Pullar and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1998-084
- S R Maling (Chair)
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- J Withers
- Nick Pullar
ProgrammeOne Network News
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Coverage of the Values in Education conference on One Network News at 6.00pm on
26 March 1998 included an interview with a delegate who appeared to endorse the
Prime Minister's views as articulated in her speech to the conference.
Mr Pullar, the delegate who was interviewed, complained to Television New Zealand
Ltd, the broadcaster, that his remarks were reported out of context and totally
misrepresented his position. In addition, he complained that the item omitted to name
the organisation which he represented.
In its response, TVNZ conceded that, as presented, Mr Pullar appeared to take a
neutral stance and therefore the extract which was broadcast did not fairly represent
his views. It apologised and advised it had upheld the complaint that standards G4,
G14 and G19 were breached. It did not consider an on-air apology was appropriate.
Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ, Mr Pullar referred the complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the
action taken was insufficient.
The members of the Authority have viewed the item and have read the
correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). On this occasion, the Authority
determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
At the conclusion of the Values in Education conference, two delegates who were
interviewed commented on the Prime Minister's speech. A news item broadcast on
26 March 1998 on One Network News at 6.00pm reported those comments.
Mr Pullar, one of the delegates interviewed, complained to TVNZ that his comments
were edited in such a way that his views were misrepresented. It appeared, he wrote,
that he endorsed the positions articulated by the Prime Minister in her speech, when
in fact nothing could be further from the truth. In addition, he complained, the
organisation which he represented was not identified in the on screen credit which
named him. He pointed out that he had made it clear to the reporter who he
represented, and said he could not understand why the name of his organisation was
TVNZ considered the complaint under the standards G4, G14 and G19 of the
Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which were nominated by Mr Pullar. The
first standard requires broadcasters:
G4 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in
The other standards read:
G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.
G19 Care must be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure the
extracts used are a true reflection and not a distortion of the original
event or the overall views expressed.
Turning to the item, TVNZ noted that Mr Pullar's comments followed an
endorsement of the Prime Minister's stance by Sir Paul Reeves, who was identified as
a "former Governor General" in an on-screen caption. Mr Pullar was seen to say:
It certainly seems with the code of social responsibility and these sorts of
things that she's wanting to turn New Zealand into a more moralistic society
than it is at the moment.
TVNZ conceded that, as presented, Mr Pullar's comment did appear to take a neutral
stance. It reported that it had been intended to include a short line of script before Mr
Pullar's appearance, but that had been inadvertently omitted late in the editing
process. As a consequence, TVNZ advised, it upheld the complaint that as the extract
did not reflect his overall views, it breached standard G19. It followed logically, it
continued, that Mr Pullar was therefore treated unfairly and standards G4 and G14
were also breached.
In considering the omission of the name of the association in the caption, TVNZ
submitted that the rather long title made it impractical to include it under Mr Pullar's
name. Further, it did not believe that for most viewers the name of the organisation
would have immediately identified Mr Pullar as holding views different from the
Prime Minister. Recognising that Mr Pullar was disappointed that some points he
made were not included in the broadcast, TVNZ emphasised that the Prime Minister's
"surprising comments" were the main focus of the item, and that the comments from
him and Sir Paul Reeves, the other delegate interviewed, were included to provide a
quick reaction to the proposals.
Having upheld the complaint, TVNZ observed that it did not consider that an on-air
correction was appropriate because, it argued, out of the context of the original story,
the comments would make very little sense to viewers.
The Authority deals first with the complaint that the action taken by TVNZ, having
upheld the complaint, was insufficient. It notes that TVNZ acknowledged that the
editing of the item distorted Mr Pullar's views and was unfair to him. It advised that
the matter had been drawn to the attention of the reporter and editorial staff
concerned, and offered its apologies. The Authority also notes TVNZ's reassurance
that it took the matter very seriously and intended to learn from the mistake. In the
circumstances, the Authority considers that the action taken by TVNZ was sufficient,
and it is not convinced that the breach could usefully be corrected on air, as requested
by the complainant. It acknowledges TVNZ's argument that such a correction has
little or no relevance for viewers when it is remote from the original brief news item.
The Authority then turns to Mr Pullar's complaint that it was unfair not to name the
organisation which he represented in a caption. It accepts that it is a common
newsroom practice to identify speakers by name and, if relevant, by the name of the
organisation they represent. In this case, given the effect of the editing of his
comments, the Authority believes it could have been more unfair - and embarrassing -
to Mr Pullar had he been identified as representing the organisation. The failure to
link him with the group possibly, in the Authority's view, saved further
embarrassment because the possible damage was limited to him as an individual.
Notwithstanding that, the Authority understands that those who knew Mr Pullar,
particularly in his professional capacity, could well have been mystified by the
statement he appeared to have made which seemed to be at odds with his known
views. The Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the failure to include the
caption was unfair.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
30 July 1988
Nick Pullar's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 31 March 1998
Mr Pullar of Auckland complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about a news item
broadcast on One Network News on 26 March 1998 at 6.00pm.
The item reported on the Values in Education conference which was held in
Wellington, and referred to the speech made by the Prime Minister. Mr Pullar noted
that he was interviewed by a reporter covering the Prime Minister's speech, and he
subsequently appeared in the item.
