BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Harris and Sky Network Television Ltd - 2023-053 (30 August 2023)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
  • Rob Harris
Prime News
Prime TV


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

The Authority has not upheld two complaints about Prime News’ coverage of King Charles’ coronation on 1 and 2 May 2023. The complainant alleged the first broadcast was unbalanced as it only included interviews with people who were opposed to the idea of the public being asked to participate in a pledge of allegiance to the King. They further considered the second broadcast was inaccurate as the reporter did not back up their introductory statement ‘Love him or loathe him, in London right now, you can't escape him’ with evidence that people did loathe King Charles, and described a souvenir of the King ‘as a clown’. The Authority found the balance standard did not apply to the first broadcast as the decision to add a public pledge of allegiance was not a controversial issue of public importance, and the issue of public support for the monarchy was not ‘discussed’ in the broadcast as contemplated under that standard. The Authority found no inaccuracy in the second broadcast.

Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy

The broadcast

[1]  On 1 and 2 May 2023, Prime News broadcast brief news reports on the upcoming coronation of King Charles.

1 May 2023 Broadcast

[2]  The 1 May 2023 broadcast reported on a new addition to the coronation ceremony; an invitation to the public (including New Zealanders) to pledge their allegiance to King Charles. In introducing the item, the host noted ‘But at a time when the monarchy’s popularity is at a record low, the idea of a “people’s pledge” has been greeted with a chorus of criticism’.

[3]  The item included an interview with an enthusiastic royalist who had camped out ahead of the coronation, and four brief statements or ‘vox pops’ from New Zealanders:

Vox pop 1:     I’d like to know why. Why would I pledge my allegiance?

Vox pop 2:     To ask people, sure, doesn’t mean they have to.

Vox pop 3:     I just don’t feel that I owe them anything.

Vox pop 4:     I wouldn’t do that.

[4]  To conclude, the reporter stated:

But as the coronation approaches and the rehearsals ramp up, monarchy popularity has hit a record low. Only three in every 10 Brits consider the Monarch ‘very important.’ So, while the call for millions to pledge their allegiance could well illicit a chorus of swearing come Saturday, it might not be the kind the King had in mind.

2 May 2023 Broadcast

[5]  The 2 May 2023 broadcast focused on the cost of the coronation, as well as the significant amount of money the coronation was likely to bring in, including an anticipated half a billion dollars through the sale of coronation souvenirs. It included the following statement:

Reporter:        Love him or loathe him, in London right now, you can't escape him. The King is everywhere: stately and plated; tiny and tinny; the King in a crown; the King on a crown; the King as a royal clown.

[6]  During this statement, clips of various souvenirs of King Charles were shown, which matched the descriptions in the statement. When the reporter commented ‘the King as a royal clown,’ an image of a King Charles bobble head doll souvenir was shown.

The complaints

[7]  Rob Harris complained the first broadcast breached the balance standard and the second broadcast breached the accuracy standard. They added:

1 May 2023 broadcast

  • ‘The item on the Pledge of Allegiance was treated in jocular fashion by news anchor and the vox pop interviews were all from anti individuals. Despite being told that there were like 20 percent in favour there was only comment from “anti” people.’
  • The issue is controversial and ‘support for the monarchy, sits alongside support for a republic. To denigrate one is to put a “thumb on the scale” in support of the other. This is a controversial issue, as it sits at the top of our constitutional arrangements.’

2 May 2023 broadcast

  • In relation to the reporter’s statement “Love him or loathe him, in London right now, you can't escape him” – ‘Nowhere in the piece did [the reporter] identify who hated the King or the numbers in that group.’
  • ‘[The reporter] went on to ask if the moving doll figure accurately described the King as “a clown”.’
  • ‘To give republican sentiment oxygen by asking if the new Monarch was “a clown”, is taking sides in a controversial issue without parallel.’
  • ‘This is negative editorialising at its worst about someone who cannot retaliate.’

The broadcaster’s response

[8]  Sky did not uphold the complaints for the following reasons:

1 May 2023 broadcast

  • ‘The Broadcast did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance and therefore the requirement for alternate viewpoints was not triggered and the Balance standard does not apply.’

