, and 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
20 December 2011


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

1                 Robin Grieve’s formal complaint – 10 July 2011

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 8 August 2011

3                 Mr Grieve’s referral to the Authority – 2 September 2011

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 21 October 2011

1See Grieve and TVNZ, Decision No. 2010-017 at paragraphs [14] to [16].