BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Boyce and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2021-144 (16 February 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
Dated
Complainant
  • Simon Boyce
Number
2021-144
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about a report regarding a heckler at a press conference by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, as the balance standard did not apply. It also found a report featuring footage of beach handball players’ uniforms did not breach the good taste and decency standard as the clip was not likely to undermine current norms of good taste and decency and the footage was justified in context.

Not Upheld: Balance, Good Taste and Decency


The broadcast

[1]  A broadcast of Newshub Live at 4.30pm included a report about a heckler at a press conference by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern:

Host:                    The Prime Minister was in Te Tai Tokerau to encourage vaccination efforts, but was forced to shut down a press conference after being confronted by a conspiracy theorist.

Reporter:             Those on the front line in Northland have often spoke of the difficulties in combating disinformation in the vaccine rollout.…Today, the Prime Minister experienced that first-hand.           

Prime Minister:    Sir, I will shut down the press conference if you do not cease.

Reporter:             A man heckling unsubstantiated claims about the vaccine, forcing a press conference inside.

[2]  The same news broadcast contained a report about changes to the uniforms of beach handball players:

Female beach handball players will no longer have to compete in skimpy bikinis. The sport's international body has changed its uniform rules after they were branded sexist. From next year, women can wear shorts and a tank top. Norway's female team was fined for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms, sparking international condemnation.

The complaint

[3]  Simon Boyce complained the broadcast breached the balance and good taste and decency standards:

Balance

  • ‘The news presenter stated that the press conference had been ambushed by an “anti-vaxxer” heckler, and then described the person as a “conspiracy theorist”. It is not logically possible for the news presenter to know if he is a theorist or not, especially if he had no idea who he was.’
  • ‘On other media that ran this story in a slightly more balanced way, it emerged that the gentleman was not a heckler, but someone who appeared to be a journalist, though not from the mainstream media. Rather than being a heckler, he appeared to be repeating official statistics on vaccine efficacy from other countries, mainly Israel.’
  • ‘TV3 has obviously decided to get with the Pfizer vaccine programme being driven by the Prime Minister, and has lost any sense of objectivity and journalistic independence or practice. It is ironic that it is not owned by the State, but has become a propaganda channel, refusing to voice any form of dissent from the official line that the Pfizer vaccine provides immunity for the "fully vaccinated".’
  • ‘[The broadcaster’s] reporting amounts to name-calling and abuse.’
  • ‘In this case it appears that TV3 has a slavish devotion to the Prime Minister's position and target for vaccine uptake, despite concerns about the safety of Pfizer. For instance, the latest report of the CARM committee appears to show that 5 more people have died as a result of being injected with the Pfizer drug, and there are thousands of reports of side effects.’

Good taste and decency

  • ‘The presenter referred to the Norway team having defied the existing rules. What the pictures showed was the Uruguay team, who appeared to prefer G-strings, and showed completely bare buttocks.’
  • The footage was shown in the afternoon and was ‘gratuitous’.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  Discovery NZ Ltd (Discovery) did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

Balance

  • A ‘report about a heckler at a press conference’ does not cover ‘a controversial issue of public importance’ therefore the balance standard does not apply.
  • ‘…references to the heckler as a “conspiracy theorist” and “a man heckling unsubstantiated claims about the vaccine” did not misrepresent the man involved; based on the comments he was making he was clearly anti-Covid-vaccine…The 6pm bulletin that day reported that the man claimed: "to be from a far-right media group linked to Donald Trump adviser, Steve Bannon"’.

Good taste and decency

  • ‘The brief item featured footage of players wearing the controversial uniform… the footage was in context to the story and did not exceed the boundaries of regular news viewers' expectations of a news programme or the boundaries of the Good Taste and Decency standard.’

The standards

[5]  The balance standard1 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.2 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.3

[6]  The good taste and decency standard4 states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme. The purpose of this standard is to protect audiences from content that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress.5

Our analysis

[7]  In considering this complaint, we have viewed the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[8]  The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy and it is our starting point when considering complaints. We weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm that may have potentially been caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified, in light of actual or potential harm caused.

Balance

[9]  For the standard to apply, the subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’ and it must be ‘discussed’ in a news, current affairs or factual programme.6 An issue of public importance is something that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public.7 A controversial issue will be one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.8

[10]  The item reported on an interruption of the Prime Minister’s press conference in Te Tai Tokerau, then went on to discuss low vaccination rates in the region. The reference to the man who interrupted the Prime Minister’s press conference as a ‘heckler’ and ‘conspiracy theorist’ has not been the subject of ongoing public debate and does not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance in the context of this report. On this basis the standard does not apply. The broadcaster also clarified the person’s background during the 6pm news broadcast.

[11]  Additionally, if the complainant was concerned with a lack of balance regarding the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine and uptake of the vaccine generally, the Authority has previously held that this is not a controversial issue of public importance either.9

Good taste and decency

[12]  Context is important when determining a complaint under the good taste and decency standard.10 We considered the following contextual factors in our determination:

  • The footage was brief (approximately 15 seconds).
  • The footage was of beach handball players in bikini uniforms, which would be visible in a live match.
  • The nature of the uniforms was the focus of the story.
  • Newshub Live at 4.30pm is unclassified news programming.
  • It was clear the images were of sportswomen in the middle of a game and were not titillating or gratuitous.
  • The clip did not show close ups of the women’s uniforms and was not sexual in nature.

[13]  Footage of athletes competing in bikinis was not outside viewer expectations for a story which opened ‘…female beach handball players will no longer have to compete in skimpy bikinis’. Athletes being forced to wear bikinis to compete was the entire basis of the news item being reported. There is public interest in exposing the plight of these players,11 and in any case, brief footage of women playing sport in bikinis was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or to undermine current norms of good taste and decency.

[14] Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency standard.

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

 

Susie Staley
Chair
16 February 2022    

 

Appendix

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

1  Simon Boyce’s formal complaint – 3 November 2021

2  Discovery’s response to the complaint – 30 November 2021

3  Boyce’s referral to the Authority – 1 December 2021

4  Discovery’s confirmation of no further comments – 3 December 2021


1 Standard 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 As above
4 Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
5 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
6 Guideline 8a
7 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
8 As above
9 Donald and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-033 at [15]–[18]
10 Guideline 1a
11 Guideline 1a