Hawker and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2016-025 (25 July 2016)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Paula Rose
- Wayne Hawker
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
An item on Seven Sharp discussed whether celebrity endorsement of any particular flag would sway public voting in the New Zealand flag referendum. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the broadcast of the personal views of certain celebrities who supported changing the flag resulted in an unbalanced and partial programme. While the item featured several celebrities in support of the alternative flag, it also mentioned some who supported the current flag. In the context of the item this was a sufficient acknowledgement of significant viewpoints on the issue. Furthermore, viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware of the different perspectives on the flag referendum issue.
Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Accuracy
 A Seven Sharp item discussed whether celebrity endorsement of any particular flag would sway public voting in the New Zealand flag referendum.
 Wayne Hawker complained that the programme allowed senior TVNZ journalists to broadcast their personal support for changing the flag, which resulted in the programme being unbalanced and not impartial.
 The issue is whether the broadcast breached the controversial issues and accuracy standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.1
 The item was broadcast on TV ONE on 22 February 2016. 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 sufficiently balanced?
 The balance standard (Standard 4) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest. The standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.2
 Mr Hawker argued that certain celebrities, including well-respected journalists, were permitted to broadcast their personal views on the flag referendum which was inappropriate and a ‘serious breach of broadcasting standards’. He considered the item lacked balance, as many celebrities were shown in support of the alternative flag but only one celebrity was mentioned as supporting the current flag. Mr Hawker also felt that the presenters were ‘trying to influence and lead people towards agreeing to what [a celebrity in support of the flag] was saying’.
 TVNZ did not consider the issue of ‘whether celebrity endorsement of a particular flag would sway voting’ amounted to a controversial issue of public importance. However, it noted that both sides of the flag debate were discussed, as well as different opinions on whether celebrity endorsement was likely to change people’s minds. These opinions were protected by the right to free speech, it said. The broadcaster argued that balance cannot be measured by a stopwatch (ie, giving exactly equal time to all views), and the item adequately presented both sides of the flag debate taking into account the nature of the item and the issue. TVNZ also noted that balancing material on the issue of the flag referendum was broadcast during the period of current interest.
 A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.3
 The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.4 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.5
 While we agree that the issue of whether celebrity endorsement of a flag affects public voting is unlikely a controversial issue in itself, we do not think this topic can be separated from the broader issue of the flag referendum, which in our view clearly was a controversial issue of public importance. Therefore we find that the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance that triggered the requirements of the balance standard.
 We are also satisfied that significant points of view on this issue were presented within the item. The Authority has consistently held that ‘balance need not be achieved by the “stopwatch”, meaning that the time given to each competing party or viewpoint does not have to be mathematically balanced’.6 While the item may have featured a greater number of celebrities in support of changing the flag, a well-known celebrity and named organisation were also mentioned as supporting the current flag. Celebrities, including programme presenters and/or journalists, are permitted to express an opinion on a controversial issue so long as this is done in a transparent and balanced way. The broadcaster was not required to give exactly equal time to each side of the flag debate, and the mention of the support for the current flag was sufficient to acknowledge this viewpoint in the context of the item.
 The standard allows broadcasters to provide balance either within the programme or within the period of current interest. In addition to our finding that the item itself contained sufficient acknowledgement of significant views, TVNZ also pointed us to a number of examples of balancing material in other programmes within the period of current interest. For example, a ONE News item broadcast four days after the item in question featured a poll allegedly showing that two thirds of New Zealanders wanted to keep the current flag.7
 The flag referendum was a subject which generated robust and widespread debate among New Zealanders and both sides of the flag debate received considerable media coverage over a significant period of time. It was reasonable to expect that at the time of this item viewers would be well aware of the different points of view on the issue. We do not think that viewers would have been left unable to form their own opinions on the flag referendum as a result of this particular Seven Sharp item.
 Accordingly we do not find a breach of Standard 4.
Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?
 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.8
 Mr Hawker argued that the item, which he alleged ‘was geared more towards promoting the alternative flag’, was in breach of guideline 5c which states that news must be impartial.
 TVNZ argued that Mr Hawker did not identify any material inaccuracy in the item, and maintained that it was not inaccurate or misleading.
 We consider Mr Hawker’s concerns about the item have been appropriately and adequately addressed above as a matter of balance.9 As Mr Hawker has not identified any other aspect of the item which he considered was inaccurate or misleading, we are satisfied that the accuracy standard was not breached.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
25 July 2016
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Wayne Hawker’s formal complaint – 23 February 2016 (received 1 March 2016)
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 30 March 2016
3 Mr Hawker’s referral to the Authority – 30 March 2016
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 1 June 2016
1This complaint was determined under the previous Free-to-Air Television Code, which applied up until 31 March 2016. The new Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook took effect on 1 April 2016 and applies to any programmes broadcast on or after that date: http://bsa.govt.nz/standards/overview
2 Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014
3 For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)
4 Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-125
5 See, for example, Dewe and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-076
8Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036
9 In the new Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, which took effect on 1 April 2016, guideline 5c is now addressed under the balance standard, rather than the accuracy standard.