BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Wakeman and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2022-057 (31 August 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
Dated
Complainant
  • Peter Wakeman
Number
2022-057
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that two items on 1 News concerning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine breached the balance, accuracy, discrimination and denigration, and fairness standards. The first item reported on possible war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine, and the second on New Zealand providing further financial and military aid to Ukraine. The Authority found the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view in the items, and the accuracy standard was not breached. While the complainant was concerned the broadcasts discriminated against Russian people, the Authority found the broadcasts did not refer to Russian people generally, and rather referred to the Russian government or its military. The fairness standard did not apply.

Not upheld: Balance, Accuracy, Discrimination and Denigration, Fairness


The broadcasts

4 April 2022 broadcast

[1]  An item on 1 News, broadcast on 4 April 2022, reported on the war in Ukraine and possible evidence that Russia had committed war crimes. The host introduced the item:

There’s mounting evidence of Russia committing war crimes as its soldiers retreat from some areas in Ukraine. Hundreds of bodies of civilians, some tied up, some tortured, some executed, have been found in Bucha, a town just outside the capital Kyiv. Our Prime Minister has joined the growing calls for justice.

[2]  The item went on as follows:

Reporter:       Every war has defining imagery. This might be Ukraine's. A corpse, hands bound, signs Ukraine says of executions in the street. [images of bodies lying on the street are shown on screen]

Ukrainian:     This is not special operation, this is not military objects. This is civilians. They've been shot in the head with tied hands behind their back.

Reporter:       At least 300 Ukrainians have been found dead in Bucha after Russia's retreat. Ukraine accuses Russia of massacring its people here and in other areas around Kyiv. Ukraine's president says it's genocide.

Reporter:       As Ukraine reclaims more land, it finds more evidence of war crimes. A mass grave of body bags renders the victims anonymous. Russia says the images are fake and a provocation by Ukraine, but the international community is demanding justice.

        …

Reporter:       The International Criminal Court has already started a war crimes investigation, but the process is lengthy and complex.

[3]  The item included accounts from a mother whose son had been killed by Russian soldiers, and a widow who found her husband dead after being taken by Russian soldiers:

[Translation voiced over] I recognised him by his shoes, she said, his trousers. His face was mutilated. His body was cold.

[4]  The item also included official comment from the Ukrainian President, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, the German Chancellor and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, condemning Russia for the reported war crimes

11 April 2022 broadcast

[5]  Another 1 News item on the war in Ukraine, broadcast on 11 April 2022, reported on aid New Zealand would be providing to Ukraine.

[6]  The host explained that around 50 Kiwi troops would be deployed in Europe in a logistics role involving transporting military equipment to Ukraine’s borders, and that New Zealand would also be giving $7.5 million to pay for weapons and ammunition procured by the UK.

[7]  The report contained comment from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern giving reasons for the decision to commit further resources to aiding Ukraine:

This is a conflict at great distance to New Zealand, but still of significance to New Zealand. What is happening in Ukraine has an impact on the entire world.

It sits squarely with New Zealand's values. Here we have a clear breach of the international rules based order. We have a country's territorial sovereignty being challenged. We have a war which everyone can see there is evidence around war crimes and impact on civilians.

[8]  Perspectives on the government’s decision from an international relations expert, National Party Defence spokesperson Gerry Brownlee and Green Party Defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman were included. Further comment was also provided by a political editor, who described the government’s decision to send troops as a ‘change in stance’ given that until that point, the government had assisted by way of financial aid, providing non-lethal military equipment, and putting sanctions in place.

The complaint

[9]  Peter Wakeman complained the broadcasts breached the discrimination and denigration, accuracy, balance and fairness standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. He provided extensive submissions and evidence supporting his complaint, with his key concerns being:

Discrimination and Denigration

  • The broadcasts encouraged the discrimination and denigration of Russian people by inferring Russia was in the wrong and focusing on the Ukrainian perspective – ‘By pointing fingers only at the Russians, it likely affected the audience’s opinions of Russians.’
  • This type of reporting has had flow-on effects in New Zealand, where Russians in Auckland have experienced hostility and abuse in relation to the war in Ukraine.1

Accuracy

  • The report of 4 April gave the wrong idea or impression of the facts when it inferred, through the commentary and images, that Russia was to blame for the killings of civilians in Bucha.
  • There is serious doubt over whether Russia committed the killings in Bucha, and the broadcast omitted to mention that Ukraine could have set up the killings to seek further aid from the West, or that they may have been committed by Ukrainian secret police or Neo-Nazis.

