BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Bennett and Sky Network Television Ltd - 2023-111 (20 February 2024)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Aroha Beck
  • Pulotu Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Peter Bennett
News First at 5.30
Sky Television


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that it was inaccurate for a news item to include footage which allegedly featured a ‘crisis actor’. The Authority found that whether or not the footage was propaganda as claimed by the complainant, its inclusion would not have materially affected the audience’s understanding of the item overall.

Not Upheld: Accuracy

The broadcast

[1]  During the 11 November 2023 broadcast of News First at 5.30, an item was included concerning the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

[2]  The segment was introduced as follows:

The human rights chief of the UN wants an investigation into what he calls indiscriminate bombing in Gaza. The death toll has now passed 11,000, and he warns the protection of hospitals and the delivery of lifesaving medical supplies is an obligation under the laws of war. We should warn you, though, some of the images in Debora Patta's story from CBS, are hard to watch.

[3]  The item then included footage from Gaza, most of which appeared to be filmed on cell phones by civilians. Several clips were included, which showed scenes such as bombs exploding and the aftermath of this, including injured people. One clip featured a man with blood covering his hand, saying in Arabic (with subtitles in the clip) ‘There is no ambulance or civil defence, they have been bombed. They were bombed inside the hospital.’ After a cut, in what appears to be the same clip, a young girl also covered in blood is seen hysterically screaming in Arabic ‘My mom, my mom, my father, my brother!’ While the clip aired, the label ‘Social Media’ was displayed to the side of the screen.

[4]  While these clips aired the following relevant comments from the reporter were included:

A massive strike at the Al-Shifa hospital grounds, Gaza's largest medical facility. Israel insists Hamas is using hospitals to coordinate attacks and hide its commanders. But sheltering at Al-Shifa, thousands of civilians. Their one place of refuge, now a blood-soaked battleground. Reeling in stunned disbelief, this man shouts “they bomb the hospitals”. Nearby, a young girl breaks down crying hysterically. “My mom, my father, my brother”.

[5]  The report went on to state:

Reporter: Inside, doctors and nurses fight another war. The battle to keep the injured alive with virtually every critical medical supply running out. Today, at least five hospitals have been caught up in the fighting, including one for children. Here this video appears to show a paediatric hospital surrounded by Israeli military vehicles. Worn down by war, hunger and exhaustion, civilians flee Al-Shifa too, only to run headlong into more danger: even the evacuation corridor is not spared. The spiralling civilian death toll saw Secretary of State Antony Blinken issue one of his most direct condemnations to date.  

Blinken:  Far too many Palestinians have been killed. Far too many have suffered.  

Reporter: Adding Israel has to do more to minimise harm. 'We just can't bear it anymore.' A cry echoed by the Red Cross, which says Gaza's health system has reached the point of no return.  

The complaint

[6]  Peter Bennett complained that the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand for the following reasons:

  • ‘The news item aired used fake footage produced by a known crisis actor known as Mr Fafo.’
  • ‘Mr FAFO has produced fake propaganda videos about the Gaza conflict’.
  • Social media content from X (formerly known as Twitter) was used without due care and attention.

The broadcaster’s response

[7]  Sky did not uphold Bennett’s complaint. In its response, it described how it reached out to Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) who produce the News First at 5.30 programme for Sky. WBD provided the following response to the complaint:

  • ‘The broadcast complained about was affiliate content supplied to us by CBS reporting on attacks at the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza.’
  • ‘The complainant has alleged that the CBS story contains “fake footage” by “a known crisis actor known as Mr Fafo”. This narrative has circulated in some corners of the internet by unverified sources.’
  • ‘CBS is a respected and trusted international broadcaster and we are entitled to rely on the information it provides. Newshub is confident that given its significant research capabilities, CBS would have immediately pulled the story if it was found to contain “fake footage” and we therefore stand by the story.’

[8]  Sky agreed with WBD’s findings and did not uphold the complaint.

The standard

[9]  The purpose of the accuracy standard1 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.2 It states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure news, current affairs or factual content is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. Where a material error of fact has occurred, broadcasters should correct it within a reasonable period after they have been put on notice.

Our analysis

[10]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[11]  As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh up the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.3

[12]  Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two steps. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading. The second step is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure that the programme was accurate and did not mislead.

Was the programme materially misleading?

[13]  The first question for the Authority is whether or not the item was misleading. To ‘mislead’ in the context of the accuracy standard means ‘to give another a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.4  The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or unimportant points that are unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.5

[14]  We acknowledge one of the people depicted in the broadcast footage resembles an individual discussed in some social media posts as being an actor staging propaganda for Hamas.6 However there are several fact checking websites that dispute these claims, including that footage and images used to ‘prove’ he is a crisis actor have been doctored, inaccurately dated or include other people entirely.7

[15]  It is not our role to determine whether or not the relevant footage was faked, or created for a political purpose as propaganda. The question for the Authority is whether its inclusion would have materially misled the audience of News First at 5.30.

[16]  The main audience takeaway from the report would be that there had been many civilian casualties in Gaza, hospitals had been under attack, and several international organisations and politicians had expressed concerns with this. The footage featuring the alleged crisis actor was one of approximately 20 clips from Gaza used to accompany the story. Inclusion of this footage (which appears to reflect the aftermath of the reported Al-Shifa hospital strike) would not materially alter the audience’s understanding of the item overall. Accordingly, the audience would not have been materially misled.

[17]  Having found the programme was not misleading, it is not necessary to determine whether or not the broadcaster has made reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy of the programme.8 However, in the circumstances, where the relevant footage appeared consistent with events, if the broadcaster had no obvious reason to doubt its authenticity, we consider it reasonable to have relied on the report produced by CBS, a reputable broadcaster.

[18]  We nevertheless acknowledge the risks of reliance on footage sourced from social media and encourage broadcasters to continue to be vigilant around its use. BSA’s published guidance on the use of social media content in broadcasting can assist with decision-making in this area.9

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Susie Staley
20 February 2024   




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

1  Peter Bennett's formal complaint to Sky - 12 November 2023

2  Sky's response to the complaint - 27 November 2023

3  Bennett's referral to the Authority - 27 November 2023

4  Sky confirming no further comments - 12 December 2023

1 Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand 
2 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 16
3 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
4 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd [2012] NZHC 131, [2012] NZAR 407 at [98]
5 Guideline 6.2
6 See, for example, ‘Virality’: Areeba Fatima “Palestinian journalist and activist falsely presented as a crisis actor” Soch Fact Check (online ed, 25 December 2023)
7 Reuters Fact Check “Fact Check: Injured teenager who lost his leg misidentified on social media” Reuters (online ed, 28 October 2023); Karena Phan “Videos do not show a ‘crisis actor’ pretending to be a victim in Gaza. They show two different men” AP News (online ed, 28 October 2023); William Summers “Hospital video isn’t proof of Palestinian ‘crisis actors’” Australian Associated Press (online ed, 14 November 2023); Areeba Fatima “Palestinian journalist and activist falsely presented as a crisis actor” Soch Fact Check (online ed, 25 December 2023)
8 Van der Merwe and Mediaworks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2019-015 at [21]
9 Broadcasting Standards Authority | Te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho "Guidance Note: Use of Social Media Content in Broadcasting" (18 August 2020)