BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hurley and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2016-083 (10 February 2017)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • John Hurley
Number
2016-083
Channel/Station
TV ONE

Summary

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

An episode of the documentary series, The Hard Stuff with Nigel Latta, titled ‘The New New Zealand’, focused on the topic of immigration. The episode looked at common perceptions of immigration in New Zealand and featured interviews with the Chief Executive of Immigration New Zealand, an immigration consultant, two academic consultants and the Chief Economist at Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL), as well as a number of immigrants to New Zealand from China, India and the UK. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that alternative points of view were omitted from the item. This episode of The Hard Stuff carried high public interest and had high value in terms of the exercise of freedom of expression. It was sufficient, in the context of a series presented as being from a particular host’s perspective, for the episode to raise and acknowledge alternative viewpoints, without providing extensive details of those views. The Authority found that the programme was sufficiently balanced for viewers to make up their own minds about the validity of the arguments offered in favour of, and against, immigration.

Not Upheld: Balance


Introduction

[1]  An episode of the documentary series, The Hard Stuff with Nigel Latta, titled ‘The New New Zealand’, focused on the topic of immigration. The episode looked at common perceptions of immigration in New Zealand and featured interviews with the Chief Executive of Immigration New Zealand, an immigration consultant, two academic consultants and the Chief Economist at Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL), as well as a number of immigrants to New Zealand from China, India and the UK.

[2]  John Hurley complained that alternative points of view, not in favour of New Zealand’s current stance on immigration, were not presented during the item. He said that the research and findings of other experts, refuting the views of those interviewed, should have been presented.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the balance standard, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item was broadcast at 8.30pm on 16 August 2016 on TV ONE. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Nature of the programme and freedom of expression

[5]  Freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, is the starting point in our consideration of complaints. We may only interfere and uphold complaints where the limitation on the right would be reasonable and justified in a democratic society.1

[6]  The Hard Stuff with Nigel Latta is a documentary series presented by psychologist Nigel Latta. The series investigates challenging or controversial issues in New Zealand, and is presented as being from the perspective of Mr Latta, a well-known television personality in New Zealand who explores issues topical in society. The series could be described as authorial, in that the issues are presented as being from a particular perspective.

[7]  This episode was structured around Mr Latta exploring a number of ‘misconceptions’ about immigration, including that there were a climbing number of immigrants to New Zealand, that immigration had a negative effect on the economy and house prices, and that we were allowing over-qualified immigrants to come to New Zealand (who were then unable to get jobs). The purpose of this episode was to address and provide counterarguments to these views.

[8]  Mr Latta began the episode by comparing New Zealand in the 1950s, when 94% of the population defined themselves as European, to today, noting that New Zealand was ‘changing’. He said:

Immigration is changing the face of our nation. One in four of us were now born overseas and every other day there are news reports of climbing immigration numbers. Lots of New Zealanders are worried. They’re worried about immigrants taking our jobs, driving up house prices – can a small country sustain large numbers of people coming in? So I want to know: is immigration good for New Zealand, or bad for New Zealand?

[9]  Mr Latta was shown in a radio studio taking calls from listeners on talkback radio, who echoed some of these sentiments. One caller said:

In England right now, I mean, they’ve just had completely mass immigration and the country is turning into a – in many areas it’s a disaster zone.

[10]  When asked whether New Zealand was getting it right or wrong in terms of numbers and mix, the caller answered: ‘...I think we need to be incredibly careful. I don’t really think there’s any management of it.’

[11]  Mr Latta interviewed a number of experts during the episode, listed above, who provided counterarguments to these views. One academic, in response to Mr Latta voicing the concern of New Zealanders who ‘worry about immigrants coming in and taking jobs from Kiwis’, said:

There’s no evidence for that. It does not occur. So immigrants come in and they fill very different jobs, or they fill gaps in our labour market requirements. So people should be assured that there might be some exceptions but by and large the evidence is quite clear they do not take jobs from New Zealanders.

[12]  Later in the documentary, Mr Latta noted that issues around immigration and race were ‘an incredibly divisive topic’. He said, ‘Nine out of ten New Zealanders say they want a multicultural society but this is where it can get emotional. A feeling that you no longer belong in the place you thought was your home’. In response to this comment, an academic said there were two reasons for this sentiment:

...one of them is that we don’t understand other people and are suspicious of them. So they look different, sound different and so that’s a basic human characteristic really and to get over that, contact is important. The second is that, very often, anti-immigrant hostility is associated with economic downturns. And you can understand that to some extent, I mean, economic downturn – am I going to have a job? How do I pay my mortgage? I don’t want competitors, I don’t want people that are different, I don’t want things that are unsettling to me, and so you do tend to target that person who might be culturally or linguistically different to you and of course immigrants fill that category beautifully.

[13]  The documentary went on to examine the family visa policy, which allowed relatives of skilled migrants to come to New Zealand. This policy received widespread criticism and was eventually phased out, as explained by the Chief Executive of Immigration New Zealand:

When we did review we thought right, this is not delivering the intended benefits. We’re going to stop that policy and if adult children and adult siblings can make a contribution to New Zealand, they can come under their own steam in terms of the existing policies we have, like the skilled migrant category.

[14]  The documentary also examined:

  • the long term business visa (which is now no longer available due to its economic impact)
  • the differing contributions made by different nationalities of immigrants to New Zealand’s economy, finding that New Zealand-born people contributed the least
  • the value of international students
  • the perception that immigrants were overqualified, which Mr Latta considered was no longer possible due to the rigorous process required to immigrate to New Zealand
  • whether the number of immigrants to New Zealand had driven up house prices.

