Neate and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2019-074 (16 December 2019)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Paula Rose
- Susie Staley
- Richard Neate
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
A complaint that an RNZ news bulletin item breached the balance standard was not upheld. The item reported on a ‘Northland farmer’ who said his business would be put at risk by the government’s proposed methane reduction targets included in the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill. The Authority found that while climate change issues are controversial issues of public importance, the item did not amount to a ‘discussion’ for the purposes of the standard, as it was a brief, straightforward news report that did not purport to be an in-depth examination of the proposed methane reduction targets or the Bill.
Not Upheld: Balance
 An RNZ news bulletin during Morning Report featured an item about a ‘Northland farmer’ who said his business would be put at risk by the Government’s proposed methane reduction targets included in the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill (the Bill). The segment featured an extract of the farmer voicing his concerns during a Select Committee meeting.
 The programme was broadcast on 20 August 2019 on RNZ. In considering this complaint, we have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 Richard Neate complained that the broadcast breached the balance standard of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:
- The item lacked balance as the only opinion it included was a farmer’s who said the government’s targets were ‘unrealistic’ and that they would put his business at risk.
- Including the farmer in the broadcast was ‘skewing the narrative’ surrounding the proposed methane reduction targets.
- RNZ ‘chose to illustrate a short story in the news intro with a particularly extreme view and that is what will stick in peoples’ minds.’
- There are a number of more informed organisations RNZ could have asked for a different viewpoint.
- Even though it was a short segment RNZ were required to show balance.
The broadcaster’s response
 RNZ submitted the broadcast did not breach broadcasting standards for the following reasons:
- The BSA has previously ruled that brief news items do not amount to a ‘discussion’ as envisaged by the standard.
- As the farmer’s comments criticising the proposal for methane reduction amounted to political speech, the news item was exercising the highest value of speech there is in a liberal democratic society.
 The balance standard (Standard 8) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
 In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. Accordingly, when we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we weigh the value of the programme, and the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. We recognise the value of robust political discourse in the media and the media’s role of providing balanced and accurate reporting on issues of political importance. This contributes to an informed and engaged public, which is critical to a free and democratic society.
 The balance standard only applies to situations where a ‘controversial issue of public importance’ is ‘discussed’ in ‘news, current affairs or factual programmes’.1 Accordingly, when we consider a balance complaint, the first question is whether the broadcast met those three requirements.
 An issue of public importance is something that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public.2 A controversial issue will be one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.3
 We have consistently found that climate change and related issues amount to a controversial issue of public importance.4 It is also clear that Morning Report is a news and current affairs programme. However we find the broadcast did not amount to a ‘discussion’ for the purposes of this standard.
 We have previously found that brief, straightforward news reports like this do not amount to ‘discussions’.5 The broadcast was clearly presented as a factual summary of the farmer’s position and did not purport to be an in-depth discussion about the merits of proposed methane reduction targets or the Bill.
 In any event, we have previously noted that there is now a proliferation of broadcast media on climate change, leading to a more discerning and informed viewing public. Therefore audiences no longer have to be presented with all significant viewpoints in one broadcast. In regards to balance and issues around climate change and global warming, the Authority has said:6
We do not think that there will be many people in New Zealand who are unaware of the swirl of arguments around global warming… we think there is a level of sophistication and awareness in New Zealand around the issue of, and ongoing debate about, climate change…
 As we have found the broadcast did not amount to a ‘discussion’, the balance standard does not apply.
 Therefore we do not uphold the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
16 December 2019
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Richard Neate’s formal complaint – 20 August 2019
2. RNZ’s response to the complaint – 11 September 2019
3. Mr Neate’s referral to the Authority - 14 September 2019
4. RNZ’s further comments – 1 October 2019
5. Mr Neate’s final comments – 8 October 2019
1 Guideline 8a
2 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 As above
4 See, for example, Christensen and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-007 and Grieve and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2016-019
5 See for example: Rose and TVNZ, Decision No. 2018-078 at 
6 McMillan and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-025 at