BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Cable and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-110 (21 December 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Jim Cable
Number
2020-110
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 segment on 1 News in which reporter Maiki Sherman interviewed the Hon Nick Smith about the National Party blocking a proposal to enable Māori to switch more easily between the general electoral roll and Māori electoral roll. The complainant submitted Ms Sherman was aggressive and interrupted Mr Smith and her attitude was racist. The Authority found Mr Smith was not treated unfairly given, in particular, his experience as a politician and the public interest in the issue discussed. Regarding balance, Mr Smith had an opportunity to present his views on the issue and a range of perspectives were presented in the broadcast. The discrimination and denigration standard did not apply.

Not Upheld: Fairness, Balance, Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  During a segment on 1 News, reporter Maiki Sherman interviewed the Hon Nick Smith about the National Party blocking a proposal to enable Māori voters to switch more easily between the general and Māori electoral rolls. It included the following:

Mr Smith:        In our view, it would be open to manipulation.

Ms Sherman:  It's also raised questions of political hypocrisy over National and Act’s deal in Epsom.

Mr Smith:        National is making a choice in the Epsom election…

Ms Sherman:  A manipulating choice. It’s a ‘nod, nod, wink, wink’ situation, isn’t it?

Mr Smith:        The law provides voters with a choice as to which candidates that they would vote for, in my view…

Ms Sherman:  But you do give National Party members a strong hint as to who they should vote for.

Mr Smith:        Look, that’s an issue for the leader.

Ms Sherman:  Do you think Māori voters are stupid?

Mr Smith:        Not at all. Quite the opposite.

Ms Sherman:  But you think they can be easily manipulated?

Mr Smith:        No, I’m saying if the Electoral Act allows…

Ms Sherman:  But that’s what you’re saying, you’re saying they could be easily manipulated.

Mr Smith:        I certainly am not, and I find it insulting that you would suggest that.

The complaint

[2]  Jim Cable complained the broadcast breached the fairness, balance and discrimination and denigration standards for the following reasons:

  • ‘[Ms] Sherman was very aggressive and interrupted [Mr] Smith several times before he’d completed his answers to her questions.’
  • ‘I felt her attitude towards [Mr] Smith was racist and her final remark to him had him declaring he felt insulted.’
  • ‘As a viewer I felt insulted by her arrogant attitude and her discernibly biased rudeness.’
  • ‘There was nothing whatsoever of the neutral stance expected of a professional journalist.’

TVNZ’s response

[3]  TVNZ did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • Discrimination and denigration: The complaint related to the treatment of an individual, rather than a section of the community. Therefore, this standard has no application.
  • Balance: The Māori electoral role issue was of public importance but had not excited conflicting opinion or been the subject of ongoing debate. In any event, the report included a range of significant viewpoints and satisfied this standard.
  • Fairness: Mr Smith is a seasoned politician with vast experience dealing with the media. As the National Party’s electoral law reform spokesperson he would have expected close scrutiny on the Māori electoral roll issue. Mr Smith was afforded a reasonable opportunity to express his viewpoint, and he was not criticised personally.

The relevant standards  

[4]  The fairness standard states broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme, so the audience is not left with an unduly negative impression of them.1 A consideration of what is fair depends on the nature of the programme, the context (including the level of public interest) and the nature of the individual.2 It is also relevant to consider whether any critical comments were aimed at the participant in their professional or personal capacity.3

[5]  The balance standard 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 views either in the same programme or within the period of current interest. This standard ensures competing views about significant issues are presented enabling viewers to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.4

[6]  The discrimination and denigration standard protects sections of the community from verbal and other attacks, and fosters a community commitment to equality. It does not apply in respect of individuals. As Mr Cable’s concerns are limited to Ms Sherman’s treatment of Mr Smith, this standard does not apply to the complaint, and is not addressed below.

Our findings

[7]  We have watched a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[8]  We have also considered the important right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point. This includes the broadcaster’s right to impart, and the audience’s right to receive, different ideas and information. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that justifies limiting the right to freedom of expression. For the reasons below, we have not found such harm in this case.

Fairness

[9]  The threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to public figures and politicians (who are familiar with the media) is higher than for someone unfamiliar with the media.5 The Authority has previously recognised criticism of public figures, in their professional capacity, as an essential element of free speech. The broad limit is such criticism should not stray into personally abusive territory.6

[10]  The following contextual factors are relevant:

  • 1 News is a news and current affairs programme.
  • The interview took place in the lead up to the general election.
  • The interview concerned a matter of public interest: the Māori electoral roll, and a proposal blocked by the National Party that could have affected Māori voter participation in a direct and immediate way.
  • Ms Sherman is a political reporter expected to ask probing questions of politicians and solicit answers for viewers.
  • Mr Smith is an experienced politician and the National Party’s electoral law reform spokesperson.
  • Ms Sherman allowed Mr Smith a reasonable opportunity to provide his viewpoint and respond to questions and criticism, as broadcast.

[11]  In light of the above contextual factors and, in particular, Mr Smith’s experience as a politician, and the public interest in the issue discussed, Mr Smith was not treated unfairly. Ms Sherman was persistent but not personally abusive, and her questions and criticism were aimed at Mr Smith in a professional capacity.

[12]  Therefore, we do not uphold the complaint under the fairness standard.

Balance

[13]  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’.7

[14]  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’.8 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.9

[15]  The Māori electoral role issue discussed in the broadcast was a controversial issue of public importance. The proposed changes to the Māori electoral role had excited conflicting opinion, as reflected by the different views expressed in the broadcast.

[16]  However, Mr Smith was given a reasonable opportunity to express his views, which were included in the broadcast. Others also presented alternative views, including the Hon Andrew Little, the Hon Peeni Henare and Joanne Hayes. Accordingly, competing views about the issue were presented and viewers were able to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.

[17]  Therefore, we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.

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

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

21 December 2020   

 


Appendix

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

1  Jim Cable’s original complaint – 28 July 2020

2  TVNZ’s response to Mr Cable –  21 August 2020

3  Mr Cable’s referral to the Authority – 1 September 2020

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 15 September 2020


1 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
2 Guideline 11a and Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
3 As above
4 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
5 See, for example, Hagger and Mediaworks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2020-032; Marra and Mediaworks Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2019-023; Anderson and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-091; and Cape and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2018-018
6 Kiro and Radioworks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-108 at [78]
7 Guideline 8a
8 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
9 As above