[15]  Mr Latta concluded the documentary with statements from a number of the interviewees featured in the episode, and said:

It seems pretty clear to me that the economic gains of immigration are a no-brainer. So, what do we lose? For me, it’s nothing. So maybe instead of us feeling like we’re doing them a favour and expecting them to do all the changing, maybe we need to remember that they’re doing us a favour as well.

[16]  This series, and this episode in particular, carried high public interest and high value in terms of the exercise of freedom of expression. The issue of immigration, particularly in light of events both here and abroad, continues to be widely debated, and is divisive and emotionally charged. Our task is to weigh the value of the programme against the level of harm alleged to have been caused by the broadcast, in terms of the underlying objectives of the relevant broadcasting standards. The complainant has argued that the documentary caused harm by omitting significant points of view that were critical of current immigration policies, and that the experts that were interviewed were biased, as they were well-known supporters of New Zealand’s current stance on immigration.

[17]  For the reasons set out below, we do not consider that the item caused such harm, or was in breach of broadcasting standards.

Was the item sufficiently balanced?

[18]  The balance standard (Standard 8) 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 viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.

The parties’ submissions

[19]  Mr Hurley submitted that:

  • Those interviewed during the episode ‘did not reflect expert opinion’, and Mr Hurley provided a number of examples of ‘expert views not included’, which were contrary to the views expressed in the programme.
  • Any critical views of New Zealand immigration expressed during the programme were ‘fixed’ or ‘glibly dealt to by a vested interest’.

[20]  TVNZ submitted that:

  • The episode presented the views of those with ‘specialist knowledge and expertise about immigration’, and the episode ‘canvassed a balanced series of viewpoints regarding immigration’.
  • The choice of experts to be included in a programme is a matter of editorial control, not an issue of programme standards, and while Mr Hurley would have preferred the programme to discuss other issues, the documentary had a limited scope, which was clearly outlined in the introduction.

Our analysis

[21]  This episode of The Hard Stuff focused on the question of whether immigration was good, or bad, for New Zealand. As noted above, in light of recent events both here and abroad, immigration is a widely debated and divisive topic. We therefore find that the programme discussed a controversial issue of public importance, to which the balance standard applied.

[22]  In assessing whether sufficient balance has been provided in a programme, the Authority has regard to the following factors:

  • the programme’s introduction and the way in which the programme is presented
  • the type of programme
  • the nature of the issue and of the discussion
  • whether the programme approaches a topic from a particular perspective (e.g. authorial documentaries, advocacy programmes)
  • whether the programme acknowledges the existence of other views
  • whether the audience could reasonably be expected to be aware of other views, including in other media sources.2

[23]  We consider it was sufficient, in the context of a series that is presented as being from Mr Latta’s perspective and could be described as authorial, for the episode to raise and acknowledge alternative viewpoints, even if these were later refuted by those interviewed during the programme. While Mr Hurley would have preferred for the views and evidence he has provided to be included, we have found that, by referring to the existence of alternative views, even without the details of those views, the programme was sufficiently balanced for viewers to make up their own minds about the validity of the arguments offered in favour of, and against, immigration.

[24]  We agree that the episode approached the issue of immigration, and New Zealand’s current stance on immigration, in a positive light. The episode used experts to debunk popular perceptions and ultimately made the finding that immigration was good for New Zealand. However, we also note that the experts interviewed by Mr Latta were credible and were legitimately commenting on their areas of expertise, or on their own experience with New Zealand’s immigration system.

[25]  The ‘slant’ of the episode and the choice of experts to interview were editorial choices available to the broadcaster and, in our view, did not result in an unbalanced programme. Mr Latta clearly established his voice and view in the beginning of the episode, saying, ‘I want to know...’ We consider viewers would have understood that this episode was framed around Mr Latta’s own questions about the presentation of immigration issues by media, and the perceptions that everyday New Zealanders hold. As a well known television personality in New Zealand, we consider Mr Latta’s style of presentation would be familiar to most viewers.

[26]  Finally, the issue of immigration in New Zealand is ongoing, with considerable public coverage that is readily available to audiences.3 However, the majority of news and media coverage appears to us to focus on the ‘negatives’ of immigration, echoing the same fears addressed by Mr Latta in this episode. In our view, the documentary served an important purpose by presenting lesser known perspectives, and there is a wealth of information accessible to viewers arguing for the opposite side of the debate, as evidenced by the complainant in his submissions.

[27]  The right to freedom of expression allows presenters such as Mr Latta to approach a topic from a particular point of view, so long as standards are maintained. For the reasons we have outlined we are satisfied that this episode provided sufficient information for viewers to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion about the issue. We therefore do not uphold the balance complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
10 February 2017

 

Appendix

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

1      John Hurley’s formal complaint – 21 August 2016
2      TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 25 October 2016
3      Mr Hurley’s referral to the Authority – 29 October 2016
4      TVNZ’s final comments – 19 December 2016
5      Mr Hurley’s final comments – 30 December 2016

 


See sections 5 and 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990
2  Commentary: Balance standard, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook at page 18
3  See, for example: Migrant numbers likely to rise despite tougher rules: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/315962/migrant-numbers-likely-to-rise-despite-tougher-rules; Poll: Kiwis want to cut immigration: http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2016/08/poll-kiwis-want-to-cut-immigration.html; International students’ cheat system, take jobs from NZers’ – report: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11761594; Gird your loins for the immigration debate: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/85815459/Gird-your-loins-for-the-immigration-debate; NZ immigration returns to record level:  http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/313857/nz-immigration-returns-to-record-level