The list below contains our recently published decisions, with the latest at the top.
An episode of I Am Innocent focused on the story of Andrew McCarthy, a science teacher, who was accused and charged with indecently assaulting a female student (‘X’) in 2012. The charges against Mr McCarthy were withdrawn around August-September 2013. The episode featured interviews with Mr McCarthy and others, all of whom spoke supportively about him. Ms Johnson complained that the broadcast breached broadcasting standards, including that comments made during the programme about X and her mother resulted in their unfair treatment. The Authority upheld this aspect of Ms Johnson’s complaint, finding that the programme created a negative impression of X and her mother. While the Authority acknowledged the broadcaster’s attempts to contact X and her mother, in order for them to be treated fairly, they needed to be given the opportunity to respond specifically to the negative comments made about their character and personal lives, and if they elected not to respond, consideration ought to have been given to whether the comments should be removed or edited. The Authority did not uphold the remaining aspects of Ms Johnson’s complaint, finding that the programme did not mislead viewers and was accurate in relation to all material points of fact. As X was not identified, no breach of privacy occurred, and the programme did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance which required balancing views.
Upheld: Fairness; Not Upheld: Accuracy, Privacy, Balance. No Order.
During an item on Seven Sharp, broadcast on 23 August 2017 during the election period, the presenters discussed TVNZ’s ‘Vote Compass’, a tool available to assist the New Zealand public to make voting decisions. In response to comments by presenter Toni Street about the usefulness of the tool, presenter Mike Hosking said, ‘…so is the fact that you can’t vote for the Māori Party because you’re not enrolled in the Māori electorate, so what are you going to do now? I’m joking.’ The following evening, Mr Hosking attempted to clarify his comment by saying, ‘Now, the fact that anyone can vote for [the Māori Party] as a list party I automatically assumed we all knew given we have been doing this for 20 years…’ The Authority upheld a complaint that Mr Hosking’s comments were inaccurate, finding that Mr Hosking’s statement about who was eligible to vote for the Māori Party was a material point of fact that was inaccurate and misleading. Further, his comments the following evening were confusing and insufficient to correct the inaccurate information for viewers. The Authority acknowledged the high value of political expression during an election period, but found that the potential harm in this case – providing inaccurate information which had the potential to influence voters, despite the alleged clarification – outweighed the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.
Upheld: Accuracy; Order: section 13(1)(a) broadcast statement.
A segment on Seven Sharp featured an interview between Mike Hosking and Jacinda Ardern on the day Ms Ardern became leader of the Labour Party. Mr Hosking questioned Ms Ardern about the state of the Labour Party and her leadership credentials, and also commented on what he believed to be the ‘chaotic’ state of the Labour Party and its chances of winning the 2017 General Election. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the segment was unbalanced and inaccurate, finding that the broadcaster provided sufficient balance by allowing Ms Ardern a reasonable amount of time to answer the interview questions. The Authority also noted the significant amount of coverage the leadership change received during the period of current interest. This segment amounted to robust political discourse that was to be expected during an election period, and the Authority concluded that upholding the complaint would unreasonably restrict the right to freedom of expression and political speech.
Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy
An item on The Project featured an interview with a ‘political consultant and former National [Party] staffer’. The interviewee provided her perspective on why the National Party received more votes than the Labour Party in the 2017 General Election and the disparity between the election result and poll results prior to the election. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the broadcaster’s choice of political commentator was biased and the programme was misleading by suggesting she was an ‘independent political commentator’. The introduction to the segment did not imply that the interviewee was an independent political commentator, but clearly referred to her as a former National Party staffer. As such it created an audience expectation that the interview would be approaching the topic of National’s initial electoral success from a particular perspective. Therefore viewers would not have been misled.
Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy
During a segment on The Project, the hosts discussed a new artificial intelligence technology capable of detecting a person’s sexual orientation through analysis of their facial features. In response, presenter Jesse Mulligan commented, ‘That’s an amazing story, a computer can tell if you’re gay or not. I hope the computer can keep a secret.’ The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this comment ‘perpetuated the prejudiced view that homosexuality [was] something to be kept secret and… shameful’. The Authority found that, while Mr Mulligan’s comment could be seen as ‘clumsy’ or tactless, it was clearly intended to be humorous and it did not actively encourage the different treatment, or devalue the reputation of, gay people as a section of the community. A high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, is necessary to conclude that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration, and in this case, the Authority did not consider Mr Mulligan’s comments reached the high threshold necessary to find a breach of the standard, or to warrant limiting the right to freedom of expression.
Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration