McArthur and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2023-004 (16 May 2023)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- John Gillespie
- Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
- Aroha Beck
- Dave McArthur
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint several broadcasts on RNZ National concerning missiles that crossed into Poland breached broadcasting standards. The complainant alleged the reports were unbalanced, inaccurate as to the ownership of the missiles and other matters, discriminated against Russo and Slavic people, disturbing as they raised the prospect of nuclear war in which children would be harmed, and unfair to children. The Authority did not uphold the complaint under the balance standard as the broadcaster had presented significant viewpoints on the issue and had made reasonable efforts to ensure accuracy in the context of a developing story. The other standards either did not apply or were not breached.
Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy, Offensive and Disturbing Content, Children’s Interests, Discrimination and Denigration, Fairness
 During several broadcasts and news bulletin reports on 16 November 2022, RNZ reported on a developing story concerning missiles that had struck Poland, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO).
 We have set out below key comments from the broadcasts and bulletins, in chronological order as each item aired.
 Morning Report contained a discussion between the host and a Deutsche Welle correspondent for Central and Eastern Europe, including:
Host: Poland's Government is holding an urgent meeting of its National Security and Defence Committee after reports Russian missiles crossed into its territory, killing two people… A senior US intelligence official told Associated Press the missiles had crossed into Poland, which is a member of NATO... Russia had been bombarding cities in the Ukraine overnight New Zealand time… Ukraine’s Government says it’s the heaviest wave of missile strikes in nearly nine months of war.
Host: Has there been any word from Russia itself yet or from its Defence Ministry?
Correspondent: Yes, there has been an official communique and obviously there's always this veil of deceit and lies that nobody in Central and Eastern Europe is deceived by. And they have denied that this has anything to do with Russia, that the missile was indeed Russian. And that will be very, very easy to check on the spot and all the other details, including the actual track of this missile, wherever it was fired from.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has now said that NATO should be defending every inch of its territory, and he expressed solidarity with Poland.
 The 9am bulletin stated:
Host: Two people have been killed in an explosion in Przewodow, a village in eastern Poland near the border with Ukraine. The Associated Press cited a senior US intelligence official as saying the blast was due to Russian missiles crossing into Poland… The Russian Government says none of its missiles have hit targets near the Ukraine-Poland border and the statements by the Polish Government are provocative.
 The 10am bulletin stated:
Host: NATO allies are investigating whether stray Russian missiles struck a Polish farm near the Ukrainian border, killing two people. Russia denies the missiles are its own, calling the reports a provocation designed to escalate the situation.
Reporter: …It's extremely unlikely, I would have thought, that Russia would deliberately target the territory of a NATO member.
 The 11am bulletin stated:
Host: NATO's allies are investigating how stray missiles struck a Polish farm near the border with Ukraine amid reports they came from Russia. Two people are dead. Russia's Defence Ministry denies the missiles were its own.
Reporter: Deputy Prime Minister of Latvia, which also borders Russia, went one step further, tweeting this: ‘The criminal Russian regime fired missiles that landed on NATO territory in Poland.’
 The midday bulletin stated:
Host: …Unconfirmed reports say the blast may have been caused by a Russian missile…
 The Midday Report programme contained the following reporting:
Host: Western allies are investigating who fired a missile which killed two people when it landed in Poland this morning. Poland's Foreign Ministry has just said it was a Russian produced rocket. Russia has denied responsibility, but it fired 90 missiles into Ukraine overnight.
Reporter: The site is directly across the border from a major railway junction in Ukraine, and that may have been a likely target for the Russian missiles if indeed it is confirmed that Russian missiles definitely struck the place.
Host: If it was deliberate, it could give rise to Article Five of the NATO Treaty: an armed attack against one of them as considered an attack against them all.
Interviewee: Unsurprisingly, you've got the Baltic states who are immediately calling for Article Five to be introduced so that NATO will intervene with, as your previous interviewee said, with boots on the ground to sort of accelerate the rate at which the Russian forces are being expelled from Ukraine.
NATO want to be very circumspect in trying to verify the where the missile came from. Is it a Russian attack missile? Was it delivered by the Russians or was it a potentially a Ukrainian air defence missile that's been used to intercept some of these and it's knocked it off course?
 The 1pm bulletin stated:
Host: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki… says they're still working to establish the cause… The Russian Defence Ministry is denying there were any missile strikes near the Poland-Ukraine border and a statement described the reports as a provocation with the aim of escalation.
 Dave McArthur complained the broadcasts breached the offensive and disturbing content, children’s interests, discrimination and denigration, balance, accuracy and fairness standards for the following key reasons:
Offensive and disturbing content
- ‘Statements such as “Russian missile(s) crossed into Poland killing 2 people” are extremely disturbing because, if true, it was a signal we were at very high risk of perishing in a nuclear holocaust.’
