PK and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-149 (16 March 2021)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a 1 News item reference to a New Conservative Party policy of ‘repealing gay marriage’ was inaccurate. The Authority found the statement was not inaccurate or misleading, in light of the party’s advertised marriage policy.
Not Upheld: Accuracy
 An item on 1 News, on 23 September 2020, reported on the polling and policies of smaller political parties, and the New Conservative Party in particular, in the lead up to the 2020 general election.
 The political reporter, Maiki Sherman, described the New Conservative Party as up in the polls with a projected 2% of the vote, and then referred to some of its policies:
Policies include tougher prison sentences, repealing gay marriage and what it calls race-based Government funding.
 PK complained the broadcast breached the accuracy standard for falsely claiming the New Conservative Party wanted to repeal gay marriage, when there was ‘not a single policy about that’.
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not uphold PK’s complaint for the following reasons:
- The New Conservative Party’s marriage policy states ‘New Conservative believes in the traditional definition of marriage as between one biological man and one biological woman, with all other legal arrangements categorised as civil unions’.1
- A policy is a statement of intent. Voters can reasonably expect a party that proposes a policy to endeavour to implement that policy if it is elected.
- A reasonable interpretation of the New Conservative Party’s marriage policy is that it seeks to repeal same-sex marriage.
- Ms Sherman’s characterisation of this policy was not inaccurate or misleading.
 TVNZ also advised that, in response to this issue and out of an abundance of caution, it reframed its description of the New Conservative Party’s marriage policy in its online written report to say: ‘The party also believes marriage is between a man and a woman and that anything else is civil union.’2
 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
 The Authority’s Election Complaints Fast-Track Process contemplates fast tracking of ‘programmes that relate to election or referenda matters that may influence a vote’.5 This complaint, however, was processed under our standard procedures as it was referred to the Authority after the election.
 We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 We have also considered the important right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point and of particular importance in the lead up to an election. This includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of information 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.
 The New Conservative Party’s marriage policy clearly states its belief in the ‘traditional definition’ of marriage as between one biological man and one biological woman, with ‘all other legal arrangements categorised as civil unions’.6
 We agree with TVNZ that a party policy is a statement of intent. Voters can reasonably expect a party to implement its policies if elected. The implementation of the New Conservative Party’s marriage policy and, in particular, the categorisation of all legal arrangements other than those between ‘one biological man and one biological woman’ as civil union, would require amendments to the definition of ‘marriage’ in the Marriage Act 1955.7 ‘Repealing gay marriage’ is a reasonable shorthand description of the changes required.
 Therefore, the broadcast’s characterisation of this policy was not inaccurate or misleading.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold this complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
16 March 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 PK’s formal complaint – 24 September 2020
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 22 October 2020
3 PK’s referral to the Authority – 28 October 2020
4 TVNZ’s response to the referral – 12 November 2020
5 PK’s final comments – 25 November 2020
6 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 27 November 2020
1 New Conservative Party “Marriage Policy” <newconservative.org.nz>
2 TVNZ (23 September 2020) “What issues are minor parties campaigning on for 2020 election?” <tvnz.co.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 Broadcasting Standards Authority “Fast track complaints process for election related content” <www.bsa.govt.nz>
6 New Conservative Party “Marriage Policy” <newconservative.org.nz>
7 Following the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013, marriage is currently defined to mean ‘the union of 2 people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity’.