BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Ryan and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-022

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Mark Ryan
Number
2009-022
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – report on poll results showing an increase in support for New Zealand becoming a republic – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – poll results presented accurately – no need to authenticate presenter’s statements or explain why survey was commissioned – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – individuals referred to treated fairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on Friday 2 January 2009, reported on the results of a recent poll showing an increase in support for the view that New Zealand should become a republic. The presenter introduced the item by saying:

It’s one of those thorny issues that inflames passion on both sides and now there’s more fuel for those who want to ditch the monarchy and make New Zealand a republic.

[2]   The item explained that Queen Elizabeth had been New Zealand’s Head of State “for as long as many of us can remember”. A reporter then outlined the details of a recent survey stating:

A holiday poll by Research New Zealand of 500 people found 42 percent of Kiwis want us to consider becoming a republic. That’s up sharply from a poll in June which found 25 percent of New Zealanders favoured the republic option.

[3]   The item included two brief street interviews with members of the public who were in favour of New Zealand becoming a republic. The item also questioned several other members of the public about who should succeed Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles or Prince William. It also contained comment from Prime Minister John Key, who said:

Look, I don’t think New Zealand is going to want to move to a republic anytime real soon, I mean, I think it’s inevitable one day, but it’s not on my Government’s agenda.     

[4]   The reporter said:

The result puts us about on par with Australia, which Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has suggested could abandon the monarchy by the year 2020.

[5]   He went on to explain that New Zealand’s constitution would enable it to quickly become a republic, unlike Australia. The reporter said that New Zealand’s Head of State could be decided by Parliament or the electorate, and provided details revealed by the poll about the differences in support between young men and women on the issue. The reporter concluded by saying that Prince William was “looking good to be our last royal Head of State”.   

[6]   The presenter ended the item by saying that the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percent.

Complaint

[7]   Mark Ryan made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair.

[8]   With respect to balance, Mr Ryan argued that the item focused solely on the increase in support for New Zealand becoming a republic. He considered that the item did not properly reflect that a majority of New Zealanders continued to support the monarchy.

[9]   The complainant noted that two brief interviews were shown with members of the public who expressed reasons why New Zealand should become a republic. He believed that the item was unbalanced because it did not contain any contrary views from members of the public in support of the monarchy.

[10]   Mr Ryan argued that the item was inaccurate because it did not properly present the results of the survey, noting that the level of support for the monarchy or those who were undecided was not explicitly stated. He also noted that the item “failed to identify who commissioned the survey or why it was commissioned”. The complainant argued that the item had “stated as fact that the level of support for a republic was the same as that of Australia” and that the “story did not authenticate this statement”, leaving viewers to take the word of the news presenter.

[11]   With respect to fairness, the complainant argued that the story was “a slanted pro-republican piece of propaganda”, giving the impression that there was a groundswell of support for a republic and that it was only a matter of time before this became a reality. He said, “The only question asked of people interviewed who were not pro-republican was who they preferred as the next monarch, Prince Charles or Prince William, and William was preferred because he was better looking, which simply ridicules both princes and the sovereign”.  

Standards

[12]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[13]   TVNZ argued that the report was balanced. It noted that the item had included interviews with people on the street, “which is a traditional method of augmenting poll figures into a visual story for television”. The broadcaster contended that, while those interviewed supported the idea of New Zealand becoming a republic, comment was provided by the Prime Minister that made the item balanced.

[14]   The broadcaster considered that appropriate viewpoints were sought by the programme and that those viewpoints were adequately presented. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4.

[15]   With respect to Standard 5 (accuracy), TVNZ disagreed with Mr Ryan’s contention that the item did not properly present the results of the survey. It argued it was evident in the report that a majority of New Zealanders still supported the monarchy and, considering the focus of the item was the apparent upswing in support for a republic, its description of the survey was acceptable.

[16]   The broadcaster pointed out that the item had explained that the research had been conducted by Research New Zealand and that questions about who commissioned the survey and why were irrelevant to the focus of the item. It said that the reporter’s comments regarding Australia were included to provide a comparison on what nations similar to New Zealand thought about the issue. The broadcaster was satisfied that the nature of the comments did not require authentication in the item. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item was inaccurate.

[17]   Turning to fairness, TVNZ considered that all persons taking part or referred to in the item were treated fairly. It did not consider that asking people in the street about who they preferred as their next monarch constituted unfairness or ridicule of either the princes or the role of the sovereign. It declined to uphold the complaint that the report breached Standard 6.   

Referral to the Authority

[18]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Ryan referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The complainant reiterated his belief that the item breached standards of balance, accuracy and fairness.

[19]   Mr Ryan argued that the item should have contained comment from the Monarchist League or anyone else who was able to state the case in favour of the monarchy adequately.

Authority's Determination

[20]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 4 (balance)

[21]   Standard 4 requires that balance be provided when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes. On this occasion, the item did not purport to be a detailed examination of whether or not New Zealand should become a republic; it simply reported the latest development on the issue by reporting results of a recent poll.

[22]   In these circumstances, the Authority finds that the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance to which the balance standard applies. It declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[23]   Standard 5 requires broadcasters to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programmes are truthful and accurate on points of fact. Mr Ryan argued that the item was inaccurate because it did not properly present the results of the survey. The Authority disagrees. It considers that viewers would have realised that a majority of the population still supported the monarchy or were undecided, given that it was stated that only 42 percent of those polled supported the idea of New Zealand becoming a republic.

[24]   With respect to Mr Ryan’s contention that the item failed to identify who commissioned the survey and why, the Authority notes that the item explicitly stated that the survey was carried out by Research New Zealand. It finds that the reason why the survey was commissioned was not material to the item, and its omission was not misleading or inaccurate.

[25]   The complainant also argued that the reporter’s comment that the poll result “puts us about on par with Australia” required authentication. Mr Ryan has not provided any evidence to suggest that the reporter’s comment was inaccurate, and therefore the Authority has no basis upon which to uphold this part of his complaint.

[26]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[27]  Standard 6 requires that broadcasters deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. The complainant argued that the suggestion that Prince William was preferred over Prince Charles as the next monarch because he was better looking “simply ridicules both princes and the sovereign”. 

[28]   The Authority notes that the reporter stated, “Perhaps not surprisingly, the pin-up prince is more popular with young women”. He then asked three young women the question “Prince Charles or Prince William?” All three responded in favour of Prince William, with the last one saying “Prince William, better looking”. Picking up on this comment, the reporter stated that Prince William was “perhaps looking good to be our last royal Head of State”. 

[29]   The Authority considers that viewers would have known that there was far more to the question of who would succeed the Queen than who was better looking, and the reporter’s comment did not reflect negatively on either Prince. It finds that neither Prince William nor Prince Charles was treated unfairly.

[30]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
10 June 2009

Appendix

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

1.          Mark Ryan’s formal complaint – 5 January 2009
2.         TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 13 February 2009
3.         Mr Ryan’s referral to the Authority – 9 March 2009
4.         TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 9 April 2009