Hurley and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2017-099 (9 March 2018)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Paula Rose
- Wendy Palmer
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
ProgrammeNine to Noon
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
A segment on Nine to Noon featured an interview with Massey Professor Paul Spoonley, titled ‘The changing face of NZ’. The interview discussed increasing diversity in New Zealand and projections for population growth, as suggested by recent data released by Statistics New Zealand. During the interview, presenter Kathryn Ryan commented, ‘it’s also in some ways the argument for immigration, isn’t it, because you’re going to need workers, you’re going to need tax payers, especially as that baby boomer demographic retires, we know there’s some big issues coming up there’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this comment breached the accuracy standard, finding the comment was not a statement of fact to which the standard applied, and it would not have materially affected the audience’s understanding of the interview as a whole.
Not Upheld: Accuracy
 A segment on Nine to Noon featured an interview with Massey Professor Paul Spoonley, titled ‘The changing face of NZ’. Presenter Kathryn Ryan began the interview by noting Statistics New Zealand had ‘just put out some new data about where we’re heading… over the next decade’. Her first question to Professor Spoonley was, ‘Was any of it surprising or was it following a reasonably familiar trajectory?’ Professor Spoonley commented on the statistics in terms of increasing diversity in New Zealand, recent record years in terms of immigration numbers, and projections for population growth in New Zealand generally, for Pākehā, Māori and other ethnic groups.
 Approximately six minutes into the 14-minute item, Ms Ryan and Professor Spoonley had the following exchange:
Ryan: Any other standout changes to the numbers or surprises to you… or simply that the expected deadlines are coming forward, particularly with respect to the immigration numbers?
Spoonley: Population growth… and the context is, just to remind your listeners, we’re growing at 2.1% which is high… Asians, they’re growing at 3.5% so that’s why they’re contributing, Pākehā are growing at less than half a percent – so that’s why we’re seeing this diversification.
Ryan: Right, and it’s also in some ways the argument for immigration, isn’t it, because you’re going to need workers, you’re going to need tax payers, especially as that baby boomer demographic retires, we know there’s some big issues coming up there.
 In relation to the latter comment by Ms Ryan, John Hurley complained that the idea that increasing immigration can counteract population ageing is a ‘fallacy’ that has been ‘debunked’, therefore the item was inaccurate.
 The issue raised in Mr Hurley’s complaint is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The interview was broadcast on 10 October 2017 on RNZ National. The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?
 The accuracy standard (Standard 9) 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 being significantly misinformed.
The parties’ submissions
 Mr Hurley submitted:
- It is a fallacy that higher immigration counteracts population ageing, and this is a verifiable fact.
- The argument that immigration can counteract population ageing has been comprehensively debunked by the United Nations, the Australian Productivity Commission and others.
- ‘Beyond an annual immigration level of around 100,000 people, the demographic benefits have been shown to diminish greatly, with migrants impacting much more on the size of the population than on its age structure’.
- Overall, the present pattern of net migration reinforces population ageing, as emigrants tend to be younger than immigrants.
 RNZ submitted that the comment complained about was not a statement of fact to which the standard applied, but rather analysis, presented as a possible argument justifying certain levels of immigration.
 The first question for the Authority is whether the comment complained about was a material point of fact in the item, to which the accuracy standard applied. Guideline 9a to the accuracy standard states that the standard does not apply to statements that are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.
 Guidance to distinguishing fact from analysis, comment or opinion states that a fact is verifiable: it is something that can be proved right or wrong, while an opinion is someone’s view: it is contestable, and others may hold a different view.1 The following factors are relevant to determining whether a statement is fact or opinion:2
- the language used in the statement
- the language used in the rest of the item (there could be a statement of fact within an opinion piece or surrounded by opinions)
- the type of programme and the role or reputation of the person speaking
- the subject matter
- whether evidence or proof is provided
- whether the statement is attributed to someone.
 Having regard to these factors, we consider Ms Ryan’s comment, which is the subject of this complaint, amounted to analysis and opinion, rather than a statement of fact, therefore the standard does not apply. Ms Ryan’s language – ‘it’s also in some ways the argument for immigration, isn’t it’ – indicated she was posing this proposition to Professor Spoonley as a speculative position or a question, rather than being a definitive statement of fact. The comment expressed Ms Ryan’s own analysis, posing one possible argument linking population ageing and immigration, and we do not think listeners would have interpreted it as fact.
 Nor do we think Ms Ryan’s single, brief comment would have materially affected listeners’ understanding of the 14-minute interview overall. The item as a whole focused on increasing diversity in New Zealand and projections for population growth, as suggested by recent data released by Statistics New Zealand. The discussion largely focused on immigration and projected population growth across Pākehā, Māori and Asian populations. The interview did not otherwise discuss population ageing, beyond Ms Ryan’s brief aside comment.
 For these reasons, we are satisfied that the harm alleged to have been caused by this broadcast, in terms of the objectives of the accuracy standard, did not outweigh the importance of the right to freedom of expression.
 We therefore do not uphold the accuracy complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
9 March 2018
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 John Hurley’s formal complaint – 11 October 2017
2 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 16 November 2017
3 Mr Hurley’s referral to the Authority – 29 November 2017
4 RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 12 December 2017
1 Guidance: Accuracy – Distinguishing fact and analysis, comment or opinion, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 62
2 As above