McGee and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2021-088 (1 December 2021)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- David McGee
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint regarding an episode of The Detail, where the host provided a correction to a comment made in a pre-recorded interview immediately after the comment. The Authority considered this sufficiently addressed the inaccuracy in the circumstances, and the way in which it was presented to the audience was an editorial decision open to the broadcaster.
Not Upheld: Accuracy
 An episode of The Detail, broadcast on 17 June 2021 at 6.30pm on RNZ National, discussed campaign financing in New Zealand. Journalist Pete McKenzie discussed his research around political donations with host Emile Donovan in a pre-recorded interview. This included discussion of ways political donations can be used between election campaigns to build influence. One segment of the discussion was immediately followed by a clarification as follows:
McKenzie: …so the examples that came to mind were: Shane Reti is the current deputy leader of the National Party. He became the deputy leader in 2020, in large part because he was seen as this really reliable, party loyalist who was dependable. And part of that reputation came from the fact that in 2019, he donated $25,000 out of his own pocket to the party. So he was building influence through spending money. And Judith Collins, the current leader of the National Party, has done exactly the same thing. At the last election, she donated $7500 to new, returning National MP Harete Hipango. Well, she donated $5000 to MP Maureen Pugh. She donated $5000 to former MP Agnes Loheni.
Donovan: Quick clarification here, which Pete pointed out to me after our conversation. These donations didn't come from Judith Collins, the individual. They came from the National Party's Papakura branch, the branch Collins represents. Peter is inferring that Judith Collins either directed those donations or at the very least knew about them. But because they technically came from a branch of the party, we can't unequivocally say they came from Collins herself, which illustrates exactly the issue we're talking about today, because it's sort of what this investigation is all about.
 David McGee complained the statements about the Hon Judith Collins donating money to MPs were inaccurate:
- Donovan’s ‘quick clarification’ meant he ‘admitted that what had just been presented was untrue’.
- The inaccuracy was accordingly ‘deliberate’, which is worse than a situation ‘where proper care has not been taken’ to ensure the accuracy of a broadcast.
- ‘The standard would be meaningless if every broadcaster could avoid culpability by knowingly making false allegations, only to withdraw them afterwards.’
- Guideline 9c ‘can only operate where a broadcaster subsequently discovers or accepts that a broadcast has been inaccurate – not where the broadcaster knew this at the time of the broadcast.’
- ‘Since Mr Donovan knew when he was preparing the programme that Mr Mackenzie's statement was wrong he should not have referred to it in the first place rather than include it and at the same time purport to withdraw it.’
 Mr McGee also made a number of submissions on the application of the accuracy standard:
- He argued RNZ applied the standard incorrectly by only asserting the programme as a whole was not misleading and not recognising there are ‘two pathways by which the standard may be breached’, the second pathway being if there was a material inaccuracy.
- A correction cannot be ‘a means of establishing that no inaccuracy occurred in the first place’.
- Although a correction can ‘effectively exonerate a broadcaster’, in this case, as ‘the inaccuracy and the correction were both premeditated’ this means ‘RNZ did not correct the words at the first reasonable opportunity’.
- ‘I submit that it cannot be an unjustifiable limitation on freedom of expression to condemn a broadcaster for deliberately telling an untruth.’
The broadcaster’s response
 RNZ did not uphold the complaint, stating the recorded programme contained ‘audio of a contributor saying something he knew to be false, followed by a correction’, because, ‘where possible, we ought to record our contributors saying what they mean and what we know to be the truth’. It explained the host received clarification from the guest ‘well after the opportunity to record him [had] passed’, which is the way the facts were presented in the programme.
 In response to the referral, RNZ submitted:
- ‘What is at issue here is as much a matter of style as possible issues with standards…[in] the style of the programme, this makes complete sense as it maintains the integrity of the voices being used as the audience would better understand that it was Mr McKenzie's explanation. Nonetheless, with an eye to maintaining the quality of the programme content RNZ corrected one of the points made by Mr McKenzie straight away.’
- ‘The complainant is quite correct to say that an inaccuracy has occurred, but as the clarification immediately followed the inaccuracy, without interruption or separation, the audience was not misled, the conclusion being that there was no breach of the accuracy standard.’
 The purpose of the accuracy standard1 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.2 It states 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.
 We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 We have also considered the right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point. This includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of content and the audience’s right to receive it. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that justifies placing a limit on the right to freedom of expression. For the reasons below, we have not found such harm in this case.
 The accuracy standard is concerned only with material inaccuracy. For example, technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.3
 The audience may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme. Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.4
 The key issue in this case is the way in which information was presented in a pre-recorded programme. The programme host recorded an interview with a guest which included a misleading statement (‘Judith Collins…donated $7500 to new, returning National MP Harete Hipango. Well, she donated $5000 dollars to MP Maureen Pugh. She donated $5000 dollars to former MP Agnes Loheni’). On subsequently learning of the inaccuracy, rather than edit the pre-recorded interview, the broadcaster chose to record a ‘clarification’. The host also explained this ‘illustrates exactly the issue we're talking about today, because it's sort of what this investigation is all about’. In this context, the way the information was presented was a storytelling device, used to highlight the complexity surrounding campaign finance laws and the use of political donations.
 The accuracy standard is not intended to allow for the regular broadcast of errors which are promptly ‘clarified’ (and this would not usually be an effective way to present information). However, in this case, the way information was presented was an editorial decision which was open to the broadcaster. The clarification immediately followed the inaccuracy, and in the context of the programme as a whole, viewers would not have been misled.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
1 December 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 David McGee’s complaint to RNZ – 29 June 2021
2 RNZ’s decision on the complaint – 15 July 2021
3 Mr McGee’s referral to the BSA – 4 August 2021
4 RNZ’s further comments – 3 September 2021
5 Mr McGee’s final comments – 23 October 2021
6 RNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 1 November 2021
1 Standard 9 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Guideline 9b
4 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18