BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Grieve and TVWorks Ltd - 2008-008

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Diane Musgrave
Dated
Complainant
  • Robin Grieve
Number
2008-008
Programme
3 News
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i)
3 News – item about the release of the United Nations’ fourth report on climate change immediately preceded item about glacial decline in New Zealand – introduction to second item began “the UN report seems to back up what’s happening here” – images of ice melting and falling into water – allegedly unbalanced and inaccurate

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – was a factual report rather than a discussion – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – not inaccurate or misleading – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]    UN Report on climate change
During 3 News on 18 November 2007, an item was broadcast at approximately 6.15pm about the release of the fourth report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which, according to the presenter, asserted that “there is no doubt global warming is man-made”.

[2]   The reporter for the item went on to say that “the scientists have agreed man-made carbon emissions are sowing the seeds of a catastrophe”. He summarised some of the main statements made in the report, including that 11 of the last 12 years have been the warmest on record, that the global sea level is rising, and that snow cover and glaciers are declining.

[3]    New Zealand scientists, the reporter said, had been on the top decision-making panel. Excerpts of an interview with a NIWA Principal Scientist Dr Jim Renwick were shown. Dr Renwick asserted that the report said “yes, warming is unequivocal, yes, it’s human activity – or almost certainly”.

New Zealand glacial shrinking

[4]   Immediately following the item about the IPCC report, 3 News broadcast an item concerning climate change in New Zealand and how it could be gauged by the shrinking of its glaciers. The item was introduced as follows:

Yes well the UN report seems to back up what’s happening here. New Zealand’s biggest glaciers are shrinking, the volume of ice in the Southern Alps has shrunk by more than 10 percent over the last 20 years, and the trend is unlikely to reverse.

[5]   The item contained extracts from an interview with another NIWA Principal Scientist, Dr Jim Salinger, who was reported as saying “the shrinkage of the southern glaciers is happening rapidly”. He said that some of New Zealand’s biggest glaciers were reducing by between two and four metres per year at their “snouts”. The reporter told viewers that “the melting ice is one of the most spectacular indicators of global warming”.

[6]   The reporter concluded the item by saying “it’s not yet clear whether the glaciers will disappear completely with future warming, but they are set to shrink further as they adjust to today’s climate”.

[7]   The item contained images of ice melting and dropping into glacial lakes, and icebergs that had floated to the surface of lakes.

Complaint

[8]   Robin Grieve made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the second item breached balance and accuracy standards.

[9]   With regard to Standard 4 (balance), Mr Grieve asserted that the item linked the melting of New Zealand’s glaciers with the announcement by the IPCC that global warming was due to man-made emissions. He felt that in the interests of balance, the item should have included an acknowledgement that the view that global warming is man-made is “only one view and by no means a scientific surety”. He also complained that the item failed to mention the composition of the IPCC and the fact that “a large number of scientists” had dissented from the conclusions in the report.

[10]   With respect to Standard 5 (accuracy), Mr Grieve argued that:

The item was inaccurate because by linking the melting of our glaciers with the IPCC decision it implied the melting was because of man-made emissions warming the planet. There is no scientific evidence linking the ebb and flow of our glaciers with man-made emissions, only theories.

[11]   The complainant said that the item did not attempt to mitigate this inaccuracy by providing balance.

[12]   He also pointed to a specific portion of the item which he felt was inaccurate:

The showing of large chunks of ice falling off the glacier was sensationalism and inaccurate in that glaciers do melt at the tip, always have and always will regardless of any climate effects.

Standards

[13]   Standards 4 and 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They provide:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[14]   The broadcaster maintained that Standard 4 had no application to this item, as the standard was directed at the reporting of controversial issues of public importance. TVWorks argued that the item aimed to report factual information on the effects of climate change (in this case the shrinking of New Zealand’s glaciers in today’s climate), rather than enter the debate regarding the cause(s) of climate change, which it accepted would constitute a controversial issue of public importance.

[15]   TVWorks maintained that while viewers may have linked the two consecutive news items, the IPCC item focused on reporting the findings of the scientists that global warming was man-made and the fact that a report had been issued. The item did not purport to compare significant viewpoints relating to the causes of climate change, it said.

[16]   Even if the item did discuss a controversial issue of public importance, TVWorks said, 3 News viewers were sufficiently aware of the ongoing debate about the causes of global warming and the existence of significant viewpoints within that debate, as a result of the considerable attention it had recently received from media across the board. TVWorks argued that significant viewpoints on the issue were sufficiently referred to in this short news item, or had been presented in other reporting within the period of current interest.

[17]   TVWorks noted that the shrinkage of New Zealand’s glaciers was supported by substantial evidence and was therefore a matter of fact, as opposed to the speculation and debate surrounding the cause of their shrinking. Furthermore, it considered that reporting that melting ice was one good indicator of global warming was justified because the cause of global warming, whatever it may be, did not affect that statement. In this respect, TVWorks argued that Dr Salinger’s comment that the snouts of the glaciers were reducing “very quickly” was not, without more information, inconsistent with Mr Grieve’s assertion that “glaciers do melt at the tip, always have and always will”. Consequently it considered that the images in the item of chunks of ice falling off a glacier was not sensationalist as contended by Mr Grieve.

[18]   Accordingly, the broadcaster did not identify any breach of Standard 4 (balance).

