BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Roche and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2001-062

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • Maree Roche
Number
2001-062
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
One News – item on proposed "People’s Bank" – referred to New Zealand Post Chairman Dr Ross Armstrong – failure to mention his chairmanship of Television New Zealand Ltd – item lacked integrity and independence

Findings
Standard G14 – Dr Armstrong’s chairmanship of TVNZ irrelevant to item – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

An item on One News broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 19 February 2001 announced that the Chairman of New Zealand Post, Dr Ross Armstrong, wanted to meet with the Leader of the Opposition, Jenny Shipley, to find out who had leaked to her a copy of the business plan for the proposed "People’s Bank." The item reported that Mrs Shipley was in turn calling for Dr Armstrong to appear before the Parliamentary Commerce Select Committee after he had accused her of economic sabotage for releasing the leaked document. The reporter said Dr Armstrong had been asked for an interview but was "keeping quiet."

Maree Roche complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item failed to mention that Dr Armstrong was also the Chairman of Television New Zealand Ltd. In her view, failure to disclose that fact compromised the integrity and independence of the news item.

TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint, stating that it believed Ms Roche’s complaint was based on the incorrect assumption that Dr Armstrong, in his role as its Chairman, had some input into what was broadcast on TVNZ’s news programmes. Dr Armstrong’s position as Chairman of TVNZ had nothing to do with the New Zealand Post story, TVNZ said.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Roche referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

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

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

An item on One News broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 19 February 2001 announced that the Chairman of New Zealand Post, Dr Ross Armstrong, wanted to meet with the Leader of the Opposition, Jenny Shipley, to find out who had leaked to her a copy of the business plan for the proposed "People’s Bank". The item reported that Mrs Shipley was in turn calling for Dr Armstrong to appear before the Parliamentary Commerce Select Committee

after he had accused her of economic sabotage for releasing the leaked document. The reporter said Dr Armstrong had been asked for an interview but was "keeping quiet".

Maree Roche complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item failed to mention that Dr Armstrong was also the Chairman of Television New Zealand Ltd. She said:

Full disclosure is essential if your viewers are to be able to evaluate the news properly and this is particularly so if the item in question deals with attempts to constrain the free flow of information.

Ms Roche questioned the ability of the interviewer to be independent when interviewing the Chairman of the Board of his employer. She stated that the "principles of integrity, disclosure and independence" would be retained if future news items "of this kind" relating to New Zealand Post "clearly and explicitly state[d] [Dr Armstrong’s] role within Television New Zealand."

TVNZ assessed the complaint under standard G14 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which states:

G14  News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.

TVNZ said it believed Ms Roche’s complaint was "based on an assumption that Dr Armstrong, in his role as chairman of Television New Zealand Limited, has some input into what is broadcast on TVNZ’s news programmes." If its belief was correct, TVNZ said, then Ms Roche was wrong. The broadcaster wrote:

The Board of Television New Zealand has no part in the operation of our News and Current Affairs division, and indeed the company jealously and rigorously guards the editorial independence of that division. The Board makes broad company policy decisions; day to day matters come under the aegis of the executive team headed by TVNZ’s Chief Executive.

The broadcaster noted that its previous Chairman had at the same time been Chairman of Baycorp and the Auckland Philharmonia, and on the Board of Mercury Energy, and there had been no ethical requirement to mention her chairmanship of TVNZ in stories about those companies, unless directly relevant to the story being told.

In declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ stated:

It was the [Complaints] Committee’s opinion that on this occasion Dr Armstrong’s position as chairman of TVNZ had nothing to do with the New Zealand Post story being told. That he also chairs this company was irrelevant in the context.

Ms Roche advised TVNZ that its assumption that she had assumed Dr Armstrong had "some form of editorial control over the news" was invalid. She said:

My point is based entirely upon the need for objectivity and impartiality. Given all the publicity concerning the Chairman of TVNZ "bringing a new broom", changing the culture of excess and trimming back salaries etc I believe the independence of the interviewer and the rigour of the interview was compromised. For a Chairman who has publicly stated his desire to "get involved" in performance issues how could an employee maintain independence? The perception in my mind is that if you "ruffle" the Chairman you do so at your own risk including putting any performance pay at risk.

In her referral to the Authority, Ms Roche said she believed TVNZ had "failed in its obligations" to present the news accurately, objectively and impartially.

The Authority’s Findings

In the Authority’s view, the fact that Dr Armstrong is Chairman of the Board of Television New Zealand Ltd was irrelevant to the subject matter of the news item complained about. The Authority considers it was unnecessary for the item to mention his chairmanship of TVNZ in order to remain impartial, objective and independent, as standard G14 requires. The item reported on the leak of the business plan for the proposed "People’s Bank", and the Leader of the Opposition’s subsequent call for Dr Armstrong to appear before the Parliamentary Commerce Select Committee. Dr Armstrong was referred to in the item solely in his capacity as Chairman of New Zealand Post. In fact, in the Authority’s view, mentioning Dr Armstrong’s chairmanship of TVNZ could have given viewers the incorrect impression that there was some relationship between the two companies.

In addition, the Authority can find no evidence to support the complainant’s contention that the interviewer’s independence or integrity as a journalist may have been compromised by the fact of Dr Armstrong’s chairmanship of the interviewer’s employing company. Contrary to the complainant’s apparent recollection of the item, Dr Armstrong was not interviewed. Rather, the interviewer reported that he had been asked for an interview but was "now keeping quiet".

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
21 June 2001

Appendix

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

  1. Maree Roche’s Formal Complaint to TVNZ – 8 March 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 23 March 2001
  3. Ms Roche’s Further Letter to TVNZ – 7 April 2001
  4. Ms Roche’s Referral to the Authority – 22 April 2001
  5. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 1 May 2001