BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McDonald and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-012

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Donald McDonald
Close Up

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – comment that an earthquake had occurred “just after sunrise” – complaint that earthquake was at least one hour and 45 minutes after sunrise – allegedly inaccurate

Standard 5 (accuracy) – figure of speech – introductory comment only – not presented as a statement of fact – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An item on Close Up on TV One at 7pm on 21 January 2005 described an earthquake which had been felt in the Wellington district that morning. The presenter said “the big ‘quake struck just after sunrise”.


[2] Donald McDonald complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was inaccurate and in breach of Standard 5. He asserted that the earthquake had occurred at least one hour and 45 minutes after sunrise, which was not “just after sunrise”.


[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] Recognising that the complainant was referring to the word “sunrise” as meaning a specific point in time, it noted that the word could also be used as a more general figure of speech. TVNZ advised the complainant that the word “sunrise” had been used as a figure of speech to indicate that the earthquake had happened just as people were beginning their day.

[5] TVNZ was of the view that broadcasters should not become overly pedantic in requiring specificity in the use of such words. It concluded that Standard 5 (accuracy) had not been breached on this occasion.

Referral to the Authority

[6] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr McDonald referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He did not agree that the phrase “just after sunrise” was a figure of speech.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[7] TVNZ pointed out that the reference was made, not in the context of a “breaking” news story, but as an introduction to a current affairs programme which was to look at the earthquake issue in Wellington. The phrase was used legitimately as a figure of speech, it said.

Authority's Determination

[8] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[9] The Authority agrees with TVNZ that the phrase “just after sunrise” can be used as a general figure of speech. On this occasion it was a purely introductory comment that was not part of the substantive news item, and it was not presented as a statement of fact. The Authority finds that this is a matter to which the accuracy standard does not apply, and declines to uphold the complaint.

[10] It is noted that Mr McDonald has referred a number of minor complaints to the Authority after receiving a considered and reasonable response from a broadcaster. Should the complainant continue to do so, the Authority may decline to determine similar complaints on the grounds that they are trivial, under section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
28 April 2005


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

  1. Donald McDonald’s formal complaint – 22 January 2005
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 8 February 2005
  3. Mr McDonald’s referral to the Authority – 23 February 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 3 March 2005