BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2021-028 (15 July 2021)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa
Number
2021-028
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary  

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an item on 1 News reporting on COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. The Authority found, in the context of the broadcast, the statistics cited in relation to Israel’s vaccine rollout were accurate. A discussion of access to vaccines in Israel by Palestinians was not material to the item and its omission would not have misled viewers. The remaining standards did not apply to the broadcast or issues raised in the complaint.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Balance, Fairness


The broadcast

[1]  An item on 1 News broadcast on 3 February 2021 reported on COVID-19 vaccine rollouts globally, accompanied by a graphic showing the different statistics:

More than 100 million doses of various vaccines have been administered worldwide, most in the United States with more than 30 million, China with 24 million, and the UK with nearly 10 million. But what's interesting is the percentage of the population getting the vaccines. In Israel, more than a third of people have had at least one dose, just over 13 per cent in the UK. But look down the bottom at Mexico, which has the third highest death toll and just half a per cent vaccinated there. But because so many of the vaccines need two doses, the number of people fully protected is lower. Israel still high at just over 20 per cent, but the UK drops to less than two. And Mexico, as we mentioned, drops to 0.03 per cent.

The complaint

[2]  The Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa (PSNA) complained the item breached the accuracy, balance and fairness standards as the report was ‘ignoring the fact Israel is refusing to provide vaccinations to 4.5 million Palestinians who are under Israeli occupation and control’:

  • The report presented figures related to Israel implying ‘that everyone under Israeli occupation, jurisdiction and control were included in this figure. They were not…Palestinians were cynically excluded under Israel’s medical apartheid policy and yet this inaccurate, racially biased figure was repeated by TVNZ at face value’.
  • The argument this is strictly accurate in reporting on those ‘In Israel’ ‘will have still been inaccurate, because the Israeli percentage presented in the news item as having received the vaccine would have included many of the some 700,000 Israelis living illegally in the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights.  These people do not live “In Israel”’.
  • The item lacked balance as it did not scrutinise the issue of Israel’s vaccination policy. ‘This issue of Israel’s vaccination policy is highly controversial, as any simple google search would show, with the controversy widely reported in major news outlets around the world.’
  • ‘…a United Nations special report last week makes Israel’s responsibilities clear: “Morally and legally, differential access to necessary health care amid the worst global health crisis in a century is unacceptable… The denial of an equal access to health care, such as on the basis of ethnicity or race, is discriminatory and unlawful”’.
  • ‘Even Palestinian political prisoners are being denied vaccines despite Israeli health officials saying they must be vaccinated.’
  • ‘The item was unfair to Palestinians because it ignored them, and the medical crisis they face, completely. It was unfair to New Zealanders because it purported to fairly present the situation in Israel but failed to do so.’

The broadcaster’s response

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

Accuracy

  • ‘…the statements made in the 1 News bulletin concerning vaccination rates are correct…these statistics are confirmed in news media and scientific reporting from around the world’.1
  • While ‘there are concerns about the inequitable access to vaccinations in Israel’, this information was not required ‘to be available to viewers in the brief mention of the relative vaccination rates around the world, and…the issue of vaccination rates in Israel was not one which was being discussed in any material way…’

Balance

  • The item was discussing ‘the potential uptake of the COVID-19 vaccination and what can be done to improve and facilitate vaccine uptake’.
  • Sufficient viewpoints were ‘adequately represented’ in this news bulletin.

Fairness

  • The standard is designed to protect those people and organisations taking part or referred to in a broadcast, and the complainant did not make any allegations in this regard.

The standards

[4]  The accuracy standard2 protects the public from being significantly misinformed.3 It states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.

[5]  The balance standard4 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.5 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.6

[6]  The fairness standard7 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in any broadcast.8 It ensures individuals and organisations are dealt with justly and fairly and protected from unwarranted damage.

Our analysis

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

[8]  We have also considered the right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point. This includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of content and the audience’s right to receive it. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that justifies placing a limit on the right to freedom of expression. For the reasons below, we have not found such harm in this case.

Accuracy

[9]  As the purpose of the accuracy standard is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed, the standard is concerned only with material inaccuracy.9

[10]  This broadcast was an item about relative vaccination rates around the world rather than an analysis of access to vaccines in Israel. The specific statistics complained about were part of a lead-in to a discussion of issues with the vaccine-rollout and were not the focus of the item as a whole. The lack of any reference to Palestinian access to vaccines under Israeli occupation and control would not mislead viewers as to relative vaccination rates globally, and was not material to the broadcast.

[11]  As per the sources provided by TVNZ, the reported vaccination rate in Israel was accurate at that time. This is further supported by Oxford University’s ‘Our World in Data’ tool.10

[12]  Therefore we do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.

Balance

[13]  The issue raised by the complainant (access to vaccines in Israel) is likely to constitute a controversial issue of public importance in New Zealand given:

  • the international implications of COVID-19 issues
  • the international significance of the Israeli/Palestine conflict
  • public calls for Israel to adopt an equal access approach to vaccines.11

[14]  However, the item did not discuss this controversial issue of public importance.12 As noted above, it focused on relative vaccination rates around the world, not Israeli vaccination policies. Accordingly, the balance standard does not apply, and we do not uphold the complaint under this standard.

Fairness

[15]  The complainant has suggested the broadcast was ‘unfair to Palestinians because it ignored them, and the medical crisis they face, completely. It was unfair to New Zealanders because it purported to fairly present the situation in Israel but failed to do so’. However, the purpose of the fairness standard is to protect the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes.13 It only applies in respect of people or organisations taking part or referred to in the broadcast and:

  • Palestinians were not referred to, nor are they an individual person or an organisation.
  • The fairness with which a ‘situation’ is presented is a matter more appropriately addressed under the other standards considered above.

[16]  Therefore, the fairness standard does not apply.

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

  

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

15 July 2021

 


Appendix

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

1  The Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa’s complaint to TVNZ – 4 February 2021

2  TVNZ’s decision on the complaint – 4 March 2021

3  The PSNA’s referral to the Authority – 18 March 2021

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 16 April 2021


1 Ruth Waitzberg and Nadav Davidovitch “Israel's vaccination rollout: short term success, but questions for the long run” The BMJ Opinion (online ed, 5 February 2021); Reality Check, BBC News (22 March 2021) “Covid-19: Palestinians lag behind in vaccine efforts as infections rise” <www.bbc.com>
2 Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
3 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
4 Standard 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
5 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
6 As above
7 Standard 11 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
8 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
9 Guideline 9b
10 Our World in Data, University of Oxford “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations” <www.ourworldindata.org>
11 UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (14 January 2021) “UN experts call on Israel to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccines for Palestinians” <www.ohchr.org>; Reality Check, BBC News (22 March 2021) “Covid-19: Palestinians lag behind in vaccine efforts as infections rise” <www.bbc.com>; Josef Federman “Covid 19 coronavirus: Vaccines bring political power in Middle East” NZ Herald (online ed, 22 February 2021)
12 Guideline 8a
13 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21