BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Young and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2014-005

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Simon Young
Number
2014-005
Programme
RNZ news bulletin
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio New Zealand National

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

A Radio New Zealand news bulletin reported on a sod turning ceremony marking the start of the upgrade of the Hagley Oval in Christchurch. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the item made inadequate mention of the widespread opposition to the upgrade, saying only that it had been challenged by ‘some nearby residents’. The item acknowledged the upgrade was controversial, and the nature and scale of the opposition was not material to the focus of the brief news item, so listeners would not have been misled.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Controversial Issues, Fairness


Introduction

[1]  A Radio New Zealand news bulletin reported on a sod turning ceremony marking the start of the upgrade of the Hagley Oval in Christchurch. It referred to the controversial nature of the upgrade and said it had been given the go-ahead ‘despite a challenge by some nearby residents’. The item was broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 17 December 2013.

[2]  Simon Young made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), alleging that the item was inaccurate and unfair as it failed to acknowledge the widespread nature of the opposition to the upgrade.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy, controversial issues and fairness standards as set out in the Radio 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 broadcast misleading or inaccurate?

[5]  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.1

[6]  The news item stated:

The Prime Minister… officially marked the controversial upgrade of the Hagley Oval in Christchurch with a sod turning ceremony this afternoon… The Environment Court gave the green light in August to plans to develop Hagley Oval as an international cricket stadium… despite a challenge by some nearby residents.

[7]  Mr Young argued it was inaccurate to state that ‘the challenge had been made by some nearby residents, when it had been made city-wide by individuals and organisations’. He considered a brief but accurate description of the consent process would have been adequate. After the item was aired, the complainant sent an email to the broadcaster ‘giving… full details of the position and requesting that the misinformation just broadcast be corrected at the earliest opportunity.’

[8]  Radio New Zealand maintained the item was not misleading because it acknowledged the project was controversial. It argued that the reference to ‘nearby residents’ would not have materially affected listeners’ understanding of the background. It said it was not normal practice to acknowledge or respond to messages like the one the complainant had sent in.

[9]  In our view, the statement complained about was peripheral to the focus of the news item, which was the sod turning ceremony that had taken place that day. The nature and scale of the opposition was not material in this context, given the upgrade had ultimately been given the go-ahead. We do not consider that listeners’ understanding of the story would have been materially altered by the omission of more detailed information about the opposition; the item acknowledged that there had been opposition by residents and that the upgrade was controversial.

[10]  Accordingly, we find the item was not inaccurate or misleading and we decline to uphold the accuracy complaint.

Did the broadcast breach the controversial issues standard?

[11]  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.2

[12]  The complainant argued that the item downplayed the ‘widespread nature of the opposition’ to the upgrade by suggesting it was limited to ‘some nearby residents’.

[13]  The broadcaster argued that the controversial nature of the upgrade was made clear in the item. It said that in a short news item such as this, it was not ‘possible to cover all perspectives in the item, and the thrust of the story was the official sod turning ceremony rather than the process leading up to the project’s approval’.

[14]  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’.3

[15]  While the redevelopment of the Hagley Oval could be considered controversial and of public importance, given its part in the Christchurch re-build, we agree with RNZ that the focus of this item was the sod turning ceremony that had taken place that day to mark the beginning of the upgrade. A news item that simply reports information about a controversial issue of public importance, for example, where there has been a newsworthy development in an ongoing controversy, is not considered a ‘discussion’ requiring balancing perspectives.4 The item did not purport to examine the lead-up to the approval of the development, so it was not required to present views for and against the upgrade. In any event, the item acknowledged that the upgrade was controversial twice within the short item, which alerted listeners to the fact there had been opposition, and this was sufficient given the brevity of the item and its focus on the ceremony.

[16]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

Did the item treat any individual or organisation unfairly?

[17]  Mr Young argued that the item was unfair to ‘the thousands of people who had fought this proposal only to be overruled by CERA’. The fairness standard (Standard 6) applies only to individuals and organisations ‘taking part or referred to’ in a broadcast. It therefore does not apply to the ‘thousands of people’ who opposed the development.

[18]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the fairness complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
2 May 2014

Appendix

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

1                  Simon Young’s formal complaint – 19 December 2013

2                 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 31 December 2013

3                 Mr Young’s referral to the Authority – 21 January 2014

4                 RNZ’s response to the Authority – 27 February 2014


1Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd

, 2010-036

2Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

3For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010)

4Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)