BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hoare and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2020-136 (9 March 2021)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Philip Hoare
Number
2020-136
Programme
Newshub
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary  

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an item on Newshub Live at 6pm, in which Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall fund was described as ‘essentially his private slush fund’. The complaint was that this description was inaccurate and suggested illegal practices. In the context, given the public’s general understanding of ‘slush fund’, and the discretionary nature of the Duchy of Cornwall fund, the Authority found the use of the term was not inaccurate or misleading. The Authority also found this term did not undermine widely held community standards, and the balance standard did not apply.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Good Taste and Decency, Balance


The broadcast

[1]  During an item on Newshub Live at 6pm, on 8 September 2020, presenter Samantha Hayes and Europe Correspondent Lloyd Burr reported on the financial affairs of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex:

Ms Hayes:       Prince Harry and Megan have paid their final royal duty, giving back the $5 million of taxpayer money spent on refurbishing their UK residence…And Lloyd it comes just days after the Duke and Duchess reached a deal with Netflix?

Mr Burr:           Yeah, an absolute whopper of a deal by the sounds of it Sam… So, it is absolutely raining cash at the Sussex’s LA Mansion, and they’re using some of that cash to finally pay off the bill that they racked up renovating Frogmore Cottage, which is their UK residence… They’ve also confirmed that they’ll not be taking any money from Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall fund, it’s essentially his private slush fund, so no money from Dad…

The complaint

[2]  Mr Hoare complained the broadcast breached the accuracy, good taste and decency, and balance standards, by using the phrase ‘slush fund’ to describe the Duchy of Cornwall fund. He submitted the use of the phrase was inaccurate, totally misleading and implied illegal or corrupt use of monies.

[3]  In his referral he cited various dictionary definitions of ‘slush fund’ which included ‘an amount of money that is kept for dishonest or illegal activities in politics or business’, ‘a sum of money used for illicit purposes, especially political bribery’, and ‘an amount of money that an organisation, business or political party uses for illegal purposes’.

[4]  In response to a previous Authority decision which found ‘slush fund’ is an acceptable colloquial term to describe discretionary funds, carrying minimal negative connotations in its colloquial use,1 Mr Hoare submitted ‘the phrase is incorrectly used regardless of whether it has minimal negative impact’.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  MediaWorks did not uphold Mr Hoare’s complaint, saying:

  • ‘The language used by the Europe Correspondent on this day was particularly colloquial.’
  • ‘Viewers would have understood Mr Burr’s colloquial reference to Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall fund as a slush fund, as referring to discretionary income, rather than implying any illegal, corrupt or negative connotations.’
  • ‘The Authority has previously determined that the phrase ‘slush fund’ can be an acceptable colloquial term to describe discretionary funds and that in its colloquial use the phrase carries minimal negative connotations.’

The standards

[6]  The accuracy standard2 protects the public from being significantly misinformed.3 It states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. This standard is the most relevant to the issues raised by Mr Hoare.

[7]  The good taste and decency standard,4 which protects audience members from viewing broadcasts likely to cause widespread undue offence,5 and the balance standard,6 which ensures competing viewpoints are presented about controversial issues of public importance,7 are dealt with briefly at paragraph [18].

Our findings

[8]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[9]  We have also considered the important right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point. This includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of content and information and the audience’s right to receive it. 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 reasons below, we have not found such harm in this case.

Accuracy

[10]  Under this standard, the audience may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme. Where statements of fact are at issue, the standard is concerned only with material inaccuracy. Technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.8 Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.9

[11]  Mr Hoare’s concern is that the use of the phrase ‘slush fund’ in the broadcast was inaccurate and misleading, because it implies illegality.

[12]  We have previously found the phrase ‘slush fund’ is an acceptable colloquial term to describe discretionary funds and that in its colloquial use the phrase carries minimal negative connotations.10 Dictionary definitions of this term may not all reflect its colloquial use, but do not determine its meaning in every context.

[13]  Mr Burr’s reporting in the broadcast was particularly colloquial, including phrases like ‘whopper of a deal’, ‘raining cash’ and referring to Duchy of Cornwall funds as ‘money from Dad’. In this context, viewers were unlikely to interpret phrases according to strict dictionary definitions.

[14]  We note the Duchy of Cornwall fund is a private estate and discretionary fund, not subject to the National Audit Office of the United Kingdom.11

[15]  We also note the focus of the item in the broadcast was the financial affairs of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, their repayment of taxpayer money, their Netflix deal, and their recently established financial independence. The nature of the Duchy of Cornwall fund was unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of this item as a whole.

[16]  In this context, given the public’s general understanding of ‘slush fund’, the colloquial tone and focus of the broadcast, and the discretionary nature of the Duchy of Cornwall fund, the use of ‘slush fund’ was unlikely to mislead viewers.

[17]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.

Remaining standards

[18]  The remaining standards either do not apply or have not been breached:

  • Good taste and decency: This standard is usually considered in relation to offensive language, sexual material, nudity and violence. The broadcast was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards.
  • Balance: This standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The broadcast did not discuss any such issue and the standard does not apply.

[19]  Accordingly we do not uphold this complaint under the good taste and decency or balance standards.

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

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

9 March 2021   

 

 
Appendix

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

1  Philip Hoare’s formal complaint – 8 September 2020

2  MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 6 October 2020

3  Mr Hoare’s referral to the Authority – 8 October 2020

4  MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 14 October 2020


1 Frawley and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2004-101 at [11]
2 Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
3 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
4 Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
5 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
6 Standard 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
7 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
8 Guideline 9b
9 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
10 Frawley and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2004-101 at [11]
11 Duchy of Cornwall “Frequently Asked Questions” <duchyofcornwall.org>