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Erickson & Smith and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2022-128 (7 March 2023)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
  • Debbie Erickson & Alissa Smith
1 News


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

The Authority has not upheld two complaints relating to a news item reporting on ANZ increasing mortgage interest rates, which showed a brief exchange between National Party Finance Spokesperson Nicola Willis and Finance Minister Hon Grant Robertson during Question Time in Parliament. The complainants alleged the broadcast breached the accuracy and fairness standards as the broadcaster edited the footage of Robertson’s response to Willis’s question to make him seem unsympathetic and evasive. The Authority found the way in which the broadcast was edited was not likely to give the impression that Robertson did not fully address Willis’s question, and that Robertson was not treated unfairly.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Fairness

The broadcast

[1]  An item on 1 News on 19 October 2022 reported on ANZ increasing mortgage interest rates in response to high inflation rates. The Business Correspondent noted:

They might be lucky enough to own a home, but for those about to refix their mortgages it’s scary times. …From tomorrow, ANZ’s five year rate will be 7.29%. Our biggest lender blames yesterday’s inflation figures.

[2]  The item included several vox-pops with reaction from members of the public on the rising interest rates, as well as comment from a mortgage broker and CoreLogic representative on the likely impact on homeowners due to refix their mortgages.

[3]  Toward the end of the item, a brief exchange between Finance Spokesperson for the National Party Nicola Willis and Finance Minister Hon Grant Robertson during Question Time in Parliament was shown:

Willis:                       What does he say to the recent homebuyers who had to borrow massively to buy a house in the market his government allowed to spin out of control and who are now kept up at night in terror worrying about looming mortgage refixes?

Robertson:              Mr Speaker, what I would say to all New Zealanders – [cuts to wide shot of Parliament sitting, and back to Robertson] - do they want a tax cut policy that would return a billion dollars to speculators and investors and take away that opportunity from first home buyers?

The complaint

[4]  Debbie Erickson and Alissa Smith complained that the broadcast breached the accuracy and fairness standards of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand on the basis ‘TVNZ edited an answer by Grant Robertson so that his meaning was altered and did not fully address a question he was asked by Nicola Willis.’ They added:

  • Robertson’s full answer to Willis’s question was: ‘What I would say to all New Zealanders is that we recognise that this is a tough time for many Kiwi households and businesses. That's why we've stood alongside them through COVID, that's why we continue to support low and middle income New Zealanders with policies to lift their incomes, which the National Party have opposed. I also say to those people: do they want a tax cut policy that would return a billion dollars to speculators and investors and take away that opportunity from first-home buyers?’1
  • ‘The omitted part of Grant Robertson's answer directly addressed the assertion in Nicola Willis' question that his Government allowed the housing market to spin out of control. It explains Grant Roberston's sympathy for many households and businesses and how the Government stood by them through Covid.’
  • TVNZ ‘went as far as inserting a wide shot to create a seamless transition that concealed the edit.’
  • ‘The edited version caused viewers to wonder why Grant Roberston did not address the assertion made in Nicola Willis' question directly and appeared to evade it - saying nothing about the impact of Covid on the housing market?’
  • ‘If TVNZ maintains that it is fair and accurate to remove the words spoken by a politician - and to disguise that cut - and present an altered version as if it were the whole answer - then TVNZ is suggesting it can make a puppet out of any politician - altering what they say and misrepresenting their words - so audiences wrongly think that the politician gave a side step answer or that politician has something to hide.’

[5]  In her referral to the Authority, Smith identified the balance standard as having been breached (but included supporting arguments relevant to accuracy and fairness). Under section 8(1B) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, we are only able to consider the complaint under the standard(s) raised, either explicitly or implicitly, in the original complaint to the broadcaster.2 In our view the balance standard cannot be reasonably implied into the wording of the original complaint, which was clearly directed at matters related to accuracy and fairness. Therefore our decision is limited to the accuracy and fairness standards.

The broadcaster’s response

[6]  TVNZ did not uphold the complaints for the following reasons:


  • It considered the complainants had not made an allegation that any material point of fact was inaccurate in the item.
  • ‘…broadcasts are not required to include the entirety of a response for the requirements of the Accuracy standard to be met.’
  • ‘In this 1 News broadcast the focus of the story was the rising interest on mortgage rates. The portion of Grant Robertson’s comment which was not relevant or material to the issue of homebuyers and interest rates was not included, the portion which was relevant to this topic was included. [TVNZ] does not agree that viewers were misled on the Minister of Finance’s statement in regard to the issue of homebuyers and interest rates, or that given the findings of Treasury in August 2022, that Covid-19 affected house prices in any material way in any case.’3
  • ‘…the focus of the item was mortgage interest rates, and the exchange between Grant Robertson and Nicola Willis is peripheral to this. The relevant portion of Grant Robertson’s comment was included.’
  • ‘[TVNZ] does not agree that it is required for the editing to be made explicit to viewers, there is a commonplace understanding for viewers that editing takes place for television broadcast[s] and the editing did not distort his meaning in any case.’


