Erickson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2022-114 (27 February 2023)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- John Gillespie
- Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
- Aroha Beck
- Debbie Erickson
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority declined to determine a complaint an item on 1 News reporting on the New Zealand economy breached the accuracy standard. The complainant considered the focus of the item should have been on GDP growth, but was instead framed around wealth inequality, and was otherwise misleading through the omission of other details. The Authority considered these were issues of personal preference and editorial discretion, which cannot be resolved through the complaints process.
Declined to Determine (section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 in all the circumstances the complaint should not be determined): Accuracy
 An item on 1 News, broadcast on 16 September 2022, reported on recently released GDP figures and discussed Aotearoa New Zealand’s economy. The item began as follows:
Host: We're all spending less, but reopening the borders is helping steady the economy and kept the country out of recession. That's the main takeaway from today's GDP figures, which show small economic growth, 1.7%. Business correspondent… has details.
Reporter: A tale of two economies. For some Aucklanders, the day started with eggs bene and a rousing speech from the Finance Minister.
Grant Robertson: In the midst of chaos, there is always opportunity.
Reporter: But those opportunities are a lot harder for those across town at the opening of the revamped Auckland City mission. For people like [City Mission Resident], this new building and the extra services it provides mean a roof over his head after 13 years living under a bridge.
 The item then discussed:
- The increased need for support (financial or otherwise), including comment from an Auckland City Mission representative and Hon Grant Robertson on this issue
- The recently released GDP figures and causes for changes in GDP, including a boost to the economy ‘by overseas and domestic tourists treating themselves to travel, food and accommodation’, and a ‘3.2% drop in household spending as people cut back on everyday and big‑ticket items’. The item included a ‘vox-pop’ of three members of the public noting cuts in their spending.
- Some industries, ‘tourism, exports, retail’ were doing well, but others ‘such as construction and manufacturing, are seeing big falls in economic activity.’ This included comments from Christopher Luxon MP, noting the ‘look isn’t good for New Zealanders at the moment’ with rising prices and declining real wages, followed by Robertson who noted although ‘it’s been challenging… there’s every reason to be optimistic about the New Zealand economy.’
 The item concluded with a live cross to the reporter commenting on the current economic situation.
 Debbie Erickson complained the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand for the following key reasons:
- The report ‘should have been about GDP Growth at 1.7% in Q2 2022 but [the reporter] framed the news as being about wealth inequality and how people living under bridges were getting along which portrayed the positive economic growth as a negative.’
- The reporter ‘omitted the relative statistics from other nations who grew considerably less than NZ in the second quarter of 2022, and showed NZ's relatively large GDP growth of 1.7%. GDP growth that was relatively large - but this was characterised as small while a 2.4% fall in construction was characterised as big. Small and big numbers differ by only 0.7%. This was unfair characterisation.’
- The reporter ‘presented voxpops from people today about a fall in private consumption three months ago. The vox pops referred to examples of belt tightening about non durables rather than durables. The biggest driver of lower private consumption was from durables - not non durables. So this was inaccurate and unfair. Katie Bradford [did] not make this distinction clear which made her report misleading and viewers were led to think that news about GDP Growth three months ago was about current belt tightening today.’
- ‘Christopher Luxon's comments were embedded in the news segment without any challenge when they were grossly misleading. That was unbalanced.’
- ‘The background graphic about rising prices was unfair when the news segment was really about GDP growth three months ago at a time all NZ economists are saying we have [passed] the peak of CPI Inflation and it is now declining ‘
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:
- Luxon’s comments – ‘It is an established principle of [the balance standard] that balance cannot be measured by a stopwatch: it is sufficient that significant viewpoints are adequately represented… this has occurred in the news bulletin through comments from Grant Robertson Minister of Finance, Christopher Luxon National Party Leader, Jacqui Dillion from City Mission, City Mission clients, people in the street and the discussion concerning GDP figures’.
- Background graphic – the issue of rising prices being of concern to the public was discussed in the item. The graphic accurately illustrated the item’s content.
- Comparison with other countries – ‘It is simply not possible to include comparisons to every country in every story.’ The business correspondent has also ‘noted on many occasions that inflation may have peaked,’ and often compared NZ’s economic situation to other countries. TVNZ considered the overall takeaway from the introduction is that ‘there is economic growth in New Zealand, albeit a small one’. The complainant’s concerns about contextualising this growth with other countries ‘is not necessary in the context of this item, which is looking at the New Zealand case only.’
- Characterisation of changes – ‘GDP increased 1.7% quarterly, but 1% annually. On any measure, this is small. Construction fell 2.4% quarterly and 3.4% annually, while manufacturing fell 5.9% quarterly and 4.4% annually. On any measure, these are much larger numbers.’
- Wealth inequality focus – ‘The decision concerning the focus of the item is an editorial one, not a matter of programme standards. 1 News is not required to focus solely on’ GDP growth as stated.
- Vox-pop relevance – ‘When the Reserve Bank makes decisions such as increasing the Official Cash Rate, it looks at all aspects of the economy and economic data, including global pressures, not just CPI... Every economist and forecaster predicts the Reserve Bank to keep lifting the OCR to fight inflation, so it would be completely remiss’ to not include inflation as a big part of this story. Further, the vox-pop represents ‘people's perceived spending on non-durable items, what these people personally are doing to reduce costs for themselves, and as such are not subject to the expectations of the Accuracy standard.’
 TVNZ also noted the complainant did not supply ‘any reason for her referral’ of the complaint to the Authority and requested the Authority decline to determine the complaint for similar reasons outlined in another Authority decision.1
Outcome: decline to determine
 We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 Section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 authorises this Authority to decline to determine a complaint if it considers, in all the circumstances of the complaint, it should not be determined by the Authority.
 The Authority has previously exercised this power where a complaint is based merely on the complainant’s personal preferences (see section 5(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989), or is a matter of editorial discretion, which broadcasters are entitled to exercise.2
 In this case, the Authority considers it appropriate to exercise its section 11(b) discretion on the following grounds:
- The majority of the complaint relates to the complainant’s preference on what should have been reported, rather than what was reported. It also related to the complainant’s preference on what should have been the focus of the item. These are matters of personal preference and editorial discretion which are not capable of being resolved by a complaints process.
- To the extent the complaint related to the reporter’s use of particular words, there is value in allowing individuals to express themselves in their own words and this, in itself, does not constitute a breach of standards.3 Further, the actual statistics were used in the broadcast, removing any suggestion viewers might have been misled by the reporter’s phrasing.
- The broadcast presented a range of views on the current economic situation. These represented the speaker’s personal opinions and comments, which are not subject to the accuracy standard.4
- The broadcaster comprehensively addressed the complainants’ concerns.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to determine the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
27 February 2023
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Debbie Erickson’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 16 September 2022
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 13 October 2022
3 Erickson’s referral to the Authority – 13 October 2022
4 TVNZ’s response to referral – 5 December 2022
5 Erickson’s final comments – 12 December 2022
6 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 18 January 2023
1 See Dobson & Erickson and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-121
2 See s 5(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989; Broadcasting Standards Authority | Te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho “Guidance: BSA power to decline to determine a complaint” <bsa.govt.nz>; and Stone & Maynard and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-048 at 
3 Findlay and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2022-078 at 
4 Guideline 6.1