BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McDonald and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2007-073

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Donald McDonald
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Tonight – statement that the average household spends 20 percent more on electricity than it did 20 years ago – allegedly inaccurate

Standard 5 (accuracy) – reasonable viewers would have understood that the statement referred to 20 percent of household budget, not 20 percent more money – not inaccurate – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An item on Tonight, broadcast on TV One at 10.30pm on 31 May 2007, discussed the recent death of a woman whose power had been switched off by an electricity company. The reporter said the woman’s death had:

…thrown the spotlight on the huge increases in power prices in the past 20 years. The average household now spends 20 percent more on electricity.


[2]   Donald McDonald made a formal complaint about the item to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster. He alleged it was inaccurate to state that “the average household now spends 20 percent more on electricity”.


[3]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4]   TVNZ said that the information in the reporter’s closing statement had come from the Ministry of Economic Development’s paper on NZ Energy Indicators, which states:
Since 1988, the proportion of total household expenditure on domestic fuel and power increased by 20 percent. This is mostly increased expenditure on electricity, which is driven by both increases in the consumption and price of electricity.

[5]   Although this is a significant increase, the national average expenditure on domestic fuel and power is still less than 3.5 percent of total household expenditure.

TVNZ contended that the complainant had confused the figure given by the report (which referred to the total increase in household expenditure) with proportion of household expenditure which, according to the Ministry of Economic Development, was a considerably lower figure.

[6]   The broadcaster found that Standard 5 was not breached.

Referral to the Authority

[7]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr McDonald referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He stated that using a figure of “20 percent more” implied that people were spending 20 percent more money. To be accurate, he said, the item should have stated that they were spending 20 percent more of their household budget on electricity.

Authority's Determination

[8]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[9]   Mr McDonald’s complaint is that the statement that the “average household now spends 20 percent more on electricity” implied that people were spending 20 percent more money on electricity than they were 20 years ago. To be accurate, he said, the item should have stated that people were spending 20 percent more of their household budget on electricity.

[10]   In the Authority’s view, a reasonable viewer, understanding the reality of inflation and the increase in the price of electricity in the last 20 years, would not have interpreted the reporter’s statement in the manner suggested by the complainant. It would have been obvious to viewers that, because the price of electricity has increased by such a substantial amount over the past 20 years, the reporter was not referring to an increase in dollar amount but an increase in the proportion of household spending.

[11]   Accordingly the Authority finds that the statement would not have misled viewers and it declines to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
25 September 2007


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

1.            Donald McDonald’s formal complaint – 19 June 2007
2.           TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 23 July 2007
3.           Mr McDonald’s referral to the Authority – 26 July 2007
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 3 August 2007