BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Neilson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2024-030 (26 June 2024)

  • John Gillespie (Chair)
  • Aroha Beck
  • Pulotu Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Brynn Neilson


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a segment on 1News discussing a recent Government policy announcement that referendums would be introduced for Māori wards on local councils breached the balance standard. The complainant considered the segment biased against the Government policy on reintroducing referendums given the choice of viewpoints presented, content and language included. The standard does not require opposing viewpoints to be given the same amount of time or number of speakers. The Authority found the broadcast sufficiently presented significant viewpoints.

Not Upheld: Balance

The broadcast

[1]  During a segment on 1News on 4 April 2024, the host and Political Editor discussed the response to the Government policy announcement about Māori wards for local councils, reinstating the ability to challenge Māori wards via a referendum if 5% of voters sign a petition.1 The segment was introduced as follows:

Dallow:        Reaction’s been swift and strong after the Government today outlined plans to reintroduce referendums on Māori wards. It’s sparked outrage from the organisation representing local councils, some say the move opens up the gates of division with racist groups using it to stir up anti-Māori sentiment.

[2]  The segment then crossed to the Political Editor, who gave a live report on the policy announcement and reactions from various political parties and organisations including:

Sherman:    Under today’s moves most of those [Māori wards] would now require a referendum at a cost to taxpayers, at a cost to ratepayers, those are essentially around $100,000 each.

Now the Local Government Minister, Simeon Brown, he said ‘this is about restoring the rights of communities’; however, the Green Party has labelled it ‘a racist step backwards’. Te Pāti Māori says, ‘it is modern day colonisation’ and the Labour Party says, ‘these referendums they stir up division, fear and even violence in and amongst communities.’ Now as for the local councils themselves the Wellington Mayor, Tory Whanau, she has issued a statement saying ‘this is an example of central government overruling local government decisions’

Spokesperson for Local Government NZ: Complete overreach by the government into a matter that local government’s more than capable of being able to deliver for its communities. And it really goes against the rhetoric we heard from the coalition partners heading into the election where they wanted to champion local decision making and localism so hugely disappointed.

Sherman:    We understand that the ACT Party position is that they would have preferred for these referendums to come in a lot quicker than what they are but that National and New Zealand First they both disagreed with that… and you could say David Seymour supporters and even the man himself, will not be happy with that. In a statement today the ACT Party leader said ‘he would have preferred to see the immediate restoration of democracy, unfortunately in a coalition government compromise is constant’.

The complaint

[3]  Brynn Neilson complained that the broadcast breached the balance standard of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand on the basis the segment was biased against the Government policy on reintroducing referendums. They added:

  • The item had ‘no counter views from mayors or [organisations] making the News item biased toward supporting the creation of [Māori] Wards’.
  • There was a ‘significant imbalance of commentary sought from opposition political parties, politicians, mayors and [organisations]’
  • The segment discussed the cost of referendums but not the cost of having Māori wards generally.
  • The host used biased phrases such as ‘reaction’s been swift and strong’ and ‘that’s sparked outrage’.
  • ‘No statistics were provided on New Zealanders’ support vs opposition for Māori wards via [polling or previous referendum results].

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  TVNZ did not uphold Neilson’s complaint for the following reasons:

  • Balance is not measured by a stopwatch, and it is ‘sufficient that significant viewpoints are adequately represented’.
  • The broadcast included the perspectives of Local Government Minister Simeon Brown (National), the Green Party, Te Pāti Māori, the Labour Party, the Mayor of Wellington Tory Whanau, Sam Broughton from Local Government NZ, the ACT Party, and the leader of the ACT Party David Seymour, who represent a variety of positions on the Government proposal.
  • The issues discussed in the broadcast have been discussed widely in surrounding media coverage, and it would be ‘reasonable to expect that viewers would be aware of alternative viewpoints that existed’.
  • 1News has reported on this issue widely.2

The standard

[5]  The balance standard3 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.4 The standard only applies to news, current affairs, and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.5

Our analysis

[6]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[7]  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.6

[8]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard only applies to news, current affairs, and factual programmes which discuss a ‘controversial issue of public importance’.7

[9]  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.8 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion, or about which there has been ongoing public debate.9

[10]  The broadcast discussed a Government policy announcement indicating changes to the Local Electoral Act 2001 which would restore the ability for communities to petition for referendums on Māori wards. The issue of whether referendums should be reintroduced for Māori wards is a controversial issue which continues to engender conflicting opinions. We are also satisfied the issue is of significant interest and concern to members of the New Zealand public.10 The standard therefore applies.

