Robinson and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2021-133 (9 February 2022)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- John Gillespie
- Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
- Tim Robinson
ProgrammeNewshub Live at 6pm
BroadcasterDiscovery NZ Ltd T/A Warner Bros. Discovery
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint that an item on Newshub Live at 6pm on 7 October 2021, reporting on criticism of National Party leader Hon Judith Collins in the Mood of the Boardroom survey, breached the balance and fairness standards by failing to refer to the survey’s criticism of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The Authority found the balance standard did not apply as the complaint did not concern a controversial issue of public importance. It further found the broadcast did not go beyond the level of robust scrutiny and political analysis that could reasonably be expected of the Leader of the Opposition, and therefore the fairness standard was not breached.
Not Upheld: Balance, Fairness
 An item on Newshub Live at 6pm on 7 October 2021 reported on the recently released Mood of the Boardroom survey; an annual survey of CEOs which gauges how business leaders feel the Government and Opposition are performing:
Mike McRoberts: Judith Collins has received a brutal report card from the business sector, the traditional bread and butter backers of the National Party. In this year's Mood of the Boardroom survey the bigwigs of business, and even farmers have gone on the record, calling for Collins to go. Political Editor Tova O'Brien joins us now. Kia ora Tova and this could be the nail in the political coffin?
Tova O'Brien: I mean, Mike, that coffin is starting to look like a porcupine, it has been nailed so many times, but this is bad, real bad. Judith Collins excoriated by the business community, here are just a few of the quotes: 'Hopeless. Labour's best asset.' 'She's lost the confidence of her caucus, which has made National unelectable. There needs to be a change.' And from Federated Farmers, 'She seems disconnected to most New Zealanders.' And they put their names to the quotes. National MPs still aren't willing to do that, but many of them agree and say they are getting the same feedback from voters in their inboxes. It's further stoking that bonfire of discontent. But Judith Collins has received a stay of execution. National's Auckland MPs are unlikely to return to Parliament as planned on October the 19th. National doesn't think Auckland will be at Level Two and remember no coup 'til Level Two.
 Tim Robinson complained the item breached the balance and fairness standards. He submitted:
- Given that the main topic of the news item was the Mood of the Boardroom report, the item should also have discussed the criticism the Prime Minister received in the survey.
- ‘In failing to reflect the key findings of the Mood of the Boardroom report, and focusing solely on the negative comments about Collins, in my opinion the Newshub item lacked balance.’
- This could have given viewers the impression that business and farming leaders were happy with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government.
- The focus on negative comments about Collins without mention of negative comments about Ardern was also unfair to Collins.
The broadcaster’s response
 Discovery did not uphold the complaint:
- ‘The focus of the Broadcast was clearly about one aspect of the “Mood of the Boardroom” report, how well the Leader of the Opposition had fared, which was clearly signalled in the introduction by the Newshub presenter, rather than being a wider report about all of the findings contained in the report. When focussing on and discussing the 'Mood of the Boardroom's' commentary on the performance of the Leader of the Opposition, there was no need to report the findings in relation to the Prime Minister.’
- ‘The Broadcast mainly consisted of commentary and analysis from the Political Editor which is typical of the content viewers expect to receive from political reporters.’
- ‘The wider issue the Broadcast canvassed was Ms Collins' suitability for the position of Leader of the Opposition, an issue that has been widely discussed and reported on in recent weeks. The Broadcast provided viewers with the perspectives presented in the 'Mood of the Boardroom' report on this issue. Balance can be achieved within the period of interest and the Committee maintains that viewers could reasonably expect to read and find other perspectives on the issue under discussion within the period of interest.’
- The reporting did not go ‘beyond the level of robust scrutiny and political analysis that could be reasonably expected when reporting on a performance indicator about the Leader of the Opposition.’
 The balance standard1 states when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs, and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view. This can be in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest. The purpose of this standard is to ensure competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to come to an informed and reasoned opinion.2
 The fairness standard3 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in any broadcast. Its purpose is to protect the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes. A consideration of what is fair will depend on the nature of the programme, the context of the programme, and the nature of the individual.4
 We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.5
 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.’6
 The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public.’ A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.7
 In this case, the complainant has not identified a controversial issue of public importance in respect of which there was a failure to present alternative perspectives. The complainant argued that the overarching topic of the broadcast was the Mood of the Boardroom survey (in general) and complained about the failure to report other key findings of that report (particularly content critical of Ardern). However, the findings of the report are a matter of fact rather than a controversial issue of public importance to which the balance standard is capable of applying.
 In effect, the complaint appears more directed at issues of bias (reporting matters critical of one party leader and not the other). However, as previously recognised by the Authority, the balance standard is not directed at ‘bias’ in and of itself.8 Broadcasters, as a matter of freedom of expression and editorial discretion, are entitled to present matters from particular perspectives or with a particular focus.
 Given that the complaint did not concern a controversial issue of public importance, the balance standard does not apply.
 The complainant has alleged that the broadcast’s negative focus on Collins and lack of discussion of the criticism received by Ardern and her government was unfair to Collins.
 At the outset, we note it is well established that the threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to politicians or public figures is higher than for a layperson or someone unfamiliar with the media.9 In addition, political commentary and analysis by journalists is an important feature of freedom of expression and life in a democratic society.
 We do not consider that this broadcast went beyond the level of robust scrutiny and political analysis that could reasonably be expected of the Leader of the Opposition. In addition, as noted above, broadcasters have editorial control over the focus of their reports, and we are satisfied that the broadcast’s focus on the criticism received by Collins in the Mood of the Boardroom survey was not unfair to her in her position.
 Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under the fairness standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Susie Staley MNZM
9 February 2022
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Tim Robinson’s formal complaint to Discovery – 11 October 2021
2 Discovery’s response to complaint – 2 November 2021
3 Robinson’s referral to Authority – 4 November 2021
4 Discovery’s confirmation of no further comments – 24 November 2021
5 Robinson’s further comments – 21 December 2021
6 Discovery’s second confirmation of no further comments – 6 January 2022
1 Standard 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Standard 11 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
5 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
6 Guideline 8a
7 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
8 Drinnan and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-083
9 See, for example, Holland and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2017-048