BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McDonald and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-150

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Donald McDonald
ONE News
TV One


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

Two ONE News items covered the lava eruption of Mount Kilauea that threatened a small town in Hawaii. The complainant alleged that the temperatures of the lava given in the news items were inaccurate. The Authority declined to determine the complaint on the basis it was trivial, as it related to a technical and insignificant aspect of the broadcast. The complainant continues to refer similar complaints to the Authority despite previous decisions.

Declined to determine: Accuracy


[1]  Two ONE News items covered the lava eruption of Mount Kilauea which threatened a small town in Hawaii.

[2]  Mr McDonald complained that references to the temperatures of the lava in the two items were inaccurate.

[3]  The issue is whether Mr McDonald's concerns raise issues of broadcasting standards of a level which warrant our determination.

[4]  The items were broadcast during the 6pm news on TV ONE on 29 and 31 October 2014. The members of the Authority have viewed recordings of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Does the complaint raise issues which warrant our determination?

[5]  Section 11 of the Broadcasting Act 1989 allows this Authority to decline to determine a complaint if it considers:

(a) that the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, or trivial; or

(b) that, in all the circumstances of the complaint, it should not be determined by the Authority.

[6]  The policy behind section 11 is that the time and resources of the Authority, which are, in the end, sustained by the people of New Zealand, should not be wasted in having to deal with matters which objectively have no importance.1 We will usually apply the ordinary meanings of the words frivolous, vexatious or trivial. A trivial complaint is one which is of little or no importance and is at such a level not to justify it being treated as a serious complaint.

[7]  Mr McDonald's complaint as it was expressed was confusing and difficult to comprehend. We understand his complaint to be that the description of the lava flow as '2000 degrees' (Fahrenheit) in the first broadcast and 'over 1000 degrees Celsius' in the second broadcast was too approximate and unreliable. He argued that it was unclear whether the temperatures were measured in Fahrenheit or Celsius, and that reporting the temperature as 'over 1000 degrees Celsius' was like reporting the weather temperature as 'over 100 degrees Celsius'. He provided information and calculations as to the usual temperature of Hawaiian/Basalt lava.

[8]  The accuracy standard is concerned only with 'material points of fact'. While we have some sympathy for what appears to be Mr McDonald's underlying concern – that broadcasters sometimes show a lack of understanding of science – we consider that this complaint is another example of Mr McDonald's continued fixation with technical inaccuracies.2 He has previously been advised by the High Court that in referring complaints to this Authority, he must clearly demonstrate why he considers an alleged error is material to the broadcast.3 He has not articulated why, or convinced us, that the references to temperature in these news items were material. The focus of these items was that a Hawaiian town was at risk of being destroyed by the lava flow. The references to temperature identified by Mr McDonald would not have significantly altered the audience's understanding of this message. Reasonable viewers would easily have comprehended that the lava which posed a serious threat to the town and to residents was extremely hot and footage clearly demonstrated the damage it was causing.

[9]  On this basis, we find Mr McDonald's complaint is trivial and we decline to determine the complaint.

For the above reasons the Authority declines to determine the complaint under section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
1 April 2015


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

1     Donald McDonald's formal complaint – 29 October 2014
2     Mr McDonald's further comments on the complaint – 14 November 2014
3     TVNZ's response to the complaint – 25 November 2014
4     Mr McDonald's referral to the Authority – 27 November 2014
5     TVNZ's response to the Authority – 13 February 2015



1Practice Note: Section 11 powers to decline to determine a complaint (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2013)

2See McDonald and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2012-100

3McDonald v Television New Zealand Ltd, CIV 2011-485-1836, per France J