[11]  The next question under the standard is whether the broadcaster presented significant viewpoints either in the same broadcast or in other broadcasts within the period of current interest. A key consideration is what an audience expects from a programme, and whether they were likely to have been misinformed by the omission or treatment of a significant perspective.11

[12]  The standard does not require equal time to be given to each significant viewpoint on a controversial issue, or for each viewpoint to be given an equal number of speakers.12 Broadcasters should give a fair voice to alternative significant viewpoints considering the nature of the issue and coverage of that issue.

[13]  We find that the broadcast sufficiently presented significant viewpoints, considering the following factors:

  • The item’s introduction made it clear it was focused on reactions to the Government’s policy announcement. It did not purport to be an in-depth examination of the merits of re-introducing referendums on Māori wards.
  • The broadcast included comments from Local Government Minister Simeon Brown and ACT Party leader David Seymour, who were supportive of the policy. Brown’s comment on ‘restoring the rights of communities’ and Seymour’s comment that he ‘would have preferred to see the immediate restoration of democracy’ indicated they supported the reintroduction of referendums, and that Seymour was unhappy with the delay in introducing the bill. The online version of the article includes longer quotes expanding on their positions.13
  • We are satisfied that the comments from Brown and Seymour are sufficient to provide a key alternative viewpoint and alert audiences that there is a variety of perspectives on this issue.
  • The standard also allows for balance to be achieved over time, within the period of current interest.14 We note the Government’s policy announcement continues to be widely reported on, and viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware of this reporting.

[14]  Lastly, we note the complainant has expressed concern about ‘biased phrases’ and content. However, given the many available media sources from which today’s audiences can source their news and information, the standard does not require news, current affairs and factual programming to be presented impartially or without bias.15 Its focus is on ensuring competing viewpoints about significant issues are available (including in other media) so audiences can arrive at informed opinions. The standard expressly recognises that individual broadcasts are not experienced in a vacuum:

When controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant viewpoints either in the same broadcast or in other broadcasts within the period of current interest unless the audience can reasonably be expected to be aware of significant viewpoints from other media coverage. [emphasis added]

[15]  Analysis under the balance standard will therefore rarely focus solely on the specific word choices and content of a particular broadcast. Indeed, if we required absolute balance and neutrality from every individual news broadcast, that would itself be an inappropriate limit on freedom of expression.

[16]  In this case, for the reasons above, we consider that the broadcaster fulfilled its obligations under the balance standard, and we did not find any actual or potential harm which justifies us taking action to limit the right to freedom of expression in this case. We therefore do not uphold the complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority



John Gillespie

Acting Chair

26 June 2024  




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

1  Brynn Neilson’s formal complaint – 8 April 2024

2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 2 May 2024

3  Neilson’s referral to the Authority – 3 May 2024

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 30 May 2024

1 Beehive Press Release “Coalition Government to require referendums on Māori wards” 4 April 2024
2 See Susan Botting “Kaipara Mayor wants Māori ward gone before next local elections” 1News (online ed, 18 April 2024), Alisha Evans “’Corrosive obsession with a person’s race’: David Seymour on Māori Wards” 1News (online ed, 12 April 2024), Susan Botting “Leader warns Government changes may kill Māori wards in Northland” 1News (online ed, 20 April 2024), 1News Reporters “Māori wards rollback ‘just another racist attack’ – councillor” 1News (online ed, 5 April 2024), Zita Campbell “’We will not be silenced’ – Gisborne council backs Māori wards” 1News (online ed, 8 April 2024) and Moana Ellis “Māori ward referendums: ‘A slap in the face for Māoridom’” 1News (online ed, 5 April 2024)
3 Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
4 Commentary, Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 14
5 Guideline 5.1
6 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
7 Guideline 5.1
8 Guideline 5.1
9 Guideline 5.1
10 See Maxine Jacobs “Two in three mayors and chairs urge Government to reconsider Māori ward provisional polls” Stuff (online ed, 23 May 2024), RNZ Reporters “Māori ward referendum ‘an expense we don’t need’ – Masterton mayor” RNZ (online ed, 5 April 2024), Kerre Woodham “If you want to keep Māori wards, vote for them” NewstalkZB (online ed, 5 April 2024), Heather du Plessis-Allan “The Government has restored democracy to councils around Māori wards” NewstalkZB (online ed, 4 April 2024), Taxpayers Union “Government Puts An End To Labour’s Hijack On Local Democracy” (online ed, 5 April 2024)
11 Commentary, Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 15
12 See Neal and Discovery NZ Ltd & Sky Network Television Ltd, Decision No 2024-016/017 at [29], Jennings and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2023-019 at [18] and Garrett and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2019-093 at [14] for similar findings
13 1News Reporters “Referendums on local council Māori wards to return – Govt” 1News (online ed, 4 April 2024)
14 Guideline 5.2
15 Commentary, Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 14