BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Buchanan and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2022-087 (26 October 2022)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
  • Conall Buchanan


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint under the accuracy standard in relation to an interview on AM with Dr Russell Norman about agricultural emissions. The complainant alleged Dr Norman’s statements concerning dairy cow numbers, the herd getting larger, and the amount of effluent produced by cows were inaccurate. The Authority found two of the statements were materially accurate and would not have misled the audience, and the third was analysis, comment or opinion to which the accuracy standard does not apply.

Not Upheld: Accuracy

The broadcast

[1]  During an episode of AM broadcast on 16 May 2022, host Ryan Bridge interviewed Greenpeace Executive Director, Dr Russell Norman about what needed to be done to combat greenhouse gas emissions, in the lead-up to the release of the Ministry for the Environment’s Emissions Reduction Plan.

[2]  The interview included the following statements:

Dr Norman:  The real question today for the Emissions Reduction Plan is ‘will it be credible’? Does it include significant reductions in the agriculture and dairy sector because that’s really at the heart of it.

Bridge:  What do you want to see?...The Dutch have proposed a reduction in herd size, 30% by 2030. 

Dr Norman:  …I think that’s a great start…we've talked about halving the herd but we significantly need to move from this industrial agriculture model to a regenerative, organic one which has much lower intensity. You're not going to have 6 million dairy cows with that model... So, unless the plan has significant reductions in agriculture and dairy emissions which means…phasing [certain synthetic fertilisers] out, it means lowering the herd. If the plan doesn’t have that then it’s not really a credible plan.

Dr Norman:  …I've been sitting in this chair for 20 years and every year there was a techno fix that was going to solve this problem… and every year a techno fix hasn't fixed it, but we know what could fix it, right? We can reduce the size of the herd…No one's discovered [a techno fix] in all these years. And meanwhile, we keep expanding the herd, right? The herd is larger and larger and larger and larger. Right. It's massive. 6 million cows produces, you know, as much effluent as 100 million people or whatever. I mean its huge right?

Dr Norman:  I think there’s got to be a credible plan for significant reductions which includes policies. It can’t just be the Zero Carbon Act and the emissions budget…It actually has to be policies that reduce emissions out of dairy and agriculture.

The complaint

[3]  Conall Buchanan complained that the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice on the basis that:

  • The NZ Dairy herd has actually decreased in size by 7.7% since 2014.1
  • The New Zealand dairy herd amounts to less than 5 million cows2 (not 6 million as stated by Dr Norman).
  • Dr Norman’s claim that 6 million cows produced similar effluent to 100 million people is based on unverified and subjective information.3

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  The broadcaster did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • It was clear that Dr Norman was presenting Greenpeace’s perspective as an environmental organisation, and the interview comprised Dr Norman’s opinions and analysis, as a Greenpeace representative. The Committee maintains viewers would have understood that the statements made by Dr Norman were Greenpeace’s analysis of the Emissions Reduction Plan.
  • Dr Norman is a trustworthy and reliable source of information on the topic discussed in the Broadcast. As an expert in his field, AM is entitled to rely on the information he provides. His comments were his genuinely held belief at the time of the broadcast and viewers could judge the integrity of that information and Dr Norman's commentary for themselves. The presenter did challenge Dr Norman on several points. 

The standard

[5]  The purpose of the accuracy standard4 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.5 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

[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. 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.6

[8]  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 the programme was accurate and did not mislead.

[9]  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.7

[10]  Further, the requirement for accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.8 An opinion is someone’s view. It is contestable, and others may hold a different view.9 It is not always clear whether a statement is an assertion of fact or an opinion - this will depend on the context, presentation, and how a reasonable viewer would perceive the information.10 Relevant factors may include:11

  • the language used in the broadcast
  • the language used in the rest of the item (there could be a statement of fact within an opinion piece or surrounded by opinions)
  • the type of programme and the role or reputation of the person speaking
  • the subject matter
  • whether evidence or proof is provided
  • whether the statement is attributed to someone.

[11]  The broadcast addressed Dr Norman’s perspective, as a prominent environmentalist and Greenpeace’s Executive Director, on what needed to be included in the soon to be released Emissions Reduction Plan. The interview format did not call for evidence or proof of any factual content and none was provided. Overall, we consider the nature of the interview and language used were more consistent with the provision of analysis, comment or opinion than factual content.

