Robertson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1999-043, 1999-044
- S R Maling (Chair)
- J Withers
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- John D Robertson
ProgrammeOne Network News
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
An item on One Network News, broadcast on TV One on 29 December 1998 commencing at 6.00pm, referred to the millennium celebrations being organised for the City of Gisborne, and stated they were to take place on 1 January 2000. At the conclusion of the 6.00pm news programme, TV One displayed a digital clock counting down the time to the start of the year 2000.
Mr Robertson complained to Television New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the news item and the digital clock display were inaccurate and unreliable. The year 2000, he wrote, was the last year of the twentieth century, and the next millennium started in the year 2001.
TVNZ responded that it was accurate to reflect the fact that by broad popular international consensus, that part of the world which used the Christian calendar would mark the birth of the new millennium as midnight passed on the last day of 1999. It declined to uphold the complaints.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Robertson referred his complaints 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 complaints.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the items complained about, and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.
Mr Robertson complained to TVNZ that an item on One Network News at 6.00pm on 29 December 1998 contained a statement that the City of Gisborne would be the first to greet the new millennium, and that this would occur on January 1, 2000. At the conclusion of the news programme, a digital clock was shown, he said, which indicated a daily countdown of time to the start of the year 2000.
Both items, Mr Robertson wrote, were presented inaccurately. He argued:
…it is clear that the year 2000 is the last year of the 20th century, and not the first year of the 21st. The current millennium started in AD1001, the next will start in 2001. There never was a year Zero!
TVNZ considered the complaints in the context of standards G14 and G15 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These standards provide:
G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.
G15 The standards of integrity and reliability of information sources in news, current affairs and documentaries should be monitored regularly.
TVNZ has examined the question of the millennium on a number of occasions and we believe that it is accurate to reflect the fact that by broad popular international consensus the world (or that part of it that uses the Christian calendar) will mark the birth of the new millennium as midnight passes on the last day of this year.
TVNZ stated that it understood Mr Robertson’s calculation and accepted that it made sense, but it added that the calculation was based on a date that was wrong. Historians now agreed, it wrote, that the sixth century calculations which established the birth date of Christ, and thus the beginning of the first millennium, were wrong. TVNZ pointed out some other historical changes to time which, it said, indicated "the arbitrariness of the occasion". Thus, it concluded, its view of the millennium was that it was not so much a historical moment in time, as:
… a concept, an occasion – for celebrating and partying certainly – but more importantly for reflection and renewal. It’s a time when individuals, companies, communities and governments launch projects having an aesthetic and moral foundation. A time for reassessment.
TVNZ declined to find a breach of standard G14, and contended that the items accurately reflected the fact that whatever arguments were raised against it, the world would be celebrating the arrival of the third millennium on 1 January 2000.
It did not consider standard G15 relevant to the complaint, TVNZ added, stating that its sources for the use of the millennium date were international popular consensus.
In referring his complaints to the Authority, Mr Robertson maintained:
It is my contention that, at the start of the first millennium, during the time of the Roman Empire, the first year of the millennium was 0001AD. There has never been a year Zero, as no symbol for zero is contained in ancient Roman numeracy. By common consensus the term of a millennium is one thousand years. The second millennium covered the period 1001–2000AD, and the third will begin in 2001.
Mr Robertson also referred to some material which advanced the opinion that the new millennium would officially start at the stroke of midnight on 31 December 2000 on the prime meridian at Greenwich. In New Zealand therefore the new millennium would officially start at midday on 1 January 2001.
When invited to comment, TVNZ advised that it had nothing further to add to its earlier response to Mr Robertson.
The Authority’s Findings
The issue raised on this occasion was considered by the Authority in an earlier decision (1997-013, dated 13.2.97). The Authority declined to uphold the complaint on that occasion, and reaches a similar decision on this occasion.
The Authority is of the view that mathematical arguments as to the start of the next millennium are incidental to the celebration of the change in numbers from 1999 to 2000. It considers that TVNZ is justified in accepting the widespread consensus on when the celebrations will occur.
With reference to the standards cited on this occasion, the Authority does not consider that standard G14 is contravened as it does not accept that it is its task to decide the issue of factual accuracy in relation to this issue. It agrees with TVNZ that standard G15 is not relevant.
For the reasons given above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
29 April 1998
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. J D Robertson’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Limited – 12 January 1999
2. TVNZ’s Response to J D Robertson – 22 January 1999-03-23
3. Mr Robertson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 17 February 1999
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 25 February 1999