BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Steel and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-070

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Tapu Misa
  • Brian Steel
One News

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item included poll results from a Colmar Brunton survey – allegedly contained inaccurate reference to “sampling error”

Standard 5 (accuracy) – no reference to “sampling error” or “margin of error” in the item – complaint was based on corresponding website article – Authority does not have jurisdiction to consider print content on the internet – decline to determine under section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   During One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on Sunday 18 April 2010, an item reported on proposed changes to the current student loans scheme. Following a discussion of tertiary education and fees, a One News political editor analysed results of a recent Colmar Brunton poll. He outlined the percentage of party votes for the major political parties, and translated those into their number of seats in Parliament. He then reported that John Key was the respondents’ preferred Prime Minister compared to Labour leader Phil Goff. Finally, the political editor reported survey results for whether people thought New Zealand’s economic outlook would improve, stay the same, or worsen.


[2]   Brian Steel made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached the accuracy standard because it referred to “sampling error” which was exclusive to probability sampling, and the “Colmar Brunton poll is not a probability sample”. He supplied reports and articles to support his argument.

[3]   Mr Steel had earlier written to TVNZ requesting information about Colmar Brunton’s sample methods, including the total number of respondents, the number of attempts made to contact them, the times of day contact was attempted, what proportion of calls were made to mobile phones, how the respondents were selected, and the process by which the margin of error referred to was calculated. TVNZ responded, “Colmar Brunton is a reputable polling company with vast experience in conducting telephone polls. Their samples are robust and TVNZ is satisfied with those samples. We do not have the specific information you have requested.”


[4]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 5 Accuracy

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/or
• does not mislead.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]   The broadcaster noted that the material referred to by Mr Steel when he requested information about the item came from the corresponding article on its website and differed slightly from the item broadcast. It pointed out that this material was not subject to the Broadcasting Act and therefore could not be considered as part of the formal complaint. “The on-air item did not outline the parameters of the Colmar Brunton poll,” it said. The broadcaster concluded that no inaccurate point of fact had been identified and it declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[6]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Steel referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[7]   Mr Steel maintained that TVNZ web pages were subject to broadcasting standards. He said, “while a reference to ‘sampling error’ may not have been included in this particular broadcast, this reference has been made in other broadcasts relating to the same survey.”

Authority's Determination

[8]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[9]   Having viewed the item subject to complaint, we are satisfied that it did not contain any reference to a “sampling error” or “margin of error” in relation to the One News Colmar Brunton poll. The Authority does not have jurisdiction to consider print content on the internet, or any other broadcast not raised in the original complaint (see paragraph [7]).

[10]   We therefore find that in the circumstances it is appropriate to decline to determine the complaint in accordance with section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to determine the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
14 September 2010


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

1.            Brian Steel’s letter to TVNZ – 21 April 2010

2.           TVNZ’s response to Mr Steel – 26 April 2010

3.           Mr Steel’s formal complaint – 28 April 2010

4.           TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 27 May 2010

5.           Mr Steel’s referral to the Authority – 4 June 2010

6.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 16 July 2010