Judge and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-026 (21 July 2020)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Paul Judge
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint that an episode of Sunday concerning the increasing population of wallabies in New Zealand was inaccurate and unbalanced. The Authority found that the balance standard did not apply as the segment did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The Authority also found that the reference to wallabies as an ‘Aussie pest’ did not amount to a material inaccuracy as it was unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole.
Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy
 A segment on a Sunday episode discussed the issue of the increasing wallabies population in New Zealand. Miriama Kamo introduced the item as follows:
Many of us think of wallabies as an Aussie pest, but in fact they have lived here for over a 100 years and their numbers are exploding. This unwelcomed invader is decimating our native bush and pasture. It’s time for the government to act some say before it’s too late. Here’s Mark Crysell. Just a warning – wallabies are hunted and shot in this story.
 The segment included interviews with the following:
- a person responsible for wallaby control operations
- a representative for Forest & Bird
- a biosecurity officer at the Bay of Plenty regional council
- a resident of Waimate and a wallaby enthusiast
- a biosecurity officer for Environment Canterbury.
 The segment also included information from a report from Landcare Research about the effects of the growing wallaby population.
 The segment was broadcast on 23 February 2020 on TVNZ 1. In considering this complaint, we have watched a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 Paul Judge submitted the broadcast breached the balance and accuracy standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice1 for the following reasons:
- The programme featured only one person that expressed a perspective favouring wallabies and she was portrayed ‘as an eccentric individual who could not be taken seriously.’
- The programme ‘failed to mention the sheer cruelty of shooting wallabies who were carrying babies in their pouches.’
- The statement used by Ms Kamo in the introduction that wallabies were ‘Aussie pests’ was inaccurate as wallabies are not a pest in Australia but a native animal to Australia.
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:
- While wallaby population control could be considered an issue of public importance, TVNZ did not consider it to be a controversial issue because it is not an issue where there has been ongoing public debate, nor an issue that excited conflicting opinion.
- Ms Kamo’s introductory statement, while ‘somewhat clumsily phrased’ was clear in its meaning ‘which was that New Zealanders think of wallabies as an Australian animal and may be unaware of the numbers that exist in New Zealand (where they are very much a pest)’.
- There was nothing in the programme that suggested that wallabies were a pest in Australia.
The relevant standards
 The balance standard (Standard 8) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
 The accuracy standard (Standard 9) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact and does not mislead. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from being significantly misinformed.2
 The right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, is the starting point in our consideration of complaints. Equally important is our consideration of the level of actual or potential harm that may be caused by the broadcast. We may only interfere and uphold complaints where the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.
 A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement under the balance standard 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’.3
 The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.4 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.5
 Sunday is clearly a news and current affairs programme.
 We also consider that the issue of conservation and the control of the wallaby population in New Zealand (as featured in this programme) is an issue of public importance. However we do not consider the issue to be a controversial issue for the following reasons:
- This issue is not a current issue. Wallabies have been present in New Zealand for over 140 years and were classified as an unwanted species under the Biosecurity Act 1993 in 2012.6
- It is neither an issue that will excite conflicting public opinion, nor an issue about which there has been ongoing public debate. Referring to the websites of the Department of Conservation7 and Ministry of Primary Industries,8 it is noted that the negative impact of wallabies on New Zealand native bush has been recognised in New Zealand since 2012 and wallaby control and containment strategies have been in place since then.
 For the above reasons, we do not find that the programme discussed a controversial issue and the balance standard does not apply.
 Therefore, we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.
 The complainant submitted that Ms Kamo’s description of wallabies in the introductory statement as an ‘Aussie pest’ is inaccurate. In its context, we consider this term is capable of different interpretations (including those promoted by both the complainant and the broadcaster).
 The accuracy standard, however, is concerned only with material inaccuracies.9 Points that are unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.10 The programme was focussed on the effects of the increasing wallaby population in New Zealand and the efforts to control it. We find that the particular interpretation of the statement ‘Aussie pest’ would not significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole.
 We therefore do not consider the statement to be a material inaccuracy.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
21 July 2020
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Paul Judge’s original complaint to TVNZ – 2 March 2020
2 TVNZ’s response to Mr Judge’s complaint – 24 March 2020
3 Mr Judge’s referral to the BSA – 1 April 2020
4 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 5 May 2020
1 The Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice was refreshed with effect from 1 May 2020. This complaint has been determined under the April 2016 version of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice as the relevant broadcast pre-dated the 1 May 2020 version.
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Guideline 8a
4 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
5 As above
6 A search of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry database (<https://www1.maf.govt.nz/uor/searchframe.htm>) indicates a number of types of wallaby within this category.
7 See Ministry for Primary Industries “Handling unwanted organisms” <www.mpi.govt.nz>
8 See Department of Conservation “Kawau Island wallabies” <www.doc.govt.nz>
9 Guideline 9a
10 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19