BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Treadgold and TVWorks Ltd - 2008-024

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Richard Treadgold
Number
2008-024
Programme
Campbell Live
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3
Standards Breached

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b )(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Campbell Live – item discussed several current events in relation to global warming – contained a report from Britain’s ITN television station on the effects global warming was having on penguins in Antarctica – allegedly inaccurate and unbalanced 

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – item’s introduction presented the ITN item as providing factual evidence on global warming – statement regarding percentage of sea ice reduction in Antarctica inaccurate – statement that only humans can change the fate of penguins not clearly distinguishable as commentary – contrary to guideline 5d – upheld

No Order

This note does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Campbell Live, broadcast on TV3 at 7pm on 12 December 2007, looked at several international current events relating to global warming. The item contained a brief report from Britain’s ITN television station on the effect that melting sea ice in the Antarctic was having on penguins. Prior to the ITN report, presenter John Campbell said the following:

We begin with arguably the most important story in the world, global warming and its increasingly bleak consequences not just for humankind...it’s been a fairly bad old week for global warming deniers. It’s interesting to reflect how far public and political opinion has moved on climate change since the birth of the Kyoto Protocol 10 years ago...
...What does this mean for George Bush...in not having signed up to Kyoto...
...We’ll ask those questions shortly. But first, yet more evidence of global warming and its consequences.

The melting sea ice, which covers so much less area than it did as recently as 1980, is directly impacting on penguin numbers. Populations of one type of penguin have dropped by two thirds in just a quarter of a century. We have all seen the pictures of polar bears stranded on pieces of ice that can simply no longer sustain them. But it now seems that if the ice melts much further, some breeds of penguin will face an extremely tough battle to survive. This report from Britain’s ITN.   

[2]   The ITN report contained a number of statements alleging that global warming was melting Antarctic sea ice, which was in turn negatively affecting the penguins that live in Antarctica, including:

They may live in the coldest place on earth, but the earth’s heat is threatening their survival, and as temperatures in Antarctica increase, the number of penguins decline. Forty percent of the continent’s sea ice has melted in the last three decades, leaving four populations with a shrinking habitat and food supply.

For only humans can change the fate of the penguins by reducing global emissions...The largest of the species, the majestic Emperor penguin, has become the most vulnerable...High winds and thinning ice has meant many eggs and baby birds are being blown away...And with warming occurring five times faster in the Antarctic Peninsula than anywhere else in the world, there are fears that the distinct personalities and endearing waddles of these lovable birds may soon be on show only in zoos and documentaries.     

Complaint

[3]   Richard Treadgold made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was inaccurate and unbalanced. He contended that the item was unbalanced because it failed to present alternative points of view regarding the controversial topic of global warming.

[4]   The complainant argued that Mr Campbell’s opening statement, “But first, yet more evidence of global warming and its consequences” was inaccurate, because the item did not present any evidence. Mr Treadgold contended that the only statement that could be considered evidence was one contained in ITN’s report that “forty percent of the continent’s sea ice has melted in the last three decades”, which he said was inaccurate. He considered that the report contained several assertions, but no evidence.

[5]   Mr Treadgold said that Mr Campbell’s statement that there had been a decrease in the extent of Antarctic sea ice since 1980 was incorrect. He noted that a 2001 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, stated that since 1980 sea ice extent in the Antarctic had actually increased. He argued that the IPCC’s report “wasn’t hard to find” and that he had easily found it on the internet through Google.

[6]   The complainant believed that Mr Campbell’s statement about polar bears was inaccurate because “polar bears are not sustained by ice, but by their prey”. He also pointed out that polar bears lived in a different hemisphere from penguins and argued that the item had misled viewers by implying the warming of the polar bears’ habitat was also happening in the penguins’, “which is untrue”.

[7]   Mr Treadgold considered the ITN report was disingenuous when it stated that Antarctic temperatures were increasing causing penguin populations to decline. He agreed that temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula had increased and that some penguin colonies on it had declined. But the complainant argued that some penguin colonies were moving due to changing ice conditions. He contended that it was inaccurate for ITN not to mention that the colonies of penguins in the rest of the vast Antarctic continent were unaffected by conditions on the Peninsula.

