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Guthrie and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2019-090 (9 March 2020)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • James Guthrie
Seven Sharp
TV One


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

In an episode of Seven Sharp, host, Hilary Barry, interviewed a woman with type one diabetes about an encounter she had with waitstaff at a restaurant when eating food brought from home. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the broadcast breached the accuracy standard (by giving viewers the impression that kumara salad can treat hypoglycaemia). The Authority was satisfied that a reasonable viewer was not likely to be misled by the broadcast into thinking that kumara salad is a treatment for hypoglycaemia.

Not Upheld: Accuracy

The broadcast

[1]  During a segment of an episode of Seven Sharp, the host, Hilary Barry interviewed a woman about her encounter with waitstaff at a restaurant regarding her eating food she had brought from home whilst in the restaurant.

[2]  During the introduction to the segment, Ms Barry commented that everyone knows you cannot bring your own food to a restaurant but posed the question ‘what if that food was a matter of life and death?’ The interviewee was featured making a salad that appeared to contain kumara with the below commentary:

[X] is a personal trainer. She watches everything she puts in her body especially since she was diagnosed with type one diabetes five years ago. Out with her friends at a central Auckland establishment her blood sugar levels fell dangerously low. Luckily, [X] always carries homemade food which she needs to regulate her sugars. But she says she was left humiliated after a confrontation with a waitress who insisted she couldn’t BYO.

[3]  The interviewee then described her encounter to Ms Barry in the interview:

I noticed my blood sugar was going low, I don’t like to call attention to it, so I had food in my bag… I took it out, I had it under the table, and I was just eating the carbohydrate out of what was in the container to try and stop this low from getting any worse. The waitress came over and saw me eating and she told me I needed to put the food away. I just explained to her very calmly that I was a diabetic and that I really needed to eat this food right now. She ran away and then the manager came over…and just started telling me to put my food away. I explained again to her that I was a diabetic and needed to eat. I was shaking…I was feeling really, really guilty for eating the food I felt completely humiliated…

[4]  The episode was broadcast on TVNZ 1 at 7pm on 16 September 2019. As part of our consideration of this complaint, we have viewed a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[5]  Mr Guthrie complained that the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice on the basis that the woman interviewed ‘claimed to require kumara salad for low blood sugar to treat her type 1 diabetes’. He added that:

  • The segment was misleading as it gave viewers the impression that kumara salad can treat low-blood sugar (hypoglycaemia).
  • Awareness about how to assist someone with hypoglycaemia is low and many diabetics die from hypoglycaemia.
  • He is a type one diabetic himself and is of the view that treating low-blood sugar with kumara is dangerous.
  • This information is highly inaccurate and potentially dangerous, and even life threatening to other type one diabetics.

The broadcaster’s response

[6]  TVNZ did not uphold Mr Guthrie’s complaint for the following reasons:

  • The interviewee does not talk about having hypoglycaemia or having very low blood sugar levels but rather about feeling her blood sugar ‘going low’ and eating some carbohydrates to address it.
  • She did not discuss what food she was eating in the restaurant.
  • The focus of the item was to raise awareness about type one diabetes, and it did not offer any advice about how to properly treat hypoglycaemia.
  • Depicting the interviewee’s choice to eat some food (carbohydrate) when she noticed her blood sugar was ‘going low’ was not misleading.

The standard

[7]  The purpose of the accuracy standard (Standard 9) is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.1 It states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.

Our analysis

[8]  The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy and it is important that we weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm that may have potentially been caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

[9]  Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two steps. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading. The second step is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure that the programme was accurate and did not mislead.2

[10]  The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or unimportant points that are unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.3

[11]  The harm that Mr Guthrie is concerned about is that the broadcast portrays eating kumara salad as a treatment for low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). In his view, this is misleading information that is potentially dangerous if acted upon by type one diabetics.

[12]  Mr Guthrie did not identify any specific statements he considered inaccurate. It is his submission that the item, as a whole, gives viewers the impression that kumara salad can be used to treat low blood sugar.4

[13]  It is not our role to determine whether or not persons suffering from hypoglycaemia should eat kumara, but rather we are focussed on whether the accuracy standard has been breached. However, we note:

  • Diabetes New Zealand’s advice that:

(a)  Healthy eating is an essential part of managing type one diabetes.

(b)  Carbohydrate foods help to balance blood glucose levels.

(c)   Regular in between snacks are important for people on insulin.

(d)  People will feel symptoms of low blood glucose at different levels.

(e)  Type one diabetics experiencing hypoglycaemia should eat one serving of a ‘quick acting carbohydrate’ (eg Dextro Energy tablets, Glucotabs, glucose or sugar dissolved in water, jelly beans, honey, orange juice).5

  • The American Diabetes Association’s advice that ‘When treating a low, the choice of carbohydrate source is important. Complex carbohydrates, or foods that contain fats along with carbs (like chocolate) can slow the absorption of glucose and should not be used to treat an emergency low.’6

[14]  The first question for the Authority is whether or not the item was misleading. To ‘mislead’ in the context of the accuracy standard means ‘to give another a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.7  We appreciate that the complainant raises a serious concern, but note that the complaint is reliant upon the broadcast inferring that the interviewee was eating kumara when suffering hypoglycaemia (rather than eating something else or eating kumara to simply regulate a less severe lowering of blood sugars).

[15]  In determining whether the broadcast was misleading we have considered the following:

  • Seven Sharp is a current affairs programme that applies a non-traditional, light-hearted treatment to news stories. It frequently features human interest stories and opinions.
  • The particular segment is a human interest story focussed on the treatment of a woman at a restaurant and provides a personal perspective based on her experience.
  • The introduction and Ms Barry’s line of questioning was focussed on the interviewee’s encounter in the restaurant, and her subsequent complaint to the Human Rights Commission.
  • As part of the story the interviewee told Ms Barry that, because she is a type one diabetic, she carries food (she specified carbohydrate) that she eats when she feels her blood sugar getting low. There is no express statement made by the interviewee about kumara salad or hypoglycaemia.
  • There is no mention of kumara or kumara salad in the segment. The interviewee does not specify the food she was preparing or the food she was eating while at the restaurant. The content of the food she was making, and eating remains unclear. All that was specified was the fact that the food contained carbohydrates.
  • The interviewee was not a health professional, or dietician. She was not giving viewers any advice about dealing with hypoglycaemia or coping with type one diabetes.
  • The focus of the item was to raise awareness of the condition, and reasons why the interviewee had resorted to eating her own food while in a restaurant.

[16]  For these reasons, we do not consider a reasonable viewer likely to be misled by the broadcast into thinking that kumara salad is a treatment for hypoglycaemia.

[17]  Having found the programme was not misleading, it is not necessary to determine whether or not the broadcaster has made reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy of the programme.8

[18]  Accordingly, we do not uphold this complaint.

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




Judge Bill Hastings


9 March 2020





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

1  James Guthrie’s formal complaint – 17 September 2019

2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 15 October 2019

3  Mr Guthrie’s referral to the Authority – 18 October 2019

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 13 November 2019

1 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
3 Guideline 9b
4 Seafood NZ Ltd and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-054 at [21]
5 See <> and <>
6 See <>
7 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110 at [98]
8 Van der Merwe and Mediaworks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2019-015 at [21]