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Elliott and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2018-096 (4 February 2019)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Kevin Elliott
1 News


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an item on 1 News, which reported on a recent win and the increasing success of the Black Ferns rugby team. The complainant alleged the item was inaccurate and misleading as the number of attendees at the game was incorrectly reported. The Authority found that while the number of attendees was stated incorrectly, this was immaterial to the focus of the item which was the Black Ferns’ win and growing success, and unlikely to affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole.

Not Upheld: Accuracy

The broadcast

[1]  A 1 News item reported on a Black Ferns game, specifically their win over the Wallaroos (the Australian women’s national rugby union team) for the Laurie O’Reilly Memorial Trophy.

[2]  During the item, the Sports Presenter stated:

…forty-eight thousand [people] turning up to watch the match as the women’s game continues to chart new territory.

[3]  The segment was broadcast on 26 August 2018 on TVNZ 1.

The complaint

[4]  Kevin Elliott complained that the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:

  • Based on viewing the rugby game, there were only about 5,000 or less attendees, not 48,000 as stated in the broadcast.
  • Other sports news providers reported that the crowd was over 28,000 at the end of the Black Ferns game.
  • Even reporting the number of attendees as 28,000 would have been inaccurate, as that figure came from the end of the Black Ferns game which was the prelude to the All Blacks game. The crowd was there to watch the All Blacks, not the Black Ferns.
  • The omission of the fact that the crowd was there to watch the All Blacks misled viewers and was an attempt to make the Black Ferns game seem more popular than it was.
  • The number of attendees at the game was materially important to the broadcast, which was focused on convincing the public that the game was popular.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  TVNZ agreed that the number of attendees had been incorrectly reported as 48,000, where other sports news providers had put this figure at around 28,000.1 Eden Park was also reported as ‘sold out’ for the games.2

[6]  They stated:

It appears a human error was made in the script and the wrong number was inadvertently reported. We apologise to you for this error which was communicated to 1 News as part of the complaint process.

[7]  However, they submitted the broadcast did not breach broadcasting standards for the following reasons:

  • The standard is only concerned with material accuracy, and technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material. The audience is ‘misled’ if they are given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.
  • The main subject of the story was the Black Ferns’ win.
  • A lesser facet of the story was that the game had been viewed by a larger than expected number of fans.
  • The error was not material or misleading on these points.

The standard

[8]  The accuracy standard (Standard 9) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact and does not mislead. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from being significantly misinformed.

[9]  Where statements of fact are at issue, the standard is concerned only with material inaccuracy. Technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.3

Our findings

[10]  Our starting point is that we recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression. We weigh the right to freedom of expression against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. In this case a mistake was made about the number of attendees at a Black Ferns game, and the harm alleged is the potential for the public to be misinformed due to that mistake, leading to their believing the Black Ferns game was more popular than it was.

[11]  The complainant has submitted the broadcast was inaccurate and misleading due to the reported number of attendees at the game being incorrect. The broadcaster has acknowledged the number was incorrect due to human error. This question is whether this error was material and affected the viewers’ understanding of the segment as a whole.

[12]  We consider that the error was not material to viewers’ understanding of the broadcast for the following reasons:

  • The main focus of the item was the Black Ferns’ win. The item led with a discussion of the game itself, accompanied by clips from the match, followed by a clip showing the Black Ferns Captain receiving the Laurie O’Reilly Memorial Trophy.
  • The second part of the item was focused on the rise of women’s rugby. The presenter’s statement referring to the number of attendees was followed by a clip of the Captain discussing the positive new opportunities for the Black Ferns following on from this win.
  • While the erroneously reported crowd number may imply that women’s rugby is slightly more popular than it is, the number of attendees and viewing popularity of the sport was not the key focus of the item. The focus was on the win and women’s rugby ‘charting new territory’, including by participating in a number of international test matches.

[13]  We therefore find the error in attendee estimation did not amount to a material inaccuracy, as it was unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the broadcast as a whole.

[14]  Accordingly 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
4 February 2019




The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Kevin Elliott’s formal complaint – 26 August 2018
2. TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 23 October 2018
3. Mr Elliott’s referral to the Authority – 14 November 2018
4. TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 19 December 2018

1 See Black Ferns smash Wallaroos again to continue dominance (Stuff, 25 August 2018), Black Ferns' dominance of Wallaroos continues with second Test rout (The Guardian, 25 August 2018), Black Ferns wrap up series win (World Rugby, 27 August 2018)

2 See Eden Park sold out for Abs & Black Ferns on Saturday (Māori Television, 20 August 2018)

3 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18