[19]   With regard to Standard 5 (accuracy), TVWorks asserted that neither the juxtaposition of the two items, nor each item individually, was inaccurate. It disagreed with Mr Grieve that the “linking” of the melting glaciers with the IPCC report implied that the melting was due to man-made emissions, thus making the item inaccurate.

[20]   The second item imparted factual information about New Zealand’s shrinking glaciers, TVWorks said, while the preceding item discussed the release of the IPCC report. The broadcaster maintained that each item was accurate in relation to the points of fact focused on, and that viewers would have appreciated the key messages in each item and reached their own conclusions based on the information presented.

[21]   TVWorks argued that the presenter’s comment in the introduction of the second item that “the UN report seems to back up what’s happening here” would have been understood by viewers to be a qualified analysis or expression of opinion. Furthermore, there were no statements made in either item which were presented as “hard facts” addressing the debate on global warming, it said.

[22]   Accordingly, TVWorks found no breach of Standard 5 (accuracy). 

Referral to the Authority

[23]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Grieve referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[24]   Mr Grieve contended that the sequence of items, and particularly the opening statement “quite clearly resulted in one view on global warming being put without the balance of an opposing view”. This, he said, could only be considered to be entering the debate on global warming, so that Standard 4 applied.

[25]   The complainant contended that the opening of the second item was clearly intended to convey the impression that mankind’s influence over the climate was causing the glaciers to retreat. He argued that because the UN report was that global warming was caused by mankind, the opening phrase of the second item could only be interpreted as saying “the fact that global warming is caused by mankind seems to back up what’s happening here”. As there was no factual evidence linking glacial retreat to mankind’s influence, it therefore was opinion and theory and needed to be reported in accordance with the balance standard, he said.

[26]   Mr Grieve felt that TVWorks’ argument that 3 News viewers were sufficiently conversant with the ongoing debate about the causes of global warming was only plausible if the viewpoint that global warming was man-made was clearly presented as expression of an opinion. In response to TVWorks’ contention that opposing views were sufficiently presented in other media, Mr Grieve asserted that “there has been no reporting at all expressing the view that glacial retreat is not a result of global warming”.

[27]   Referring to Standard 5, Mr Grieve argued, with respect to the opening of the second item, that “under the guise of presenting a factual news item 3 News furthered the cause of those proposing global warming exists and is caused by mankind. This is not impartial and objective reporting”. He felt that an introduction that identified the first item as just one viewpoint, such as “this could support what some scientists believe is happening here”, would have made the item suitable for broadcast.

[28]   Mr Grieve argued that viewers were not, as TVWorks argued, able to “readily understand” that the opening statement was opinion, as they were not told it was an opinion, or whose opinion it was. He said that “words read by newsreaders, as opposed to those said as an aside comment, are expected to be factual not their own opinion”.

[29]   The complainant noted TVWorks’ contention that glacial shrinking was more a fact than speculation given that there was significant evidence it was occurring. In response, Mr Grieve argued that:

...“significant evidence” does not constitute a fact but what is a fact is that the Franz Josef glacier has advanced by over a kilometre since the 1980s, as have some others advanced considerably... I am no glacial expert but all the evidence I have seen indicates that glaciers advance or retreat depending on snowfall not air temperatures.

[30]   He maintained that TVWorks had accepted one view of global warming over another, and that the item therefore breached Standards 4 and 5, which he felt were extremely important for the credibility of news programmes.

Authority's Determination

[31]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 4 (balance)

[32]   Standard 4 requires broadcasters to provide balance when discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs and factual programmes. The Authority finds the balance standard is not applicable on this occasion. The item complained about reported on the uncontroversial fact of New Zealand’s shrinking glaciers, while the preceding item reported on the release of the IPCC report, summarising its main conclusions. Neither item, nor the juxtaposition of the items, constituted a discussion of a controversial issue for the purposes of Standard 4.

[33]   Accordingly, and the Authority declines to uphold the balance complaint.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[34]   Mr Grieve’s primary contention was that the presenter’s introduction to the second item, “the UN report seems to back up what’s happening here”, implied that glacial shrinking in New Zealand was caused by man-made global warming. He said this was not supported by scientific evidence and was therefore inaccurate.

[35]   The Authority disagrees with the complainant. It notes that the item complained about focused on the idea that glacial shrinking may be caused by global warming. It did not discuss the potential causes of global warming, including whether it was “man-made”.

[36]   Accordingly, the Authority considers that the presenter’s comment that “the UN report seems to back up what’s happening here” referred to the IPCC report’s conclusion that glaciers were declining, and the reality of global warming, not its potential causes.

[37]   Mr Grieve also complained that the images of ice falling off a glacier were sensationalist. The Authority notes that the IPCC report offered the observation that, internationally, snow cover and glaciers were declining. This was consistent with the second item reporting that New Zealand’s glaciers were shrinking. There is no suggestion that the footage showing ice melting and falling from a glacier was doctored. The Authority considers that it was used appropriately to accompany the report that some New Zealand glaciers were melting more rapidly than in the past, irrespective of the cause.

[38]   Accordingly, the Authority does not consider that the items were misleading or inaccurate. It declines to uphold the complaint that Standard 5 was breached.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
30 April 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Robin Grieve’s formal complaint – 18 November 2007
2.           TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 19 December 2007
3.           Mr Grieve’s referral to the Authority – 20 January 2008
4.           TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 11 February 2008