BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Scott and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2018-088 (18 December 2018)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainant
  • Carl Scott
Number
2018-088
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TVNZ 1

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a 1 News item, reporting on a national hikoi against the use of 1080, was unbalanced. The item focused on claims from the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Forest & Bird that the increased protest activity was resulting in a rise in threats to staff. The Authority recognised that the item addressed a controversial issue of public importance and found that it pointed to significant viewpoints on this issue, with comment sought from the hikoi organiser, as well as representatives from DOC, Forest & Bird and the Minister of Conservation. The issue was also widely reported in other news media, during the period of current interest, with viewers therefore likely to be aware of the main perspectives on this narrow issue associated with the 1080 debate. In these circumstances, the Authority found that upholding the complaint would represent an unreasonable and unjustified limit on the broadcasters’ right to editorial discretion and freedom of expression.

Not Upheld: Balance



The broadcast

[1]  An item on 1 News reported on a national hikoi against the use of 1080, focusing on claims from the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Forest & Bird that the increased protest activity was resulting in a rise in threats to staff.

[2]  The following comments were made during the item:

  • ‘They’ve been out in force across the country protesting against the poison 1080, used to protect New Zealand’s wildlife.’ (Reporter)
  • ‘This was always our wish for nationwide action simultaneous[ly].’ (Hikoi organiser)
  • ‘But this hikoi has also been blamed for a rise in threats to DOC staff and contractors.’ (Reporter)
  • ‘It has amped up, I’m worried for my staff. We are taking all of those threats seriously and we’ve put them with the Police.’ (DOC representative)
  • ‘We’ve had things like wheelnuts on vehicles being loosened, abuse of, threats to staff. That is not acceptable.’ (Minister of Conservation)
  • ‘The hikoi organiser says his group is not to blame.’ (Reporter)
  • ‘We are 100% peaceful, and legal, we will take these poisoners down.’ (Hikoi organiser)
  • ‘When people are talking about targeting families or children, then that’s getting pretty low.’ (Forest & Bird representative)

[3]  The item was broadcast during 1 News on 8 September 2018 on TVNZ 1.

The complaint and the broadcaster’s response

[4]  Carl Scott complained that the broadcast breached the balance standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, because in his view:

  • The hikoi was an event of national importance and it should have been reported in a balanced way.
  • Instead, the protestors were hurriedly interviewed, while DOC and Forest & Bird were given ample opportunity to have their say.
  • As a result, the report was one-sided and biased towards the ‘pro 1080 stance’ of DOC and Forest & Bird.

 [5]  TVNZ responded: 

  • The item discussed claims that the 1080 debate was resulting in threats to DOC and Forest & Bird staff, which amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance.
  • The item included significant viewpoints on this issue, including from the organiser of the hikoi.
  • Significant viewpoints were adequately presented during the item and within the period of current interest, with many news stories about the anti 1080 protests in surrounding news media.

The standard

[6]  The balance standard (Standard 8) 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.

Our findings

[7]  When we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we first look at the right to freedom of expression. We weigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. In this case, the complainant has alleged that the broadcast had the potential to leave viewers misinformed about the nature of the hikoi and the views of the protestors who attended it.

[8]  The broadcaster has a level of editorial discretion as to the stories it chooses to report, and the focus or angle of those stories. Broadcasting standards guide broadcasters in exercising their discretion, to ensure that reporting is, for example, fair, accurate and balanced, and does not cause harm. While the complainant may have preferred for this news story to be reported in a different way, our view is that this was an issue of editorial discretion, with which we cannot interfere. Further, as we discuss below, we do not consider that the item breached standards, requiring a limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and we expand on our reasons for this view below.

[9]  We agreed that this item discussed a controversial issue of public importance, which is a requirement under the balance standard. The hikoi was an event of national significance and claims of a rise in threats against DOC and Forest & Bird staff, as a result of anti-1080 protests, has been an ongoing issue that has sparked public debate and would be of concern to members of the New Zealand public.1

[10]  The next question for us to consider is whether significant points of view on this issue were presented in the broadcast. Balance can be achieved in a number of ways, having regard to relevant contextual factors in each case. In some cases, it may be sufficient for the existence of alternative views to be acknowledged during the programme, or for alternative views to be explored in other programmes or in other media during the period of current interest.2

[11]  The focus of this item was DOC and Forest & Bird’s view that they had received an increasing number of threats against staff, as a result of increased protest activity against the use of 1080. The nationwide hikoi was used as a starting point for this discussion. As such, the item was narrowly focused on one aspect associated with the 1080 debate, and viewers would not have expected to be provided with a range of views on the risks or merits of the use of 1080.

[12]  Given the focus of the item, which was the alleged rise in threats against DOC and Forest & Bird staff as a result of protest activity, we were satisfied a range of significant perspectives were pointed to within the programme. For example, the organiser of the hikoi argued that the hikoi was ‘peaceful’ and ‘legal’, and was therefore ‘not to blame’ for the alleged increase in threatening behaviour.

[13]  The hikoi and the views of protestors, as well as the issue of the rise in threats against DOC, has also received widespread media coverage during the period of current interest.3 As such, we consider viewers could be expected to have a broad understanding of the main perspectives on this issue.

[14]  We therefore consider that upholding this complaint would represent an unreasonable and unjustified limit on the broadcasters’ right to editorial discretion and freedom of expression.

[15]  For these reasons we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.


For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

 

 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judge Bill Hastings
Chair
18 December 2018

 


Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1      Carl Scott’s formal complaint – 8 September 2018
2      TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 4 October 2018
3      Mr Scott’s referral to the Authority – 4 October 2018
4      TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 7 November 2018


 

1  Commentary – Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18

Commentary – Balance, above, page 18

See, for example: 1080 protestors continue war for national ban despite public push-back (Newshub, 7 September 2018); Northland towns join 1080 protest as DoC prepares to use it (NZ Herald, 7 September 2018); DOC stands up for 1080 use ahead of protests (NZ Herald, 7 September 2018); Protestors make nationwide stand against 1080 (Stuff, 8 September 2018); Ban 1080 protestors descend upon Parliament (Newshub, 8 September 2018); When anti-1080 activisim grew noisy, and got ugly (The Spinoff, 17 September 2018); 1080 campaign turns toxic (1 News, 23 September 2081)