BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

O’Neill and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2022-064 (31 August 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
Dated
Complainant
  • Sue O’Neill
Number
2022-064
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary  

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

The Authority did not uphold a complaint alleging an item on 1 News about nurses suffering ‘fatigue and burnout’ breached broadcasting standards. The complainant was concerned for an interviewee’s mental wellbeing and the broadcast’s omission of any interview with the interviewee’s employer or discussion of the employer’s accountability for the situation. The Authority found the balance standard did not apply, as no controversial issue was discussed; the issue of current nurse shortages is a fact. In any event, significant perspectives on the issue were broadcast within the (ongoing) period of current interest. The Authority also found the broadcast was materially accurate and unlikely to mislead viewers. The discrimination and denigration standard also did not apply.

Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy, Discrimination and Denigration


The broadcast

[1]  On 15 April 2022, 1 News reported on nurse fatigue and burnout. The item included interviews with a nurse at a medical centre and a mother whose son was left on an intravenous line for too long due to staff shortages.

[2]  The nurse was shown crying at her desk. She described her professional situation and concerns and stated she was considering leaving nursing due to the pressure. She also stated the strain was leading to mistakes, ‘it's only a matter of time before the nurses are that exhausted that we're going to have a death.’  

[3]  The mother interviewed considered the Government should take notice of these issues and do ‘something about improving staffing numbers in the hospitals’ so no one else had to go through what her family was going through. The broadcast noted she ‘doesn't want to blame individual nurses, but is critical of the whole system’.

[4]  The broadcast concluded by stating ‘both patients and nurses suffering from an overstretched health care workforce.’

The complaint

[5]  Sue O’Neill complained the broadcast breached the balance, accuracy and discrimination and denigration standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following key reasons:

  • The complainant acknowledged serious staffing shortages in the health system and that those pressures are causing staff to experience burnout. However, the complainant was concerned about the nurse’s welfare and that her employer was not interviewed for the item and ‘appeared to take no account’ for the seriousness of the situation. This is exacerbated as the broadcast ended with footage showing an ‘Enrol now’ sign in front of the clinic.
  • The complainant also referred to additional information available online regarding what she perceived as the clinic’s situation.
  • None of the ‘comparison story headlines’ provided in TVNZ’s response pointed to ‘private health sector employer responses and responsibilities to their employees’.
  • The comment regarding an increase in mistakes ‘filtering through’ was not substantiated either in the broadcast, or through other sources.

The broadcaster’s response

[6]  Television New Zealand Ltd did not uphold the complaint as:

  • ‘News programmes, by their very nature, often contain disturbing or confronting material.’
  • ‘Staffing shortages, fatigue and burnout in nursing are obviously issues of considerable public interest that 1 News has clear justification to explore.’
  • The nurse ‘was emotional at times in the interview but was clearly a willing participant who wanted her voice to be heard.’
  • The discrimination and denigration standard ‘does not apply to individuals; therefore it has no application in respect to [the nurse]. In relation to nurses in general, we find no basis to conclude the report encouraged discrimination or denigration of them. On the contrary, the report supported their interests by reporting on the systemic issues their sector faces.’
  • With regards to the balance standard, ‘Staffing shortages and other pressures in the healthcare sector are issues that have been covered extensively in the New Zealand media during the period of current interest, furnishing the public with a wide variety of perspectives.’1
  • ‘The scope of the story … was clearly defined; it presented the first-person perspectives of two people (a nurse and a member of the public) affected by staffing shortages in the healthcare sector: it did not purport to include, and viewers would not reasonably have expected, a comprehensive range of viewpoints.’
  • While acknowledging the complainant’s concern of omitting the nurse’s employer, ‘there was no suggestion that her employer bore any specific responsibility for her discontent, or the situation facing nurses more broadly. [The nurse’s] employer was not criticised in the story, and it was evident that they were happy for her to be interviewed and to share her experience. It was apparent from the story, that the issues affecting [the nurse] are a systemic, sector-wide problem requiring attention from the Governmental level.’
  • ‘…viewers would have a broad understanding of the main perspectives that exist in relation to the issue, an understanding to which we consider that this story contributed.’
  • The complaint didn’t allege any specific material points of fact were inaccurate in the programme.

The relevant standards

[7]  The balance standard2 states 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 points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.3

[8]  The purpose of the accuracy standard4 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.5 It states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.

[9]  We consider the complaint is adequately dealt with under the balance and accuracy standards. The discrimination and denigration standard6 applies only to recognised ‘sections of the community’, consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993.7 While ‘occupational status’ is a recognised ground for discrimination, this term is properly interpreted in a similar way to ‘employment status’ under s 21 (prohibited grounds of discrimination) of the Human Rights Act 1993.8 Under s 21(1)(k) of that Act the ‘employment status’ ground only applies in respect of someone who is unemployed or receiving a Work and Income (social welfare) or Accident Compensation Corporation benefit. The standard does not apply to particular occupations, such as nurses here.9

Our analysis

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

[11]  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 reasonable and justified.10

[12]  None of the standards raised apply to the complainant’s concerns for the welfare or vulnerability of the nurse who was interviewed. For completeness, we note, had the complainant raised a standard which did apply to these concerns (for example, fairness) we would not have upheld the complaint under that standard either. The nurse, while upset, was clearly a willing participant in the interview, and was speaking out and advocating for her industry.

