BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Wilson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-062

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Stephanie Wilson
Number
2014-062
Programme
ONE News
Channel/Station
TV ONE

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

A ONE News item reported that 21,000 people had recently had their job-seeker benefits cut for travelling overseas. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the item did not sufficiently include balancing comment. The item presented a number of comments in support of the beneficiaries, and it was clear the interviewees were offering their own opinion, which is not subject to standards of accuracy.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Accuracy, Fairness, Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  A ONE News item reported that 21,000 people had recently had their job-seeker benefits cut for travelling overseas. The item featured Social Development Minister Paula Bennett explaining the rationale for restricting beneficiaries’ overseas travel and expressing disappointment with the latest statistics. The item also included comment from Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesman Alastair Russell. The item aired on TV ONE on 3 April 2014.

[2]  Stephanie Wilson complained that Ms Bennett’s comments ‘implied that there are some New Zealanders receiving welfare that are able to save up enough to go on an overseas holiday’ and that the broadcaster did not adequately provide balancing comment.

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

[4]  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 item 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]  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

[7]  The item focused on the impact of recent changes in rules around benefits in an effort to tighten the New Zealand welfare system. This was a controversial issue of public importance as it had significant impact on, and was of concern to, members of the New Zealand public.3

[8]  Ms Wilson acknowledged the item ‘supplied a brief counter argument to Paula Bennett’s… biased and misinforming views on welfare recipients’, but argued this did not go ‘far enough in countering the misinformation’. She said viewers were left ‘with the mistaken view that it is possible to save money while on welfare’.

[9]  TVNZ accepted that ‘WINZ rules on travel for beneficiaries may be considered to be a [controversial] issue’, but argued that significant viewpoints on the issue were given by the reporter, the Social Development Minister, the spokesman from Auckland Action Against Poverty and the Green Party co-leader.

[10]  We are satisfied that the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant viewpoints in the item. The item’s introduction acknowledged upfront that there was more than one view on the issue, saying:

More than 20,000 people have had their benefits cut for travelling overseas since tougher rules were introduced last July. The Social Development Minister says it shows thousands can not only live on a benefit, but can afford to travel overseas too. Others say it’s just more beneficiary bashing. [our emphasis]

[11]  Paula Bennett expressed her views that ‘I’ve been surprised at the numbers… to be honest and how they can afford it,’ and, ‘Quite frankly, if you should be looking for a job, you ain’t looking for one very well in New Zealand if you aren’t here doing it.’ Other individuals interviewed for the item expressly countered these views, and offered perspectives in support of beneficiaries, saying:

  • ‘If they stay within the rules, which is no more than 28 days away in any 12-month period, they should be free to [travel overseas].’ (Metiria Turei, Green Party co-leader)
  • ‘Today’s announcement is essentially another beat up on beneficiaries.’ (Alastair Russell, Auckland Action Against Poverty)
  • ‘Because someone is out of work doesn’t mean that they somehow become a second-class citizen and lose core human rights.’ (Alastair Russell, Auckland Action Against Poverty).

[12]  Further, the changes to benefits were widely reported, so it was reasonable to expect viewers were aware of the main viewpoints on the topic from other publicly available sources of information.

[13]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the balance complaint.

Was the item inaccurate or misleading?

[14]  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.4

[15]  Ms Wilson argued that the item was misleading and failed to convey that ‘it was highly unlikely, if not impossible to save… while on welfare’, that ‘welfare recipients might have savings that allow them to go overseas’ and that ‘they may have been shouted a trip overseas’.

[16]  TVNZ argued that the focus of the item was the 21,000 people who had their benefits cut for travelling overseas since the introduction of tougher rules, not the different ways ‘that beneficiaries may be able to pay to go overseas’, which was not discussed. It agreed that Ms Bennett had touched on this issue, but as it was not the focus of the item, it was not material.

[17]  Guideline 5a to the accuracy standard states that it does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, commentary or opinion. The complainant’s main concern was the impression given by the Minister’s comments. It was clear that the Minister was expressing her own opinion, saying she was surprised and dismayed at the high number of beneficiaries penalised for travelling overseas while receiving benefits. As the item did not canvass the other ways beneficiaries may have paid for travel, it was not misleading to omit comment on this. As we have said under balance, two other interviewees gave balancing comment which countered the Minister’s views. As such, viewers were left to form their own opinions about the rule changes and their impact on beneficiaries.

[18]  We are satisfied that viewers were not misled and we decline to uphold the accuracy complaint.

Did the broadcast encourage discrimination against, or the denigration of, any section of the community?

[19]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[20]  Ms Wilson argued that the item ‘was put together in a manner that could leave viewers with unfounded hostility toward a section of New Zealanders who are without jobs’.

[21]  It is well-established that in light of the requirements of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard.[5] While the minister was critical of beneficiaries who had travelled overseas while receiving a benefit, her comments did not contain the level of invective necessary to encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, beneficiaries as a section of the community (on account of their occupational status). As we have said, she presented her position as the Minister of Social Development, in support of the rule changes, which was countered by both the introduction to the item, and balancing comment in support of beneficiaries.

[22]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 7.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
25 September 2014


Appendix

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

1            Stephanie Wilson’s formal complaint – 4 April 2014

2            TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 6 May 2014

3            Ms Wilson’s referral to the Authority – 28 May 2014

4            TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 30 July 2014


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

2For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010)

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

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

5 E.g. McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network Ltd, Decision No. 2002-152