- If the reporting is correct, the risk of nuclear warfare would impact children. This would be exacerbated in New Zealand as a result of RNZ’s reporting.
Discrimination and denigration
- The broadcast discriminated against Russian peoples by blaming them for the missiles, noting the historical context of treatment of Slavic and Russo peoples, including the treatment of Russian-speaking people within Ukraine.
- ‘a balanced news cast would be clear that Russian, Ukrainian, English and Americans are all firing missiles in the region - including Russian‑made missiles.’
- The broadcasts were inaccurate regarding the missile type, launch and owner. ‘[The] headlines… were not prefaced with any caveats alerting the listener to the fact that at least 6 entities are firing Russian-made missiles in the region’. RNZ presumed it was a Russian attack on NATO.
- ‘the probable source of its headline is Reuters [or Associate Press], which as a consequence of widespread international criticism, has admitted its sources were not verified, the information was incorrect and is most likely US Intelligence misinformation.’ The broadcaster should not have accepted these reports as accurate by default.
- The ‘broadcast inferred there are no NATO “boots on the ground” in Ukraine… However there have been many reports this past decade, including in “Ukrainian” news organisations, that English and American troops are intimately involved (side by side) with “Ukrainian” troops “assisting” the missile launches.’
- A statement regarding the rate at which Russian forces were being expelled from Ukraine was not accurate as Russia is actually adding troops to the region.
- ‘There are no words to describe how unfair this probable grievous failure of our State public broadcasting system is on our children.’
 McArthur also included multiple submissions about several issues, such as historical context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the use of minerals by Western countries, and the broadcaster’s internal procedures. These are not directly relevant to the broadcasts’ reporting on missiles striking Poland. To the extent the complainant desired the inclusion of such material in the broadcasts, these are matters of personal preference and editorial discretion which do not raise broadcasting standards issues.1
The broadcaster’s response
 RNZ did not uphold the complaint, noting the complainant’s objections ‘and all the supposed breaches of many of the broadcasting standards are based upon the assumption that the firing of the missile and resulting fatalities did not happen… RNZ reports the news in the public interest and publishes/broadcasts what is verifiably true’.
 The balance standard2 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.3 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.4
 The purpose of the accuracy standard5 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.6 It states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure news, current affairs or factual content is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. Where a material error of fact has occurred, broadcasters should correct it within a reasonable period after they have been put on notice.
 We consider the complaint is best assessed under the balance and accuracy standards. We address the offensive and disturbing content, discrimination and denigration, children’s interests and fairness standards briefly at paragraph .
 We have listened to the broadcasts and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh up the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.7
 A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement 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.’8
 An issue of public importance is something that would have significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public.9 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.10
 The broadcasts reported extensively about the event and its possible implications, including interviews with an expert from the Centre for Defence and Security Studies and foreign reporters, and examined multiple perspectives including those of NATO leadership and the governments of Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia.
 The ownership of the missiles that struck Poland is clearly a controversial issue of public importance, as it dominated the news cycle, raised issues of national security for many nations, including Aotearoa New Zealand, and, as noted above, included many conflicting views regarding the impacts of the strike. The standard therefore applies.
 The next question under the balance standard is whether the broadcaster presented significant viewpoints either in the same broadcast or in other broadcasts within the period of current interest. As detailed above, the broadcasts described the perspectives of multiple governments and experts / commentators on the situation, including repeatedly raising the Russian Government’s response (denying ownership of the missiles). The broadcasts also included comments that the missiles could have been Ukrainian anti-air missiles.
 Given the breadth of comments included, we consider the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to include significant viewpoints about the ownership of the missiles within the period of current interest, and on this basis the standard was not breached.
 Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two steps. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading. The second step is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure that the programme was accurate and did not mislead. To ‘mislead’ in the context of the accuracy standard means ‘to give another a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.11
 The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or other points unlikely to significantly affect listeners’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.12
 The complainant has alleged the broadcasts breached the standard in the following ways:
a) The broadcasts were inaccurate regarding the missile type, launch and owner. The broadcaster should not have accepted reports from other journalists as accurate by default.
b) The broadcast inferred there are no NATO “boots on the ground” in Ukraine when English and American troops are present. It also stated Russian forces were being expelled from Ukraine, which was not accurate as Russia is actually adding troops to the region.
