BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hill and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-169

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Chris Hill
Number
2011-169
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item reported that Prime Minister John Key had referred “tea tapes” matter to the police – he commented that “The good thing is we’ve lowered the crime rate by seven percent right across the country so they do have a little bit of spare time” – reporter said that “John Key may face criticism on a couple of fronts, firstly, for saying that police have too much time on their hands” – allegedly in breach of controversial issues, accuracy and fairness standards

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – viewers heard Mr Key’s original comment so they would not have been misled – viewers would have understood the item was broadcast in a robust political environment in the lead-up to the election – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – politicians are aware of robust political arena and should expect to have their views commented on during an election period – reporter’s comment was not unfair to Mr Key – not upheld

Standard 4 (controversial issues) – “tea tapes” had become a controversial issue of public importance – item presented alternative views on the involvement of police in the matter – reporter was clearly paraphrasing Mr Key’s comment and viewers were left to form their own view – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  An item on One News, broadcast at 6pm on TV One on 17 November, reported on New Zealand First party leader Winston Peters leaking details of the so-called “tea tapes” recording a conversation between Prime Minister John Key and ACT Party MP John Banks, and also on the development that Mr Key had referred the matter to the police.

[2]  It was reported that “[The Labour Party] says this is a complete waste of police time,” and the leader of the Labour Party Phil Goff was shown commenting, “I think it’s becoming ridiculous. It’s bizarre that the police should be asked to spend so much of their precious time telling journalists what they should or shouldn’t do.”

[3]  This issue was put to Mr Key who in response commented:

The good thing is we’ve lowered the crime rate by seven percent right across the country so they do have a little bit of spare time.

[4]  At the conclusion of the item in a live cross the reporter stated that, “John Key may face criticism on a couple of fronts, firstly, for saying that police have too much time on their hands...”

[5]  Chris Hill made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the reporter’s characterisation of Mr Key’s comments as saying “the police have too much time on their hands” was “totally inaccurate” and “[showed] bias at a crucial time of the country’s election process”, in breach of standards relating to controversial issues, accuracy and fairness.

[6]  The issue is whether the item breached Standards 4 (controversial issues), 5 (accuracy) and 6 (fairness) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[7]  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 reporter’s comment inaccurate or misleading?

[8]  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

[9]  TVNZ maintained that the reporter was simply paraphrasing Mr Key’s comments by using a well-understood colloquialism. There was no bias, it said, and the paraphrasing would not have misled viewers. Viewers would have understood that “too much time on their hands” meant “spare time”, TVNZ said.

[10]  In our view, it would have been clear to viewers that the reporter was paraphrasing what Mr Key had said, when she stated, “John Key may face criticism on a couple of fronts, firstly, for saying that police have too much time on their hands...” This was particularly so given that viewers had just been shown Mr Key’s original comment on camera that “[the police] do have a little bit of spare time”. In addition, viewers would have understood that this was a political story, broadcast in the lead-up to the election, and that it was likely to contain political commentary. The reporter was speculating on how Mr Key’s comments were likely to be interpreted, and that he might be criticised for making them. Political discussion is a vital component of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

[11]  For these reasons, we do not consider that viewers would have been misled by the reporter’s statement, and we decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.

Was the item unfair to John Key?

[12]  Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.2

[13]  TVNZ argued that there was a high threshold for politicians in relation to Standard 6, and that it was part of their duty to be answerable for their actions and comments. It considered that Mr Key was used to robust media interviews, and that he would have expected to be questioned about the “tea tapes” and that his comments on the issue would be discussed in news bulletins. It therefore concluded that Mr Key was treated fairly.

[14]  The Authority has generally accepted that the threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to politicians or public figures is higher than for a lay person or someone unfamiliar with dealing with the media.3 We agree with the broadcaster that this item was broadcast in a robust political environment, in the lead-up to the general election, and that Mr Key would have expected that any comments he made on issues arising during that period may be scrutinised.

[15]  We reiterate that viewers would not have been misled by the reporter’s paraphrasing of Mr Key’s comments, as they were shown Mr Key’s original comments unedited, and would have appreciated the political context in which they were broadcast. We therefore find that viewers would not have been left with an “unfairly negative” impression of Mr Key.

[16]  Given that the item was broadcast in a robust political environment, and that political discussion – especially in the lead-up to a general election – is a key component of the right to freedom of expression, we find that Mr Key was not treated unfairly. We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Was the item unbalanced?

[17]  Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs or 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 Authority has previously stated that the balance standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.4

[18]  The complainant argued that the reporter’s paraphrasing of Mr Key’s comment “shows bias”. TVNZ accepted that the “tea tapes” had become a controversial issue of public importance, but noted that the different parties were asked for comment, and considered this was a “typical political item portraying politicians’ response to a bigger issue”. TVNZ argued that the reporter simply informed the audience that Mr Key was likely to face criticism for his comment that the police had spare time. It concluded that appropriate viewpoints were sought and presented and declined to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

[19]  We agree that the “tea tapes” had become a controversial issue in the lead-up to the election as they generated considerable coverage and debate, and that the broadcaster presented significant views on that issue in relation to the recent involvement of police, including comments from Mr Key and Mr Goff.

[20]  We do not consider that the reporter’s statement in itself was a controversial issue for the purposes of Standard 4, which required the presentation of alternative views. As viewers had already heard first-hand Mr Key’s original comments, we are satisfied that the reporter’s commentary at the end of the item did not deny viewers the ability to reach an informed view on the validity of Mr Key’s comments contrary to the objective of the balance standard.

[21]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 4.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
27 March 2012

Appendix

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

1                  Chris Hill’s formal complaint – 17 November 2011

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 15 December 2011

3                 Chris Hill’s referral to the Authority – 15 December 2011

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 15 February 2011


1Bush and TVNZ, Decision No. 2010-036

2Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

3See, for example, Bauld and RNZ, Decision No. 2011-150 at paragraph [8]

4Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014