Māori Television Service and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-077 (16 November 2020)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Māori Television Service
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint from Māori Television Service (MTS) about an item on 1 News concerning the MTS online COVID-19 programme Tapatahi. MTS argued the piece inaccurately reported it had received nearly $300,000 of Government funding for the programme, and that the Government was calling for a review as Tapatahi was presented by MTS’s Chief Executive. The Authority found the item was materially accurate and MTS was given a fair and reasonable opportunity to respond.
Not Upheld: Accuracy, Fairness
 An item on 1 News concerning Māori Television Service’s (MTS) Tapatahi (an online programme which was set up to ask questions of officials and decision-makers, share Māori stories and perspectives and keep Māori informed about COVID-19) was introduced as follows:
The Government wants Māori TV to review its news-reading Chief Executive [Shane Taurima] who’s been hosting a COVID-19 programme. That direction coming at a time when the broadcaster is looking to boost its digital news.
 The item included the following statements:
- ‘A return to Shane Taurima’s broadcasting roots during lockdown. …His COVID-19 news programme, Tapatahi, receiving nearly $300,000 from the Government. But some are questioning whether it’s appropriate, given he’s also the CEO.’ (reporter)
- ‘The Government is refusing to say if it had confidence that any potential conflicts had been managed.’ (reporter)
- ‘Mr Taurima declined an interview, but in a statement Māori Television said that Tapatahi was set up quickly in order to provide health information during COVID-19, and that Mr Taurima offered unique broadcasting experience.’ (reporter)
- ‘[Mr Taurima] is a very, very good broadcaster…Maintaining that independence inside a news organisation has always been a long held, I think, sacrosanct move.’ (interviewee)
- ‘On reflection, there is likely to be a review about what happens next.’ (Minister for Māori Development, Hon Nanaia Mahuta)
- ‘We are really thinking hard about what the future looks like and what the opportunity could be if Māori media start to collaborate more.’ (Minister Mahuta).
 It was broadcast on 1 News at 6pm on 22 May 2020. We have viewed a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 MTS complained the broadcast breached the accuracy and fairness standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice on the following grounds:
- Saying Tapatahi received ‘nearly $300,000 from the Government’ was inaccurate as the funding package was provided to MTS ‘to lead, co-ordinate and facilitate activities relating to COVID-19 communication’ and ‘there is a big difference between… the broader programme to which the Te Puni Kōkiri (TPK) funding was provided, and the urgently set up Tapatahi programme for which no specific funding was provided or received’.
- The suggestion the Government and the Minister for Māori Development want a review of Māori Television as a result of setting up Tapatahi was inaccurate as ‘there has not been any official request or suggestion’ of such a review.
- The item as a whole wrongly implied Mr Taurima and MTS improperly used Government funding and as a result the Minister was seeking an investigation.
- The broadcaster did not make reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy of the broadcast (guideline 9d) because:
- The sources relied on – TPK and the interview with the Minister – ‘do not support the fundamental assertion made in the story’. Therefore there were obvious reasons to question the accuracy of what was said.
- ‘We… referred to the correct position in our pre-broadcast response to the query raised by the reporter, but this was ignored by her.’
- The broadcast was pre-recorded and not an urgent story – ‘it was not breaking news’.
- The interview with Ms Mahuta was unfairly edited and her statement about a likely review was taken out of context.
- The broadcast did not accurately reflect MTS’s comments in response to the programme.
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ responded to the complaint referral as follows:1
- The issue in question was of considerable public importance, concerning a large sum of public money and raising questions around the conveyance of news by a publicly-funded broadcaster.
- The item could have been clearer that a substantial part of the funding was used for Tapatahi, rather than suggesting the programme was the sole recipient of the funding, however this did not amount to a material inaccuracy.
- The reporter was informed by confidential sources close to the issue that TPK funding was used for Tapatahi.
- The reporter asked TPK directly if it had provided funding for Tapatahi, and based on this ‘it was reasonable for the reporter to conclude that TPK’s response related to the funding of Tapatahi’:
TVNZ: I understand that TPK gave Māori TV $250,000 for its online COVID-19 programme Tapatahi + the five minute updates?
Is this the case?
TPK: As part of Te Puni Kōkiri’s COVID-19 communications we partnered with Māori Television to deliver a campaign to whānau, Māori communities and individuals to help them stay safe and well during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was essential to get information out quickly and in a tone and manner that would resonate with whānau and Māori communities.
Te Puni Kōkiri provided funding of $288,400 (GST excl) to the Māori Television Service to lead, coordinate and facilitate activities between iwi radio and Screentime New Zealand to:
a. Provide a campaign of Māori specific messaging to Māori communities and individuals to help them stay safe and well during the COVID-19 pandemic.
b. Deliver in conjunction with iwi radio, quality COVID-19 regional news stories.
- The comment from Ms Mahuta was in response to direct questions about whether any conflicts in respect of Tapatahi had been appropriately managed. It was not unfairly edited, and was ‘clearly distinguishable' as comment, to which the accuracy standard does not apply.
- MTS provided lengthy comments, including that Mr Taurima did not receive any additional payment for Tapatahi, but otherwise not addressing the funding question.
 The purpose of the accuracy standard (Standard 9) is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.2 It states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact and does not mislead.
