BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Findlay and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2022-078 (31 August 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
Dated
Complainant
  • Ian Findlay
Number
2022-078
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary  

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

The Authority has not upheld an accuracy complaint about an item on Newshub Live at 6pm which referred to ‘countless drive-by shooting incidents in recent weeks’, in the context of reporting on community efforts to limit gang tension and violence in Auckland in the lead up to a Tonga national rugby league match. The Authority found the item was materially accurate, and it would be contrary to the right, and value, of freedom of expression to restrict such speech.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


The broadcast

[1]  On 15 June 2022, Newshub Live at 6pm reported on community leaders’ efforts to limit gang tension and violence in Auckland and ensure public safety in the lead up to a Tonga national rugby league match the following week. In setting the scene, the reporter said ‘across Auckland, gang tensions are high, with countless drive-by shooting incidents in recent weeks.’

The complaint

[2]  Ian Findlay complained the reference to ‘countless drive-by shootings’ breached the accuracy standard:

  • ‘The broadcaster could easily have determined the precise number of shootings. They chose not to.’
  • The use of ‘countless’ ‘is emotive, sensational and totally inaccurate’ and ‘implies a number far in excess of the actual number’ (noting another news outlet reported there were 23 such shootings).
  • ‘It allowed/encouraged the viewer to determine their own number, based on their political preference.’
  • If the use of ‘countless’ was now acceptable as a descriptor in news programmes, the media can now refer to COVID-19 deaths or the road toll as also being ‘countless’.

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  Discovery did not uphold the complaint, noting the reference to ‘countless’ was not a material point of fact and would not have affected the audience’s understanding of the broadcast as a whole.

The standard

[4]  The purpose of the accuracy standard1 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.2 It states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts.3

Our analysis

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

[6]  In determining this complaint, we considered the right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information. 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 and uphold a complaint where limiting the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.4

[7]  At the outset, we note the accuracy standard is only concerned with material inaccuracy. Technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.5 We do not consider the reporter’s description of there having been ‘countless’ drive-by shooting incidents in recent weeks was materially inaccurate. Viewers would have understood the term figuratively to describe a large number (which, in the context of 23 drive by shootings in ‘recent weeks’, is a fair description and represented a serious concern for the affected community).

[8]  In the circumstances, we considered declining to determine the complaint on the grounds it was trivial6 and borders on matters of personal preference and editorial discretion, which are not capable of being addressed by the broadcasting standards complaints process.7 However, we agreed our determination of the complaint would provide useful guidance for similar issues.

[9]  We note the complainant’s concerns with the term ‘countless’ being ‘emotive and sensational’. However, the use of such language is a common linguistic device used to gain viewer attention. Provided standards are not breached (which, as above, we have found to be the case) it is not the Authority’s role to act as a watchdog of language. The Authority has previously recognised the value in allowing individuals to express themselves in their own words when interviewed.8 We consider this right applies equally to broadcasters.

[10]  For the above reasons, it would be contrary to the right, and value, of freedom of expression to restrict such speech.

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

 

Susie Staley
Chair
31 August 2022    

 

 

Appendix

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

1  Ian Findlay’s formal complaint to Discovery – 16 June 2022

2  Discovery’s response to complaint – 13 July 2022

3  Findlay’s referral to the Authority – 13 July 2022

4  Discovery’s confirmation of no further comments – 15 July 2022


1 Standard 9 of the Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd [2012] NZHC 131, [2012] NZAR 407 at [98]
4 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
5 Guideline 9b
6 Guidance: BSA Power to Decline to Determine a Complaint, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 66
7 See Tily and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2022-047 at [13]; and section 5(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
8 See Bergin and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-153 at [17]