BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Boom and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2022-059 (20 July 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
Dated
Complainant
  • Robin Boom
Number
2022-059
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary  

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about a brief 1 News report on a leaked draft decision from the United States Supreme Court, which had the potential to overturn the landmark decision of Roe v Wade concerning abortion rights. The complaint alleged the broadcast was unbalanced as it did not include footage of pro-life activists or arguments for the ‘rights of the child’. The Authority found that the broadcast was a straightforward report focused on the development of the reported leak. It did not discuss views for or against abortion access, therefore the balance standard did not apply. In any event, the Authority noted the broadcaster had provided balance over time in other 1 News coverage.

Not Upheld: Balance


The broadcast

[1]  A 1 News item on 3 May 2022 was presented by the newsreader as follows:

Heading to the US now in a stunning development on a landmark decision that defined abortion rights in America and beyond. This live footage shows a late night protest outside the Supreme Court after reporters voted to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that gave women the legal right to have an abortion nationwide. News site Politico reporting what it says is a leaked majority draft opinion from the court in February. It’s believed to be the first major leak ever from America’s highest court, which has a conservative majority. As you can see, anger is already rising, but the ruling is only final when it’s officially published by the Court, which is not expected until later next month. The move would allow US states to independently impose abortion bans, but wouldn’t block other states from allowing the procedure.

[2]  While the newsreader was speaking, footage of several protesters sitting outside the Supreme Court was shown.

The complaint

[3]  Robin Boom complained that the broadcast was unbalanced:

  • ‘The report was biased in that all of the video footage was of pro-abortion protesters and their signage and message, and the general gist was of a ‘woman’s right’ perspective with no mention of a child’s rights. There was no footage of pro-life groups who have also been actively holding rallies and waving placards.’
  • ‘Abortion is a controversial issue with the argument of whether a growing baby in the womb is a human being, and if so, then abortion is a form of murder… Even though NZ politicians changed the law here in 2020 to allow abortions right up to full term pregnancy, there is still a large percentage of kiwis who are disgusted with this law.’
  • ‘The news item should have shown footage from both sides of the debate, rather than just the one side.’

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  TVNZ did not uphold the complaint, saying:

  • The item briefly discussed a new development, being the reported leak of a majority draft decision from the Supreme Court and what it could mean for US abortion laws.
  • TVNZ did not agree that the right to abortion in the US was a controversial issue of public importance in New Zealand to which the balance standard applied.
  • The item did not discuss the issue of abortion or include any statements from those who are pro-choice or pro-life.
  • In these circumstances TVNZ did not agree that commentary needed to be included from the pro-life movement or its representatives.
  • In any case, the issue was discussed in further 1 News stories within the period of current interest and so balance was achieved over time, which is allowed by the standard.1

The standard

[5]  The balance standard2 states 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.3

Our decision    

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

[7]  As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression – which includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of information and content, and the audience’s right to receive that content. Our task is to weigh the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where limiting the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.4

[8]  The first step is to consider whether the balance standard applied to this 1 News item. 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’.5

[9]  We do not consider these criteria were met, or that the balance standard applied in this instance.

[10]  The complainant’s main concern is that footage of pro-abortion protesters was shown in the item, without equivalent footage or messaging from pro-life protestors also being included.

[11]  While the Authority has consistently found abortion and related amendments to legislation amount to a controversial issue of public importance (at least in a New Zealand context),6 the 1 News broadcast did not discuss these issues and therefore did not trigger the balance standard.

[12]  This was a brief, straightforward news report on an overseas development – the reported leak of a US Supreme Court draft decision – noting the decision (if finalised) could change abortion access in the United States, and stating there had been protests and anger in response to the leaked judgment. The Authority has previously found such reports do not constitute a ‘discussion’ for the purposes of the standard.7 While the newsreader briefly referred to the protest and some footage was shown, there was no audio of the protesters and their signage was at a distance making it nearly impossible to read. The broadcast did not delve into arguments either for or against abortion access, and viewers would not have expected to be presented with such viewpoints in the context.

[13]  In any event, as noted by the broadcaster, the standard allows for balance over time. TVNZ pointed to several other broadcasts from a similar time period which expressed a broad range of views on the possible changes to the US law.

[14]  Overall we have found no harm that warrants regulatory intervention or restricting freedom of expression.

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

 

Susie Staley
Chair
20 July 2022    

 

 

Appendix

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

1  Robin Boom’s formal complaint – 12 May 2022

2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 3 June 2022

3  Boom’s referral to the Authority – 6 June 2022

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 7 June 2022


1 See: “Leak suggests US Supreme Court set to overturn Roe v Wade” 1 News (online ed, 3 May 2022); “Biden blasts 'radical' Roe draft, warns other rights at risk” 1 News (online ed, 4 May 2022); US Associated Press “House Speaker denied communion by archbishop over abortion” 1 News (online ed, 23 May 2022); Anna Burns-Francis “Trump blamed as Republican assault on women's rights gain ground” 1 News (online ed, 4 May 2022); “Future battles over abortion in US will focus on pills” 1 News (online ed, 6 May 2022)
2 Standard 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
3 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
4 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
5 Guideline 8a
6 Family First New Zealand & Right to Life Inc and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-095 at [15]
7 For example, Right to Life New Zealand and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2021-054 at [22]