BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McCready and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2017-105 (9 March 2018)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
Dated
Complainant
  • Kevin McCready
Number
2017-105
Programme
RNZ News
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand

Summary

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

An item broadcast during RNZ News reported on cycling campaigner Peter Walker’s new book, following an interview between RNZ and Mr Walker earlier that day. The item reported that helmets ‘do little to improve safety’ and are ‘stopping people from taking up cycling’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the omission of any reference to Mr Walker’s position on mandatory helmet legislation was misleading as Mr Walker is not ‘against helmets’ but rather against mandatory helmet laws. The Authority found that, while the short news item truncated a sophisticated topic and did not refer to Mr Walker’s views on mandatory helmet legislation, the ideas communicated in the news item were not materially different to the key themes communicated by Mr Walker during his earlier interview broadcast on RNZ. The Authority therefore considered that upholding the complaint would amount to an unreasonable limitation on the right to freedom of expression.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


Introduction

[1]  A short item broadcast during the 1pm RNZ News bulletin reported:

A British cycling campaigner and author says helmets are stopping people from taking up cycling. He says they do little to improve safety and are doing more harm than good because they reinforce the idea that riding a bike is incredibly unsafe. Peter Walker has written the book, How Cycling Can Improve the World. He says biking is less safe than it should be, but it’s also less dangerous than people think, and helmets put people off.

[2]  The item followed a 16-minute interview with Mr Walker on Sunday Morning, broadcast earlier the same day at 9.40am.1

[3]  Kevin McCready complained that RNZ misled the audience in the news item as, in his view, the item portrayed Mr Walker as ‘being against helmets’. Rather, the complainant submitted, Mr Walker is not against wearing helmets (and in the interview he explicitly said he chooses to wear a helmet), but he is against mandatory helmet laws. The complainant said the ‘news story made no mention of Mandatory Helmet Legislation which was the whole point of the story’.

[4]  The issue raised in Mr McCready’s complaint is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The news item was broadcast on 22 October 2017 on RNZ National. The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about, as well as the Sunday Morning interview, and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[6]  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

[7]  Mr McCready submitted:

  • The news item stated that Mr Walker ‘was against helmets’.
  • Mr Walker is not against wearing helmets, he is against mandatory helmet laws. Therefore the broadcast was misleading.
  • The news story made no mention of mandatory helmet legislation, ‘which was the whole point of the story’.
  • ‘When one of the world’s foremost helmet deniers admits he wears a helmet and RNZ decides that's not relevant’, then the accuracy standard has been breached.

[8]  RNZ submitted:

  • Considering the 25-second duration of the item, the wording of the segment accurately reflected ‘the thrust’ of Mr Walker’s comments.
  • Mr Walker said that he was against compulsory helmet wearing, but chooses to wear a helmet voluntarily.
  • The above comment was one minor part of the full interview and the omission of this comment did not cause any material inaccuracy.

Our analysis

[9]  When we determine a complaint alleging a breach of broadcasting standards, we first give consideration to the right to freedom of expression. We weigh the value of the broadcast item, as well as the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. We may only interfere and limit the right to freedom of expression where doing so is reasonable and justified.

[10]  The essence of Mr McCready’s complaint is that the news item broadcast by RNZ was misleading, in that it presented Mr Walker as being ‘against helmets’ rather than against mandatory helmet laws, and did not accurately reflect the earlier interview on Sunday Morning. Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.2

[11]  The key issue in our view is whether there is a material difference between saying ‘helmets’ are putting people off cycling and do little to improve safety, and saying ‘mandatory helmet laws’ are putting people off cycling and do little to improve safety.

[12] We note that, during the earlier 16-minute interview, Mr Walker covered a wide range of points related to cycling, including his views on helmets and helmet laws. The range of points covered included:

  • Cycling is demonstrably less popular in cities where there are compulsory helmet laws.
  • Mandatory helmet laws create a perception that cycling is so unsafe that only legislation can improve safety.
  • Helmets are not one of the most important factors when it comes to cycle safety, yet the cycle safety debate is typically dominated by this one side issue.
  • Behaviour of people on bikes, behaviour of people in cars and road conditions are the main three factors that determine bike safety, so governments that approach cycle safety from a helmet perspective are approaching the issue in the wrong way.
  • Mr Walker nevertheless chooses to wear a helmet most of the time.
  • Mr Walker also noted the benefits of cycling for making people more active, and reducing pollution.

[13]  We acknowledge that the news item provided a somewhat crude, truncated summary of Mr Walker’s position, and that Mr Walker’s position on mandatory helmet laws was not explicitly referred to in the news item. However, we also recognise that condensing the essence of the 16-minute interview into a 25-second news item necessarily required the broadcaster to exercise editorial discretion in order to briefly summarise the interview discussion for listeners.

[14]  While it may have been helpful for the item to refer to mandatory helmet legislation, viewing the item objectively, we do not consider the ideas summarised in the news item were so materially different from those covered in the interview, that listeners’ understanding of the item would have been significantly affected, or that it reached the threshold for finding a breach of the accuracy standard.

[15]  The angle which the broadcaster chose to highlight in the brief item – that in Mr Walker’s view helmets can put people off cycling and are not as significant to cycle safety as commonly thought – broadly captured, in practical terms, the essence of the key themes discussed by Mr Walker in the interview, from his book. Taking an objective view, we do not consider the point that Mr Walker chooses to wear a helmet himself would have materially altered the angle of the item or the way his position was portrayed. We note the introduction to Mr Walker’s book, How Cycling Can Save the World, reads:3

I delve into the mysterious and counterintuitive world of helmets and high-visibility gear later in the book. But it’s worth immediately noting this: while they’re not inherently bad, they’re less a safety device for cycling than a symptom of a road network where no cyclist can truly feel safe.

[16]  For these reasons, we find overall that the alleged harm caused by the item did not outweigh the right to freedom of expression, taking into account the objectives of the accuracy standard. We do not consider listeners were misinformed at a level which justifies our intervention and restricting freedom of expression.

[17]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint.

 

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

 


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
9 March 2018  

 


Appendix

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

1     Kevin McCready’s formal complaint – 8 November 2017
2     RNZ’s response to the complaint – 5 December 2017
3     Mr McCready’s referral to the Authority – 19 December 2017
4     RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 22 December 2017


‘Cycling helmets: do we actually need them?’, https://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=2018618841

2  Attorney General of Samoa and TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110 at [98]

Peter Walker, How Cycling Can Save the World, Introduction, xii