BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Rossiter and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2015-022

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Patrick Rossiter
Number
2015-022
Programme
3 News
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 4

Summary

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

The 3 News political editor reported on proposed legislative changes to pay rises for Members of Parliament. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the item was unbalanced and inaccurate in that the editor 'presented... opinion as fact' and used 'highly emotive language'. The report provided sufficient balance, and the statements complained of were clearly the editor's opinion and analysis rather than statements of fact to which the accuracy standard applied.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Accuracy


Introduction

[1] The 3 News political editor reported on proposed legislative changes to pay rises for Members of Parliament. The item contained some analysis from the editor, excerpts of a press conference given by Prime Pat John Key and graphics depicting how the law change would affect MPs' pay.

[2] Patrick Rossiter complained that the political editor used 'highly emotive language to report on items which should be presented as factual' and presented the story 'in an unbalanced style leading to presentation of his opinion as fact'. In particular, he took issue with the political editor saying '[t]he Prime Minister has got a massive case of the guilts' and 'MPs have taken [pay rises] quite greedily at times' because it attributed emotions and motives to the Prime Minister and MPs which he could not possibly know about.

[3] The issue is whether the broadcast breached the controversial issues and accuracy standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4] The item was broadcast on TV3 on 2 March 2015. 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 discuss a controversial issue of public importance which required the presentation of alternative viewpoints?

[5] The balance standard (Standard 4) 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 arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.1

[6] Mr Rossiter argued that the political editor's report was 'unbalanced' and '[a]t no stage was an opposing perspective offered', either in the item or within the period of current interest. He submitted that if the political editor 'was to provide some reasoned analysis he might say that this arrangement was created by a past government so that the ability to influence their pay was taken out of the hands of MPs, but he simply ignores this fact'.

[7] MediaWorks argued that 'a range of analysis on this and other political issues can be found in the [period of current] interest in other news programmes on [TV3], and in the full spectrum of mainstream media'. It referred the Authority to other media covering this matter. It also said that '[the editor's] analysis is distinct from the factual material within the story, thereby allowing the viewer to form their own opinion on the analytical content of the story'.

[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 which 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'.2 The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a 'significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public'.3 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.4

[9] The item was introduced with the statement, 'If you're an MP, your recent pay rise is cancelled. The Government's changing the law...' The political editor then opened the item by saying 'the Prime Minister has got a massive case of the guilts' in relation to the issue of MPs' pay. Excerpts of a press conference given by Prime Minister John Key followed, in which he explained the reason for the legislative change by saying, for example, 'I think MPs are getting too much, so we'll change the system'. The item showed graphics depicting how the proposed legislative change would affect MPs' pay. The political editor followed this with his analysis:

It has to be said, this change could have been made any time in the last five years, but these MPs have, quite greedily at times actually, taken this up. But this time around, there's a difference. The Government is going to have to go out there and negotiate some big pay contracts with the public sector – doctors, nurses, all sorts of bureaucrats – and they are asking them to take about one per cent. So it was actually untenable and incredibly embarrassing for the Government to go out there and try and do this when they're getting such big pay rises. John Key had to act. Also, he knows he's going to get a bit of a populist sugar hit for being the man who has stood in the way of these big pay rises, so a pretty easy decision for the Prime Minister to make...

[10] While the issue of pay rises for MPs is an issue of public importance, given that it concerns the use of public funds to pay the salaries of elected representatives, we are not satisfied that media coverage of this urgent law change demonstrates that it was controversial, with most simply reporting that a law change would occur and what its impact would be on MPs' pay rises.5

[11] Mr Rossiter's primary concern appears to be this particular political editor's style and his 'emotive' language which he considered led to the reporter's opinion being presented as fact. We think the audience does expect something more from political editors (as opposed to reporters presenting the facts), namely some robust analysis and political commentary. We consider that viewers would have had little difficulty in distinguishing the editor's references to the Prime Minister's 'case of the guilts' and to MPs 'greedily' accepting pay rises as the opinion and analysis of the editor, rather than fact. In any case, the item contained excerpts of an interview with the Prime Minister, who explained his rationale for the legislative change, saying:

I think MPs are getting too much, so we'll change the system. ...We should be paid, as pay increases, no more, in my view, than the average of what nurses and doctors and teachers and other state employees are paid... so we're changing the law.

[12] For these reasons we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[13] The accuracy standard (Standard 5) 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 receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.6

[14] Mr Rossiter argued that the editor 'presented as facts' what was 'at best his unstated analysis presented in a clearly partial manner'. In particular, he took issue with the statements by the editor that '[t]he Prime Minister has got a massive case of the guilts' and 'MPs have taken [pay rises] quite greedily at times'. He said the editor was in breach of Guideline 5c, which says that news should be impartial.

[15] MediaWorks pointed out that a political editor's role is interpretation and analysis and did not consider the comments identified by the complainant were required to be accurate on the basis they were clearly the editor's opinion.

[16] Guideline 5a states that the accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion. As we have said above in relation to balance, the comments complained of were clearly the political editor's analysis of, and commentary on, the legislative changes around pay rises for MPs, and we agree with MediaWorks that this was consistent with audience expectations of a political editor. Terms such as 'a case of the guilts' and 'greedily' are clearly subjective and viewers would have understood them as such.

[17] Accordingly we decline to uphold the accuracy complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Te Raumawhitu Kupenga

Authority Member

15 July 2015

 


Appendix

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

1      Patrick Rossiter's formal complaint – 3 March 2015

2      MediaWorks' response to the complaint – 30 March 2015

3      Mr Rossiter's referral to the Authority – 2 April 2015

4      MediaWorks' response to the Authority – 4 May 2015

5      Mr Rossiter's final comment – 5 May 2015

6      MediaWorks' final comment – 6 May 2015

 


Commerce Commission and TVWorks LtdDecision No. 2008-014

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

Powell and CanWest TVWorks LtdDecision No. 2005-125

See, for example, Dewe and TVWorks LtdDecision No. 2008-076

5 See, for example: ‘MPs act to lower own pay rises’, Stuff, 9 March 2015; and ‘Law cutting MPs’ pay rise to be urgently passed’, New Zealand Herald, 9 March 2015 

Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd,Decision No. 2010-036