BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Cowan and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2007-130

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Hamish Cowan
One News
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item looked at the government’s surplus and the likelihood of tax cuts – presenter made a comment regarding possible tax cuts – allegedly unbalanced and inaccurate 

Standard 4 (balance) – presenter’s statement appeared to take a position – statement was balanced by comments from the political reporter – issue of tax cuts had a long history and was well publicised – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – subsumed into consideration of Standard 4 

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]     An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 10 October 2007, discussed the cause and effect of the Labour-led Government’s $8.6 billion surplus and the likelihood of tax cuts before the next election.

[2]   As part of the item, the presenter and TV One’s political reporter had the following exchange:

Presenter:     Michael Cullen being coy there, but surely he has to bite the bullet and cut
                    taxes in election year?

Reporter:      Yeah, he has to do something, he simply can’t go into an election having not
                    cut taxes in nine years and been running big surpluses....but I would not
                    expect big tax cuts from...the government.


[3]   Hamish Cowan made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the presenter’s comment on possible tax cuts breached standards of balance and accuracy.   

[4]   Referring to guidelines 4a and 5c, the complainant argued that the presenter did not show the balance and impartiality that was required of news programmes. He considered that the presenter’s role was to report the news and not to express opinions about what was likely to happen in the future political environment.  


[5]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4 and 5 and guidelines 4a and 5c of the Free-to-Air Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Guideline 4a

Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality.

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Guideline 5c

Broadcasters must ensure that the editorial independence and integrity of news and current affairs is maintained.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   TVNZ considered that “the story about the government surplus was framed by live commentary from the political editor from Parliament and the news presenter in the studio”. It stated that the presenter’s role was to ask questions of the political editor which enabled him to expand on the relevant issues and provide further insight to the viewer about the surplus with reference to the upcoming election.

[7]   The broadcaster maintained that “this type of questioning of experts is one of the legitimate roles of a news presenter and does not show partiality”. It declined to uphold the balance complaint.

[8]   With respect to accuracy, TVNZ argued that the presenter’s questions did not lead to a lack of integrity in the news report and that it was the presenter’s role to ask questions to elicit further information about the subject under scrutiny. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5. 

Referral to the Complainant

[9]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Cowan referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[10]   Mr Cowan maintained that the presenter’s question specified that cutting taxes “should surely happen if the government wants to act prudently in an election year”. He argued that the presenter gave the impression that tax cuts should override other policy options that the government might have and that the presenter promoted a specific policy option.

[11]   The complainant stated that the presenter’s question would have been less inappropriate if it had been asked in a different context, such as a devil’s advocate approach. He also considered that the informality of the question was inappropriate for a news presenter and that such actions undermined the integrity of the news.

Authority's Determination

[12]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 4 (balance)

[13]   Standard 4 requires broadcasters to provide balance when discussing controversial issues of public importance. The Authority finds that the item’s discussion of the government’s surplus and possible tax cuts was a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance as envisaged by the standard.

[14]   The Authority accepts that the presenter’s statement appeared to take a position on the necessity of tax cuts in election year. However, the statement reflected a political reality that the government was faced with high expectations of personal tax cuts in the upcoming election year. Further, the intent of the statement was clearly to stimulate a response from the political reporter.

[15]   In determining whether the broadcaster met the requirement for balance, the Authority is required to consider the news item as a whole, not just the presenter’s comment in isolation. It considers that balance was provided by the comments made by the political reporter including:

But I wouldn’t expect big tax cuts from the government...I think they will save their big cash items for things like housing affordability, and addressing health and education.

[16]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item was unbalanced.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[17]   With respect to Mr Cowan’s accuracy complaint, the Authority considers that his concerns have been adequately addressed in its consideration of balance. Accordingly, the Authority subsumes the Standard 5 complaint into its consideration of the balance standard.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
30 April 2008


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

1.            Hamish Cowan’s formal complaint – 11 October 2007
2.           TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 6 November 2007
3.           Mr Cowan’s referral to the Authority – 22 November 2007
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 26 February 2008