BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Māori Education Trust and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2015-089 (1 March 2016)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Māori Education Trust
Number
2015-089
Programme
Checkpoint
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

Te Raumawhitu Kupenga declared a conflict of interest and did not participate in the determination of this complaint.

Summary

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

An item on Checkpoint was introduced by the newsreader saying, ‘The Māori Education Trust has had to sell its only assets – its farms – putting at risk the grants it is required to make to Māori students’. The item went on to discuss the financial history of the Trust. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the introduction was inaccurate in that the sale of the farms had actually improved the financial position of the Trust. The financial ‘risk’ alleged by the broadcast is not a fact able to be objectively determined, and the Trust was able to put forward its position in the item, so listeners would not have been misled.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


Introduction

[1]  An item on Checkpoint was introduced by the newsreader saying, ‘The Māori Education Trust has had to sell its only assets – its farms – putting at risk the grants it is required to make to Māori students’. The item went on to discuss the financial history of the Trust and featured comment from a co-chairperson of the Trust.

[2]  The Trust complained that the statement about the sale putting grants at risk was ‘completely untrue’ because in fact ‘the sale of the farms put the Trust on a sound financial footing and improved its ability to provide assistance to students’.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Trust also complained about a headline on RNZ’s website. Because we do not have jurisdiction to consider this type of online content, our determination is limited to the Checkpoint item.

[4]  The item was broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 17 September 2015. 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?

[5]  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

[6]  The Trust explained that it had started an investment programme with the farms in 2008 to increase the farms’ productivity and thus increase the returns to the Trust and expand its financial assistance to students, but the programme ‘did not achieve the key goal’, so the farms were sold. With the proceeds of the farm sales, the Trust paid off the debt from the investment programme and ‘invest[ed] the balance in assets that would provide a higher and more predictable income’. This, the Trust argued, placed it in ‘a better and more stable financial position, and provide[d] a solid foundation for the Trust’s core role of providing assistance to Māori students’, and as a result ‘[i]t has achieved those goals’. RNZ’s statements, the Trust argued, ‘would have harmed the Trust’s reputation as a provider of assistance and prospective applicants for assistance would have been alarmed at the apparent inability of the Trust to deliver’.

[7]  RNZ argued that ‘the thrust of the item... was that there have been lower allocations of grants and scholarships from the [Trust] paid out to Māori students due to the Trust’s previous financial situation’ and that ‘[p]art of that involved the sale of farm assets’. It said that the broadcast ‘would not have affected listeners’ understanding about the Trust’s track record in making Māori education grants’.

[8]  The Authority has found in a previous decision that when an accuracy complaint centres around an ‘inherently subjective term’, this is ‘not sufficiently precise to found a complaint of inaccuracy’ as the question is not about an ‘objectively determined matter of “fact”’.2 In our view, the financial ‘risk’ alleged by the broadcast subject to this complaint is not a fact that is able to be objectively determined. The fact that an action carries risk means that the result is uncertain, and although the Trust may be firm in its view that the sale of the farms has put it in a better financial position, this would not necessarily have been assured at the time of the broadcast.

[9]  Although we cannot make a finding on whether the statement about the Trust’s financial position was accurate or inaccurate, we make the following observations.

[10]  It does not seem unreasonable to us for the broadcaster to view the sale of the Trust’s only fixed assets as risky, especially given its financial history, which was discussed at length in the item, and which the Trust did not dispute. Additionally, comment from a co-chairperson of the Trust explaining the Trust’s position was included at several stages in the item, including this exchange:

Co-chairperson: We’re giving the full allocation this year – $1.2 million... in scholarships this year.
Reporter: Why hasn’t that happened in the past?
Co-chairperson: As you know, we’ve had issues. We’re sorting, from next year on, we should be at least allocating $1.2 million worth.

[11]  Overall, we think the item was well-researched and balanced, and did not contain anything which would have misled listeners. This was an issue that carried public interest and warranted scrutiny. By fairly putting forward the perspective of the Trust, the programme enabled listeners to make up their own minds about the Trust’s financial position and the merits of its decision to sell the farms.

[12]  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

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
1 March 2016

 

Appendix

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

1      Māori Education Trust’s formal complaint – 21 September 2015
2      RNZ’s response to the complaint – 20 October 2015
3      The Trust’s referral to the Authority – 16 November 2015
4      RNZ’s response to the Authority – 18 December 2015
5      The Trust’s final comment – 18 January 2016
6      RNZ’s final comment – 26 January 2016

 

 


1Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036

 2Zero Commission NZ Ltd and The Radio Network Ltd, Decision No. 2014-126