BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Grieve and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-007

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Robin Grieve
Number
2014-007
Programme
ONE News
Channel/Station
TV ONE

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

A ONE News item reported on the most recent report of the IPCC and summarised some of the report’s findings, including predictions of more frequent storms and droughts. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the summary was inaccurate, as the broadcaster provided information demonstrating a sufficient basis for the statements made.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Responsible Programming


Introduction

[1]  A ONE News item reported on the most recent report (AR5 Report) released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The item was introduced:

Rising sea levels, more extinct species and possible food shortages. That’s the grim prediction by a global gathering of top scientists who say, for the first time, we are responsible for climate change. And as [reporter’s name] reports, New Zealand’s set to feel the heat too.

[2]  The item briefly canvassed some of the findings in the IPCC report. The news item was broadcast on TV ONE on 28 September 2013.

[3]  Robin Grieve made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, alleging that the item inaccurately summarised the report’s findings. Specifically, he referred to apparent predictions of more frequent storms and drought, and the linking of extreme weather events to global warming. He argued that the item deceived and disadvantaged viewers and presented information in a way that was likely to cause panic, unwarranted alarm or undue distress.

[4]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy (Standard 5) and responsible programming (Standard 8) standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  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?

[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 Grieve’s complaint under Standard 5 was specific to two claims made in the broadcast about the frequency of storms and drought, and the linking of these types of severe weather events with global warming. In the item the reporter made the following statements:

  • ‘The capital’s worst storm in 40 years, last summer’s harsh North Island drought, and the warmest winter on record. A report written for the United Nations by the world’s top scientists says climate change will make these extreme weather events more and more frequent.’
  • ‘Scientists warn that if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced, the world’s global temperature could rise by more than two degrees, causing… more extreme wet and dry weather patterns’ (this was followed by a list of effects, including ‘droughts’).

[8]  Mr Grieve said the IPCC report consisted of hundreds of papers submitted by scientists with views that were often ‘contradictory and ambiguous’. He argued that the ‘general tenor’ of the report, in regard to the frequency of storms, was that storm events would become less frequent in the Southern Hemisphere and New Zealand. In regards to the frequency of droughts, he quoted the report as saying ‘there are large seasonal and geographical variations in predicted soil moisture changes with no high degree of certainty if there will be increases in drought’. In the complainant’s view, the One News item was the result of ‘cherry picking and focusing on only the worst case scenarios’ which inaccurately portrayed the contents of the report.

[9]  TVNZ asserted that, ‘The One News item… briefly reported on part 1 of the IPCC AR5 report which provides the physical science basis for the AR5 findings. The AR5 Report is over 2000 pages long and cites 8200 scientific publications. The One News item reported briefly on some of the key findings and climate change possibilities’. It maintained that the extreme weather and climate events mentioned in the reporter’s opening statement (namely, storms, drought and warm winter temperatures) were discussed in the AR5 Report as ‘scenarios which may occur if global warming continues’. The broadcaster did not consider that the brief summary given in the item would have misled viewers.

[10]  Both parties cited various passages from the IPCC report to support their respective positions. We asked the broadcaster to provide information available at the time of the broadcast, which supported the reporter’s statements in the item.

[11]  TVNZ referred us to specific parts of the AR5 Report. To support the statement made in the item about increased storms, it referred to a table outlining climate change projections for different regions. Under the heading ‘Extratropical Cyclones’, the table refers to a ‘projected increase in extreme storm-related precipitation’ for Australia and New Zealand.2

[12]  In regard to the item’s reference to increased drought, it referred to the following passage from the report:3

Both flood and drought occurrence is projected to approximately double over New Zealand during the 21st century…

[13]  In addition, TVNZ provided a graph summarising the report, released at the same time as the AR5 Report.4 The graph, which shows expected global trends in extreme weather and climate events, indicates a likelihood of heavy precipitation events and an increase in the frequency, intensity, and/or amount of heavy precipitation over most land areas. It records that an increase in the intensity and/or duration of drought has been likely in many regions since 1970.

[14]  We are satisfied that the information provided by TVNZ demonstrates a sufficient basis for the statements made in the ONE News item, summarising some of the projections made in the AR5 Report. The angle taken by the news item was to focus on the extremes, which we think was permissible in the circumstances, given that TVNZ can point us to the parts of the report from which it sourced the statements. While the complainant has referenced other parts of the report to support his rebuttal, we think this reflects the magnitude of the report and that it is made up of many different views from many different climate scientists, including views that conflict. It is not reasonable to expect that a two-minute news item could comprehensively summarise all of the views put forward in a 2000-page report, in a manner that the ordinary viewer would understand.

[15]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the accuracy complaint.

Did the broadcast breach the responsible programming standard?

[16]  The responsible programming standard (Standard 8) requires that programmes are correctly classified, and not presented in such a way as to deceive or disadvantage viewers, or cause panic, unwarranted alarm or undue distress.

[17]  Mr Grieve argued that ‘showing footage of the Wellington storm and stating inaccurately that we will experience more of them is scaremongering and playing on the emotions of storm victims’. In his view, this content was presented in such a way as to cause panic, unwarranted alarm or undue distress, and he said the effect on children was ‘particularly awful’. In addition, he argued that the content deceived and disadvantaged viewers because the storm was unrelated to global warming – he said the report included studies on only a small number of storm events which did not include the Wellington storm.

[18]  TVNZ did not agree that the footage of the Wellington storm or the comment about the likelihood of more extreme weather and climate events (like storms) would have alarmed or distressed viewers in the context of an unclassified news story. Nor did it agree that viewers would have been deceived or disadvantaged by the item.

[19]  As we have said above, this short news item contained a summary of some of the report’s predictions relating to extreme weather events. The inclusion of references to, and footage of a Wellington storm, the North Island drought, and a warm winter, was not to alarm or distress viewers, but to localise the report’s findings for viewers. The reporter did not state that the Wellington storm had been considered as part of the IPCC report. These were simply local examples of ‘extreme weather’, helping to place the story in a New Zealand context. We do not think that reasonable viewers would have been unduly distressed or alarmed, or deceived by the item.

[20]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 8.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
22 July 2014

Appendix

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

1                 Robin Grieve’s formal complaint documents – 25 October 2013

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 20 December 2013

3                 Mr Grieve’s referral to the Authority – 22 February 2014

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 2 April 2014

5                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority’s request for further information – 19 May 2014

6                 Mr Grieve’s response to further information provided by TVNZ – 26 May 2014

7                 Further information provided by TVNZ – 11 June 2014

8                 Mr Grieve’s response to TVNZ’s information – 16 June 2014


1Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd

, Decision No. 2010-036

2Chapter 14 Climate Change Phenomena and their Relevance for Future Regional Climate Change, IPCC AR5 Climate Change 2013 The Physical Science Basis.

3Chapter 14 Climate Change Phenomena and their Relevance for Future Regional Climate Change, IPCC AR5 Climate Change 2013 The Physical Science Basis.

4IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F. and Others (eds.)] Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA