BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

New Zealand Republic Inc and Discovery New Zealand Ltd - 2022-030 (6 July 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
Dated
Complainant
  • New Zealand Republic Inc
Number
2022-030
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

An item on Newshub Live at 6pm reported on the results of a poll with the question ‘When Queen Elizabeth II is no longer queen, should New Zealand break away from the Commonwealth and become a republic?’ From this poll, the item reported ‘almost half of us’ want to remain in the monarchy after the Queen dies. The complainant alleged that the question was misleading as it implied that for New Zealand to transition to a republic, it must also leave the Commonwealth, which is not the case. The complainant argued that the item’s reporting on the poll results as representing support for the monarchy, was therefore inaccurate. The Authority found that while the poll question could have been phrased better, the question and how the results were presented were not materially misleading in the context of an item focused on the question of whether New Zealand should become a republic when Queen Elizabeth II is no longer Queen.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


The broadcast

[1]  Newshub Live at 6pm on 7 February 2022 broadcast an item regarding New Zealanders’ opinion on whether New Zealand should retain the monarchy when Queen Elizabeth II is no longer Queen, reporting ‘The latest Newshub/Reid research poll shows almost half of us want to remain in the monarchy after the Queen dies.’

[2]  The Political Reporter summarised the poll results: ‘Kiwis still seem cool with the monarchy, even when Prince Charles takes charge.’ The poll results were read out and shown on screen:

When Queen Elizabeth II is no longer queen, should New Zealand break away from the Commonwealth and become a republic?

No                   48.0%
Yes                  36.4%
Don’t know      15.6%

[3]  The item included several ‘vox pop’ interviews, where members of the public gave their opinion on the question at issue, including:

  • ‘There's more benefit in staying in, I think.’
  • ‘I think we should have been a republic a long time ago.’
  • ‘I'm not sure about this Charles and Camilla in charge.’
  • ‘I like Queen Elizabeth, she seems cool.’

[4]  The item also included perspectives from the Prime Minister and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer of Te Pāti Māori about ‘staying in the Monarchy’:

Ardern:    I don’t think it’s a major focus for New Zealanders, and I think we also feel a sense of gratitude as we go through the Jubilee celebrations.

       …

Ngarewa-Packer:    There's not a lot of the colonisation traits that come with the relationship with the British royal family that we want to retain. 

[5]  The Political Reporter concluded:

To officially divorce the Crown, it would have to go to a referendum, something neither major party nor the public seem very interested in, meaning New Zealand appears fit for a king.

The complaint

[6]  New Zealand Republic Inc complained the broadcast was inaccurate as:

  • ‘The issues of Commonwealth membership and New Zealand becoming a republic are separate issues. The poll’s phrasing does not clearly separate the issue of Commonwealth membership and transitioning to a republic, but the broadcast and subsequent web article presented the poll as if it represented support for the monarchy, making no mention of Commonwealth membership’1
  • ‘The poll implies that for New Zealand to transition to a republic, we must also leave the Commonwealth. This is misleading. Commonwealth members that become republics do not have to leave the organisation (as per the membership rules set down in 2007), and almost always do not.’
  • ‘New Zealand Republic has commissioned its own opinion poll by polling firm Curia which demonstrates that New Zealand’s continued membership of the Commonwealth is material to support for a republic. The mention of Commonwealth in Newshub’s poll would clearly have had an impact on the poll result.’2

[7]  It stated that it wanted to see an addendum added to Newshub’s web article on this subject to clarify these issues.

The broadcaster’s response

[8]  Discovery NZ Ltd did not uphold NZ Republic’s complaint, stating:

The Committee is satisfied that the poll question was acceptably worded. As Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of the Commonwealth, it is reasonable to expect that New Zealanders associate the Commonwealth with the Queen. The issue of becoming a republic was phrased in the question as a separate issue. The Committee is confident the wording of the poll did not seriously affect viewers' understanding of the question being asked or the issue under discussion.

[9]  Discovery advised that while it had not found a breach of broadcasting standards, it had shared NZ Republic’s concerns with the Newshub editorial team.

The relevant standard

[10]  The accuracy standard states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact and does not mislead.3 Its purpose is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.4

Our analysis

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

[12]  As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh 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 reasonable and justified.5

[13]  Audiences may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme as a whole.6 Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts.’7

[14]  The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or other points unlikely to significantly affect listeners’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.8 In the event a material error of fact has occurred, broadcasters should correct it at the earliest appropriate opportunity.9

[15]  NZ Republic’s key concerns are that the broadcast was misleading with regard to:

  • the ability of a country to remain in the Commonwealth on becoming a republic (given the phrasing of the poll question); and
  • the presentation of the poll as representing support for the monarchy, ie it shows ‘almost half of us want to remain in the monarchy after the Queen dies’ (given the poll results reported on were flawed as a result of the question asked).

[16]  We are of the view that while the poll question could have been phrased better, the broadcast was not materially misleading in either of these respects.

[17]  We acknowledge some viewers may have interpreted the question as implying New Zealand needs to break away from the Commonwealth to then become a republic. However, this is a technical point which is not necessarily obvious to the public. We note the broadcaster’s submission that Queen Elizabeth II is the head of the Commonwealth, and agree that the question would reasonably have been interpreted as referring to no longer having the Queen as the head of state. Ultimately, the poll’s wording made it clear that the focus of the question was on whether New Zealand should become a republic when Queen Elizabeth is no longer Queen, rather than the nuanced point of retaining membership within the Commonwealth.

[18]  The focus of the rest of the broadcast was also clearly on whether New Zealand should become a republic after the Queen’s reign. It examined New Zealanders’ support for the monarchy, rather than whether New Zealand should remain a member of the Commonwealth. This can be seen in statements by reporters as well as ‘vox pop’ interviews and comments from politicians, which all concerned views of the monarchy and whether New Zealand should become a republic. In this context, the extent to which there was any ambiguity in the poll question’s wording was not likely to have a significant impact on viewers’ understanding of the segment as a whole.

[19]  In relation to the complainant’s concerns that the broadcast presented the poll as representing support for the monarchy, we consider this was a reasonable interpretation of the poll in the circumstances, given the ‘no’ responses to the poll question and the context of the broadcast mentioned above. Even if the survey methodology was flawed in the manner outlined by the complainant, it was not material to the focus of this broadcast (ie whether New Zealand should become a republic, or retain the monarchy when Queen Elizabeth is no longer Queen).

[20]  As we have recognised in previous decisions, viewers understand that polls are a rough tool for gauging public opinion, and are unlikely to interpret poll results as definitive.10 Poll questions can be open to interpretation and it can be difficult to convey nuanced or technical points like the one raised in this complaint.

[21]  As an aside, we note that the Newshub/Reid poll generated similar results to the poll that was commissioned and provided by the complainant, with  ‘almost half’ of people preferring the status quo.

[22]  We do appreciate the complainant’s perspective on this issue and its desire to educate the public on the distinction between a country leaving the Commonwealth and becoming a republic. However, given the reasons set out above, we do not consider this broadcast was ultimately misleading in a way which would justify limiting the broadcaster’s freedom of expression, and therefore find no breach of the accuracy standard.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Susie Staley
Chair
6 July 2022   

 

 

Appendix

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

1  New Zealand Republic’s original complaint to Discovery – 8 February 2022

2  Discovery’s response to the complaint – 7 March 2022

3  New Zealand Republic’s referral to the Authority – 22 March 2022

4  Discovery’s confirmation of no further comments – 3 May 2022


1 Web article referenced: Amelia Wade “Newshub-Reid Research poll: Almost half of Kiwis want New Zealand to remain a monarchy after the Queen dies” Newshub (online ed, 7 February 2022)
2 The Curia poll described: “2021 Opinion Poll: Kiwis Over 60 Support Monarchy, While Under-60s Want A Republic” (10 June 2021) New Zealand Republic <republic.org.nz>
3 Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
5 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
6 As above
7 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110
8 Guideline 9b
9 Guideline 9c
10 Watson and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2020-151