BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Morgan and CanWest Radio NZ Ltd - 2003-097

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa
Dated
Complainant
  • Thomas Morgan
Number
2003-097
Broadcaster
CanWest Radio NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
More FM Wellington

Complaint
Weather Forecast More FM Wellington  reference to approaching storm by announcer  inaccurate

Findings
Principle 6 – local weather forecast supplemented by telephone calls from listeners not news and current affairs – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The weather forecasts broadcast on More FM in Wellington between 4.00–6.00pm on 25 June 2003 referred to the possibility of hail, thunder and snow. The announcer added that a storm was approaching.

[2] Thomas Morgan complained to CanWest Radio NZ Ltd, the broadcaster, that the comment about an approaching storm was inaccurate, and that it was not based on a warning issued by Metservice.

[3] In response CanWest Radio said that the announcer’s comment was based on information from callers on the South Coast who advised that a storm was on the way. It denied that the forecast was inaccurate.

[4] Dissatisfied with CanWest Radio’s response, Mr Morgan referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. CanWest Radio was unable to supply a tape of the broadcast. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] A weather forecast which referred to hail and thunder, and snow at night, was broadcast by More FM in Wellington a number of times between 4.00–6.00pm on Wednesday 25 June 2003.

The Complaint

[7] Mr Morgan stated that the weather forecast broadcast by More FM between 5.00–6.00pm on 25 June included a storm warning. The storm warning, he wrote, was "unwarranted" and may have been responsible for the major traffic congestion which occurred in Wellington at that time.

[8] In support of his complaint, he enclosed three forecasts for Wellington between 1.05pm and 4.27pm on 25 June prepared by the Meteorology Service of New Zealand Ltd (Metservice), none of which referred to a storm. He also enclosed a report from Metservice, dated 27 June, which advised that there were no "special warnings, watches or alerts of any kind for Wellington" on 25 June.

The Standards

[9] The broadcaster did not nominate a standard against which it assessed the complaint. The Authority considers that Principle 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice is applicable. It reads:

Principle 6

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] More FM denied that it was responsible for the traffic problems. It recalled that the weather forecast broadcast during the afternoon of 25 June referred to 45km/h winds followed by rain, possibly hail and thunder, and to expect snow down to 700 metres. It added:

In addition a southerly front was clearly visible approaching the city and we had received two separate calls from listeners on the south coast saying they could see a "hell of a storm" coming.

[11] More FM continued:

I do not believe the term storm warning was used; rather the announcer said a storm was on the way. I believe that it was reasonable to say a storm was on the way given the reports received, along with what was visible after a day of blue skies.

[12] After noting that the storm did not eventuate as the weather changed direction, More FM said it had changed its forecast after an update came to hand at 6.20pm. It did not remember an earlier change at 4.27pm. More FM explained to the complainant:

… there is no benefit in broadcasting incorrect information, it only damages our credibility.

[13] Furthermore, More FM referred to some problems with the traffic lights at a central city intersection which might have added to the traffic problems on the evening of 25 June. It concluded:

I do apologise if you feel that we have inconvenienced you in any way but I am confident that my announcer has behaved in a professional and correct manner.

[14] More FM later advised the Authority:

We are unable to provide a copy of the afternoon show referred to in the complaint, as we do not record this programme because there is little in the way of listener interaction and we were unaware a copy may be required.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[15] Mr Morgan advised that he had now learned of the widespread failure of traffic lights on 25 June but, he added:

In fact, the traffic matter is not the prime area of concern but the weather forecast itself, and of course it would be rather advantageous to think that one radio station could bring the city’s traffic to a stand-still.

[16] Mr Morgan contended:

the warning of a storm was a storm warning whether or not issued by the Metservice;

it was not reliable to rely on the public for weather forecasts; and

the 4.27pm report issued by the Metservice should have been used by the broadcaster.

[17] He added:

I am wondering if receiving Metservice forecasts preclude [broadcasters] from broadcasting other information and if not, perhaps it should.

It is hoped that you will agree that although this matter now appears to be relatively minor, correcting the causes of it may be of future significance.

The Authority’s Determination

[18] The Authority notes that a range of weather forecasts are broadcast and that some – such as a mountain or a marine forecast – are regarded as more detailed and therefore more authoritative and reliable than others. However, regardless of the specificity of the material broadcast, the Authority points out that weather forecasts are just that – forecasts. The Authority acknowledges that while there are many occasions when the weather may merit news coverage, weather forecasts per se are not "news and current affairs" as envisaged by the Radio Code. They are forecasts which the public accepts may sometimes be subject to change. Indeed, the Authority also observes that the accuracy or otherwise of a weather forecast is a frequent topic of conversation.

[19] On the occasion complained about, the weather forecast provided by the Metservice apparently was complemented by telephone calls from listeners about a storm seen to be approaching, and the announcer might have advised listeners that a "hell of a storm" was on the way. However, the storm bypassed Wellington.

[20] The Authority acknowledges that the forecasts as broadcast by More FM, which were supplemented by listeners’ telephone calls and which may have included comments by the announcer of an approaching storm, may have been inaccurate. However, for the reasons already given, it does not consider that the strict requirement for accuracy in Principle 6 of the Radio Code has precisely the same application to weather forecasts. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

[21] The Authority expresses its disappointment that the broadcaster was unable to supply a tape of the broadcast. In 2002, the Authority entered into an agreement with the Radio Broadcaster’s Association after it was advised that The Radio Network and CanWest group recorded virtually all networked content. The Authority intends to write to the Radio Broadcaster’s Association to ask that CanWest be reminded of its responsibility to provide tapes of broadcasts complained about to the Authority.

[22] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards and applies them in a manner which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
28 August 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Thomas Morgan’s Complaint to CanWest Radio Ltd – 1 July 2003
  2. CanWest Radio’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 1 July 2003
  3. Mr Morgan’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 3 July 2003
  4. CanWest Radio’s Response to the Authority – 8 July 2003
  5. Mr Morgan’s Final Comment – 13 July 2003
  6. CanWest Radio’s Advice Regarding Tape Retention – 4 August 2003