 The purpose of the fairness standard (Standard 11) is to protect the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes.3 It requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in any broadcast.
 The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy, and it is our starting point in the consideration of any complaint. We weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm potentially caused by a broadcast. We may only intervene where a limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.
 In this case, the broadcast raised questions relating to transparency and the accountability of a publicly-funded media organisation, which carried a level of public interest. For the reasons outlined below, we have not found actual or potential harm caused under the accuracy or fairness standards that justifies regulatory intervention or restricting the right to freedom of expression.
 Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two steps. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate in respect of material statements of fact, or misleading as a whole. The second step, if applicable, is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure the programme was accurate and did not mislead.4
 The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or unimportant points that are unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are therefore not considered material for the purposes of this standard.5
Statement about Government funding for Tapatahi
 We do not consider the statement that Tapatahi received ‘nearly $300,000 in funding from the Government’ was materially inaccurate or otherwise resulted in a breach of the accuracy standard. Whether a substantial portion of the funding was used for Tapatahi as part of a broader COVID-19 communication programme, rather than being specific funding allocated to Tapatahi, would not have significantly altered viewers’ understanding of the item. The focus of the broadcast was the appropriateness of Mr Taurima presenting the programme as MTS’s Chief Executive and concerns that had been expressed about a perceived conflict of interest, followed by a broader discussion about the future of Māori media generally and digital products in particular.
 We do not uphold this part of the complaint.
 MTS’s concern in this respect appears to be that the item as a whole created a misleading impression that ‘the CEO of MTS improperly used Government funding… and as a result the Minister is seeking there be some sort of investigation into this’ and/or ‘a review of Māori Television’.
 The framing of the item in the introduction, ‘the Government wants Māori TV to review its news-reading chief executive. That direction coming at a time when the broadcaster is looking to boost its digital news,’ was to an extent incongruous with the remainder of the broadcast which raised questions about a potential conflict of interest and loss of news independence, before shifting to a more general discussion of MTS’s move to a ‘digital-first strategy’ and the broader context of Māori media.
 However, we do not agree the item suggested MTS had improperly used Government funding or that the Government was calling for a review of MTS on these grounds. The Minister’s comment was followed by the broadcast discussing how the Māori media landscape is shifting significantly. It included further comments from the Minister that ‘we are really thinking hard about what the future looks like and what the opportunity could be if Māori media start to collaborate more’. In the context of the item, her statements could reasonably be interpreted as commenting on the possibility of a more collaborative, joined-up Māori media in future, rather than calling for a review of Māori TV as a result of Tapatahi.
 Additionally, the statement provided by MTS, some of which was read out on air, outlined its position that in the unprecedented and restrictive circumstances in which Tapatahi was set up, it was necessary to have the experienced Shane Taurima fulfil the role ‘in the short term’. It also set out MTS’s digital-first strategy.
 In these circumstances the audience would not have been misled in the manner alleged. Accordingly, we do not uphold this part of the complaint.
 We understand MTS’s primary concern with respect to fairness is that, in addition to the inaccuracies it claimed, the statement from Ms Mahuta was taken out of context and therefore unfair to MTS. It referred to guideline 11f which says edited excerpts should fairly reflect the tenor of the overall events or views expressed.
 TVNZ advised the full interview with the Minister was no longer available for the Authority to review, but it nevertheless maintained it did not edit the interview in a way that altered its meaning or conveyed a ‘wrongful imputation’:
1 News did not suggest or imply that Mr Taurima or MTS had improperly used Government funding. The issue was whether it was appropriate for MTS’s CEO to present one of its news programmes (an issue about which the Government evidently had concerns, given Ms Mahuta’s comments)…We are satisfied that this was an issue 1 News was justified in examining, and we are satisfied that Mr Taurima and MTS were given a fair and reasonable opportunity to comment for the Programme (although we note Mr Taurima declined his invitation).
 Overall we are satisfied MTS was treated fairly. For the reasons above in relation to accuracy (paragraphs -), we do not think the comments from the Minister created an unfairly negative impression of MTS in the manner alleged. Importantly, TVNZ informed MTS of the item and gave it a fair and reasonable opportunity to comment in response prior to broadcast. Its response was then adequately included. This mitigated any potential unfairness and gave viewers sufficient information to make up their own minds about the matters raised.
 Accordingly, we do not find any breach of the fairness standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
16 November 2020
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Māori Television Service’s formal complaint – 10 June 2020
2 MTS’s referral to the Authority (on the basis of no response) – 12 July 2020
3 TVNZ’s response to the referral – 4 August 2020
4 MTS’s further comments – 25 August 2020
5 TVNZ’s final comments – 11 September 2020
6 Correspondence between Te Puni Kōkiri and MTS released to TVNZ under the Official Information Act – 27 July 2020
7 Correspondence between MTS and TVNZ prior to MTS’s formal complaint – 25-28 May 2020
1 TVNZ initially sought to exercise its right to extend the timeframe for responding to the complaint (s 8(1D), Broadcasting Act 1989) but sent the email notifying MTS of this extension to an incorrect email address. MTS then referred the complaint to the Authority on the basis of no response. After ascertaining what had taken place regarding the extension email, we accepted the complaint referral with the agreement of both parties.
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
4 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
5 Guideline 9b