Wilkins and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-088
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Tapu Misa
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Steve Wilkins
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item reported on the release of the Government’s Budget that day – discussed impact of the budget on a range of New Zealanders including three “high earners” – allegedly in breach of controversial issues, accuracy and fairness standards
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – brief references to the incomes of three high earners did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue – not upheld
Standard 5 (accuracy) – statements about the impact of the budget on three high earners were not material points of fact – viewers would have understood that the point being made was that they would have more money each week than lower earners – not misleading or inaccurate – not upheld
Standard 6 (fairness) – references to incomes of high earners did not result in them being treated unfairly – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on Thursday 20 May 2010, reported on the Government’s Budget, released that day. The item considered the likely impact of the budget on a range of New Zealand earners. TVNZ’s political editor presented figures of predicted “weekly gains” for a minimum wage worker earning $26,000 per annum, and for workers earning $50,000 and $100,000 per annum. The item included comment from a number of interviewees about how they thought the budget would affect them and their families.
 One News then turned to consider how the budget would impact on three well-known “high earners”. An onscreen graphic showed the “income” of Telecom CEO Paul Reynolds, Air New Zealand CEO, Rob Fyfe, and Prime Minister John Key. The One News presenter said:
All right, let’s just take a snapshot of the extra spending power of some of our movers and shakers. Five-million-dollar man Telecom boss Paul Reynolds will have almost three-and-a-half thousand dollars more a week [graphic: $3,452 extra a week]. Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe’s 2.4 million works out to more than 16 hundred dollars a week [graphic: $1,641 extra a week] and for Prime Minister John Key on his salary of 393,000 that’s an extra 242 [dollars] a week. Now those calculations are based on a tax cut from 38 to 33 cents in the dollar – that’s the top rate – and allowing for each paying more in GST. You can work out how much extra you’ll get on the website taxguide.govt.nz.
 Steve Wilkins made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards relating to the discussion of controversial issues, accuracy and fairness. He stated that he took “issue with the reporting around the budget impact on top salary earners” Paul Reynolds, Rob Fyfe and John Key.
 Mr Wilkins said that One News referred to the remuneration packages of Mr Reynolds and Mr Fyfe in their entirety. However, they were paid base salaries, plus various bonuses and share options, so it was “ambiguous to state the ‘total package’ as the amount of their ‘salary’”, he said. Mr Wilkins said that they were mutually exclusive and often taxed at different rates, so “to apply new tax PAYE rates to the ‘total package’ amounts is highly generalised, inaccurate, and very misleading.”
 With regard to John Key, Mr Wilkins noted that TVNZ claimed he would be $242 better off each week under the new budget. However, he said that “what was glossed over and not mentioned is the fact that Mr Key passes on all of his earnings as Prime Minister to charity”. Mr Wilkins said that it was “misleading and inaccurate to say ‘he will be better off’, when in fact he won’t be – selected charities will in fact be better off.”
 In summary, Mr Wilkins said, TVNZ was trying to emphasise that people on higher incomes would benefit more from the tax cuts than lower earners, but “they could have chosen a better example than Mr Key, who will not be better off by his own policies.” He concluded by saying that the media were “in a position to significantly influence public opinion” and should “express their views carefully and with thought”.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:
Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints
When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or 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.
Standard 5 Accuracy
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/or
• does not mislead.
Standard 6 Fairness
Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 Looking first at Standard 4, TVNZ stated that the Authority had previously defined a controversial 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”, and accepted that the 2010 budget was such an issue. It said that, while the item profiled the impact of the budget on three well-known “high earners”, it also considered its impact on a range of New Zealanders including average salary earners and lower salary earners. TVNZ noted that Standard 4 allowed for balance to be achieved within the period of current interest. It argued that the 2010 budget received significant attention across TVNZ’s programming, including on One News, Close Up and Q + A.
 TVNZ therefore concluded that significant perspectives were sought and presented during the period of current interest on the issue of the 2010 New Zealand Budget. It declined to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.