[8]   The complainant considered that, while the ITN report identified four colonies of penguins with shrinking habitats and food supply, it gave an inaccurate impression that entire species of penguin were at risk. He pointed out that the only penguin currently listed as endangered was the Galapagos penguin and it did not live in the Antarctic, “but way up on the equator”. He also noted that “even if all the penguins on the small peninsula perished as a result [of global warming], no species would be rendered extinct, since they live in huge numbers elsewhere”.

[9]   Mr Treadgold argued that the statement contained in the ITN report that “forty percent of the continent’s sea ice has melted in the last three decades” was untrue, because the IPCC’s report had shown that Antarctic sea ice had increased.

[10]   The complainant also contended that ITN’s statement that “high winds and thinning ice has meant many eggs and baby birds are being blown away” was incorrect. He believed that global warming and thinning ice did not affect wind strength.

[11]   Mr Treadgold argued that ITN’s assertion that Emperor penguins were at risk because of global warming could not be substantiated. He maintained that the decline in numbers was due to “an abnormally long warm spell in the Southern Ocean” which could have been due to natural variability or global warming. He considered that ITN’s report was exaggerated and intended to alarm viewers about “the impending doom of the penguins – a doom that is denied by the facts”.

Standards

[12]   TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standards 4 and 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These 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 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[13]   TVWorks considered that the balance standard did not apply “to reporting of this nature”. It stated that, while the causes of climate change posed a controversial issue of public importance, the item “did not enter into this debate”. It believed the report focused on the declines in certain Antarctic penguin populations “ostensibly due to, or strongly associated with, the effects of climate change”.

[14]   The broadcaster argued that the Campbell Live item, and the ITN report in particular, did not purport to provide a comprehensive overview on the debate around climate change or global warming. It stated that, even if it could be said that the programme did discuss a controversial issue of public importance, viewers were sufficiently conversant with the ongoing debate and the different views on the causes and impacts of global warming to place the information into context. TVWorks noted that the topic of climate change had received considerable media attention both on radio and television. It considered that “within this relatively brief item” significant views were sufficiently referred to or would be sufficiently referred to in other reports within the period of current interest, which would remain open and ongoing for some time.

[15]   TVWorks noted that the “time given to each competing party did not have to be mathematically balanced” and that Mr Campbell had made reference to “global warming deniers”, which acknowledged alternative perspectives on the issue. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item was unbalanced.

[16]   With respect to accuracy, the broadcaster upheld Mr Treadgold’s complaint regarding the manner in which the ITN report was introduced. It considered that the introduction should have made it clear that the ITN report was not necessarily a presentation of “evidence” in relation to the impact of global warming, but a further claim regarding its impact. The matter had been discussed with the Campbell Live team and the item had been “tagged” in TV3’s archive to record the complainant’s accuracy concerns, it said.     

[17]   TVWorks dealt with each of Mr Treadgold’s other concerns in turn.

“Forty percent of the continent’s sea ice has melted in the last three decades”.

[18]   The broadcaster agreed with the complainant that, after conducting a Google search, the IPCC’s 2001 report was readily available and appeared to provide “compelling information”. However, it noted that the Google search also disclosed other sources of information, some more recent and apparently authoritative, that demonstrated a disparity of views on Antarctic sea ice and its fluctuations. TVWorks said it was not in a position to determine the accuracy of the claim in the ITN report – “particularly when viewed alongside authoritative writings on the subject which reveal a disparity in viewpoints”. It did consider that, in light of its investigation, a more conditional presentation in the introduction may have been desirable. The broadcaster declined to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

“The melting sea ice, which covers so much less area than it did as recently as 1980, is directly impacting on penguin numbers”.

[19]   TVWorks argued that for the same reasons outlined above regarding a “disparity of views” on the matter, it could not determine this aspect of the complaint. However, it did consider that in light of its investigation, a more conditional presentation in the introduction may have been desirable.

“...polar bears stranded on pieces of ice that can simply no longer sustain them”.

[20]   The broadcaster believed that the average viewer targeted by Campbell Live would be aware that polar bears live in Arctic regions. It also considered that viewers would have understood that the word “sustain” was used in the wider sense and that it referred to the bears’ overall habitat.

[21]   TVWorks considered that viewers were not misled “in terms of the inference that penguin habitats are under threat in a similar way as to those of polar bears”. It declined to uphold the complaint that the statement was misleading.

“But the earth’s heat is threatening their survival, and as temperatures in Antarctica increase, the number of penguins decline”.

