Grimwood and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2021-018 (21 July 2021)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Murray Grimwood
ProgrammeRNZ’s Election Night Broadcast
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint about RNZ’s election night broadcast. During a discussion about the likely make-up of the incoming government based on preliminary election results, one guest commentator remarked that climate change was ‘not a “technical” portfolio, it’s an existential crisis’, to which the host said, ‘yeah okay, I’m not going to get into that now’. The complaint was that this breached the balance standard on the basis climate change was of fundamental relevance to, and should have been the focus of, a discussion about the future of politics and elected representatives. The Authority found this was a matter of editorial discretion and did not raise issues under the balance standard, in the context.
Not Upheld: Balance
 During RNZ’s election night broadcast on RNZ on 17 October 2020, the host and two guest commentators discussed the likely make-up of the incoming government, based on preliminary election results:
Host: …They could still have a Labour cabinet with some Green [Party] ministers outside cabinet, [which] might give them a bit more freedom from cabinet collective responsibility, and it might allow them to take some of those technical portfolios like climate change, that James Shaw had.
Guest: It’s not a ‘technical’ portfolio, it’s an existential crisis...
Host: Yeah okay, I’m not going to get into that now…
 Murray Grimwood complained1 the broadcast breached the balance standard, on the basis the host refused to address the issue of climate change which, in his view, was of fundamental relevance to, and should have been the focus of, a discussion about the future of politics and elected representatives:
- ‘Elected Governments, last time I checked, are about the future. The media – particularly public media – have an obligation to ask what the future will deliver, and how policies address such.’
- ‘This isn’t just climate; we are approaching the Limits to Growth globally. This is a meshed problem (all things have knock-on effects on all others); exponential growth is meeting the limits of a Bounded System. And – unlike the never-never implications of Climate Change, this is near-term, with collapse the most likely outcome (other than war/wars).’
The broadcaster’s response
 RNZ did not uphold the complaint:
- ‘While [the complaint] singles out this one exchange and alleges a lack of balance under the formal broadcasting standards, [the] complaint reads as though RNZ has failed as a public broadcaster to ever properly address the subject of climate change, a proposition with which we absolutely disagree.’
- ‘…RNZ has devoted considerable time and resources to exploring the causes, effects and daily reality of climate change and that is apparent to even a very casual listener’.
- ‘To address [the] point about balance, [the host] and the election night producers had the editorial freedom to determine which issues will be discussed, and in what depth, in accordance with the purpose and style of their programme – not wanting to “get into that right now” is not a “cop-out” in the context of delivering the news of an election result.’
- ‘For balance, RNZ relies on the countless hours of climate-related programming that can be found right across the broadcast schedule.’
 The balance standard2 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.3 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.4
 We have listened to the relevant segment of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 Our starting point is to recognise the important right to freedom of expression, and in this case the value and public interest in political expression, especially at the time of a general election. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that justifies placing a reasonable limit on the right to freedom of expression.
 For the balance standard to apply, the relevant subject matter of the broadcast must be: an issue of ‘public importance’, ‘controversial’ and ‘discussed’ in a news, current affairs or factual programme.5
 This was an election night broadcast, with the primary purpose of reporting on, and offering analysis of, the election results as they unfolded. In this particular segment the discussion between the host and guests was explicitly about the likely make-up of the incoming government based on preliminary election results. It was not a discussion about the political implications of climate change, party policy on climate change, or climate change as an election issue. In the context, it was a matter of editorial discretion for the broadcaster to manage the flow of the discussion and determine which issues, if any, would be touched on, or not – as the broadcaster has said, ‘in accordance with the purpose and style of the programme’.
 The very brief references to the climate change ministerial portfolio by the host and guest did not meet the criteria above or trigger the requirements of the balance standard. There was no risk of actual or potential harm in this context, of the nature described in the complaint.
 Accordingly, the balance standard does not apply and we 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
21 July 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Murray Grimwood’s formal complaint – 18 October 2020
2 RNZ’s decision on the complaint – 23 December 2020
3 Mr Grimwood’s referral to the Authority – 26 February 2021, 2 March 2021
4 RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 12 March 2021
1 Mr Grimwood’s complaint was referred to the Authority approximately 4 ½ months after the broadcast.
2 Standard 8 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
3 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
4 As above
5 Guideline 8a