Burrows and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2017-103 (9 March 2018)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Wendy Palmer
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Paula Rose QSO
- Wayne Burrows
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
During an interview on Breakfast, presenter Hilary Barry and Hon Julie Anne Genter, Minister for Women, discussed the gender pay gap in New Zealand, the Minister’s views on possible causes of the pay gap, and what the Government intended to do to close the gap in the public and private sectors. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the discussion was unbalanced because it did not present alternative perspectives on the existence of the gender pay gap, or its causes. The Authority did not consider the item amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance, noting there is evidence available that the gender pay gap exists, and the item did not purport to be an in-depth examination of the causes. The interview was also clearly presented from the perspective of the Minister for Women, advocating for women’s interests. In this context viewers would not have expected to receive countering views, and the omission of an ‘anti-feminist’ or ‘men’s rights’ perspective did not result in a breach of the balance standard.
Not Upheld: Balance
 During an interview on Breakfast, presenter Hilary Barry and Hon Julie Anne Genter, Minister for Women, discussed the gender pay gap in New Zealand, the Minister’s views on possible causes of the pay gap, and what the Government intended to do to close the gap in the public and private sectors.
 Wayne Burrows complained that the item was unbalanced as it did not present ‘any view other than the dominant feminist view that there is a pay-gap problem and that it is explained by discrimination against women’.
 The issue raised in Mr Burrows’ complaint is whether the broadcast breached the balance standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The interview was broadcast on 14 November 2017 on TVNZ 1. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
Did the item discuss a controversial issue of public importance which required the presentation of alternative viewpoints?
 The balance standard (Standard 8) states that 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. The standard exists to ensure that competing arguments about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.
The parties’ submissions
 Mr Burrows submitted:
- Many scholars, commentators and members of the public do not accept that there is a discriminatory gender pay gap (citing examples), so the gender pay gap is a controversial issue of public importance as envisaged by the balance standard.
- The broadcast presented only a feminist perspective.
- To maintain balance, the broadcaster must allow for an anti-feminist and/or a men’s rights perspective to be presented on this and any other gender issues.
- It was dishonest to reduce such a complex, multi-faceted issue to a linear measure based on gross pay alone.
 TVNZ submitted:
- The existence of a gender pay gap in New Zealand is not a controversial issue for the purposes of the standard.
- Statistics New Zealand identified and reported a gender pay gap in New Zealand:1
In the June 2015 quarter, median hourly pay for males was $24.07 and for females it was $21.23. The gender pay gap was 11.8 percent. This means that a typical male earned about 12 percent more for an hour’s work than a typical female.
- The Ministry for Women also identified a gender pay gap in New Zealand:2
We find that the gender pay gap is 12.71%, which is similar to the gap found by Dixon (2003) of 12.8%. In this study, 16.59% of the pay gap can be explained by observable characteristics, which leaves just over 83% unexplained.
- In regard to the causes of the gender pay gap, the Ministry for Women found:3
There is clear evidence of a glass ceiling effect in NZ, with the gender pay gap increasing as we move up the wage distribution – from 0% in the 10th quantile to between 18 to 21% at the 90th quantile. Additionally, the proportion of the pay gap that is unexplained becomes larger and more significant as we move up the wage distribution. For instance, at the 90th percentile, almost 100% of the pay gap is unexplained.’4
 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
 The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.6 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.7
 The existence of a gender pay gap in New Zealand is supported by research from Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry for Women, cited by the broadcaster in its submissions. The existence of a gender pay gap is also acknowledged by Employment New Zealand and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).8 Accordingly, while it is clearly an issue of public importance, we are not persuaded that the existence of the gender pay gap in New Zealand is ‘controversial’ in the sense envisaged by the balance standard.
 While the causes of the gender pay gap could be considered controversial, this item did not purport to be an in-depth or balanced discussion of possible causes. Ms Genter briefly gave her views on the causes, however the item as a whole was focused on the existence of the pay gap and how the Government intended to address it (discussed further below).
 We therefore do not consider that this item amounted to discussion of a controversial issue of public importance which triggered the requirements of the balance standard.
 Despite reaching this view, we do however note that a key consideration in assessing whether the standard has been breached is what the audience would expect from the programme, and whether they were likely to have been misinformed by the omission of a particular viewpoint.9 The focus of this item, which was clearly signalled in Ms Barry’s introduction, was the existence of the gender pay gap in New Zealand and how the current Government, and newly appointed Minister for Women, intend to address and close the gap. Viewers would have understood from the introduction, and from this focus, that the item was presented from Ms Genter’s perspective of advancing women’s interests in New Zealand. Viewers would not have expected to hear alternative viewpoints in this context, such as an ‘anti-feminist’ or ‘men’s rights’ perspective. We do not consider the audience would have been left uninformed by the omission of these perspectives, given the nature of the item.
 For these reasons we do not uphold the balance complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
9 March 2018
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Wayne Burrows’ formal complaint – 14 November 2017
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 12 December 2017
3 Mr Burrows’ referral to the Authority– 13 December 2017
4 Mr Burrows’ further comments – 13 December 2017
5 Mr Burrows’ final comments – 23 January 2018
6 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 7 February 2018
1 See: http://archive.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/income-and-work/Income/gender-pay-gap.aspx (Statistics New Zealand, June 2015)
2 Empirical Evidence of the Gender Pay Gap in New Zealand, https://workresearch.aut.ac.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/67277/Empirical-evidence-of-GPG-in-NZ-Mar2017_0.pdf (Ministry for Women, March 2017)
3 As above, page 7
4 As above, page 8
5 Guideline 8a
6 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
7 As above
9 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18