BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Stone & Maynard and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2022-048 (21 June 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
Dated
Complainant
  • Angela Stone & Ken Maynard
Number
2022-048
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary  

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

The Authority has not upheld two complaints relating to a news item on Nicola Willis MP being appointed the National Party’s Finance Spokesperson. The complaints alleged the broadcast breached the accuracy and balance standards as it omitted the Speaker’s intervention of Willis’s questions to the Finance Minister during Question Time, allegedly leading viewers to believe the questions were delivered seamlessly and without fault. The Authority found the accuracy standard was not breached as the broadcast was materially accurate, and the balance standard did not apply, as the questions did not reflect a controversial issue of public importance.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Balance


The broadcast

[1]  An item on 1 News broadcast on 16 March 2022 discussed National Party MP Nicola Willis being appointed the party’s Finance Spokesperson. The item included footage from Parliament’s Question Time where the Member questioned the Finance Minister, Grant Robertson MP:

Reporter:       New sparring partners, Nicola Willis wants to take the Finance Minister's job and is testing the boundaries.

Willis:             Why does he keep gaslighting New Zealanders? Why does he keep patronising New Zealanders? Why does he keep trying to fool New Zealanders?

Robertson:    I reject the premise of the member's questions.

[2]  The item then included excerpts of a statement from Willis at a press conference, as well as a cut to Robertson responding:

Willis:             I know how he ticks and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to expose some of his weaknesses.

Robertson:    Sausage rolls, pies.

The complaints

[3]  Angela Stone and Ken Maynard complained the broadcast breached the balance and accuracy standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Stone complained:

  • ‘The report included highlights of question time in parliament that misrepresented what actually happened’, leading to viewers being ‘left with the impression that Willis’ triple questioning was a smooth seamless delivery’.

Balance

  • ‘By not including the Speaker's intervention, the report gave viewers an unbalanced view of the exchange.’ In ‘editing what actually occurred during the “clipped” questions i.e the intervention of the speaker twice and his ordering Ms Willis to rephrase her questions, left the viewers hard pressed to have a broader perspective of what happened.’
  • The ‘fact that the actual intervention of the speaker was not a) mentioned or b) shown and the audience was left to rely on the laughing of other MPs to deduct that Ms Willis was pushing the boundaries is an unbalanced perspective of what took place.’

Accuracy

  • ‘The fact that two of her questions were deemed out of order by the Speaker and she was directed to rephrase them was not included in the report. Instead, Ms Willis was shown making her mark by the political editor’s misrepresentation of what actually happened.’
  • ‘Because of this, the viewer, especially the vast majority who do not watch parliament would have seen Ms Willis asking three questions, some MPs laughing and no intervention from the speaker, and from that conclude Ms Willis was… pushing the boundaries of what she knows is appropriate with the speaker.’
  • The relevant omitted footage was ‘less than 30 seconds, which begs the question, why didn’t the political editor include this. This would have left the audience in no doubt that Ms Willis was pushing the boundaries.’
  • It ‘was an inaccurate representation of the parliamentary proceedings and the fact that a handful of MPs laughed would have left the audience in no doubt that Ms Willis was “pushing the boundaries and making her mark” was to say the least, a flawed assumption.’

[4] Maynard complained:

  • TVNZ’s editing made the questions look ‘like a smooth, reasoned criticism of the Minister of Finance’. ‘What is missing is that Mr Speaker interjected between these statements, ruling them unparliamentary, and requiring Ms Willis to rephrase the question.’
  • ‘Important contextual information was removed leaving a false impression, which cannot be right.’ ‘Her words in fact contravened parliamentary rules.’
  • In the full Question Time clip, the ‘Speaker intervenes and [Willis] has 2 more goes, getting rebuffed. You are left with the impression that Ms Willis is trying to score political points (which is fair enough) but is getting rebuffed because she is breaking the rules.’

