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Oliver and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-010 (21 July 2020)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Paul Oliver
1 News


[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint about two items reporting on the Conservative Party electoral victory in the 2019 United Kingdom general election. The items were on consecutive broadcasts of 1 News.  The complainant submitted that a statement by the news presenter that Boris Johnson had won a 365 seat majority in the United Kingdom Parliament was inaccurate, as Mr Johnson’s party had won 365 seats of the total number of 650 seats in Parliament and had an overall majority of 80 seats over all other political parties. The Authority did not consider that this was a material inaccuracy or that viewers would be significantly misinformed by the use of the phrase ‘a 365 seat majority.’

Not Upheld: Accuracy

The broadcast

[1]  In a broadcast of 1 News at 6.00pm on 14 and 15 December 2019, TVNZ reported the Conservative Party’s electoral victory in the United Kingdom 2019 general election.

[2]  On 14 December 2019 the 1 News presenter stated:

He [Boris Johnson] helped secure an historic victory in the UK election, taking a 365 seat majority for his Conservative Party, and leaving Labour crushed.

[3]  On 15 December 2019, the 1 News presenter stated:

His [Boris Johnson’s] victory lap comes just days after the Tories took a 365 seat majority in the election, taking several long-held Labour ones.

[4]  As part of our consideration of this complaint, we have watched a recording of the broadcasts and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[5]  Paul Oliver submitted the broadcasts breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice1 for the following reasons:

  • The news presenter stated that Boris Johnson had won a 365 seat majority in the UK parliament.
  • The reporting was incorrect as Mr Johnson’s party won 365 seats out of a total of 650 seats, and therefore has an overall majority of 80 seats over all other political parties.

[6]  Mr Oliver also submitted that it was a sad reflection of the decrease in standards that such a significant error can be made twice.

The broadcaster’s response

[7]  TVNZ did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • The term ‘365 seat majority’ referred to the Conservative Party having a majority in the house.
  • The election result, as expressed by the news presenter, was a short-handed way of highlighting the numbers of seats and reporting that the Conservative government is a majority government, in contrast to the 2017 election results where the Conservative Party governed in a minority with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party.
  • Summarising the results in this way was not inaccurate.

The relevant standard

[8]  The accuracy standard (Standard 9) states that 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. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from being significantly misinformed.2

Our findings

[9]  The right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, is the starting point in our consideration of complaints. Equally important is our consideration of the level of actual or potential harm that may be caused by the broadcast. We may only interfere and uphold complaints where the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

[10]  Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two steps. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading. The second step is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure that the programme was accurate and did not mislead.3

[11]  Audiences may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme.4 Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.5

[12]  The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or unimportant points that are unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.6

[13]  The first issue we considered was whether the news presenters’ statements complained about, that Boris Johnson had won a 365 seat majority in the UK Parliament, were statements of fact to which the standard applies.  We agreed that they were.

[14]  We then considered whether the use of the phrase ‘365 seat majority’ is inaccurate or misleading. The term ‘majority’ has various definitions, one being the number larger than half the total; another being the amount by which the greater number surpasses the remainder. The complainant submits the use of ‘majority’ in the broadcast carries the latter meaning (being the difference between the 365 seats secured by the Conservative Party and the combined total of the seats won by the remaining political parties).

[15]  The focus of the item was on Mr Johnson and the Conservative Party’s electoral victory. Viewers would likely understand a ‘365 seat majority’, in the context of reporting on the Conservative Party’s electoral victory, as referring to the Conservative party winning more than half the total number of seats in Parliament and thereby forming a majority government.

[16]  We find that the phrase ‘a 365 seat majority’ used by the presenter rather than ‘365 seats out of a total of 650 seats’ was not materially inaccurate or misleading for the purposes of this standard and would not affect the audience’s understanding of the news item.

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




Judge Bill Hastings

21 July 2020






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

1  Paul Oliver’s complaint to TVNZ - 16 December 2019

2  TVNZ’s response to Mr Oliver - 30 January 2020

3  Mr Oliver’s referral to the BSA - 6 February 2020

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments - 1 May 2020

1 The Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice was refreshed with effect from 1 May 2020. This complaint has been determined under the April 2016 version of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice as the relevant broadcast pre-dated the 1 May 2020 version.
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 As above, page 19
4 As above
5 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110
6 Guideline 9b