BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McLean and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2017-015 (26 April 2017)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Ian McLean
Number
2017-015
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TVNZ 1

Summary

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

An item on 1 News reported on John Key’s resignation and the legacy he would leave behind after his term as Prime Minister. The item covered a number of significant events during Mr Key’s time in office, including his involvement in deploying troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes, and the flag referendum (among others). The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this item was misleading and unfair in describing Mr Key’s legacy. The selection of events to include in, and the overall tone of, the item were matters of editorial discretion open to the broadcaster. In the context of a brief summary of highlights from Mr Key’s career, the audience would not have expected an in-depth discussion or analysis of the events discussed. The item, while at times critical, did not stray into personal abuse of Mr Key and the item was accurate in describing events that occurred during Mr Key’s term as Prime Minister.

Not Upheld: Balance, Fairness, Accuracy


Introduction

[1]  An item on 1 News reported on John Key’s resignation and the legacy he would leave behind after his term as Prime Minister. The item referenced a number of significant events during Mr Key’s time in office, including his involvement in deploying troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes, and the flag referendum (among others).

[2]  Ian McLean complained that the item covered only irrelevant, negative or trivial aspects of John Key’s time in office, and did not provide viewers with a balanced or accurate summary of his achievements. Mr McLean submitted that the item was presented as an assessment of a retiring Prime Minister’s legacy, and instead would have misled future generations as to Mr Key’s success as Prime Minister.

[3]  The issues raised in Mr McLean’s complaint are whether the broadcast breached the balance, fairness and accuracy standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item was broadcast during the 6pm news on 5 December 2016 on TVNZ 1. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the item amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance that was required to be balanced?

[5]  The balance standard (Standard 8) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest. The standard exists to ensure that competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.

The parties’ submissions

[6]  Mr McLean submitted that:

  • Overall, the broadcast lacked balance by excluding Mr Key’s successes as Prime Minister (such as his leadership through the 2007–8 global financial crisis, settling the bulk of outstanding Treaty of Waitangi claims, and increasing benefit levels), and by focusing only on events which were irrelevant, negative or trivial, therefore misleading future generations as to his legacy.
  • The item’s discussion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (TPP) was largely critical, and suggested that the deal would be a failure under Donald Trump’s administration in the United States. No other foreign affairs successes or failures were discussed. This was ‘grossly unbalanced’ (and unfair).
  • The positive comment about Mr Key’s role during the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes was qualified by the later comment about the Pike River disaster, which was again unbalanced and unfair.

[7]  TVNZ submitted that it was reasonable for the reporter to mention the topics covered during the item, and Mr McLean’s submissions as to what he would have preferred to be included in the item amounted to his own personal preference, and could not be resolved by the formal complaints process. It noted however that Mr Key gave his perspective on the TPP deal during the item when he said, ‘...there’s going to be some regrets and one of them is that we didn’t get the TPP over the line’.

Our analysis

[8]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes that discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.1

[9]  The focus of this item was presenting a brief overview of John Key’s legacy, following his announcement that he would be retiring as Prime Minister. In this context a number of events that occurred during Mr Key’s term were briefly referred to. This did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance which triggered the requirement to provide balance.

[10]  We agree with the broadcaster that the selection of events for inclusion in the item was a matter of editorial discretion rather than an issue of broadcasting standards. While Mr McLean may have preferred different events to be featured, this does not mean that broadcasting standards have been breached. Viewers also would not have expected from this item a balanced or in-depth discussion of the issues referenced, such as Mr Key’s role in the TPP trade deal and deployment of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. The omission of such information did not result in the item being unbalanced.

[11]  In any event, we note that the item did include positive comments about Mr Key’s leadership, for example:

  • Reporter: ‘He’s been one of the most popular, and sometimes most awkward, Prime Ministers the country’s seen. John Key sailed high in the polls since being elected in 2008 and shepherded through social, political and financial reforms’.
  • Reporter: ‘Mass protests didn’t stop him signing the Trans-Pacific trade deal, but Donald Trump’s presidency seems to have killed it off anyway.’
    John Key: ‘There’s going to be some regrets, and one of them is that we didn’t get TPP over the line.’
  • Reporter: ‘Through the Christchurch, and now the Kaikoura, earthquakes, John Key’s been seen as calm in a crisis, although the Pike River mine disaster’s tested that’.

