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Malone and Mediaworks TV Ltd - 2019-087 (4 February 2020)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Ross Malone
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Three (MediaWorks)


[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the use of the terms ‘synthetic cannabis’ and ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ in a Newshub segment that reported on these products, their availability and the fact they have been responsible for a large number of deaths in New Zealand recently breached the accuracy standard. The Authority found that while these products do not contain actual cannabis, the terms ‘synthetic cannabis’ and ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ are commonly used to describe them, both by agencies like the Ministry for Health and the NZ Drug Foundation, and also by the media. Therefore, the Authority did not consider it likely viewers would be significantly misinformed by their use in this broadcast.

Not Upheld: Accuracy

The broadcast

[1]  A segment on Newshub reported on synthetic cannabis products. The segment focussed on a report from the Chief Coroner who revealed these products were responsible for ‘up to 75 deaths’ and that despite recent legislation to prevent their sale, ‘they’re still being used on the streets.’

[2]  Synthetic cannabis is a smokeable plant material containing one or more chemical compounds called synthetic cannabinoids that cause the user to get ‘high’.1

[3]  The segment was broadcast on 10 September 2019 on Three. In considering this complaint, we have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[4]  Ross Malone complained that the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Mr Malone complained that throughout the broadcast ‘synthetics’ kept being referred to as ‘cannabis’, despite the fact that ‘there has never been any cannabis’ in these products. Mr Malone said the use of the terms ‘synthetic cannabis’ and ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ was inaccurate and had the potential to mislead the public into ‘thinking that cannabis has been killing people when in fact it is synthetics…causing all the harm.’

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  MediaWorks submitted the broadcast did not breach the accuracy standard for the following reasons:

  • ‘Synthetic cannabis’ is the term by which such synthetic drug products are commonly known. It was an appropriate term to use in the item and was not misleading.
  • Dr Paul Quigley from Wellington Hospital's Emergency department characterised the type of drug in question as ‘synthetic cannabinoids’. Additionally, the Chief Coroner was quoted in the report using the term ‘synthetic cannabis’. 

The relevant standard

[6]  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

Our analysis

Freedom of expression and public interest

[7]  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.


[8]  Audiences may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme.3 Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts.’4

[9]  We recognise Mr Malone’s concern that people may think it was cannabis causing the harm reported on in the broadcast due to the inclusion of the term in the phrase ‘synthetic cannabis’. However we find the use of this phrase and similar phrases used in the broadcast to describe the products were not inaccurate or misleading.

[10]  At no stage in the broadcast were the products described simply as ‘cannabis’ (the term was always preceded by ‘synthetic’ which means ‘of or relating to products made from artificial substances, often copying a natural product’ (emphasis added)).5 This term does not suggest actual cannabis is being referred to or is included in the product.

[11]  ‘Synthetic cannabis’ and ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ are also well-established terms that are used to describe synthetic plant-based products that attempt to recreate the effects of cannabis. As mentioned at paragraph [2], the Ministry of Health describes synthetic cannabis as ‘a smokeable plant material containing one or more chemical compounds called synthetic cannabinoids that cause the user to get “high”’.6 A similar definition is given by the NZ Drug Foundation.7 In addition to these agencies, the term ‘synthetic cannabis’ is commonly used in the media to describe the products reported on in the broadcast, often in reference to the harm these products can cause.8 Considering the widespread usage of the terms ‘synthetic cannabis’ and ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ in reference to the products reported on, we do not consider it likely viewers would be significantly misinformed by their use in this broadcast. Accordingly we do not find the broadcast was inaccurate or misleading.

[12]  Therefore, we do not uphold the complaint.


For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority





Judge Bill Hastings


4 February 2020






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

1  Ross Malone’s formal complaint – 26 September 2019

2  MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 30 September 2019

3  Mr Malone’s referral to the Authority – 5 October 2019

4  MediaWorks’ further comments – 22 October 2019

5  Mr Malone’s final comments – 7 November 2019

1 <>
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
4 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110
5 <>
6 <>
7 <>
8 See for example: Synthetic cannabis caused or contributed to deaths of 80 people in New Zealand in less than two years (1 News, 29 April 2019), Chilling map shows which synthetic drugs are killing Kiwis around New Zealand (Newshub, 11 September 2019)