[12]  However, we consider two parts of the complaint can be considered to address matters of fact:

  • Use of the figure ‘6 million dairy cows’ – While Dr Norman does not actually state there are 6 million dairy cows in New Zealand, we accept this might be inferred from his comments (making the comments misleading as to a matter of fact if the number is materially inaccurate). This number represents a (reasonably) verifiable fact.
  • Statement about the herd getting larger – We have considered whether the absence of a time period against which any change could be measured dictates against the sort of precision involved in a factual statement. However, for present purposes we are prepared to accept this statement as a matter of fact to which the accuracy standard may apply. It is a matter capable of verification (as against any chosen time period(s)).

[13]  On the other hand, Dr Norman’s language in addressing the third alleged inaccuracy is more suggestive of analysis, comment or opinion than the provision of exact figures: “6 million cows produces, you know, as much effluent as 100 million people, or whatever. I mean it’s huge right.” Accordingly, this is not a statement of fact to which the accuracy standard applies.

[14]  With regard to the remaining two matters outlined in paragraph [12], while the accuracy standard applies, the Authority does not uphold this complaint. The Authority finds the statements to be materially accurate, and that they would not have affected the audiences’ understanding of the broadcast as a whole.

[15]  The accuracy standard only applies to ‘material points of fact.’ In this case, the key point conveyed by Dr Norman was that in order for the Emissions Reduction Plan to be credible, New Zealand needed to achieve ‘significant reductions in the agriculture and dairy sector’. He advocated for the implementation of policies reducing emissions, and a shift away from an ‘industrial agriculture model’ towards a ‘regenerative, organic’ model which wouldn’t involve so many cows. In this context, the exact details of whether New Zealand currently has 5 or 6 million dairy cows, or whether there has been a 7.7% reduction in the dairy herd since 2014 is immaterial to the overall point made by Dr Norman and would not have affected the audiences understanding of the broadcast as a whole.

[16]  We note further that while the complainant is correct the statistics show some reduction in herd size since 2014, Dr Norman’s statements were not specifically linked to any particular period. In our view, they were capable of interpretation as referencing his experience of over 20 years of advocating for lowering agricultural emissions. Dr Norman stated over those years he had continually seen promises of ‘techno fixes’, but no ‘techno fix’ had remedied the issue, and meanwhile the dairy herd had grown larger. The statistics provided by the complainant from Stats NZ show there has been a recent reduction in the number of dairy cattle. However, over a 20 year time frame, there was a total increase of more than 1 million dairy cattle, with dairy cattle totalling more than 6 million in 2021.12

[17]  The complainant pointed out the figure of 6 million dairy cattle - provided by Stats NZ – included dairy cows, as well as young cattle and bulls, and argued Dr Norman should have used the figure of 4.9 million when referring to ‘dairy cows’. Technical points such as this would not be expected to be canvassed in the context of such an interview, and would not impact the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole. The Authority finds Dr Norman’s use of the figure 6 million and statement regarding the growth of the dairy herd were materially accurate and unlikely to mislead viewers.

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


Susie Staley
26 October 2022   


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

1  Conall Buchanan’s initial email to Discovery – 16 May 2022

2  Buchanan’s formal complaint – 9 June 2022

3  Discovery’s response to the complaint – 9 August 2022

4  Buchanan’s referral to the Authority – 29 August 2022

5  Discovery’s confirmation of no further comment – 14 September 2022

1 Stats NZ I Tatauranga Aotearoa “Agricultural production statistics: Year to June 2021” (6 May 2022) <>
2 Livestock Improvement Corporation “’More milk from fewer cows’ trend continues in record year for NZ dairy industry” (accessed 22 September 2022) <>
3 Merv Rusk “Data shows humans, not cows, the biggest water polluters” Stuff (online ed, 4 September 2017)
4 Standard 9, Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
5 Commentary, Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
6 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
7 Guideline 9b
8 Guideline 9a
9 Guidance: Accuracy – Distinguishing Fact and Analysis, Comment or Opinion, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 64
10 As above
11 As above
12 Stats NZ I Tatauranga Aotearoa “Agricultural production statistics: Year to June 2021” (6 May 2022)  <>