BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Carapiet and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2022-033 (6 July 2022)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
  • Jon Carapiet
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Radio New Zealand


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

An episode of Crowdscience broadcast on RNZ National discussed whether it was possible to engineer plants to make them edible (by removing toxic compounds) or more nutritious. In doing so, the broadcast investigated advances in genetic modification technology. The complainant stated the broadcast breached the accuracy and balance standards as it allegedly omitted relevant information, resulting in an exaggeration of the benefits identified in the broadcast of the advances mentioned. The Authority considered the complaint to be most appropriately addressed under the accuracy standard. It found the majority of the broadcast was materially accurate, and in any event, reasonable efforts were made to ensure accuracy as it was reasonable to rely on the experts interviewed.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Balance

The broadcast

[1]  An episode of Crowdscience, which aired on RNZ National at 5.30am on 11 December 2021, discussed whether it was possible to engineer plants to make them edible (by removing toxic compounds) or more nutritious. In doing so, it investigated the use of genetic modification (GM) in crops, including interviews with experts in the field discussing: the history of GM in plant breeding, advantages and challenges of using GM, and the ethical implications of GM in different geographical locations. The programme included the following points:

  • Plant breeding is about more than just 'increasing yield. It's also about taking away, through genetic manipulation, through cross-breeding and stuff, those characteristics that we don't like and the characteristics we don't like are stuff like acid taste, toxicity, you know, all that kind of stuff.’
  • Cotton plants produce more seed than fibre in terms of weight, but cotton plants and their seeds are full of a poison called gossypol. A process of removing the poison in the seed through gene silencing received FDA approval, meaning ‘it can be used as food and also as feed for, say, for chicken, fish and so on.’
  • Eggplant crops can be modified with a gene from a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to provide resistance to insect attacks, increasing yield and reducing costs of spraying insecticide. This point was made by reference to utilisation of the technology in Bangladesh. A challenge noted in the broadcast was the development of resistance by insects to the gene. A proposed solution was:

    to grow a buffer zone of non-GM eggplant, which can support a big population of insect pests. That way, even if one does arrive with a mutation for resistance, it doesn't really have much of an advantage because there's plenty of non-toxic crop for them to eat and plenty of other insects doing just fine without the resistance gene.
  • The issue of GM draws polarising opinions:

    …but one important thing to say is that the controversies around GM are not global. They're localised. For one thing, GM crops have been grown for years now in the USA and many crops are permitted in China and India, whereas in many countries in Europe, including France and Italy, GM crops are completely banned.
  • GM crops are ‘absolutely fine to eat. I think we can say with complete confidence that anybody can eat a GM plant without any fear of anything bad happening to them.’
  • While discussing potential ecological problems, specifically in relation to herbicide resistant GM crops allowing the use of herbicides that would otherwise kill the crop, one expert noted ‘the problem is that has effect on the local environment, and there is evidence that runoff from the widespread use of herbicides is affecting the local watercourses and in particular is affecting amphibians.’
  • With regards to whether GM should continue to be used, the presenter stated:

    The history of the controversy around GM has been quite dominated by the West, particularly protests in Europe. And here yields are very high already. But in many countries within Africa, because of reduced access to machinery and more variable weather, the amount that farmers can harvest is a lot less. So we have to weigh up issues of environmental gene escape, herbicide overuse, seed ownership and other unexpected consequences with the marked ability of GM crops to improve food production. So should we use it?

The complaint

[2]  Jon Carapiet complained the broadcast breached the balance and accuracy standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice as:

Cottonseed oil

  • ‘The programme reported on a GMO cotton project as if it was creating a new source of food for millions of people. However [there] is already a large global market for cottonseed oil used in animal food and human food.’
  • ‘Processed oils from cotton seed are already approved for sale by Food Standards Australia NZ and have been for years.’
  • ‘The programme was misleading not to mention this and displays a lack of balance in the reporting.’