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  TVNZ did not uphold either complaint:

Balance

  • Willis’s questions were not an ‘issue of public importance’ as required by the balance standard – ‘There is no on-going public debate about this relatively minor aspect of what happened in Parliament that day.’
  • ‘Even to an uninformed viewer, who has not had the benefit of having seen the full 8 minute exchange, Ms Willis is seen asking three questions with essentially the same meaning, but changing the tone to be less pejorative as the sentences progress. That the questions are pushing the boundaries can be heard in the footage in the reactions of the other MPs who laugh.’
  • ‘Grant Robertson answers all of these questions in the 1News item with one statement: I reject the premise of the Member’s questions.’
  • ‘The tone of challenge and banter between the two is continued with Ms Willis’ statement that I know how (Grant Robertson) ticks and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to expose some of his weaknesses. And Grant Robertson is seen listing his weaknesses as sausage rolls and pies.’
  • It was not ‘unreasonable for the Political Editor to express her opinion that Ms Willis’ challenges were deliberate. The footage… [showing] the Speaker directing Ms Willis to rephrase her questions does not dispute this view.’

Accuracy

  • The footage shown was not a ‘distortion of what occurred. Ms Willis, a seasoned politician, is shown asking challenging questions of Grant Robertson. A valid viewpoint is that she was doing this purposefully, “to make her mark,” and this is what is shown in the footage. Footage of the Speaker “redirecting” Ms Willis is not material to viewers’ understanding this, and the Committee does not agree that it was required for viewers to be properly informed about what happened.’
  • ‘That the Speaker had to redirect Ms Willis does not disprove the idea that Ms Willis was deliberately pushing the boundaries of what she knows what is appropriate with the speaker. The Political Editor notes of these questions it was an 8 min question which we can’t show in its entirety in the news.’

The standards

[6]  The balance standard1 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.2

[7]  The purpose of the accuracy standard3 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.4 It states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.

Our analysis

[8]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[9]  As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh up 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

[10]  The key issue is whether the omission of the Speaker’s intervention in Willis’s questions led to a breach of broadcasting standards. For the reasons outlined below, we have not found a breach in this instance.

Accuracy

[11]  The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or other points unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.6

[12]  The audience may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme. Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.7 Programmes may be misleading by omission, for example as a result of the way dialogue and images have been edited together.8

[13]  The complaints alleged the omission of the Speaker’s intervention in ‘unparliamentary’ questions misled the audience into thinking Willis’s questions were appropriate. Although Willis’s questions may have appeared to have been delivered ‘seamlessly’, we consider viewers would have understood, from the reporter’s preceding comment that Willis was ‘testing the boundaries’, that the questions were inappropriate for Parliament. This is supported as the questions are essentially repeated, with a less pejorative term in each successive question.

[14]  In any event, the omission of the Speaker’s intervention was not material to the overall item, which focused on Willis’s new position as National’s Finance spokesperson and other changes within the National Party. Viewers would not have been misled by the omission of the intervention.9

Balance

[15]  The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.10

[16]  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’. A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.11

[17]  The item was a report on Willis’s new role as National’s Finance Spokesperson and her ‘sparring’ with the Minister of Finance. Although issues relating to a major political party’s leadership could constitute a controversial issue of public importance, the subject of the complaints (relating to a single question during Question Time) is not. Therefore, the balance standard does not apply.

[18]  Broadcasters, as a matter of freedom of expression and editorial discretion, are entitled to present matters from particular perspectives or with a particular focus,12 as done in this broadcast to support the reporter’s political commentary.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Susie Staley
Chair
21 June 2022

 


Appendix

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

Angela Stone

1  Angela Stone’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 16 March 2022

2  TVNZ’s decision on Stone’s complaint – 7 April 2022

3  Stone’s referral to the Authority – 14 April 2022

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments in response to Stone’s referral –13 May 2022

Ken Maynard

5  Ken Maynard’s formal complaint to TVNZ –17 March 2022

6  TVNZ’s decision on Maynard’s complaint – 8 April 2022

7  Maynard’s referral to Authority – 28 April 2022

8  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments in response to Maynard’s referral – 13 May 2022


1 Standard 8, Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Standard 9, Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
5 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
6 Guideline 9b
7 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
8 As above
9 See Hector & Casey and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-052 at [15] for a similar finding
10 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
11 As above
12 Edwards and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-021 at [13]