BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McInroe and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-128 (9 March 2021)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Peter McInroe
Number
2020-128
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary  

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a news report covering the US Democratic Convention breached standards by referring to then US President Donald Trump as ‘Trump’ or ‘Donald Trump’ rather than with the title ‘President’. The broadcast was fair to Mr Trump, considering his position and profile as a politician and public figure. It was not misleading to refer to Mr Trump as ‘Donald Trump’ and the report was unlikely to cause widespread offence. The discrimination and denigration standard did not apply to Mr Trump as an individual.

Not Upheld: Fairness, Accuracy, Good Taste and Decency, Discrimination and Denigration


The broadcast

[1]  A news report on 1 News, broadcast on 18 August 2020, covered the US Democratic Convention stating, ‘COVID-19 has drastically changed the way US Democrats are confirming their presidential candidate. Instead Joe Biden will get his party's official backing online’. The report showed clips from different speakers at the online convention, including Eva Longoria (Convention Moderator), Michelle Obama (Former First Lady), Bernie Sanders (US Senator) and Mr Biden himself. Mrs Obama was shown saying, ‘I know Joe. He is a profoundly decent man, guided by faith. He knows what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic and lead our country’ and ‘We have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it’.

[2]  The reporter introduced a clip of then-President Donald Trump:

In the coming days the Clintons, Barack Obama and even some of Donald Trump's former officials will make their appeals. The president out on the campaign trail today ridiculing the virtual convention.

Mr Trump was then shown saying, ‘They're making speeches that are taped, who wants to listen to Michelle Obama do a taped speech?’

[3]  Ashley Koning from the Eagleton Institute of Politics described Mr Biden’s campaign, ‘What we've seen is him staying in place, staying in the shadows, letting President Trump, you know, fall over his own rhetoric and his own handling of the pandemic and the protests and the economy.’

The complaint

[4]  Peter McInroe complained the news report breached the fairness, accuracy, good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards as the newsreaders and reporters only referred to former President Trump as ‘Trump’ or ‘Donald Trump’ (rather than ‘The President’), ‘in a derogatory way’. Mr McInroe also argued:

  • TVNZ is ‘running a very biased TV campaign’ by showing Democratic candidates as ‘wonderful people’ and ‘rubbishing President Trump’.
  • TVNZ shows ‘contempt’ and is ‘disrespectful and disgusting’.
  • TVNZ is ‘gutter trash biased media running President Trump down in favour of the Democratic Party’.

[5]  In his referral to the Authority Mr McInroe also raised the balance standard. However, pursuant to section 8(1B) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, we are only able to consider the standards raised in the original complaint to the broadcaster. As the balance standard was not raised at that stage (impliedly or otherwise), we do not address the balance standard in this decision.

The broadcaster’s response

[6]  TVNZ did not uphold Mr McInroe’s complaint for the following reasons:

Good taste and decency

  • The material was ‘unlikely to have caused widespread undue offense among the Programme’s likely viewers’ (adults, and children with adult supervision).
  • ‘The report was not contemptuous or derogatory.’
  • It ‘included criticism of President Trump…but criticism of political figures, even of the most strident variety, is commonplace and expected in political discourse’.
  • ‘The report also included a clip of Mr Trump’s critical comments about the [Democratic National Committee], so the perspectives of both sides of the US political spectrum were featured’.

Fairness

  • ‘The threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to public figures and politicians (who are familiar with dealing with the media) is higher than for a layperson or someone unfamiliar with the media.’
  • ‘Criticism of political and public figures is permitted and protected under the Bill of Rights Act’ and ‘analysis, scrutiny and criticism of politicians is an important part of political discourse and is permitted by this Standard’.
  • The programme did not contain material ‘that was unfair to President Trump or which was outside what viewers would have expected from a political report’.
  • ‘The criticisms of Mr Trump came from a political rival, not from the reporter, and were made in the context of an election campaign.’

The remaining standards

  • The discrimination and denigration standard does not apply to individuals.
  • The complainant did not make any allegation that ‘a material point of fact is inaccurate in the programme’. Therefore no breach of the accuracy standard was found.

The relevant standard

[7]  The fairness standard is most relevant to the complaint. Accordingly, we focused our determination on this standard. We briefly address the remaining standards at paragraph [17] below.

[8]  The fairness standard1 protects the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes.2 It requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in any broadcast.

Our analysis

[9]  We have viewed the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[10]  The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy and it is important that we weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm that may have potentially been caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

[11]  In this case, the harm alleged was the negative depiction of Mr Trump by TVNZ. We found the broadcast was fair to Mr Trump, considering his position and profile as a politician and public figure. There was no harm at a level justifying intervention or the restriction of the right to freedom of expression.

Fairness

[12]  A consideration of what is fair will depend on the nature of the programme, the context, and the nature of the individual.3 An individual’s status as a public figure who is familiar with the media is a relevant factor.4 It is also relevant to consider whether any critical comments were aimed at the participant in their business, professional or personal lives.5

[13]  The threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to public figures and politicians like Mr Trump (who are familiar with the media) is higher than for a layperson or someone unfamiliar with the media. The Authority has previously recognised it is an essential element of free speech that even the most trenchant criticism of public figures, in their professional capacity, be allowed. The question is whether such criticism overstepped the boundaries of fairness and strayed into personally abusive territory.

[14]  The focus of the news item was the Democratic Convention where Joe Biden was confirmed as the Democratic nominee. This included criticism from Democrats and supporters of Joe Biden, which was reasonable in the context of a political campaign. In our view, the criticism did not stray into personally abusive territory.

[15]  The complainant was concerned about Mr Trump being referred to only as ‘Trump’ or ‘Donald Trump’ rather than using the title ‘President’. Mr Trump was not referred to as ‘Trump’ in the news report. He was referred to as ‘Donald Trump’ once and as ‘President Trump’ once. Such references are not derogatory nor unfair under the standard. ‘Donald Trump’ is the President’s name and there was no negative connotation in the reporter’s tone.

[16]   Therefore we do not uphold the complaint under this standard.

The remaining standards

[17]  The remaining standards were not breached or do not apply to the broadcast for the following reasons:

  • Accuracy:6 References to Mr Trump as ‘Donald Trump’ are unlikely to mislead the audience, who would understand such references to be referring to former US President Donald Trump.
  • Good taste and decency:7 The report was consistent with audience expectations of a news broadcast8 and did not contain material likely to unduly offend or disturb viewers in the context.
  • Discrimination and denigration:9 This standard only applies to recognised sections of the community.10 It does not apply in respect of Mr Trump as an individual.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

  

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

9 March 2021    

 


Appendix

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

1  Peter McInroe’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 18 August 2020

2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 15 September 2020

3  Mr McInroe’s referral to the Authority – 23 September 2020

4  TVNZ’s final comments – 30 September 2020

5  Mr McInroe’s final comments – 11 November 2020


1 Standard 11 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
3 Guideline 11a and Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
4 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
5 As above
6 Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
7 Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
8 Guideline 1a
9 Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
10 Guideline 6a