[22]   The broadcaster stated that the complainant appeared to acknowledge that information existed that suggested in some areas of Antarctica (the peninsula) the number of penguins had declined. “On the face of it, this general statement does not appear to be inaccurate particularly as the item goes on to talk about particular populations of penguins”, it said. TVWorks considered that it was more likely than not that viewers would have understood that only some penguin populations were presently being impacted by global warming. It declined to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

“[In relation to the Emperor penguin] High winds and thinning ice has meant many eggs and baby birds are being blown away”.

[23]   TVWorks noted that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report from which ITN sourced its information stated “...warmer winter temperatures and stronger winds mean that the [Emperor] penguins have to raise their chicks on increasingly thinner sea ice. For many years, sea ice has broken off early and many eggs and chicks have been blown away before they were ready to survive on their own”. The broadcaster argued that the statement contained in the ITN item was an accurate adaptation of the WWF material, and it did not consider that it was in a position to determine the accuracy of the WWF material. It declined to uphold the complaint that the statement was inaccurate.

“For only humans can change the fate of the penguins by reducing global emissions”.

[24]   The broadcaster contended that viewers would have appreciated that the statement was not presented as or intended to be “hard facts”, but rather as commentary and an expression of opinion. It declined to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

“Populations of one type of penguin have dropped by two-thirds in just a quarter of a century”.

[25]   TVWorks noted that the WWF material stated that, “In the northwestern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, where warming has been the most dramatic, populations of Adélie penguins have dropped by 65% over the past 25 years”. It noted that the item did not state or suggest that the species was an endangered one. Accordingly, the broadcaster considered the statement was materially accurate.

“Fears that the distinct personalities and enduring waddles...may soon be on show only in zoos and documentaries”.

[26]   The broadcaster considered that the comment would have been understood by viewers as opinion and analysis rather than as a statement of fact. TVWorks declined to uphold the accuracy complaint.  

Referral to the Authority

[27]   Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ decision, Mr Treadgold referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[28]   The complainant stated that he was generally satisfied and pleased with the broadcaster’s response, especially because it had discussed his complaint with the programme’s producers. However, he believed that there were seven points to which TVWorks had not adequately responded.

“Forty percent of the continent’s sea ice has melted in the last three decades”.

[29]   Mr Treadgold agreed that the “trend of sea ice coverage around Antarctica” was a complex issue surrounded by much uncertainty. However, he maintained that the graph he had supplied to the broadcaster as part of his complaint showed that sea ice had actually increased over the past three decades. The complainant noted that WWF’s report had stated that sea ice was covering “40% less area than it did 26 years ago off the West Antarctic Peninsula”, but that the ITN item had referred to the “continent”. He maintained that the statement was incorrect.

“The melting sea ice, which covers so much less area than it did as recently as 1980, is directly impacting on penguin numbers”.

[30]   Mr Treadgold believed that TVWorks’ response was “self-contradictory” as on the one hand it stated that it could not determine that aspect of the complaint and on the other it said a more conditional presentation may have been desirable.

“...polar bears stranded on pieces of ice that can simply no longer sustain them”.

[31]   The complainant maintained that the statement was “alarmist” and intended to cause concern, but that the reasons for concern were not expressed in the item. He considered that the broadcaster’s statement in its response that it “seems...likely that some bears were experiencing negative consequences due to warming” was misleading.

“High winds and thinning ice has meant many eggs and baby birds are being blown away”.

[32]   Mr Treadgold accepted that the broadcaster was not in a position to determine the accuracy of the WWF’s explanation of how Emperor penguin eggs and chicks have been lost in the wind. However, he maintained that the statement was “non-sensical”, which meant that it was inaccurate. He argued that he was familiar with how penguins incubate their eggs and that he could see how “it might occasionally happen”, but he considered that ordinary viewers would not have understood that this was a rare occurrence.

“For only humans can change the fate of the penguins by reducing global emissions”.

[33]   The complainant maintained that the statement was political and that there was no evidence that human emissions affect penguins. He said “without evidence, it cannot be taken as true”.

“Populations of one type of penguin have dropped by two-thirds in just a quarter of a century”.

[34]   Mr Treadgold argued that the statement had referred to the “entire species” because the item had not qualified the term “populations”. He noted that in WWF’s press release, “populations explicitly referred to the northwestern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula”. He maintained that, without reference to the region, “populations” meant all populations of penguins and that the statement was alarmist and inaccurate.

