BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Holswich and Discovery NZ Limited - 2020-113 (21 December 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Keith Holswich
Number
2020-113
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 a segment on Newshub which stated, ‘The White House has reportedly asked about adding President Trump's face to the famous granite carvings at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial’. The complainant submitted the news was fake and Mr Trump had already confirmed this before the broadcast. The Authority noted the statement was qualified by the word ‘reportedly’, and was accurate to the extent such reports had been made. While the segment carried little value in terms of public interest, the Authority found viewers were unlikely to have been misled.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


The broadcast

[1]  During Newshub on 10 August 2020 presenter Mike McRoberts said:

‘The White House has reportedly asked about adding President Trump's face to the famous granite carvings at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. But, there could be a couple of problems. First, the mountainside is already crowded, there's no room. The second, the rock is now too unstable - he might bring the whole lot down.’

The complaint

[2]  Keith Holswich complained the broadcast breached the accuracy standard as follows:

  • ‘The President had tweeted some considerable time before the broadcast that this news was fake.’
  • ‘It appears some journalistic licence had been used in the original story that clearly TV3 did not verify.’
  • ‘The incorrect story should not have been aired.’
  • ‘If not straying from the truth or stretching the truth, these reports are mischievous and must be stopped.’
  • ‘Whether your news team have any personal opinions about Donald Trump or not, such opinions must not be allowed to creep into the news.’

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  The broadcaster did not uphold Mr Holswich’s complaint for the following reasons:

  • ‘While Trump denied this request was made, included in his denial was the suggestion that it was “a good idea”.’
  • ‘He has discussed the subject of his face being carved at Mount Rushmore in seriousness and in jest.’
  • ‘The Standards Committee does not agree that this is fake news and stands by Newshub’s reporting.’

The standard

[4]  The accuracy standard protects the public from being significantly misinformed.2 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.

Our findings

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

[6]  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 that content. 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

[7]  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.3

[8]  Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.4 This standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.5

[9]  Mr Holswich’s complaint is focused on the statement ‘The White House has reportedly asked about adding President Trump's face to the famous granite carvings at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial’. This was a statement of fact rather than analysis, comment or opinion. However, it was qualified by the word ‘reportedly’. The stated fact was there had been reports the White House made these enquiries.

[10]  At the time of broadcast, such reports existed, as initiated by the New York Times.6 By this time, Mr Trump had already called the reports ‘Fake News’ on Twitter.7 However, while Mr Trump’s tweet may have introduced doubt as to whether the White House actually made such an enquiry, it did not render it inaccurate or misleading to state the White House had ‘reportedly’ made the enquiry. We note:

  • A tweet from Mr Trump does not conclusively establish what members of his team have or have not enquired about. Ultimately, the New York Times advised it stood by its report regarding the White House’s enquiry.8
  • The broadcast occurred in a context where:

(a)  South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is reported to have previously said Mr Trump’s dream is to have his face added to Mt Rushmore.9

(b)  Mr Trump had (albeit flippantly) referred to the idea himself in a rally speech at Youngstown in July 2017.10

[11]  Beyond the statement complained about, Newshub’s brief report focused on the potential logistical problems of adding Mr Trump’s face to Mt Rushmore, as set out in paragraph [1]. While this carried little value in terms of public interest, it did not mislead viewers as to the veracity of reports the White House had made enquiries about Mt Rushmore.

[12]  In the context, the broadcast was unlikely to significantly misinform or mislead viewers. We have not found actual or potential harm at a level which justifies our intervention.

[13]  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

Chair

21 December 2020  

 


Appendix

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

1  Keith Holswich’s formal complaint – 11 August 2020

2  MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 8 September 2020

3  Mr Holswich’s referral to the Authority – 8 September 2020

4  MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 29 September 2020


1 Discovery NZ Limited was previously known as MediaWorks TV Limited.
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Guideline 9b
4 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
5 Guideline 9a
6 Jamie Ehrlich “New York Times: White House reached out to South Dakota governor about adding Trump to Mount Rushmore” CNN (online ed, United States, 9 August 2020); Benji Jones “The White House reportedly asked South Dakota's governor how to add another president to Mount Rushmore, and she later gave Trump a 4-foot replica with his face on it” Business Insider Australia (online ed, Australia, 9 August 2020); “New York Times: White House reached out to South Dakota governor about adding Trump to Mount Rushmore” Fox59 (online ed, United States, 9 August 2020)
7 <https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1292628590425759747>
8 William Cummings “Trump says adding his face to Mount Rushmore would be a ‘good idea.’ It would likely be impossible” USA Today (online ed, United States, 10 August 2020)
9 Michael Klinski “Mount Trumpmore? It's the president's 'dream,' Rep. Kristi Noem says” Argus Leader (online ed, United States, 9 August 2020)
10 “Trump jokes about being immortalized on Mount Rushmore” The News & Observer (online ed, United States, 25 April 2018)