2 May 2023 broadcast

  • ‘The reporter's opening remark, 'whether you love him or loathe him' was clearly identifiable as commentary to which the Accuracy standard does not apply. The remark about a clown provided an accurate description of the souvenir onscreen at the time. We have found no breach of the accuracy standard.’

The standards

[9]  The balance standard1 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.2 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.3

[10]  The purpose of the accuracy standard4 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.5 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 against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.6


1 May 2023 broadcast

[13]  The balance standard requires broadcasters to present significant viewpoints either in the same broadcast or in other broadcasts within the period of current interest. A key consideration is what an audience expects from the programme, and whether they were likely to have been misinformed by the omission or treatment of a significant perspective.7

[14]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to ‘news, current affairs and factual programmes’ which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.8

[15]  An issue of public importance is something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.9 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.10

[16]  The broadcast reported on the new public pledge of allegiance added to the coronation ceremony. We do not consider the decision to add this feature amounts to a ‘controversial issue of public importance.’ Public support for the monarchy could be said to be a controversial issue of public importance due to the debate around whether New Zealand should retain the monarchy or become a republic. However, due to the brevity of the item and its focus on the pledge of allegiance, we do not consider the latter issue was ‘discussed’ as contemplated under the balance standard. Accordingly, the standard does not apply.

[17]  In any event, with regard to the complainant’s concerns about the broadcast’s focus on those who were ‘anti’ monarchy, we note:

  • The item signalled the existence of alternative perspectives, including from a pro-monarchy British man who had camped out in order to be the first in line to attend the coronation, and through the statement ‘three in every 10 Brits consider the Monarch “very important.”’
  • While three of the Kiwis interviewed on the street indicated they would not be pledging allegiance to the King, one indicated they were fine with people being asked the question, but it ‘doesn’t mean they have to [pledge allegiance].’
  • The importance and popularity of the monarchy in New Zealand has been the subject of ongoing media coverage, and audiences can be expected to be aware of the major perspectives.11


2 May 2023 broadcast

[18]  The requirement for factual accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.12

[19]  The complainant is concerned the reporter’s statement ‘Love him or loathe him, in London right now, you can't escape him’ did not substantiate who ‘loathed’ King Charles. We consider this statement was clearly comment or opinion to which the accuracy standard does not apply. Average viewers would interpret it as descriptive commentary by the reporter to introduce the item. In our view, the statement ‘Love him or loathe him’ merely indicated there were varying opinions on King Charles, which is widely known to be true.13

[20]  The complainant is also concerned the reporter referred to the King as a ‘clown’ (‘the King as a royal clown’). We note the reporter did not actually refer to the King as a ‘clown’ and the statement referred to one of the souvenirs shown on screen of the King as a bobble head doll. We consider this also amounted to comment or opinion to which the standard does not apply. In our view, average viewers would understand the ‘clown’ description was used to denote the silly nature of the bobble head doll and to rhyme with previous comments.

[21]  In these circumstances we do not consider the report breached the accuracy standard.

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



Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
30 August 2023    




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

1  Rob Harris’ formal complaint A – 1 May 2023

2  Harris’ formal complaint B – 2 May 2023

3  Sky’s response to complaint A – 29 May 2023

4  Sky’s response to complaint B – 30 May 2023

5  Harris’ referral of both complaints to the Authority – 6 June 2023

6  Sky’s confirmation of no further comment on both complaints – 27 June 2023

1 Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
2 Commentary, Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 14
3 Guideline 5.1
4 Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
5 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 16
6 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
7 Guideline 5.4
8 Guideline 5.1
9 Guideline 5.1
10 Guideline 5.1
11 “Republic debate: ‘Charles is nice, but he shouldn’t rule NZ” 1 News (online ed, 8 May 2023); Amelia Wade “Newshub-Reid Research poll: Almost half of Kiwis want New Zealand to remain a monarchy after the Queen dies” Newshub (online ed, 7 February 2022); Tommy de Silva “Arguing for and against the monarchy in New Zealand” The Spinoff (6 July 2023)
12 Guideline 6.1
13 See for example: Jane Corbin and Sean Coughlan “Coronation: How popular is the monarchy under King Charles?” BBC (online ed, 24 April 2023); “Republic debate: ‘Charles is nice, but he shouldn’t rule NZ” 1 News (online ed, 8 May 2023)