“Fears that the distinct personalities and enduring waddles...may soon be on show only in zoos and documentaries”.

[35]   The complainant disagreed with TVWorks’ contention that viewers would have understood the statement as opinion rather than fact. He believed that the statement left the viewer with “a distinct prediction of impending extinction”.         

Authority's Determination

[36]   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 5 (accuracy)

[37]   The accuracy standard requires that news, current affairs and other factual programmes be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times. The Authority deals with each of Mr Treadgold’s concerns in turn.

“Forty percent of the continent’s sea ice has melted in the last three decades”.

[38]   Based on the information supplied to the Authority both by the complainant and TVWorks, it accepts Mr Treadgold’s contention that the above statement was inaccurate. It notes the broadcaster accepted that the WWF’s press release referred to sea ice coverage of the West Antarctic Peninsula, rather than the Antarctic continent as a whole. In these circumstances, the Authority upholds this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

“For only humans can change the fate of the penguins by reducing global emissions”.

[39]The broadcaster contended that viewers would have appreciated that the statement was not presented as or intended to be “hard facts”, but rather as commentary and an expression of opinion. Guideline 5d of the accuracy standard states:
Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, should be clearly distinguishable.

[40]   In the Authority’s view, the reasonable viewer would not have been able to clearly distinguish this statement as opinion or commentary. The statement was not prefaced by any qualifying words such as “it is believed that” or “some people argue that”. It was presented as a statement of fact that humans alone were killing penguins with global emissions.

[41]   In these circumstances, the Authority finds that the statement was inconsistent with the requirement in guideline 5d, and it considers that Standard 5 was breached in this respect.

 “The melting sea ice, which covers so much less area than it did as recently as 1980, is directly impacting on penguin numbers”.

[42]   In the Authority’s view, the above statement lacked the necessary specificity to be considered a statement of fact to which the accuracy standard applies. It finds that this introductory statement was a broad generalisation and an attempted summary of what the ITN report was going to discuss.

[43]   The Authority notes, however, that TVWorks has acknowledged that “a more conditional presentation in the introduction may have been desirable”. It reminds broadcasters of the need to take particular care when dealing with complex issues such as global warming and climate change. Nevertheless, it considers that the statement did not amount to a breach of broadcasting standards. The Authority declines to uphold this part of the accuracy complaint.

“...polar bears stranded on pieces of ice that can simply no longer sustain them”.

[44]   The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that viewers would have realised that the word “sustain” referred to the bears’ overall habitat as opposed to asserting that ice was a form of nutrition. It also considers that viewers would be aware that polar bears live in regions of the Arctic rather than Antarctica. The Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

“High winds and thinning ice has meant many eggs and baby birds are being blown away”.

[45]   The Authority finds that the item did not imply that climate change caused the high winds, as argued by the complainant. The statement simply noted that the combination of thinning ice and high winds had caused baby birds and eggs to be blown away. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

 “Populations of one type of penguin have dropped by two thirds in just a quarter of a century”.

[46]   The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the item did not state that, as a species, penguins were endangered. It considers that the term “populations” in the statement clearly referred to some colonies, not the entire species, and it was clearly confined to colonies of “one type of penguin”. The Authority declines to uphold this part of the Standard 5 complaint.

“Fears that the distinct personalities and enduring waddles...may soon be on show only in zoos and documentaries”.

[47]   The Authority finds that this statement was a hyperbolic comment and that viewers would have taken it as opinion or analysis, rather than as a statement of fact to which the accuracy standard applies. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the statement was inaccurate.

Bill of Rights

[48]   The Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching its determination and in making the above orders. The  Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act’s requirement that limits on freedom of expression must be prescribed by law, be reasonable, and be demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by TVWorks Ltd of Campbell Live on 12 December 2007 breached Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. 

[49]   Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The Authority concludes that an order is not appropriate on this occasion. It considers that this decision signals to broadcasters the difficulties inherent in broadcasting a news item which has been taken directly from another organisation, without having done independent research to check the information contained in the item. The Authority considers that the publication of its decision is sufficient in all the circumstances.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
5 June 2008

Appendix

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

1.           Richard Treadgold’s formal complaint – 21 December 2007
2.           TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 15 February 2008
3.           Mr Treadgold’s referral to the Authority – 3 March 2008
4.           TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 25 March 2008