BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Derleth and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2021-109 (20 December 2021)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
Dated
Complainant
  • Andreas Derleth
Number
2021-109
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary  

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint alleging an item on Newshub Live at 6pm lacked balance. The item reported on reactions to the sentencing of a person involved in the ‘coward punch’ death of a prominent Auckland kickboxer. A person’s sentencing is not a controversial issue of public importance, so the balance standard does not apply. In any case, it was clear the item was coming from a particular perspective.

Not Upheld: Balance


The broadcast

[1]  An item on Newshub Live at 6pm, broadcast on Three on 11 August 2021, reported on reactions to the sentencing of a person involved in the ‘coward punch’ death of a prominent Auckland kickboxer, Fau Vake. The people interviewed were members of Vake’s gym, City Kickboxing, who made comments including the following:

  • ‘My true reaction was one of disgust.’
  • ‘Nothing's going to bring him back. So there's no justice. There's no justice.’
  • ‘Once the first guy got sentenced yesterday, we're like what the f***.1 OK, this is bullshit. We need to take a stand so people can actually like, not just sweep it under the rug.’
  • ‘You give him six months holiday in his house with his family …it's lunacy. It's crazy.’

[2]  The reporter also commented, ‘…the Justice Minister has said the law already gives courts appropriate sentencing options.’

The complaint

[3]  Andreas Derleth complained the item lacked balance, as it only presented one perspective:

  • ‘I was unable to understand if the verdict is fair because [Newshub's] report was unbalanced.’
  • ‘It did not explain how the court came to the sentence. This has significant consequences with public [opinion] potentially swinging one way for lack of objective reporting.’
  • This is ‘an example of a worrying trend’ that Newshub dramatises stories, probably to attract more viewers, ‘rather than providing objective balanced information’.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  Discovery did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • The news item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance, so the requirement for balance was not triggered.
  • ‘The Broadcast focussed on Vake's community's response to the sentence and is typical of stories reporting on the sentences handed down by courts. We have not identified any breach of this standard.’

The standard

[5]  The balance standard2 states when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.3 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.4

Our analysis

[6]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[7]  The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy and it is our starting point when considering complaints. We weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm that may have potentially been caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified, in light of actual or potential harm caused.

[8]  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’.5

[9]  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’.6 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.7

[10]  The broadcast concerned the sentencing of one individual. The sentencing of an individual for an offence against another individual will be significant to family and friends of victims affected by the crime, but would not generally be considered controversial or significant to the broader New Zealand public, and we consider it is not in this case.8 Therefore, we find the broadcast did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance as contemplated by the standard.

[11]  In any case, the programme did not purport to be a balanced examination of an issue and was clearly signalled as approaching a topic from a particular perspective:9 the views of friends and colleagues of the victim who were personally affected by the crime.

[12]  The complainant argues the story is an example of a ‘worrying trend’ of story dramatization, noting that reporting should be balanced with ‘no drama or emotions and if that is added, it should be clearly marked as a reporter’s opinion rather than news’. However, provided broadcasting standards are observed, the way in which a story is presented is a matter for the broadcaster’s editorial discretion.

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

 

Susie Staley
Chair
20 December 2021

 

 

Appendix

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

1  Andreas Derleth’s complaint to Discovery – 12 August 2021

2  Discovery’s decision on the complaint – 7 September 2021

3  Derleth’s referral to the BSA – 10 September 2021

4  Discovery’s confirmation of no further comments – 19 October 2021


1 Censored in broadcast
2 Standard 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
3 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
4 As above
5 Guideline 8a
6 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
7 As above
8 See for example: Kean and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2020-097
9 Guideline 8d