Gibson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2019-117 (7 May 2020)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Michael Gibson
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
In a 1 News report on the ruling of the UK Supreme Court that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks was unlawful, a statement was made in the introduction of the item that Boris Johnson had ‘lied to the Queen’. TVNZ upheld the complaint that the statement was inaccurate, apologised to the complainant and held discussions with the news team to ensure that systems were put in place to reduce the risk of inaccurate reporting. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the action taken by TVNZ was insufficient, finding that the action was appropriate and proportionate to the breach identified.
Not Upheld: Accuracy (Action Taken)
 On 25 September 2019, 1 News reported on the Supreme Court ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks was unlawful. 1 News host, Simon Dallow, introduced the item in the following manner:
Meanwhile Britain’s Prime Minister has raced home from the United Nations to face a political firestorm, the UK Supreme Court ruling he broke the law and lied to the Queen when suspending Parliament for five weeks.
 Following the introduction, 1 News’ European correspondent, Daniel Faitaua, reported from the UK and made the following statement.
A staggering defeat for Boris Johnson after Britain’s highest court ruled he broke the law… and misled the Queen when asking her to formally suspend Parliament.
 The item was broadcast on 1 News at 6pm, 25 September 2019 on TVNZ 1. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 Michael Gibson complained that the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice by stating that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had ‘lied to the Queen’.
 Following TVNZ’s decision (as discussed below), Mr Gibson made a request for ‘full details of the discussion(s) with 1 News following the Committee’s decision to uphold this complaint’ under the Official Information Act 1982.
 Mr Gibson referred the complaint to the BSA on the basis that the action taken by the broadcaster was insufficient.
 In support of his complaint Mr Gibson submitted:
- News broadcasters should address errors straight away.
- TVNZ delayed in addressing his concerns.
- TVNZ took a casual approach with staff in addressing his concerns even after upholding the complaint.
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ upheld Mr Gibson’s original complaint under the accuracy standard. It apologised for the breach and advised that the complaint and the Complaints Committee’s decision to uphold it had been discussed with 1 News.
 In response to Mr Gibson’s subsequent Official Information Act request, TVNZ provided further details regarding the action it took noting:
- There were delays in holding the discussions with the news team about its decision due to the backlog of its complaints team.
- The nature of the conversation was to communicate the decision, and put systems in place to reduce the risks of similar breaches.
The accuracy standard
 In this case, the question for the Authority is whether the action taken by TVNZ was sufficient to remedy the accuracy breach. We acknowledge that TVNZ has upheld the complaint, acknowledging its breach, and we agree that it was appropriate to do so.
 The purpose of the accuracy standard (Standard 9) is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.1 Under the standard, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news reports are accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and do not mislead the public.
 In the event that a material error of fact has occurred, broadcasters should correct it at the earliest appropriate opportunity.2 We agree that the statement that Mr Johnson ‘lied to the Queen’, was not accurate. It was a misdescription of Mr Johnson’s action that may have misled viewers about the way Mr Johnson elicited the Queen’s consent to suspend Parliament. While the Supreme Court found that Mr Johnson’s advice to the Queen was unlawful, it did not state that Mr Johnson lied.
 In assessing the sufficiency of actions taken by a broadcaster to remedy a breach we consider the severity of the conduct, the extent of the actual or potential harm that may have arisen and whether the action taken appropriately remedied the alleged harm.3
 With regard to these factors, we find the conduct (and potential harm) to have been of relatively low severity. The statement in question was made at the introduction of the report. The balance of the report provided further details of the Court’s judgment (including an excerpt of the judgment being read and further commentary and opinion from various parties being given). Viewed in its entirety, we find the news report provided sufficient additional detail to mitigate any potential harm that the statement may have misled the audience.4
 As to whether the action taken appropriately remedied the alleged harm, we have considered whether the response was appropriate and proportionate to the breach, and note:
- The broadcaster apologised to Mr Gibson.
- The TVNZ Complaints Committee communicated the finding of the breach to the broadcaster’s news and current affairs department in late November. It stated that the delay was due to a backlog in cases.
- There was also discussion to ensure that systems were put in place to reduce the risk of such an error happening again.
 We have considered whether a corrective statement ought to have been made. We do not consider that this was necessary. The particular item also received considerable coverage from international media, and audiences would have access to full details of the story over the relevant period – mitigating any risk of the audience being misled.5 We consider that the action taken was appropriate.
 Therefore, we therefore 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
7 May 2020
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Michael Gibson’s original complaint to TVNZ – 25 September 2019
2. Further correspondence between TVNZ and Mr Gibson – 26 September 2019
3. TVNZ’s response to complaint – 26 November 2019
4. Mr Gibson’s request for further information – 27 November 2019
5. Mr Gibson’s OIA request to Minister – 27 November 2019
6. TVNZ’s response to OIA request – 10 January 2020
7. Mr Gibson’s referral to the BSA – 23 December 2019
8. TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 27 Mar 2020
9. Mr Gibson’s email to BSA with comments on TVNZ’s delay in addressing issue – 20 April 2020
1 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
2 Guideline 9c
3 Horowhenua District Council and Mediaworks Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2018-105 at 
4 Guideline 9c
5 See, for example, Johnson’s suspension of parliament unlawful, Supreme Court rules (theguardian.com, September 24 2019), Supreme Court: Suspending Parliament was unlawful, judges rule (bbc.com, September 24 2019), Boris Johnson accused of misleading the Queen over motive for suspending parliament (independent.co.uk, September 11 2019), Boris Johnson denies misleading the Queen, (ft.com, September 13 2019)