 Turning to Standard 5 (accuracy), TVNZ noted that the onscreen graphic accompanying the information stated “income” and argued that it was intended to represent the men’s’ total income irrespective of the different components making up their earnings. The broadcaster said, “While the tax changes may affect the pay of the three men in the examples in slightly different ways than the taxguide calculator allows, [TVNZ] does not consider these slight differences are relevant to the item”. It considered that “from the footage viewers would have understood that a simple calculation using the taxguide.govt.nz website had been carried out”.
 TVNZ considered that it was acceptable to carry out the calculations using the same website advocated for use by the public in the release of the budget. “The item was simply trying to convey that higher earners were likely to be better off as a result of the Budget announced that day,” it said. TVNZ also was of the view that what Mr Key did with his income was irrelevant.
 TVNZ therefore concluded that none of the statistics presented in the item was inaccurate or misleading, and it declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 5.
 With regard to Standard 6, TVNZ stated that it could not identify any unfairness in the item. It said that income earners from all income brackets were profiled in the extensive coverage of the Budget by One News that day, and that it was reasonable to carry out comparisons across the different brackets. It noted that the salaries of the high earners included in the item were publicly available, and that “in their positions they would expect public scrutiny about their remuneration”. It concluded that the item was not unfair, and declined to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Wilkins referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 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)
 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.
 Mr Wilkins complained that, because Mr Reynolds and Mr Fyfe were paid base salaries, plus various bonuses and share options, it was “ambiguous to state the ‘total package’ as the amount of their ‘salary’”. We note that, of the three men, only John Key’s income was referred to as his “salary”.
 The complainant also argued that the item was misleading because it did not mention that Mr Key donated his earnings to charity. We consider that what Mr Key chooses to do with his earnings was not relevant or material to the item.
 In our view, the focus of the 12-minute item was how the new budget would impact on a range of New Zealand earners, and how some families thought they would be affected. In the context of an item about the effect of GST changes, the brief references at the end of the item to the three men’s income figures were not “material points of fact” to which the accuracy standard applied. We consider that viewers would have understood that their incomes were referred to in order to illustrate the point that, as a result of the budget, high income earners would have more money available to them each week compared to New Zealanders on lower incomes.
 We therefore find that the standard did not apply, and we decline to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints)
 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.
 On this occasion, we accept that the item discussed the impact of the Government’s budget on New Zealanders, which was a controversial issue of public importance, and that therefore it was necessary to present significant viewpoints on that issue. We are satisfied that significant viewpoints on the impact of the budget on New Zealanders were presented within the period of current interest during which that issue was under discussion.
 Mr Wilkins was concerned only with the brief references and graphic outlining the income of the three high earners, rather than the omission of significant views in relation to the budget. In our view, this was only a peripheral point in relation to the issue under discussion, and therefore did not require the presentation of alternative views. We agree with TVNZ that the high earners were simply used as examples to demonstrate how the budget would affect them compared to New Zealanders on lower incomes. It was not necessary, in the interests of balance, to explain in detail what their “income” figures consisted of, or whether John Key donates his earnings as Prime Minister to charity, as argued by Mr Wilkins.
 Accordingly, we find that the references to the three high earners’ “incomes” without further information or explanation did not result in the item being unbalanced, and we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.
Standard 6 (fairness)
 Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.
 Mr Wilkins did not identify in his complaint who he thought had been treated unfairly by the broadcaster. Assuming that his concern related to the three men whose “income” figures were identified, we agree with TVNZ that it was legitimate to speculate how the three men’s earnings would be affected by the budget using the “taxguide” calculator available online for the public. We do not consider that the references to the men’s incomes resulted in them being treated unfairly.
 Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 6.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
26 October 2010
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Steve Wilkins’ formal complaint – 20 May 2010
2. TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 18 June 2010
3. Mr Wilkins’ referral to the Authority – 12 July 2010
4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 1 September 2010