Richards and MediaWorks Ltd - 2020-006 (9 June 2020)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Don Richards
BroadcasterMediaWorks TV Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a Newshub item reporting on changes to Reserve Bank rules requiring commercial banks to hold more capital in reserve was unbalanced. The item focussed on the potential effects of new capital requirements on the public, particularly borrowers. The Authority recognised that the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance and was satisfied that the item featured significant viewpoints on the particular issue discussed. The Authority also noted that the issue had been widely covered in other news media and viewers could be expected to receive a broad understanding of the main perspectives on the issue within the period of current interest.
Not Upheld: Balance
 On 5 December 2019, channel Three’s Newshub included an item on changes to Reserve Bank rules requiring banks to increase their capital that focussed on the effect such changes may have on the public.
 The item began with the following introduction:
$10 a fortnight on a $200,000 mortgage. That’s the increase that borrowers could face following a Reserve Bank decision today. It works out at $260 a year or, on a $400,000 mortgage, that is $520 a year. Now it’s all because our central bank has told private banks, especially the major ones, to keep more cash in reserve in case of another financial shock such as the GFC in 2007 and it’s not just people with home loans who will be hit, with many in the farming community worried about the impact of the new rules. Laura McDonald reports.
 As part of our consideration of this complaint, the members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 Mr Richards complained that the item breached the balance standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.1 He submitted that while the broadcast focussed on the effect of the Reserve Bank’s announcement on the public, it did not mention the possibility that banks could allocate their own profits to funding the required increase in capital.
 In his referral to the Authority he said:
People were asked if they would be happy paying an extra $10 per month on their mortgage. A balanced question would be to ask people if they would prefer to pay an extra $10 per month on their mortgage or should the banks pay for it out of their profits.
 Mr Richards considered that MediaWorks, in its response to his complaint, ‘missed the crux of the piece and that was [about] who was going to pay for the increase in the reserve requirements.’
The broadcaster’s response
 In its decision on the complaint MediaWorks said:
- The report was about the Reserve Bank’s new rule requiring commercial banks to keep more capital in reserve.
- ‘The report contained a range of viewpoints that included:
(i) Comments from the Reserve Bank;
(ii) Comments from Federated Farmers who were concerned that the new rules could impact the rural sector;
(iii) The opinions of a mortgage broker who felt that there would be no “knock-on effects” to homeowners;
(iv) The view of two members of the public in street side “vox pops”;
(v) A spokesperson for a commercial bank who said it was likely to be months before the implications of the new rules would be known; and
(vi) Analysis from Newshub’s reporter.’
- ‘We are satisfied that the report contained a range of significant points of view and met the Standard for Balance.’
The relevant standard
 The balance standard (Standard 8) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programming, 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.
Freedom of expression and public interest
 The starting point in our consideration of complaints is the right to freedom of expression. The right to freedom of expression is an important right in maintaining a healthy democracy. However it is not an absolute right and may be limited where the exercise of the right has caused, or may cause, harm. When we consider a complaint, we weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm alleged to have been caused by the broadcast to ensure that any limitation on freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.
 A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to ‘news, current affairs and factual programmes’ which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.2
 It is clear that Newshub is a news and current affairs programme for the purposes of the standard.
 The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.3 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.4
 We are satisfied that the issue of changes to the Reserve Bank’s capital requirements (including the way banks may respond to the increased capital requirements and the consequent impacts on consumers) is an issue of public importance that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to members of the New Zealand public. We are also satisfied that the issue was ‘controversial’ through having topical currency and exciting conflicting opinion,5 and that it was ‘discussed’ in this item, which focussed on how people might be affected by the changes. Therefore the balance standard applied.
 The next question is whether the broadcaster made reasonable efforts in the circumstances to allow significant viewpoints on the issue to be presented, within the programme and/or within the period of current interest. In making this assessment, the following factors are relevant:6
- the programme’s introduction and the way in which the programme was presented
- the type of programme
- the nature of the issue and of the discussion
- whether the programme approached the topic from a particular perspective
- whether the programme acknowledged the existence of other views
- whether the audience could reasonably be expected to be aware of other views, including in other media sources.
 Applying these factors to this case, we concluded the broadcaster made reasonable efforts in the circumstances to present significant views on the issue discussed, taking into account:
- The item’s introduction signalled that the item was examining the potential effect of the Reserve Bank requirement on borrowers. It was clear from the programme that the ultimate outcome was uncertain.
- This was only a brief news item, and following past Authority decisions we considered that audience members would not expect the item to address all potential outcomes of the new Reserve Bank rules.7
- The broadcaster nevertheless presented a range of views regarding potential outcomes, including:
(a) The details of potential increases to mortgages (outlined in the introduction).
(b) The reporter’s comments that the change ‘begs the question who will pay for the new limits’ and that ‘the real final impact is still uncertain. It will be up to the banks how they respond.’
(c) Comments from a Federated Farmers representative who was worried about the impact on the rural sector noting that banks may ‘look to increase interest rates or not pass interest rate decreases on to farmers.’
(d) The view of a mortgage broker who considered that the timeframe for the transition together with ‘record-low interest rates’ should shield homeowners from any ‘knock-on effects’. He stated: ‘At this stage, I don’t think it’ll have any impact at all.’
(e) Views from two members of the public that even small cost increases would be challenging.
(f) A spokesperson for a commercial bank who stated: ‘I think it’s going to be a matter of months rather than weeks before [the] implications are made clear’.
- The topic is a current, and ongoing, one and has received reasonable coverage from other media within the period of current interest. It was therefore reasonable to expect that, in addition to the perspectives conveyed in the broadcast, viewers would receive a broad understanding of the main perspectives on the issue within the period of current interest.
 In these circumstances, we do not consider that viewers would have expected to be presented with further detail regarding the potential for banks to fund the additional costs or that they would have been left uninformed or unable to form their own views about the topic discussed.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
26 May 2020
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Don Richards’ formal complaint to MediaWorks – 11 December 2019
2. Mr Richards’ initial contact with the Authority – 1 January 2020
3. MediaWorks’ decision on Mr Richards’ complaint – 29 January 2020
4. Mr Richards’ referral to the Authority – 1 February 2020
5. MediaWorks’ response to the referral – 1 April 2020
1 The Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice was refreshed with effect from 1 May 2020. This complaint has been determined under the April 2016 version of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice as the relevant broadcast pre-dated the 1 May 2020 version.
2 Guideline 8a
3 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
4 As above
5 See, for example, other Newshub coverage on the issue: ‘How Thursday’s banking rule changes could hit the economy’ (Newshub.co.nz, 5 December 2019): ‘Bank capital requirements: Home-buyers are more likely to be favoured – expert’ (Newshub.co.nz, 6 December 2019): ‘Capital requirements: Borrowers likely to be stung for up to three times more than Reserve Bank's estimate – economist’ (Newshub.co.nz, 9 December 2019)
6 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
7 See, for example, Cotterall and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2019-072 at  and  and Scott and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-088 at  and 
8 See, for example, ‘Banks would look to pass on costs to customers if capital requirements enacted - Shane Jones’ (tvnz.co.nz, 6 August 2019); ‘RBNZ orders retail banks to hold $20 billion in capital (rnz.co.nz, 5 December 2019); ‘Reserve Bank's '$20 billion' decision on bank capital may flow through to mortgage rates’ (stuff.co.nz, 4 December 2019)