BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Shierlaw and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2020-039 (14 September 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Max Shierlaw
Number
2020-039
Programme
Newshub
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a Newshub Live broadcast reporting on the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s treatment for COVID-19 was inaccurate when it referred to President Donald Trump as ‘the world’s leading expert on fake news’. The Authority considered the statement was distinguishable as a statement of opinion and accordingly the accuracy standard did not apply.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


The broadcast

[1]  In a broadcast of Newshub Live at 6pm on 8 April 2020, MediaWorks TV Ltd reported on United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s treatment in hospital for COVID-19.

[2]  The broadcast included a clip of President Donald Trump at a White House press briefing in which he provided his views on Prime Minister Johnson’s prognosis. When transitioning to the clip of President Trump, the reporter referred to the President as ‘the world’s leading expert in fake news’.

[3]  In considering this complaint, we have watched a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[4]  Max Shierlaw submitted the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice as the reporter had substituted her opinion as fact.1

[5]  The broadcaster did not initially recognise Mr Shierlaw’s brief communication as a formal complaint within the Broadcasting Act 1989 complaints regime. We note that complainants can avoid this outcome by taking advantage of guidance available on the Broadcasting Standards Authority website regarding the submission of complaints.2 We also note that most broadcasters have prescribed formal complaints forms available on their websites to assist complainants through the process.

The broadcaster’s response

[6]  MediaWorks TV Ltd did not consider there was any breach of the accuracy standard for the following reasons:

  • The standard allows for opinion and the statement was identifiable as an opinion.
  • The comment was not inaccurate as President Trump is well known internationally for his interest in fake news.

The relevant standard

[7]  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.3 The requirement for accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment, or opinion, rather than statements of fact.4

Our findings

[8]  The right to freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, is the starting point in our consideration of complaints. Equally important is our consideration of the level of actual or potential harm that may be caused by the broadcast. We may only interfere and uphold complaints where the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

[9]  Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two steps. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading. The second step is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure that the programme was accurate and did not mislead.5

[10]  Audiences may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme.6 Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.7

[11]  The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or unimportant points that are unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.8

[12]  The key issue in this case is whether the presenter’s statement was a statement of fact to which the standard applies. The term ‘fake news’ is frequently used by President Trump and is commonly associated with him. In these circumstances, we consider that describing President Trump as the ‘world’s leading expert on fake news’ would likely be understood by viewers as hyperbole and distinguishable as an opinion rather than a statement of fact. Accordingly, we find that the accuracy standard did not apply. We however do highlight to broadcasters the importance of clearly distinguishing any statement of opinions and comments from statements of fact.

[13]  Even if the comment was considered a statement of fact, as the news item was focussed on Prime Minister Johnson’s treatment for COVID-19 rather than on President Trump, we consider the statement would not amount to a material inaccuracy that would have affected viewers’ understanding of the item as a whole or left them significantly misinformed.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair
14 September 2020

 

 


 

Appendix

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

1  Mr Shierlaw’s complaint to MediaWorks - 9 April 2020

2  Mr Shierlaw’s referral to BSA - 17 May 2020

3  MediaWorks’ response - 28 May 2020

4  Mr Shierlaw’s final comments - 5 June 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 Broadcasting Standards Authority ‘The Complaints Process’ <www.bsa.govt.nz>
3 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
4 Guideline 9a
5 As above, page 19
6 As above
7 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110
8 Guideline 9b