[12]  Further, there was substantial media coverage following the announcement and leading up to Mr Key’s resignation, much of which presented considered, and often positive, analysis of Mr Key’s legacy as Prime Minister.2

[13]  We therefore do not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Was any individual or organisation taking part or referred to in the broadcast treated unfairly?

[14]  The fairness standard (Standard 11) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.3

The parties’ submissions

[15]  Mr McLean submitted that:

  • The item was unfair to John Key as it presented a misleading perspective of his legacy. It featured trivial and ‘quirky’ events, and while these may have attracted public interest and media attention, they ‘were not something that he left for future generations’.
  • The reporter’s final comment that ‘politics can age you and make family time a rare luxury’, was not a fair assessment for an outgoing Prime Minister.

[16]  TVNZ submitted that:

  • The fairness standard does not prevent criticism of public figures and none of the commentary in the item strayed into the personally abusive.4
  • It was not inaccurate (or unfair) to include other events, which were more than simply ‘quirky’, in a summary of Mr Key’s career (such as ‘Ponytail-gate’, allegations made by Nicky Hager in his book, Dirty Politics, and Kim Dotcom’s address to the Parliamentary Select Committee).

Our analysis

[17]  We acknowledge that the item contained critical comments about Mr Key’s leadership. However the Authority has previously found that the threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to politicians or public figures is higher than for a lay person or someone unfamiliar with the media.5

[18]  We are satisfied that the audience would not have been left with an unduly negative impression of Mr Key, and that he was not treated unfairly. Any critical commentary was balanced with positive aspects of Mr Key’s leadership, and while the item covered humorous or unusual aspects of his term (for example, his catwalk for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and ‘ponytail gate’), this was an editorial choice open to the broadcaster. It was reasonable to refer to these events as they attracted significant public interest and media coverage at the time.

[19]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint under Standard 11.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[20]  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

[21]  Mr McLean submitted that:

  • The item was misleading, as it did not provide an accurate assessment of Mr Key’s legacy and included only trivial or ‘quirky’ events.
  • It was inaccurate to suggest that Mr Key’s involvement in either Iraq or Afghanistan contributed to his legacy, as he did not initiate the involvement of New Zealand forces in either country, or remove them.

[22]  TVNZ in its submissions:

  • Disagreed that the reporter’s statement regarding Mr Key’s involvement in deployment of New Zealand troops was incorrect.6
  • Maintained it was not inaccurate or unfair to include other events in Mr Key’s term, such as ‘ponytail-gate’ or Mr Key’s catwalk appearance.

Our analysis

[23]  We have addressed the complainant’s concerns regarding the selection of events included in the item in our consideration of the balance and fairness standards above, and in our view the same reasoning applies under the accuracy standard.

[24]  We do not consider it was misleading for the item to refer to Mr Key’s involvement in decisions surrounding the deployment of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, in the context of a brief summary of the significant aspects of his term as Prime Minister. The broadcaster has provided evidence that Mr Key took responsibility for deployment of troops to Iraq, and similar media coverage followed the decision to deploy New Zealand Special Air Service soldiers to Afghanistan.7 As Prime Minister and leader of the Government at the time, Mr Key was responsible to the public for such decisions.

[25]  Accordingly, we 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
26 April 2017

 

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1      Ian McLean’s formal complaint – 3 January 2017
2      TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 13 February 2017
3      Mr McLean’s referral to the Authority – 12 March 2017
4      TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 24 March 2017

 

 


1 For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)

2 See, for example: John's gone: The end of NZ's Mr Feelgood (RNZ, 5 December 2016);  Opinion: Leadership may be poisoned chalice for John Key's successor (1 News, 5 December 2016);  The John Key legacy (Otago Daily Times, 6 December 2016); Audrey Young: How John Key won't leave a NZ legacy and why it doesn't matter (NZ Herald, 10 December 2016); John Key's legacy: A confident New Zealand (Newshub, 21 March 2017)

3 Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

4 Citing Bolster and Latimer and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-186 

5 Kiro and RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-108; Craig and 4 Others and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-034 

6 The broadcaster referred the complainant to footage in which Mr Key could be seen defending the decision to send troops to Iraq: ‘Get some guts and join the right side’ - John Key lashes out as he sends NZ troops to Iraq for Isis fight (NZ Herald, 24 February 2015) 

7 See SAS to be deployed in Afghanistan (Stuff.co.nz, 10 August 2009)