Bt crops

  • ‘There is a history of issues around the approval process of BT crops in Bangladesh and elsewhere that is of significant relevance to providing a balanced report.’1 ‘The programme lacked balance by not including this fact.’
  • ‘There was total obscuring of local responses to GM crops in the developing world.’
  • The ‘programme suggested it is western countries and consumer sentiments that prevented Africa and Asian countries from adopting GMOs.’
  • ‘Resistance is already emerging, not just a manageable “future problem” that planting buffer zones of non-BT crops is effective to slow down resistance, (as suggested in the programme).’2

Other topics

  • ‘The programme was unbalanced in promoting claims for increased yield for GM crops to feed the world, without acknowledging that yields have not been greater with the advent of GE crops in the US.’
  • ‘The claim [was] made that “all GM food is safe for consumers to eat”, but use of pesticides on GM crops was a concern for the environment. There was mention of glyphosate entering waterways but not of it entering the human food supply by increased absorption into GM crops. This is a significant omission that leaves the content of the programme neither accurate or balanced.’3

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  Radio New Zealand Ltd did not uphold the complaint. Initially, RNZ did not substantively respond to the complaint as the complainant incorrectly identified the programme subject to this complaint. Following clarification of the programme, RNZ maintained the position it had addressed the concerns raised in the complaint without providing a more substantive response. We consider RNZ should have addressed the complainant’s substantive concerns after this clarification.

[4]  Following the complaint’s referral to the Authority, RNZ submitted the broadcast did not breach the standards raised:


  • ‘RNZ does not believe that the premise of this programme represents a controversial issue of public importance (in New Zealand). This programme has not excited any form of a debate in New Zealand’s media or society as a result of its broadcast. The programme presenter described the topic of genetic modifications as ‘controversial’ when that aspect was explored within the programme so listeners were alert to that as a possibility.’
  • ‘RNZ notes that even if the programme could be subject to the balance standard it quoted a range of sources within the same episode thereby meeting the requirements of the balance standard. They were:
    • Professor Sandy Knapp of the Natural History Museum, London.
    • Julie King. Professor of Cereal Genetics. University of Nottingham.
    • Professor Keerti Rathore. Crop and Soil Scientist. Texas A and M University.
    • Yousuf Akond. Chief Scientific Officer. Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute.
    • Professor Matthew Cobb. Genetic Engineering Historian. University of Manchester.
    • Patience Koku. A farmer from Nigeria. Member of the Global Farmer Network.
  • ‘The programme is part of a series that deals with scientific questions at quite a basic level (in line with Crowdscience’s audience expectations).’


  • ‘Given that the central question of this programme is “can you manipulate plants in such a way as to make them more edible or more nutritious?” the answer provided by the programme was “yes” – by two main scientific methods: selective breeding and genetic modification.’
  • ‘The remaining points raised by the complainant are not material to the audience’s understanding of the issues raised in the programme.’

The relevant standard

[5]  The key issue raised in the complaint is that the item is misleading by omission (supported as the complainant’s suggestions on what ‘significant viewpoints’ were missing relate to alleged inaccuracies in the broadcast). We consider the matter most appropriately addressed under the accuracy standard and therefore do not address the balance standard in this case.

[6]  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 any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.

Our analysis

[7]  We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[8]  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 reasonable and justified.6


[9]  The audience may be misinformed: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme. Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.7 Programmes may be misleading by omission, or as a result of the way dialogue and images have been edited together, for example.8

[10]  The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or other points unlikely to significantly affect an audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.9

[11]  Further, the requirement for accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.10 An opinion is someone’s view. It is contestable, and others may hold a different view.11 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.12 Relevant factors may include:13

  • 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.

[12]  The broadcast was presented as a straightforward ‘explainer’ on GM technology, seeking to answer a listener’s discrete question (‘can we make poisonous plants edible?’). It generally used definitive language, although some language could be interpreted as reflecting an expert’s personal opinion (eg ‘I think we can say with complete confidence that anybody can eat a GM plant without any fear of anything bad happening to them.’). Given the explainer format, we consider a reasonable listener was likely to perceive all of the relevant information as fact. The accuracy standard therefore applies.

[13]  The complainant identified the following as allegedly inaccurate, and provided their reasons for why they thought the following were inaccurate:

a)  The consumption of cotton seeds, and their oil, was innovative (when there was already a global market for cottonseed oil).

b)  The benefits and ease of approval of Bt crops were overly exaggerated (there is a history of issues around the approval process of Bt crops in Bangladesh).

c)  ‘Buffer zones’ are effective at reducing resistance to GM crops (resistance is already emerging even with the use of buffer zones).

d)  Western countries and consumer sentiments prevented African and Asian countries from adopting GM crops (this was not true).

e)  GM increases the yield of crops (this is not the case in the US).

f)  GM crops are safe for consumers to eat (when herbicides used on these crops are absorbed and enter the ‘human food supply’).