Mr Pullar complained that the item was biased and his comments were reported out of
context. He wrote:
If you review the tape that was made of my full interview, I think that you
will agree that I do not support the positions that Mrs Shipley articulated in
her speech. However, when edited and broadcast, it appeared I actually
endorsed what Mrs Shipley said. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In addition, he complained, the name of the organisation which he represented, The
New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, was not shown, even though
he had made it clear to the reporter who he represented.
Mr Pullar said he did not understand why this was the case, as Sir Paul Reeves
was shown with a credit "Former Governor General".
Mr Pullar said he considered he was owed an apology, and ought to have his position
presented correctly by TVNZ.
TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint – 24 April 1998
TVNZ advised that it had considered the complaint under standards G4, G14 and G19
of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
It noted that Mr Pullar's comments followed remarks made by Sir Paul Reeves, who
strongly supported the Prime Minister's position. He was seen saying:
It certainly seems with the code of social responsibility and these sort of
things that she's wanting to turn New Zealand into a more moralistic society
than it is at the moment.
TVNZ observed that it was common practice in news, where it was important to
achieve balance, to follow an endorsement (such as from Sir Paul Reeves) with a
comment from an opposing point of view. That had been done on this occasion.
However, TVNZ conceded, as presented, Mr Pullar's comment appeared to take a
neutral stance. It advised that its investigation revealed that there was originally an
intention to include a short line of script between the two comments, but the line was
inadvertently dropped in the editing process.
As a consequence, TVNZ agreed, the extract from Mr Pullar's interview did not
reflect the overall views expressed by him, and was in breach of standard G19. It
followed logically, TVNZ added, that he was treated unfairly and standard G4 was
also breached, as was standard G14.
TVNZ apologised for so treating him and for any embarrassment his appearance on
One Network News had caused him. It advised that the matter had been discussed at
length with the reporter and editorial staff concerned.
In considering the matter of not identifying the organisation Mr Pullar belonged to,
TVNZ said that the rather long title would have been impractical to include under his
name. It also suggested that the name of the organisation would not automatically, to
most viewers, put him on the other side of the fence to Mrs Shipley. The intention
had been, it wrote, to include Mr Pullar as an individual who had attended the
conference, heard Mrs Shipley's remarks, and found them wanting.
TVNZ recognised that Mr Pullar was disappointed that some other points he made
during the interview were not included in the broadcast, but noted that Mrs Shipley's
comments were the focus of the item, and that he and Sir Paul Reeves provided a brief
reaction to them.
TVNZ advised that as with all upheld decisions, it took the matter very seriously, and
that its aim was to learn from the mistake. It did not believe an on-air correction was
appropriate since his comments would make very little sense to viewers after the
length of time which had elapsed since the item's screening.
Mr Pullar's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 19 May 1998
Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ, having upheld his complaint, Mr Pullar
referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting
Mr Pullar noted that TVNZ had admitted misrepresenting his position and had
apologised. However, he did not agree with its reasons for not including his
organisation's name. In his opinion, TVNZ had a duty to present him as a member of
his organisation, as he made it clear to the reporter that he was not merely an
individual at the conference.
He argued that the fact that his organisation's name was long was not a reason to omit
it. He suggested it would have been possible to present it on two lines, or to
Secondly, he complained that in its response TVNZ had acknowledged it was in the
wrong, and had apologised, but was not willing to do anything about it. He argued
that when print or radio media made a mistake, they often printed or broadcast a
correction. Mr Pullar said he believed he was entitled to have his position correctly
represented on One Network News. He considered there should be sanctions for
broadcasters who violated the standards of their craft, and that TVNZ should satisfy
him that it meant what it said in relation to its apology.
TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 3 June 1998
TVNZ advised that it had nothing further to add. It concluded:
We do not believe that in the particular circumstances of the complaint, a
meaningful on-air correction can be made – meaningful meaning one that will
make any sense to anyone other than the complainant.
Mr Pullar's Final Comment – 17 June 1998
Mr Pullar repeated that he was disappointed with TVNZ's response, adding that he
considered it an example of the arrogance it had displayed throughout its dealings with
Mr Pullar did not agree with TVNZ's claim that an on air correction would not be
meaningful and said that he had evidence that TVNZ was factually incorrect in making
First, he noted, other media made retractions and apologies when the circumstances
warranted. He did not consider the passage of time to be relevant, "since it has
mostly been TVNZ's delay in investigating...a very simple complaint". He did not
believe that TVNZ should be allowed to embarrass him and then escape without an on
air correction simply because they had obfuscated, he added.
Secondly, Mr Pullar maintained that TVNZ's claim that the correction would only
have meaning for him was untrue. He pointed out that he represented his Association
at the conference, and those members who watched the broadcast were shocked and
surprised at his apparent support for Mrs Shipley. In addition, he said, friends and
relatives in the wider community were similarly shocked. He pointed out that he had
been well known at Auckland University during his time there and people who had
known him in that context had also expressed concern to him.
Finally, Mr Pullar wrote, TVNZ failed to address the issue of its failure to credit him
on screen with the name of the Association. He noted that TVNZ's justification was
that the name of the Association was too long, and that viewers would not have
known what it meant. He pointed out that he had told the reporter that he
represented the organisation. He considered there was no reason why the credit could
not have been included on screen. The name of the Association was very clear about
what it represented, he wrote. He acknowledged that some viewers would not know
what it stood for, but asked whether TVNZ was justified in removing every credit
simply because someone might not understand. Mr Pullar enclosed a letter from a
Councillor of the Association which expressed his concerns about the inaccurate
impression given by the excerpt from the interview which was broadcast.