BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Dewhurst and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2019-109 (7 May 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Roger Dewhurst
Number
2019-109
Programme
The AM Show
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary  

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

A complaint that an episode of The AM Show breached the balance standard was not upheld. The episode featured multiple segments that addressed various climate change related issues including interviews with a Fonterra representative about its sustainable farming practices, an interview with sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke about their marine conservation initiative ‘Live Ocean’ and a panel discussion about the recently founded Sustainable New Zealand Party. The Authority found that while climate change issues are controversial issues of public importance, none of the segments amounted to unbalanced discussions for the purposes of the standard.

Not Upheld: Balance


The broadcast

[1]  An episode of The AM Show featured multiple segments that addressed various climate change related issues including interviews with a Fonterra representative about its sustainable farming practices, an interview with sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke about their marine conservation initiative ‘Live Ocean’ and a panel discussion about the recently founded Sustainable New Zealand Party.

[2]  The programme was broadcast on 11 November 2019 on Three. In considering this complaint, we have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[3]  Roger Dewhurst complained that the broadcast breached the balance standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:

  • The AM Show’s approach to climate change was not balanced.
  • Balance is always assumed and contrary opinions are never aired.
  • Duncan Garner is the worst offender, never providing balance.
  • MediaWorks did not provide examples of when they have provided balance regarding climate change.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  MediaWorks submitted the broadcast did not breach the balance standard for the following reasons:

  • It was not clear from the complaint what material specifically the complainant was referring to and, in any case, MediaWorks did not identify any material in the broadcast that breached the balance standard.
  • The balance standard recognises that in relation to long-running issues such as climate change, it is reasonable to expect that the audience will be aware of the significant perspectives that exist in relation to the issue. Therefore, the standard does not require that each broadcast or discussion about the issue is required to include a range of alternative perspectives.
  • Although MediaWorks did not uphold the complaint it passed on Mr Dewhurst’s concerns to The AM Show's executive producer.

The standard

[5]  The balance standard (Standard 8) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and 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.

Our analysis

[6]  In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. Accordingly, when we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we weigh the value of the programme, and the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. We recognise the value of robust political discourse in the media and the media’s role of providing balanced and accurate reporting on issues of political importance. This contributes to an informed and engaged public, which is critical to a free and democratic society.

Balance

[7]  The balance standard only applies to situations where a ‘controversial issue of public importance’ is ‘discussed’ in ‘news, current affairs or factual programmes’.1 Accordingly, when we consider a balance complaint, the first question is whether the broadcast met those three requirements.

[8]  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.2 A controversial issue will be one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.3

[9]  We have consistently found that climate change and related issues amount to a controversial issue of public importance.4 It is also clear that The AM Show is a news and current affairs programme. Accordingly, we are satisfied that the balance standard applies in respect of this broadcast. We also consider that climate change issues, whether in connection with the segments addressing the Sustainable New Zealand Party, Fonterra’s sustainable farming practices or Live Ocean, were discussed at various points throughout the programme.

[10]  The next question is whether a reasonable range of other perspectives has been presented.  This assessment includes consideration of factors such as the following:5

  • the programme’s introduction and the way in which it was presented (including whether it purported to be a balanced examination of an issue, whether it was clearly signalled as approaching a topic from a particular perspective and whether it was narrowly focussed on one aspect of a larger, complex debate)
  • the nature of the discussion
  • the nature of the issue and whether viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage (including coverage in other media).

[11]  We agree with MediaWorks’ submissions that it was unclear whether the complainant was referring to a particular section of the broadcast or the broadcast as a whole. There were multiple segments that addressed or referenced climate change issues throughout the broadcast including an interview with a Fonterra representative about its sustainable farming initiatives, an interview with sailors Mr Burling and Mr Tuke about ‘Live Ocean’ and a panel discussion regarding the Sustainable New Zealand Party which included comment about whether there is a need in New Zealand for a second party that runs on an environmental platform (the first being the Green Party).

[12]  We found none of the above segments amounted to unbalanced discussions for the purposes of this standard:

(a)  The Fonterra segments were part of an ongoing series of interviews with Fonterra about what it is doing to encourage sustainable farming. The focus and purpose of these segments (to report on Fonterra’s actions and perspective) were clearly set out in the introductions to the interviews. The segments were factual summaries of Fonterra’s actions and did not purport to be in-depth discussion.

(b)  The interview with Mr Tuke and Mr Burling about their ‘Live Ocean’ initiative was a straightforward interview narrowly focussed around the introduction of, and motivations for, the particular initiative and the projects they are focussing on.

(c)   The panel discussion regarding the Sustainable New Zealand Party only briefly raised the issue of whether a second environment-focussed political party was needed in New Zealand and featured a wide range of opinions about the party from the various panellists.

[13]  In any event, we have previously noted that there is now a wide range of broadcast media content on climate change issues, leading to a more discerning and informed viewing public. Therefore, generally audiences no longer have to be presented with all significant viewpoints in one broadcast. In regards to balance and issues around climate change and global warming, the Authority has said:6

We do not think that there will be many people in New Zealand who are unaware of the swirl of arguments around global warming… we think there is a level of sophistication and awareness in New Zealand around the issue of, and ongoing debate about, climate change…

[14]  Therefore, we do not uphold the complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

7 May 2020

 

 

 

 


Appendix

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

1.  Roger Dewhurst’s formal complaint – 11 November 2019

2.  MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 6 December 2019

3.  Mr Dewhurst’s referral to the Authority – 6 December 2019


1 Guideline 8a
2 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 As above
4 See, for example, Christensen and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-007 and Grieve and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2016-019
5 Guideline 8c
6 McMillan and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-025 at [30]