  • The threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to politicians and public figures is higher than for someone unfamiliar with the media.
  • ‘In the case of this 1 News item, Grant Robertson was not criticised or scrutinised in any way, his statement concerning the National Party’s tax policy and how this could affect first home buyers was included for viewers’ reference.’
  • ‘It is correct that Mr Robertson’s full statement was edited for inclusion in the news bulletin, however [TVNZ] considers that the portion which was relevant to the discussion in the item was included, and that Mr Robertson’s dignity and reputation were not impugned.’

Preliminary issue – request to decline to determine

[7]  Erickson and Smith’s complaints are part of a group of complaints that were referred to the Authority in a similar manner. TVNZ has requested the Authority decline to determine these complaints on the basis they are vexatious (or otherwise should not be determined by the Authority):

The complaints in question here arose from a public Facebook page administered by a person who has not made a formal complaint themselves, encouraging their followers to make formal complaints, including by providing the complaint to cut and paste, and the link to complain to TVNZ and then subsequently to refer to the BSA. They also encouraged followers to directly contact the specific reporters, providing the reporters' work emails…

The publicly stated purpose of doing this was to 'put pressure on journalists.'

[8]  Specifically in relation to these complaint referrals, TVNZ further noted that Erickson and Smith had not given reasons for their referrals to us.

[9]  This issue was considered in detail in another recent Authority decision, to which Erickson and TVNZ were parties.4 Their full submissions on this matter are outlined in that decision. In addition to this, Smith disagreed with TVNZ’s request, saying that her complaint should not be declined simply because it was a ‘copy and paste.’

[10]  Our decision on this matter is set out in the Dobson & Erickson and Television New Zealand Ltd case. In summary, we do not consider the templated and ‘en masse’ manner in which the complaints, including this one, were submitted is, in itself, grounds to decline to determine the complaints. We therefore go on to consider the substantive complaint.

The standards

[11]  The purpose of the accuracy standard5 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.6 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.

[12]  The fairness standard7 protects the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes.8 It ensures individuals and organisations taking part or referred to in broadcasts are dealt with justly and fairly and protected from unwarranted damage.

Our analysis

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

[14]  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.9

[15]  The key issue in this case is whether the way in which TVNZ portrayed the exchange between Willis and Robertson breached broadcasting standards. For the reasons outlined below, we have not found a breach in this instance.


[16]  The audience may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme. Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.10 Programmes may be misleading by omission, for example as a result of the way dialogue and images have been edited together.11

[17]  The complainants alleged TVNZ misled the audience by editing Robertson’s answer to make it seem like it was delivered seamlessly, when only the beginning and end of his full answer were shown. They considered this gave viewers the impression Robertson did not fully address Willis’s question.

[18]  We do not consider the audience would have been misled by TVNZ’s portrayal of the exchange between Willis and Robertson. Most viewers would understand that soundbites are often used in brief news items to illustrate certain perspectives, and that this was just a snippet of Robertson’s answer from Question Time in Parliament.

[19]  We note that broadcasters, as a matter of freedom of expression and editorial discretion, are entitled to include what information they wish in broadcasts, so long as broadcasting standards are not breached. In this case, they chose to include the part of Robertson’s answer they considered most relevant to the focus of the item, being ANZ increasing mortgage interest rates and the likely impact on homeowners.

[20]  For the above reasons we find no breach of the accuracy standard.


[21]  The purpose of the fairness standard is to protect the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes. The complainants have argued the broadcast was unfair to Robertson as his edited response made him look unsympathetic and evasive.

[22]  The standard does not address whether issues/facts are ‘fairly’ or misleadingly conveyed, and we consider the complainants’ concerns under this standard are better addressed under the accuracy standard above. However, we do not agree that Robertson was made to look unsympathetic and evasive. The editing of Robertson’s answer would not have misled viewers to assume this was all he said in response to Willis’s question. Robertson was not criticised, and the broadcast merely replayed a snippet of his answer to the question, which the broadcaster considered to be most relevant to the focus of the item as was within its editorial discretion.

[23]  In any case, it is well established the threshold for finding unfairness is higher for public figures (such as politicians) who can expect, and would be used to being the subject of robust scrutiny and regular media coverage.12

[24]  For these reasons, we do not consider the broadcast would have left the audience with an unduly negative impression of Robertson and do not uphold the complaint under the fairness standard.

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


Susie Staley
7 March 2023




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

1  Erickson’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 20 October 2022

2  Smith’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 21 October 2022

3  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 16 November 2022

4  Smith’s referral to the Authority – 17 November 2022

5  Erickson’s referral to the Authority – 18 November 2022

6  TVNZ’s response to referrals – 5 December 2022

7  Erickson’s final comments – 12 December 2022

8  Smith’s final comments – 16 December 2022

1 “4. Question No. 4 - Finance” (19 October 2022) New Zealand Parliament (
2 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110
3 Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, Reserve Bank of New Zealand, The Treasury “Joint report casts new light on housing prices” (18 August 2022) The Treasury (
4 See Dobson & Erickson and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-121
5 Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
6 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 16
7 Standard 8, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
8 Commentary, Standard 8, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 20
9 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
10 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand, page 15
11 As above
12 Commentary, Standard 8, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 20