BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

White and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2015-066 (28 January 2016)

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
  • David White
Prime TV


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

An episode of Bullies, a three-part documentary series, discussed the issue of bullying in schools. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the documentary was unbalanced and misleading because it did not discuss the success of certain nationwide bullying prevention programmes. The documentary did discuss various anti-bullying programmes and was not otherwise misleading. Which anti-bullying initiatives to feature, and in what detail, was a matter of editorial discretion for the broadcaster.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Accuracy


[1] An episode of Bullies, a three-part documentary series, discussed the issue of bullying in schools.

[2] David White complained that the documentary was unbalanced and misleading because it did not discuss the success of nationwide bullying prevention programmes.

[3] The issue is whether the broadcast breached the controversial issues and accuracy standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4] The episode was broadcast on Prime on 14 July 2015. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was the broadcast sufficiently balanced?

[5] The balance standard (Standard 4) 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.1

[6] Mr White felt that viewers would be left with the impression that bullying is rampant in New Zealand schools compared to other countries, that bullying is not being addressed, that individual schools are left to deal with the issue on their own and that we need to look overseas for a solution. Mr White argued the documentary failed to acknowledge the existence of the national anti-bullying programmes, ‘Bullying Prevention and Response: a guide for schools’ and the Ministry of Education’s programme, ‘Positive Behaviour for Learning’, or their success. He considered that the documentary promoted one of the interviewee’s views that New Zealand should adopt the Finnish anti-bullying programme KiVa. Mr White concluded the documentary ‘created a sad indictment on the school system, where in fact, there is a great deal of positive work being done’.

[7] SKY did not consider that the documentary gave the impression that nothing is being done to curtail bullying in schools, noting that ‘the programme aimed to raise awareness of this vital problem, and to highlight its causes, consequences and possible solutions’. SKY agreed with the complainant that there are many anti-bullying approaches in New Zealand, however it argued the documentary’s introduction clearly framed it as exploring how and why bullying is a problem, and how bullying behaviour can be changed. It said that ‘a 44-minute documentary overview, naturally, can only contain a few stories and a certain amount of information’. SKY argued that while one of experts interviewed expressed her opinion that the KiVa programme would be a potential solution, the documentary did not suggest that this was the only solution. It noted that the entire final section of the documentary was dedicated to a successful home-grown anti-bullying initiative that has been running for 10 years.

[8] A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’ and it must be ‘discussed’.2

[9] The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.3 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.4

[10] We accept that bullying in schools is a controversial issue of public importance. Bullying significantly affects New Zealanders, and bullying in schools in particular has gained a high profile in recent years due to widespread coverage of specific bullying incidents. There has been considerable public discussion about why bullying occurs and how to best address it, and these questions formed the focus of the documentary.

[11] Having found that the documentary discussed a controversial issue of public importance, the next question is whether it did so in a balanced manner. We consider that it did. We do not dispute Mr White’s argument that there is a lot of good work being done to combat bullying in New Zealand schools, and agree that anti-bullying measures and their success have a part to play in discussions on this issue. In our view the documentary included adequate comment about such initiatives and we do not think viewers would have been left under-informed. An academic interviewed in the documentary specifically referenced the Ministry of Education’s anti-bullying programme, saying:

I was really alarmed when I came back to New Zealand after being away for 20 years and saw that we still had a significant issue with bullying in New Zealand... Most recently, the Ministry of Education have released guidelines for schools. They’ve been sent to every school in New Zealand. I think this is a really great way forward.

[12] This comment was followed by an onscreen graphic of one page from the ‘Positive Behaviour for Learning’ guidelines, titled, ‘Responding to Bullying Incidents: Quick Reference Guide’. As noted by the broadcaster, the documentary also described in some detail a home-grown anti-bullying programme, which is student-led and has proven to be very effective. The stories of individual bullies who have successfully changed their behaviour also featured. This material provided sufficient balance to other sections of the documentary which discussed how bullying in schools is a problem in New Zealand. In this respect the selection of anti-bullying approaches to be included in the documentary, and the level of detail, were matters of editorial discretion for the broadcaster. The omission of any reference to the initiatives identified by the complainant did not result in the broadcast being unbalanced.

[13] We do not think the documentary suggested that New Zealand must look overseas for a solution to bullying; it merely presented one expert offering her support for the Finnish KiVa programme. Other interviewees offered alternative perspectives and were positive about the progress made by New Zealand anti-bullying programmes.

[14] Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 4.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[15] The accuracy standard (Standard 5) 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. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.5 The High Court has said that to ‘mislead’ in the context of the accuracy standard means ‘to give another a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.6

[16] Mr White argued that the documentary was misleading because it failed to acknowledge the existence of certain national anti-bullying programmes or their success. He considered that the documentary dwelled on bullying incidents that occurred over five years ago (such as an incident at Hutt Valley High School) but were presented as recent. Mr White maintained the episode lacked authenticity and was misleading in not showing what is currently being done to stop bullying in New Zealand schools.

[17] SKY maintained that the documentary did not contain any significant errors of fact and reiterated that the Ministry of Education’s guidelines for schools were both verbally and visually referenced. The programme clearly stated certain schools, and approximately two-thirds of all schools generally, have anti-bullying programmes in place, it said.

[18] For similar reasons as set out under the balance standard, we do not think that the documentary was misleading or otherwise inaccurate. The success of certain anti-bullying initiatives was discussed at some length. It was also clearly stated by the narrator when specific instances of bullying had occurred; for example, viewers were told the Hutt Valley High School incident happened in 2007. We do not consider viewers would have been left with the impression that bullying was not being addressed in New Zealand schools or that specific bullying incidents had occurred recently.

[19] Accordingly we do not uphold the accuracy complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority




Peter Radich


28 January 2016



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

1      David White’s formal complaint – 31 July 2015

2      SKY’s response to the complaint – 25 August 2015

3      Mr White’s referral to the Authority – 31 August 2015

4      SKY’s response to the Authority – 18 November 2015

5      Mr White’s final comment – 27 November 2015

6      SKY’s final comment – 30 November 2015

Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)

3Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-125

See, for example, Dewe and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-076

5 Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036

6Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110 at paragraph 98 per Williams J