[14]  The issues raised by the complainant are complex and clearly relate to a developing area of science (given the recency of the programme, which was first released in May 2021,14 and the sources provided by the complainant). We note it is not the Authority’s, or broadcaster’s, role to conclusively establish the benefits of the technology referred to in the broadcast.15 To that extent, the standard states broadcasters should ‘make reasonable efforts’ to ensure accuracy; the standard is not absolute and focuses on what a broadcaster could reasonably do about an inaccuracy.16

[15]  Overall, we have not upheld the complaint under accuracy. The complaint largely relates to the omission of material said to make the broadcast misleading. In general, we do not agree. As noted above, the broadcast dealt with a complex issue and endeavoured to explain the issue in a simple and accessible way for listeners.17 Listeners would not have expected the level of additional detail contemplated by the complainant regarding issues such as regulatory approval processes.18 We also note the experts interviewed are qualified in their respective fields (as outlined in the programme), making it reasonable for RNZ to rely on their views. Further, we note that RNZ re-broadcast the programme (which was developed by BBC). In these circumstances, we also consider it was reasonable for RNZ to rely on BBC as a reputable news outlet.19

[16]  We do not consider the broadcast materially mislead viewers to an extent requiring regulatory intervention or justifying limits on the broadcaster’s freedom of expression. We expand on our reasoning under each of the alleged inaccuracies:

(a)  Cottonseeds: the broadcast discussed editing cotton to remove the toxic compound gossypol entirely from the seeds. We acknowledge there is a global market for cottonseed oil. However, it appears the oil is processed to reduce gossypol content to levels safe for human consumption.20 The broadcast was discussing the removal of gossypol content (thus presumably removing the need for processing post-harvest). The omission of reference to this other market (requiring processing) is therefore immaterial.

(b)  Bt crops: the broadcast described one way crops could gain resistance to insects. It did not refer to issues throughout the approval process and issues with that process were not material to the simple existence of a scientific process on this topic (a process which appears to have had some success).21

(c)  Buffer zones: The broadcast stated it is inevitable insects will become resistant to the Bt crops at some point. To ‘stop’ this evolution, ‘buffer zones’ with non-Bt crops should be grown. The broadcast then referred back to farms in Bangladesh, where the expert noted this is a form of ‘resistance management’ which could ‘delay’ this resistance development for several years. The expert also noted farmers’ fields are monitored to ensure buffer zones are grown. We agree using the term ‘stop’ rather than ‘delay’, could imply resistance would be completely prevented. However, we consider this was immaterial as the broadcast then referred to ‘delaying’ resistance. In the context of an explainer broadcast, an audience would not be concerned with this technical difference. We also do not consider the omission of already emerging resistance to the crops had the effect of misleading listeners. As the issue of resistance was raised, a listener would have understood this could be a current issue, but buffer zones were a tool which could be used in response. While we accept the tool will be imperfect, the tool has some support in the scientific community.22 We therefore find the statements were materially accurate.

(d)  Adoption of GM innovations: We do not consider the programme suggested Western countries prevented African and Asian countries from adopting GMOs, as suggested by the complainant.

(e)  Increased yield: The broadcast stated GM crops have been ‘grown for years’ in the USA. It did not make any statements regarding yields in the USA. Statements regarding yields in other countries are not affected by yields in the USA.

