Dent and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2022-131 (7 March 2023)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- John Gillespie
- Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
- Aroha Beck
- Alex Dent
ProgrammeNewshub Live at 6pm
BroadcasterDiscovery NZ Ltd T/A Warner Bros. Discovery
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an item on Newshub Live at 6pm reporting on the results of the Transport and Accident Investigation Commission’s investigation into a fatal mid-air collision at an unattended aerodrome. The complainant alleged the broadcast was inaccurate and unbalanced in its reporting that ‘dangers’ (such as the non-compliant procedure that had contributed to the crash) were occurring at other unattended aerodromes. The Authority found the broadcast accurately reflected the results of the investigation and the broadcast did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance for the purpose of the balance standard.
Not Upheld: Accuracy, Balance
 An episode of Newshub Live at 6pm, broadcast on 3 November 2022, reported on the results of an investigation by the Transport and Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) into a mid-air collision at an unattended aerodrome, which had resulted in the death of two pilots. The hosts advised of the TAIC investigation findings that the crash occurred due to one pilot failing to give way, the pilot had been following a ‘local practice’ when landing which went against Civil Aviation rules, and there were ‘similar dangers at other small aerodromes’. A reporter later stated that the findings of the investigation determined there was ‘a non-compliant procedure being flown’ and the investigation had found ‘similar practices happening at other unattended aerodromes where there is no traffic control’.
 Alex Dent complained the hosts’ and reporter’s statements that the investigation had found ‘similar’ dangers/practices at other small unattended aerodromes breached the balance and accuracy standards.
 The complainant complained these statements:
- Did not accurately represent the findings of the TAIC report or media release.1
- Did not accurately represent the situation at small aerodromes, and painted them all as unsafe because of people not following the rules. ‘The truth is that this could happen at any aerodrome in New Zealand. Rule breaking is not just limited to small uncontrolled airfields, but it is also a very rare occurrence, and the statement by Newshub does not accurately report this.’
 The complainant advised the issue of safety at small and unattended aerodromes is a controversial topic with many regions facing attempts to have their aerodromes shut down. They considered the broadcast painted small regional aerodromes in an unfair negative light, which ‘gives people already trying to close many small airports more fuel to do so’. ‘Aviation in general is extremely safe, and [the] incident in question was a freak accident.’
The broadcaster’s response
 Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:
- ‘The Broadcast accurately reported the findings of the investigation and [WBD] has not identified any material errors of fact.’
- ‘[WBD] did not agree that the Broadcast canvassed a controversial issue of public importance or that such an issue was discussed in this Broadcast, and that the requirement for balance was not triggered.’
 The purpose of the accuracy standard2 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.3 It states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure news, current affairs or factual content is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. Where a material error of fact has occurred, broadcasters should correct it within a reasonable period after they have been put on notice.
 The balance standard4 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.5 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.6
 We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 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 demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.7
 Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two steps. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading. The second step is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure that the programme was accurate and did not mislead.
 The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or unimportant points that are unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.8
 The harm the complainant is concerned about is that the broadcast portrays small unmanned aerodromes as unsafe and was not an accurate portrayal of the TAIC’s investigation.
 We note in relation to the wider non-compliance dangers referenced in the broadcast, TAIC’s final report stated:9
Further to the questioning about circuit behaviours, a sample of flight examiners, chief flying instructors and senior pilots from around the country were contacted to determine if routine non-compliance at aerodromes was a wider issue than just Masterton. Most of those contacted confirmed that non-compliance was not unusual and was almost solely confined to unattended aerodromes – those without an air traffic service in attendance.
 The TAIC investigation report states ‘non-compliance was not unusual and was almost solely confined to unattended aerodromes’. In our view this reflects the statement made by the reporter that ‘similar’ dangers/practices (to the non-compliant procedure which contributed to the crash) were happening at other unattended aerodromes.
 In addition, TAIC Investigator Ian McClelland, who was interviewed on the programme, stated “the wider issues are that there are ad-hoc procedures going on, perhaps around the country that we need to address and improve.” Again, this statement, made by a representative of the organisation who conducted the investigation and released the report, reflects the statements made by the hosts and reporter.
 Finally, we do not consider the necessary implication from a statement about ‘similar dangers at other small aerodromes’ is that ‘all’ small aerodromes were unsafe.
 In the circumstances, we have found no material inaccuracy and do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.
 The first question for the Authority is whether the balance standard applied to this broadcast. A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative points viewpoints is triggered. The relevant broadcast must:
- be a ‘news, current affairs or factual programme;’ and
- 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’).10
 An issue of public importance is something that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public. A controversial issue will be one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.11
 The complaint alleges a lack of balancing information regarding safety at small and unattended aerodromes. Noting the issues identified by the complainant regarding pressure on such aerodromes to close on safety grounds, we accept this issue may constitute a controversial issue of public importance.
 However, the broadcast was a brief (slightly over 2 minutes) report focused on TAIC’s findings into the particular crash discussed. Such brief news reports will not generally constitute a ‘discussion’ for the purposes of the standard.12
 The mention of TAIC’s findings regarding similar dangers at other small aerodromes does not change the position. A key consideration is what an audience expects from a programme13 and we do not consider, in the circumstances of a brief report into TAIC’s findings, viewers would have expected to be provided with an alternative view, highlighting the safety of compliant unattended aerodromes.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
7 March 2023
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Alex Dent’s formal complaint to WBD – 3 November 2022
2 WBD’s response to the complaint –29 November 2022
3 Dent’s referral to the Authority – 29 November 2022
4 WBD’s confirmation of no further comment – 2 December 2022
1 Transport Accident Investigation Commission l Te Kōmihana Tirotiro Aituā Waka “Media release: Mid-air collision near Masterton in 2019” (3 November 2022) <taic.org.nz>; Transport Accident Investigation Commission l Te Kōmihana Tirotiro Aituā Waka “AO-2019-006: Cessna 185A, ZK-CBY and Tecnam P2002, ZK-WAK Mid-air collision, Near Masterton, 16 June 2019” (16 June 2019) <taic.org.nz>
2 Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
3 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 16
4 Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
5 Commentary, Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 14
6 Guideline 5.1
7 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
8 Guideline 6.2
9 Transport Accident Investigation Commission l Te Kōmihana Tirotiro Aituā Waka “Final Report: Aviation inquiry AO-2019-006 Cessna 185A, ZK-WAK Mid-air collision, near Masterton 16 June 2019” (November 2022) <taic.org.nz> page 27 at [3.40]
10 Guideline 5.1
11 As above
12 As above
13 Commentary, Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at 14