Balance

[13]  The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.11 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. A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.12

[14]  The broadcast reported on the effect of nurse shortages. The existence of such shortages at present, and the consequent pressure on nurses and the health system, is not a controversial issue, it is a fact.13 Therefore, the standard does not apply.

[15]  Further, the complainant’s concerns relate to the omission of the employer’s perspective or the explanation of employer accountability for such situations. Given the subject matter of the broadcast, we consider the complaint largely borders on matters of personal preference and editorial discretion as to what should be broadcast. We acknowledge these preferences arose from the complainant’s concerns about the nurse’s wellbeing, however, these matters are not capable of being addressed by the broadcasting standards complaints process.14

[16]  In any event, we do not consider further balancing material was required:15

  • The interviews were clearly signalled as coming from particular perspectives, being people directly affected by the staff shortages. The balance standard does not prohibit this, nor does it require every significant perspective on an issue to be presented in every programme discussing that issue.
  • Through these perspectives, the interviewees considered the issue was widespread across the profession.
  • As submitted by TVNZ, significant perspectives on the issue continue to be reported on during this ongoing period of current interest.16
  • The broadcast itself emphasises there is a systemic issue. This reflects the New Zealand Nurses Organisation’s | Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa recent survey of its members where 99% of the 2,700 members that responded said ‘the system was either in crisis (70 percent) or already beyond crisis (29 percent).’17

[17]  Ultimately, the objective of the balance standard is to enable audiences to arrive at informed and reasoned opinions.18 Considering the introduction of the broadcast, the segment’s clearly established perspective, and the ongoing nature of the issue, we consider viewers were unlikely to have been left misinformed by the broadcast.

Accuracy

[18]  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.19

[19]  The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or other points unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.20

[20]  With regard to the accuracy standard, relevant submissions of the complainant include that the broadcast indicated ‘reports of mistakes are filtering through’ but the complainant could find no reports of such an increase in mistakes.

[21]  We note the reporter made that statement in the lead-in to the interview with the mother regarding her son’s experience. The mother provided her view that problems arose due to staff shortages. We consider the interview illustrated an example of the reports referred to.

[22]  We also acknowledge the complainant’s submissions regarding the employer’s situation. However, we note the broadcast did not state this specific employer had staff shortages, rather that the issue was systemic. We consider viewers would have understood the issue affected all facets of the profession, public and private.

[23]  Accordingly, we do not consider the programme was inaccurate or that viewers would have been materially mislead.

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

 

Susie Staley
Chair
31 August 2022    

 

 

Appendix

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

1  Sue O’Neill’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 20 April 2022

2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 19 May 2022

3  O’Neill’s referral to the Authority – 12 June 202

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 21 June 2022


1 Referring to “Fed-up nurses say they are understaffed and overworked” Sunday (online ed, 3 April 2022); “New funding not enough to relieve nursing crisis – NZNO” 1 News (online ed, 15 February 2022); Rowan Quinn “Hospitals consistently understaffed, nurses overworked – report” RNZ (online ed, 17 February 2022); Mike Houlahan “Shortage of nurses is nationwide” Otago Daily Times (online ed, 9 February 2022); Louisa Steyl “Staff shortages close 400 aged care beds across New Zealand” Stuff (7 March 2022); and Cate Broughton “10,000 health workers vote to strike during May” Stuff (20 April 2022)
2 Standard 8 of the Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
3 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
4 Standard 9 of the Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
5 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
6 Standard 6 of the Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
7 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
8 Human Rights Commission | Te Kāhui Tika Tangata “Employment status” <www.hrc.co.nz>; and see Abdul-Rahman and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-026 at [14]
9 Palmer and Television New Zealand, Decision No. 2020-043 at [10]
10 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
11 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
12 As above
13 For example, see “Andrew Little: Govt responding to 'chronic staffing shortage' in healthcare“ RNZ (online ed, 12 July 2022); and “Health system 'under pressure', not in crisis - Minister Andrew Little” RNZ (online ed, 21 June 2022) and material cited in footnotes 16 and 17
14 See Tily and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2022-047 at [13]; and section 5(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
15 Guideline 8c
16 See footnote 1; “Nurses warn more lives at risk if health staffing crisis not addressed” RNZ (online ed, 17 June 2022); “PM Jacinda Ardern suggests migrant nurses put off by needing to stay in role for two years 'perhaps don't want to be a nurse in NZ'” Newshub (online ed, 11 July 2022); Michael Neilson “New Immigration Minister Michael Wood grilled on nurse shortage as Health NZ CEO joins criticism” New Zealand Herald (online ed, 5 July 2022); and Paula Lorgelly “Despite what political leaders say, New Zealand’s health workforce is in crisis – but it’s the same everywhere else” (21 July 2022) The Conversation <theconversation.com>
17 New Zealand Nurses Organisation | Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa “2700 heartfelt pleas to Health Minister by members of NZNO” (20 July 2022) <nzno.org.nz>, our emphasis
18 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
19 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
20 Guideline 9b