BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Ungemuth and Sky Network Television Ltd - 2018-095 (13 March 2019)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainant
  • Paul Ungemuth
Number
2018-095
Channel/Station
Prime TV

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that statements made during Uncharted with Sam Neill were inaccurate. A complaint was made that host Sam Neill and an interviewee during the programme implied that missionaries primarily came to New Zealand for the purpose of acquiring land, which was misleading and misrepresented their good work. The Authority considered that the programme was clearly framed from the outset as a chance for untold or unexplored stories and perspectives to be expressed. In these circumstances, the Authority found that the statements complained about were clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion and were therefore not subject to the requirements of the accuracy standard. The Authority’s intervention in upholding the complaint would therefore represent an unreasonable and unjustified limit on the right to freedom of expression.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


The broadcast

[1]  During the six-part series, Uncharted with Sam Neill, host Sam Neill followed the journey of Captain James Cook throughout New Zealand, ‘uncovering stories from both sides of the beach’. The electronic programme guide for the second episode of the series, provided by Prime, summarises the episode as follows:1

Sam considers not only the cultural ramifications of Cook’s first interactions with the Māori people but also the continuous social and political impact Western settlers had on the land and people…

[2]  During the introduction to this episode, Mr Neill said:

On my voyage around New Zealand in the wake of Cook, I’m looking for new stories behind old history and, in doing so, trying to understand what happened and why it matters.

[3]  The episode featured an interview with the late Kingi Taurua, who was asked about his view on first contact between Captain Cook and Māori. He said:

I think as far as Cook and Abel Tasman, I thought they were just explorers at the time. They were just looking around on behalf of the King of England and they were exploring. I suppose I have to admire them that they came and they went, they came and they went. They didn’t actually take control until well after when the missionaries came, with only one purpose, which was to acquire land. (Emphasis added)

[4]  Later, Mr Neill said:

Consequences, intended or otherwise, what followed Cook was New Zealand becoming part of the British Empire. I suppose as much as anything Cook was a precursor of things to come, the colossal impact of the West upon this hemisphere, upon the Pacific. Disease, dispossession, the wholesale destruction of indigenous cultures mostly by missionaries, colonisation and so on. And Cook could hardly have seen any of that, but as night follows day that is what happened.

[5]  This episode of Uncharted with Sam Neill was broadcast at 8.30pm on 9 September 2018 on Prime.

The complaint and the broadcaster’s response

[6]  Paul Ungemuth complained that the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, for the following reasons:

  • It was twice stated during the programme that the main purpose of missionaries coming to New Zealand was to take land from Māori. No attempt was made to provide a source for these statements.
  • These were statements of fact which grossly misrepresented the good work done by missionaries and other positive impacts missionaries had in New Zealand (such as developing a written form of te reo Māori and teaching Māori to read and write in their own language). The programme did not mention any of these positive impacts, which was misleading.

[7] SKY, the broadcaster responsible for Prime, responded:

  • It was clear from the outset that this programme would ‘tell stories from the other side of the beach, in other words, tell history according to the indigenous inhabitants.’ History needed to be examined from different perspectives and viewers could then make up their own minds based on their own beliefs.
  • The view held by Kingi Taurua about missionaries and land acquisition was a widely held view.2
  • No significant errors of fact were broadcast during the programme.

The standard and relevant guidelines

[8]  The accuracy standard (Standard 9) 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.

[9]  The requirement for accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.3

Our findings

[10]  Our starting point in determination of complaints is to recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression. This includes both the broadcaster’s right to present information and ideas to the public, and the audience’s right to receive that information. Equally important is our consideration of whether the broadcast may have caused harm. When making our decision, we therefore weigh the value of the broadcast item, and the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast.

[11]  We all agreed that this programme had value in terms of the right to freedom of expression. It is important for us to be aware of, and explore, different perspectives on our history as a country. It was clear from Mr Neill’s introduction to the programme that it set out to explore Cook’s legacy from both a Māori and Pākeha perspective. Viewers of Uncharted with Sam Neill could therefore expect to be presented with a Māori view on New Zealand’s colonial history. This programme provided an important opportunity for those views to be heard.

[12]  Looking at the statements subject to complaint, Mr Taurua’s statements are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion. Mr Taurua was asked for, and provided, his own views on first contact (clear from his comments ‘I think’, ‘I thought’, ‘I have to admire them’). He went on to say that, in his view, control of the country occurred much later than Cook’s initial visits, when missionaries (and, impliedly, other settlers) returned. The complainant has understood Mr Taurua’s statement to mean that missionaries arrived in New Zealand with the ‘one purpose’ of acquiring land. This is a view open to Mr Taurua to express and as a statement of analysis, comment or opinion is not subject to the requirements of the accuracy standard.

[13]  We consider that Mr Neill’s comments can also be distinguished as analysis, comment or opinion. After speaking with Māori about their views on Cook and later settlers’ first interactions with Māori, Mr Neill offered his own analysis of Cook’s impact in New Zealand, concluding that his exploration was a sign of what was to come for Māori. His view was based on evidence and insights gathered during the programme and again, this was an opinion open to Mr Neill to express.

[14]  As we have said above, there is value in these perspectives being explored and the programme was clearly framed from the outset as a chance for untold or unexplored stories and perspectives to be expressed. While the complainant may have preferred information about the purpose of missionaries to be presented in a different way, or for more context around their work to be provided, we consider Mr Taurua’s and Mr Neill’s statements amounted to analysis, comment or opinion, to which the accuracy standard does not apply.

[15]  For these reasons, we consider that our intervention, in upholding the complaint and limiting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, would be unjustified.

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

 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judge Bill Hastings
Chair
13 March 2019

 


Appendix

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

1     Paul Ungemuth’s formal complaint – 12 September 2018
2     SKY’s response to the complaint – 6 November 2018
3     Mr Ungemuth’s comments in response – 8 November 2018
4     Mr Ungemuth’s referral to the Authority – 8 November 2018
5     SKY’s response to the referral – 21 December 2018
6     Mr Ungemuth’s final comments – 15 January 2019


1 Available at: https://www.primetv.co.nz/-/prime_unchartedwithsamneill_ep2

2 Citing Te Ara – The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. For example, entries describe the impact of missionary work in New Zealand: ‘The missionary movement had a huge impact on New Zealand, particularly on Māori, whose existing spiritual beliefs were either replaced by, or combined with, Christian ideas’ (Missionary Impact, page 1); and, for example: ‘Henry Williams was accused of unfairly manipulating Māori by buying large areas of their land…’ (Political influence, page 3).

3 Guideline 9a