BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McDonald and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-158

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Donald McDonald
Number
2014-158
Programme
Seven Sharp
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

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

During an episode of Seven Sharp one of the presenters made comments about Guy Fawkes celebrations and fireworks. The complainant alleged that the presenter's comment, 'Did you know a burning sparkler is five times hotter than boiling water?' was inaccurate. The Authority declined to determine the complaint on the basis it was trivial. The presenter was giving her opinion about the likelihood of fireworks being banned and her mention of the temperature of sparklers would not have materially altered viewers' understanding of the item.

Declined to Determine: Accuracy


Introduction

[1]  During her 'final word' segment on Guy Fawkes night, a Seven Sharp presenter gave her views on the likelihood of fireworks being banned in future, saying:

We've got Guy Fawke's tonight, guys. You need to go out and enjoy it because we all know it's only a matter of time before we're not allowed to buy [fireworks]... probably even sparklers. And did you know that a burning sparkler is five times hotter than boiling water? Now you do. Because the anti-fireworks people have made sure we know how dangerous they are. Every year that we talk about whether to ban the fireworks is a year closer to actually banning them – it's almost inevitable. So tonight when you light your backyard display, please do it as responsibly as you can, because the less trouble we have tonight, the longer we'll keep the inevitable ban at bay.

[2]  Donald McDonald complained that her reference to the temperature of burning sparklers was inaccurate.

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

[4]  The item was broadcast on TV ONE on 5 November 2014. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast 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 was difficult to understand. His issue seemed to be that the presenter's comment showed a poor understanding of the Celsius scale of temperature and needed a 'facts check'. He argued that the statement was material because it was the first sentence of the item.

[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 alleged 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 Here he has suggested that the presenter's comment was material because it was the opening sentence. In fact this comment appeared in the middle of the segment. In any case, we disagree that the reference to the temperature of sparklers was material to the presenter's main message, which was a plea to viewers to use fireworks responsibly on Guy Fawke's night as she considered it 'almost inevitable' that fireworks would one day be banned completely. The segment clearly comprised the presenter's opinion and the reference to sparklers would not have affected viewers' understanding of her message.

[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
Chair
1 April 2015

Appendix

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

1     Donald McDonald's formal complaint – 14 November 2014
2     TVNZ's response to the complaint – 11 December 2014
3     Mr McDonald's referral to the Authority – 19 December 2014
4     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