BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Perrott and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-160 (20 April 2021)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Phil Perrott
Number
2020-160
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary  

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

The Authority did not uphold an accuracy complaint about a 1 News item on the use of interlocking concrete blocks to curb coastal erosion on the West Coast. The complaint was that the item inaccurately referred to the location shown in the clip as Granity, rather than Hector, which devalues property in Granity. Given longstanding concerns about coastal erosion spanning across three towns within a small geographical area, including Granity, the Authority did not find any material inaccuracy likely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the item as a whole. 

Not Upheld: Accuracy


The broadcast

[1]  On 11 October 2020, 1 News featured an item about some local residents’ solution to curbing coastal erosion on the West Coast. It was introduced:

Newsreader:   The tiny West Coast settlement of Granity has become known as the capital of coastal erosion. The town’s been slipping into the sea for years, but now some hardy and creative residents believe they’ve found a way to fight back.

Reporter:         Towering over the beach at Granity, a fortress of interlocking concrete blocks designed, built and funded by men who refuse to surrender their homes to the Tasman Sea.

[2]  The item included a video showing the interlocking concrete blocks on the beach, and interviews with members of the community from Westlock Concrete Blocks.

The complaint

[3]  Phil Perrott complained the broadcast breached the accuracy standard:

A segment about Westlock Concrete Blocks being used to protect from sea erosion identified the location as Granity. The location [shown in the clip] was in fact Hector some 5 mins drive away… the pictorial examples gave the impression that it was the sort of problem facing Granity. Those pictorials were in the main not examples from this area and indicated a far worse problem to reality. The result of this misinformation is that [Granity] property value has yet again been devalued by false reporting.

[4]  In his referral to the Authority, Mr Perrott also raised the balance standard. Under section 8(1B) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, we are only able to consider his complaint under the standard(s) raised in the original complaint to the broadcaster. The High Court has clarified that in certain circumstances:1

…it is permissible [for the Authority] to fill gaps… or cross boundaries between Code standards…but only if these things can be done within the wording, reasonably interpreted, of the original complaint, and if a proper consideration of the complaint makes that approach reasonably necessary…

[5]  The wording of Mr Perrott’s original complaint was in our view solely focused on alleged inaccuracies in the item. It did not raise issues of balance either explicitly or implicitly. Our decision is therefore limited to the accuracy standard.

The broadcaster’s response

[6]  TVNZ did not uphold Mr Perrott’s complaint:

  • The reporter responsible for the story responded: ‘the seawall is closer to Hector than to Granity however, as there are three settlements in the same 3-4km stretch of beach (Granity, Ngakawau and Hector) I chose to summarise this by simply saying “the beach at Granity”. I did this to condense the information for viewers and save time as all three settlements face exactly the same problem, and are quite literally on the same road, and the same piece of coast.’
  • ‘It’s been well documented in council reports and other media for some time that [Hector and Granity] face the same erosion issues.’
  • ‘What we showed on the news was an accurate depiction of the predicament facing Granity, Hector and Ngakawau.’

The standard

[7]  The purpose of the accuracy standard2 is to protect 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.

Our analysis

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

[9]  As our starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. Our task is to weigh this important right – which includes both the broadcaster’s right to offer information and ideas, and the audience’s right to receive that information – against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast.4 We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the resulting limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

[10]  For the reasons below, we did not find actual or potential harm caused by the 1 News broadcast that would justify regulatory intervention or limiting the right to freedom of expression in this case.

Accuracy

[11]  The harm alleged by the complainant is the potential negative effect the broadcast may have on the value of property in Granity, by making the erosion situation look worse than it is. In its response, the broadcaster acknowledged the beach shown in the item and the residents’ concrete block wall are ‘closer to Hector than Granity’.

[12]  The question for us is whether the broadcaster’s decision to nevertheless describe the location as ‘the tiny West Coast settlement of Granity’ and ‘the beach at Granity’ constitutes a material inaccuracy. This is because the requirement for accuracy applies only to ‘material points of fact’. Technical or unimportant points that are unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.5

[13]  We acknowledge the complainant’s genuinely heartfelt concerns and that this is clearly a matter of considerable importance to him.

[14]  However, applying the accuracy standard and relevant contextual factors, we do not consider the decision to refer to the areas collectively as Granity in the item amounted to a material inaccuracy or breached the accuracy standard:

  • The main focus of the item was highlighting residents’ innovation and ingenuity in coming up with their own solution to curb coastal erosion in their area. Its focus was not on the problem of the coastal erosion or how it had affected or damaged the area, but rather on one (temporary) solution.
  • The issue of coastal erosion on the West Coast is a known issue, and ongoing concern affecting the beach spanning across the Granity, Hector and Ngakawau areas.6 These areas are all in the coastal erosion zone, and are neighbouring townships along the same coastline and within a small geographical area.7 As noted by the complainant, the beaches at Hector and Granity are within 5 minutes’ drive of each other.
  • The West Coast coastal erosion issue has also been widely covered in the media. Many examples of coverage we identified referred to these areas together and collectively.8  
  • For these reasons, the broadcast was unlikely to significantly mislead the general audience, or give the audience ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.9 It was reasonable, and not materially inaccurate, for the broadcaster to summarise the situation for viewers by identifying one location out of the three affected by this issue.

[15]  The complainant raised concerns about the potential impact of the broadcast on property prices. Given the item’s positive focus on residents taking action, overall we consider any negative effect on property is unlikely to have been a direct result of this broadcast. We do not find the broadcast contained any material inaccuracy that would have caused, or exacerbated any harm at a level alleged by the complainant.

[16]  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

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

20 April 2021   

 


Appendix

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

1  Phil Perrott’s original complaint to TVNZ – 13 October 2020

2  TVNZ’s decision on the complaint – 10 November 2020

3  Mr Perrott’s referral to the Authority – 11 November 2020

4  Correspondence with Mr Perrott about the scope of the complaint and broadcasting standards raised – 18 November 2020

5  TVNZ’s response to the referral – 14 December 2020


1 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd [2012] NZHC 131 at [62]
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 Commentary: Freedom of Expression, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
5 Guideline 9b
6 West Coast Regional Council (January 2016) “Coastal Erosion WCRC Granity, Ngakawau and Hector” <www.wcrc.govt.nz>. See also Envirolink (October 2006) “Managing and adapting to coast erosion on the West Coast: Granity” <envirolink.govt.nz>
7 See <https://www.google.co.nz/maps/place/Granity>
8 See for example: Charlie Mitchell and Alden Williams “Eaten Alive, Residents of Granity and Hector talk about their battles with the encroaching sea” Stuff (online ed, 2017); “Buller residents ‘never advised’ they’d have to shift” New Zealand Herald (online ed, 16 September 2015); “Shifting Sands – the end of a Kiwi dream” NIWA (online ed, 31 January 2017); Joanne Carroll “West Coast communities warned they must move from flood and erosion zones” Stuff (online ed, 13 September 2018) and Joanne Carroll “Granity and Ngakawau get $3.6million Government-funded seawall” Stuff (online ed, 28 February 2020)
9 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd [2012] NZHC 131 at [98]