Rama and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2019-007 (7 May 2019)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Paula Rose QSO
- Wendy Palmer
- Susie Staley MNZM
ProgrammeCheckpoint, Morning Report
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand National
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint that the use of the term ‘booted out’, in reference to the Speaker of the House, Hon Trevor Mallard, ejecting the Leader of the Opposition, Hon Simon Bridges, from the House, was inaccurate. The Authority found there was no reason to suggest the broadcaster did not make reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy of the broadcasts complained about. The Authority found that the use of terms such as ‘booted out’ and ‘kicked out’, in reference to Members of Parliament who have been ordered by the Speaker of the House to leave the House, is common in New Zealand and therefore its use was unlikely to mislead or misinform listeners.
Not Upheld: Accuracy
 During a segment on Checkpoint, host Lisa Owen stated, ‘Tensions in Parliament boiled over this afternoon with the Opposition Leader booted out of the House for questioning the conduct of the Speaker [of the House]…’ [emphasis added].
 The following day, during a segment on Morning Report, host Guyon Espiner said ‘… it’s prompted the Leader of the Opposition to say off-mic “here comes the protection”, so that was the offence he was kicked out for…’ [emphasis added].
 The Checkpoint segment was broadcast on 5 December 2018 and the Morning Report segment was broadcast on 6 December 2018. Both were broadcast on RNZ National.
 Philip Rama complained that the broadcasts breached the accuracy standard of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:
- The use of the term ‘booted out’ was inaccurate. The Speaker asked Hon Simon Bridges to leave the House ‘in accordance with Parliamentary Rules.’
- RNZ’s use of a ‘cliché’ was not appropriate and did not accurately describe the action the Speaker had taken.
- The NZ Herald article that covered these events contained a more accurate by-line: ‘National MPs walked out of Parliament yesterday after the Speaker Trevor Mallard ordered party leader Simon Bridges to leave during Question Time.’1
The broadcaster’s response
 RNZ found the formal complaint did not raise an issue of broadcasting standards, but rather ‘one of style’ and did not uphold the complaint.
 RNZ noted that the broadcasts did not breach RNZ’s editorial policies.
 RNZ has submitted that the complaint is not a formal complaint but rather a question of preference of the language used, within the editorial discretion of the broadcaster.
 We disagree. We consider that the complainant has made a complaint about whether the reporting of the departure of two Members of Parliament from the House was accurate. The complaint identified a broadcast, the standards and provided reasons. Given this, we consider that a valid formal complaint was made, and that we have jurisdiction to consider it.
The accuracy standard
 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
 Where statements of fact are at issue, the standard is concerned only with material inaccuracy. Technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material. 3
 In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. However, this is not an absolute right. When considering a complaint, therefore, the Authority will consider whether a broadcast has caused harm, and whether the broadcaster has appropriately balanced the right to freedom of expression with the obligation to avoid harm. Accordingly, when we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we weigh the value of the programme and the importance of the expression against the level of actual or potential harm that may be caused by the broadcast.
 We note first that, contrary to the complainant’s submissions, the term ‘booted out’ was not used during Morning Report on 6 December 2018 to describe the incident. However, the similar term, ‘kicked out’, was used by host Guyon Espiner.
 Our role is to determine whether the accuracy standard applied to these broadcasts and, if so, whether RNZ made reasonable efforts to ensure that:
- all material statements of fact were accurate; and
- the segment did not mislead listeners.
 As discussed above, the accuracy standard does not apply to statements of comment, analysis or opinion. An opinion is someone’s view. It is contestable, and others may hold a different view.4 However, it is not always clear whether a statement is an assertion of fact or opinion. This will depend on the context and presentation of the statements and how a reasonable listener would perceive them.5
 While ‘booted out’ and ‘kicked out’ are colloquial terms, in this context, we consider the reasonable listener is likely to perceive the statements as fact, given:
- the language used was definitive
- the broadcasts were straightforward news reports
- the statements were capable of being proven ‘right or wrong’.
 Accordingly, we find that the statements in question constituted facts for the purposes of the standard.
 While the statements in question are statements of fact, we find that the use of these terms was unlikely to mislead listeners. Terms like ‘booted out’ and ‘kicked out’ are commonly used in reference to Members of Parliament who have been asked or ordered by the Speaker of the House to leave the House.6 Considering their widespread use, we find the statements complained about accurately communicated the events that unfolded in Parliament.
 Accordingly we 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
7 May 2019
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Philip Rama’s formal complaint – 7 December 2018
2. RNZ’s response to the complaint – 17 January 2019
3. Mr Rama’s referral to the Authority – 30 January 2019
4. RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 7 March 2019
1 National MPs walk out of Parliament after Simon Bridges ordered to leave (NZ Herald, 5 December 2018)
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 As above, page 19
4 Guidance: Accuracy – Distinguishing Fact and Analysis, Comment or Opinion, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 62
5 As above
6 See: Winston Peters booted out of Parliament after calling Deputy Speaker Anne Tolley's running of debate 'a darn disgrace' (TVNZ, 28 November 2018), Paula Bennett booted out of Parliament in chaotic Question Time (Newshub, 24 May 2018) and National leader Simon Bridges kicked out of the House after questioning PM on Sroubek (Stuff, 5 December 2018)