(f)  Safe for consumption: We accept the statement GM crops are safe to eat extends to the use of herbicides on those crops, where the modification allows the use of previously lethal herbicides (such as glyphosate-resistant crops). As the complainant focuses on these types of crops, our analysis is similarly narrowed. The issues relating to this particular point are complicated.23 However, this statement was made by Professor Matthew Cobb, a professor of zoology with a PhD in genetics.24 Professor Cobb is also currently writing a book on the history of genetic engineering.25 In this context, it was reasonable for the programme to rely on Professor Cobb.26

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Susie Staley
6 July 2022    




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

1  Jon Carapiet’s formal complaint to RNZ, and clarification of complaint – 11 December 2021, 10 January 2022

2  RNZ’s decision on formal complaint, and subsequent confirmation of decision – 7 January 2022, 16 March 2022

3  Carapiet’s referral to the Authority – 22 March 2022

4  RNZ’s response to referral – 17 May 2022

5  Carapiet’s final comments – 23 May 2022

6  RNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 23 May 2022

1 Citing Meenakshi Sushma “Experts slam trial for new Bt brinjal variety, cite regulatory lapses” (28 August 2020) DownToEarth <>
2 Citing Emily Unglesbee “Bt on the Chopping Block” (29 September 2020) Progressive Farmer <>; Dan Charles “As Biotech Crops Lose Their Power, Scientists Push For New Restrictions” npr <>
3 Citing Thomas Bøhn and Erik Millstone “The Introduction of Thousands of Tonnes of Glyphosate in the food Chain—An Evaluation of Glyphosate Tolerant Soybeans” (2019) 8 Foods 669; and Gilles-Eric Seralini “Update on long-term toxicity of agricultural GMOs tolerant to roundup” (2020) 32 Environmental Sciences Europe 18
4 Standard 9, Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
5 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
6 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
7 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
8 As above
9 Guideline 9b
10 Guideline 9a
11 Guidance: Accuracy – Distinguishing Fact and Analysis, Comment or Opinion, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 64
12 As above
13 As above
14 Crowdscience “Could we turn poisonous plants into edible crops?” (14 May 2021) BBC <>
15 See Barron and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-009 at [23] for a similar finding
16 See NZDSOS and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-005 at [16]
17 See Climie and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-017 at [10]
18 See NZDSOS and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-005 at [20] for a similar finding
19 See Foster and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2020-121 at [14] and Christensen and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-007 at [14] where we made similar findings
20 See Seed Oil Press “Cottonseed Oil Extraction Plant” <>: under ‘Introduction to Cottonseed Oil Extraction Plant’ - ‘Cottonseeds contain a toxic pigment which called gossypol, of which the content is 0.15%-1.8%. Cottonseed kernels contain 0.5-2.5% of gossypol.’ See also Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, § 172.894 Modified cottonseed products intended for human consumption which states modified cottonseed products are fit for human consumption if they contain gossypol content less than 450 parts per million. The advances referred to in the broadcast reduce gossypol levels in the seed to 300 parts per million: Emily Waltz “First edible cottonseed go-ahead” (2018) 36 Nature Biotechnology 1126
21 Anthony Shelton and others “Bt Eggplant Project in Bangladesh: History, Present Status, and Future Direction” (2018) 6 Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 106
22 See Benjamin Arends and others “Effectiveness of the natural resistance management refuge for Bt-cotton is dominated by local abundance of soybean and maize” (2021) 11 Scientific Reports 17601; Bruce Tabashnik and Yves Carrière “Surge in insect resistance to transgenic crops and prospects for sustainability” (2017) 11 Nature Biotechnology 926; “Resistance is… complex” (2018) 2 Nature Ecology & Evolution 405
23 Where the herbicides, specifically glyphosate, were originally determined as safe (See generally, Sciencedirect “Glyphosate” <>), the position has since been criticised due to perceived deficiencies in the earlier studies (See the complainant’s sources at fn 3, above; and Fabiana Manservisi and others “The Ramazzini Institute 13-week pilot study glyphosate-based herbicides administered at human-equivalent dose to Sprague Dawley rats: effects on development and endocrine system” (2019) 18 Environmental Health 15). We also acknowledge Te Mana Rauhī Taiao / the Environmental Protection Authority is currently undertaking a review of glyphosate use, and its classification, (Environmental Protection Authority | Te Mana Rauhī Taiao “Glyphosate: Call for information” <>) in Aotearoa New Zealand, although this is in the context of the application of glyphosate, rather than its incidental ingestion through GM crops, as Aotearoa does not have these GM crops (Manatū Ahu Matua | Ministry for Primary Industries “Glyphosate in food” (13 July 2021)
24 The University of Manchester “Prof Matthew Cobb BA, Habilitation, PhD” <>
25 The Science Factory “Matthew Cobb” <>
26 Guideline 9d