BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Gibb and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2022-102 (7 December 2022)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
  • Bob Gibb


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that an item on Breakfast stating ‘20 million tonnes of plastic waste’ was being exported each year breached the accuracy standard. The figure was accepted as inaccurate (with an estimate of 35,000 tonnes more likely). However, in the context of an item focussed on a petition to address the harm caused to other countries as a result of New Zealand’s large-scale plastic waste exports, the Authority found it was unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the item as a whole.

Not Upheld: Accuracy

The broadcast

[1]  An item on Breakfast, broadcast on 25 July 2022, interviewed Lydia Chai who was presenting a petition to Parliament the next day urging the Government to stop sending plastic waste to places such as Malaysia. The item aired at 6.21am and was introduced:

New Zealand's got a dirty habit sending our plastic waste overseas and making it someone else's problem. A whopping – get this – 20 million tonnes of plastic waste heads overseas each year. And this is where our next guest comes in, Lydia Chai. She's delivering a petition to Parliament tomorrow to put a stop to dumping waste overseas, especially in developing countries like her home country, Malaysia, where she says people are getting sick because of us.

[2]  The item discussed the amount of recycling being exported overseas and the harm that results, noting:

  • 90% of kerbside recycling gets shipped overseas for processing
  • ‘tens of thousands of tonnes of plastic waste’ was exported, with most being sent to Southeast Asia for processing but there is no way to ensure it is processed safely in those countries
  • plastic waste gets burned at night in those countries to escape authorities
  • burning was ‘having a massive effect on people’s health and the environment’ including increases in cancer and asthma rates and pollution of rivers.

[3]  A caption stating ‘20 million tonnes of plastic waste’ appeared on screen five times throughout the interview, along with other captions.

[4]  Chai also noted she was heading to Parliament the next day to hand the petition to the Government, calling for an end to plastic waste exports to developing countries and a decision to be made by the end of the year.

[5]  Following a break, the item featured again in a news update at 6.32am:

Presenter:     A petition to stop Aotearoa exporting plastic waste to developing countries will be delivered to Parliament tomorrow. Aotearoa exports 20 million tonnes of plastic waste overseas each year. Lydia Chai's calling on the Prime Minister for change and says our waste is dumped and burnt in her hometown of Malaysia.

Chai:              Because we're sending such huge amounts overseas, the amount that inevitably gets burned is a lot and it's causing a huge health and environmental problem.

The complaint

[6]  Bob Gibb complained the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand as it over-reported the amount of plastic waste exported (20 million tonnes, as opposed to around 35,000 tonnes per year). The complainant considered the broadcaster had a ‘responsibility to report accurately and correct their errors when brought to their attention’.

[7]  Gibb said prior to lodging a formal complaint, they alerted the Breakfast team to the error shortly after it was broadcast, through Breakfast’s designated contact details (Breakfast email inbox, and the news desk phone line), and had their concerns dismissed by staff.

The broadcaster’s response

[8]  TVNZ acknowledged the figure of ‘20 million tonnes’ was erroneous, said it regretted the error and advised Breakfast of the issues raised in the complaint. However, it considered the figure ‘was not material to viewer understanding’ of the item’s focus, being ‘what happens to the large quantities of plastic New Zealand exports for “recycling”, and Ms Chai’s petition to ban, or heavily limit, that practice.’

[9]  TVNZ maintained any earlier communications to the Breakfast email address and news desk phone line were not part of the formal complaints process and therefore could not be considered.

The standard

[10]  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 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.

Our analysis

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

[12]  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 and the value and public interest in the item, 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 by the level of harm.3

[13]  It is accepted in this case the figure complained about was inaccurate. So the question for the Authority was whether in the context that inaccuracy was ‘material’. This is because the accuracy standard is concerned only with ‘material points of fact’. Technical or other points unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.4

[14]  We acknowledge the complainant’s concerns, in that the figure was inaccurate by several orders of magnitude, and affected the relative ratios of waste exported per person in Aotearoa New Zealand (roughly four tonnes per person on the inaccurate figure, as opposed to 0.007 tonnes per person on the more accurate estimate). We also noted the inaccurate figure was referred to seven times in total, first in the introduction to the item (with the host remarking how ‘astounding’ it was), then repeated five times in captions onscreen during the interview, and again in the later news update. The Authority has previously acknowledged the importance of accuracy regarding statistics and figures, particularly when they are used to pique viewers’ interest.5

[15]  However, taking the piece as a whole, we reached the conclusion the figure would not have significantly affected viewers’ understanding of the issues highlighted and therefore was not material. The key factors supporting this view were:

  • The broadcast focused on Chai’s petition, the issue of exporting plastic waste overseas, and the resulting harm Chai considered was being caused to Malaysia and other developing countries.
  • Both figures (20 million tonnes vs 35,000 tonnes) are large figures. The important audience takeaway was that a huge amount of plastic waste is being exported (which viewers may not have been aware of), and the significant health and environmental impacts resulting overseas.
  • There is no suggestion the statements about waste being burned, the resulting harm to people and the environment, or the other figures (such as 90% of our recycling being exported overseas), were inaccurate.
  • Chai correctly noted during the interview NZ was sending ‘tens of thousands of tonnes of plastic waste’ overseas.

[16]  In these circumstances, we have not found potential harm at a level justifying regulatory intervention and we do not uphold the complaint.

Final comments

[17]  Having found the error was not material, the standard’s requirement to ‘correct material errors within a reasonable period after being put on notice’ was not triggered (see paragraph [10]).

[18]  Nevertheless, we acknowledge the complainant’s efforts in raising this inaccuracy with TVNZ informally at first instance, which may have presented an opportunity for the broadcaster to resolve the complaint consistent with the spirit of, and principles in, section 5 of the Broadcasting Act 1989 before it became a formal complaint.6

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


Susie Staley
7 December 2022




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

1  Bob Gibb’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 25 July 2022

2  TVNZ’s decision on the complaint – 16 August 2022

3  Gibb’s referral to the Authority – 8 September 2022

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 19 October 2022

5  Gibb’s additional comment – 19 October 2022

6  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 20 October 2022

7  Correspondence with TVNZ regarding source of statistics – 21 October 2022

8  Gibb’s confirmation of standards raised on referral – 25 October 2022

9  TVNZ advising no further comments regarding complainant’s initial communications – 14 November 2022

1 Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
2 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 16
3 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
4 Guideline 6.2
5 See Burne-Field and NZME Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2020-040 at [21]
6 See, in particular, s 5(g) & (h)