Reporting regarding the missile strike
 The first question for the Authority is whether or not the broadcasts were misleading. We consider the Morning Report broadcast particularly left listeners with the impression that Russia launched the missiles of concern. This was through:
- statements such as ‘Poland's Government is holding an urgent meeting of its National Security and Defence Committee after reports Russian missiles crossed into its territory, killing two people’;
- framing the item in the context of Russia’s ‘heaviest wave of missile strikes in nearly nine months of war’
- claims that Russian denials of ownership were surrounded by a ‘veil of deceit and lies that nobody in Central and Eastern Europe is deceived by.’
 We note the 10am news bulletin would have also left listeners with this impression by referring to the missiles as ‘stray Russian missiles’, and reasonable listeners would have understood the ‘Russian’ referred to the group that launched the missiles rather than the place of manufacture.
 These statements were inaccurate as the missiles were later confirmed as being fired by Ukraine, and had struck Poland after a malfunction.13 Given the focus of the reports on the impact of Russian missiles striking a NATO country, we consider this impression was materially inaccurate.
 The next issue to consider is whether the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to ensure accuracy.14 In assessing this, we have taken into account the following factors:
- The report that the missiles were Russian came from a reputable source, the Associated Press, who in turn had apparently spoken to a senior US intelligence official. That this was later reported as inaccurate is information that the broadcaster cannot be expected to know in advance. The broadcaster consistently stated the source for this claim across the broadcasts.
- The broadcasts were live, and covering a developing story.
- The broadcaster sought clarification from various people throughout the day, including foreign reporters and experts.
- The broadcasts also specifically raised that it could have been a Ukrainian missile, and included a statement from the Russian government several times, which denied responsibility.
 For the above reasons we consider it was reasonable for RNZ to rely on the Associated Press report and find the broadcaster did make reasonable efforts to ensure accuracy in this instance. In any event we also consider RNZ corrected its error as later coverage clarified that investigations were ongoing and the ownership of the missiles was unconfirmed.
Reporting regarding NATO and Russian forces
 The requirement for factual accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.15 The complainant’s concerns in this area related to statements made during Midday Report by an expert from the Centre for Defence and Security Studies. From the outset, we consider listeners would have understood the interviewee was providing their expert commentary and analysis on the developing story. Their statements concerning NATO troops currently in Ukraine, and the number of Russian troops in Ukraine, reflected their own speculation of what might happen if NATO intervened: the accuracy standard therefore does not apply to these comments. In any event, such comments were not material to the broadcasts which focused on the impact of the missile strikes.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold this complaint under the accuracy standard in both instances.
 We consider the remaining standards either did not apply or were not breached:
- Offensive and disturbing content:16 The complainant’s concerns under this standard are that the broadcasts signalled a ‘nuclear holocaust’. The standard does not prevent broadcasters from telling news stories that may be disturbing, or have disturbing consequences, and we do not consider these reports reached a threshold to breach this standard. For completeness, we do not consider the reports had a consequence of a ‘nuclear holocaust’.
- Children’s Interests:17 The standard is concerned with content which might adversely affect children that are listening. The complainant is concerned with the potential for real world harm to children arising from a war, rather than the content in the broadcast. The standard therefore does not apply.
- Discrimination and Denigration:18 While Russo or Slavic people are groups to which the standard can apply, the broadcasts were concerned with the alleged actions of the Russian Government. It is not discriminatory to ethnic groups within a country to discuss alleged actions taken by their government.19 On this basis the standard was not breached.
- Fairness:20 The fairness standard only applies to people or organisations taking part or referred to in a broadcast. The complainant’s concerns around the effect of the broadcasting on children are not applicable under this standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
16 May 2023
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Dave McArthur's formal complaint to RNZ – undated
2 RNZ's decision on the complaint – 13 December 2022
3 McArthur's referral to the BSA – 9 January 2023
4 RNZ confirming no further comments – 1 February 2023
5 McArthur's further comments – 10 March 2023
6 McArthur's further comments – 27 March 2023
7 McArthur’s further comments – 28 March 2023
8 RNZ re-confirming no further comments – 30 March 2023
9 McArthur’s final comments – 4 May 2023
1 Broadcasting Act 1989, s 5(c)
2 Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
3 Commentary, Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 14
4 Guideline 5.1
5 Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
6 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 16
7 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
8 Guideline 5.1
9 Guideline 5.1
10 Guideline 5.1
11 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd  NZHC 131,  NZAR 407 at 
12 Guideline 6.2
13 Paul Farhi “Associated Press reporter fired over erroneous story on Russian attack” The Washington Post (online ed, 21 November 2022)
14 Guideline 6.3
15 Guideline 6.1
16 Standard 1, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
17 Standard 2, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
18 Standard 4, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
19 Wakeman and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-057 at 
20 Standard 8, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand