BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Shepherd and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-098

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Vivienne Shepherd
Close Up
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – reference to the “Labour Government” – allegedly inaccurate, unfair and in breach of standards relating to programme information

Standard 6 (accuracy) – “Labour-led” government acceptable shorthand – not upheld – majority considers “Labour” government acceptable shorthand – not upheld

Standard 5 (fairness) – no issue of fairness arises – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] TV One broadcast an item on Close Up on 21 July 2005 at 7pm. During the course of a political interview, the presenter used the term “Labour Government” to refer to the Government.


[2] Vivienne Shepherd complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the use of the term “Labour Government” was inaccurate, unfair and in breach of standards relating to programme information. She noted that the government was made up of a Labour-Progressive Coalition. She included a copy of the Coalition Document, which included the sentence “the Labour and Progressive parties in Parliament agree to form a government…”


[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 5, 6 and 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

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.

Standard 8 Programme Information

Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programme information and structure does not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] In its response to the complaint, TVNZ said that although Ms Shepherd believed that any description of the Government should refer to a Labour-Progressive coalition, it did not accept that “colloquial news dissemination” routinely required such a description. TVNZ considered that viewers would instantly recognise what was meant by the term “Labour government”.

[5] TVNZ noted that in an MMP environment, governments are often made up of coalitions of two or more political parties. It cited Germany and Israel as examples of countries operating under an MMP system. Similarly, TVNZ maintained, to refer to all the parties in the coalition whenever the government in these countries was mentioned would be “unwieldy and distracting”.

[6] It considered that it was only necessary to mention coalition partners if a news event was directly relevant to action by those coalition partners. During Parliamentary Question Time, leaders of the government frequently spoke of the achievements of “this Labour Government”, TVNZ said.

[7] TVNZ considered that the item did not breach Standard 5 (accuracy). It maintained that to list all the parties to a coalition every time the Government was mentioned would be unnecessarily pedantic. It argued that the public knew which parties were referred to by the term “Labour Government”. It also contended that, when events occurred which directly related to the Progressive Party, its participation in the coalition was made clear.

[8] Turning to Standard 6 (fairness), the broadcaster considered that no breach of the standard occurred. It was of the view that the phrase “Labour Government” fairly represented the governing entity in a way the public understood.  

[9] TVNZ considered that Standard 8 (programme information) was not relevant to the complaint. It noted that the guidelines to the standard referred to issues such as distinguishing between advertising and programme material, subliminal perception, hypnosis, collusion in game shows and avoiding ambiguity over products and services. It observed that the standard did not refer to the content of news and current affairs programmes.

Referral to the Authority

[10] Dissatisfied with the response from the broadcaster, Ms Shepherd referred her complaint to the Authority under s8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She noted that she was not aware that TV One news broadcasts were colloquial, which she wrote was defined by the Oxford dictionary as “not formal or literary”. She was of the view that TV One news broadcasts ought to be of a high literary standard, and should report the facts with impartial accuracy.

[11] Ms Shepherd claimed that the public were misled by this colloquialism and were not aware that the Progressive Party was part of the Coalition Government. She considered that the Progressive Party was polling low because it was not mentioned in the title of the government of which it was a part.

[12] The complainant considered that it was the duty of the news media to report accurately and impartially. She was of the view that it was inaccurate to call the government a “Labour Government”, when it consisted of two parties.

[13] Ms Shepherd did not reiterate Standard 8 (programme information) as a ground of complaint.

Authority's Determination

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

[15] In a previous decision (2005-089) about the use of the phrase “Labour government”, a majority of the Authority did not uphold the complaint, finding that:

a reasonable person listening to the broadcasts would not have been misled by the reference to the … Labour government.  The terms were acceptable shorthand references to the Labour-Progressive coalition government, and were clearly understandable in their context.

[16] In that case, the majority concluded:

…the only situation in which such shorthand might give rise to a potential breach of broadcasting standards in a live radio situation is if the exact composition of the government was central to the subject under discussion. The majority also observes, however, that in light of the ongoing likelihood of multi-party involvement in government, the news media should exercise care to use appropriate terminology.

[17] The majority considers that the same principles apply to the present case, as this was also in the context of a live and unscripted television interview. A majority of the Authority does not uphold the accuracy complaint.

[18] As the item was accurate, no issue of fairness arises.

[19] A minority, Tapu Misa, is of the view that describing a coalition government as consisting only of the major partner is technically inaccurate in an MMP environment, and thus breaches Standard 5. However, the minority considers that the fleeting use of the term “Labour Government” on this occasion, in the context of a live interview, does not warrant a finding of unfairness.


For the above reasons a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
1 November 2005


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

  1. Vivienne Shepherd’s formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 22 July 2005
  2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 10 August 2005
  3. Ms Shepherd’s referral to the Authority – 16 August 2005
  4. TVNZ response to the referral – 25 August 2005