Balance

4 April broadcast

  • ‘TVNZ has spent significantly more time broadcasting the Ukrainian narrative when compared to the Russian narrative in this broadcast.’
  • The Russian perspective was hardly included. The broadcaster should have noted, for example, that:
    (i)    ‘Russia was seeking peace agreements with Ukraine in Turkey [at the time the killing of civilians in Bucha was uncovered]. Ukraine at the time was willing to accept the peace agreement but was then overruled by the UK and the US.’
    (ii)   ‘Russia wanted an inquiry into these atrocities and they were blocked by the UN Security Council chaired by the UK.’
  • People could not be expected to be aware of the Russian perspective expressed in other coverage given skewed wider reporting on the issue.

11 April broadcast

  • This broadcast lacked balance as it did not discuss the possible negative consequences of New Zealand providing aid to Ukraine, including becoming a target for Russia, inflation, and that aid would support corruption and neo-Nazism in Ukraine.

Fairness

  • The broadcaster did not give 'the Russians a fair and reasonable opportunity to comment before the broadcasting of the Bucha story.'

[10]  In his referral, the complainant said the broadcaster’s response only addressed his complaint regarding the 4 April broadcast and that TVNZ still needed to provide him a response regarding the 11 April broadcast.

The broadcaster’s response

[11]  TVNZ did not uphold the complaint. It stated:

  • The discrimination and denigration standard did not apply, as the reports were concerned with the actions of Russia and its military in Ukraine, which do not amount to recognised ‘sections of the community’ for the purposes of the standard.
  • It was satisfied that the report of 4 April met the requirements of the accuracy standard, and noted the complainant had not identified any specific inaccuracies in the report of 11 April.
  • It was satisfied the report of 4 April met the requirements of the balance standard as it included a reasonable range of perspectives including the claims by Russia that the images in the report were fake and a ‘provocation’ by Ukraine. The report also explained that the International War Crimes Court had commenced an investigation.
  • The report of 11 April also met the requirements of the balance standard as it included ‘numerous perspectives.’ It noted ‘The Russian invasion of Ukraine is an ongoing issue that has been covered extensively by 1 News. The coverage has included numerous perspectives, including Russia’s.’
  • The fairness standard did not apply as it is concerned with ensuring any person or organisation referred to in a broadcast is dealt with fairly, and Russia, as a country, is not an organisation in the sense envisaged by the standard.

[12]  TVNZ also confirmed its response addressed the complaints about both broadcasts.

The relevant standards

[13]  The balance standard2 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.3 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.4

[14]  The accuracy standard states 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.5 Its purpose is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.6

[15]  The discrimination and denigration standard7 states broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any recognised ‘section of the community’, consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993. It protects sections of the community from verbal and other attacks, and fosters a community commitment to equality.8

[16]  The fairness standard9 states broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation referred to in a programme. Russia as a nation is not an ‘organisation’ for the purposes of this standard.10 The standard is therefore not applicable and we do not address it in our decision.   

Our analysis

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

[18]  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.11

[19]  At the outset, we note much of the complaint relates to the complainant’s personal views as to what information the broadcaster should include in its news reports. The complainant included lengthy discussion of his views on the background to Russia’s invasion and other details which were not directly relevant to broadcasts focused on possible war crimes and New Zealand providing aid to Ukraine. These are matters of personal preference and editorial discretion which do not raise broadcasting standards issues.12

Balance

[20]  This standard requires broadcasters to make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities to present significant points of view when ‘controversial issues of public importance’ are discussed in news and current affairs programmes.13

[21]  An issue of public importance is something that would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public. A controversial issue will be one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.14

4 April broadcast

[22]  The broadcast of 4 April discussed mounting evidence of Russia potentially committing war crimes in Ukraine. We consider this to be an issue of public importance in New Zealand given New Zealand’s condemnation of Russia’s invasion,15 its decision to provide financial and military aid to assist Ukraine, and the ramifications the war is having domestically.16 We also consider the issue to be ‘controversial’ as Russia has denied Ukraine’s allegations of war crimes, and the International Criminal Court has not yet determined the issue. Therefore, the balance standard applies.

[23]  The complainant has raised concerns that the broadcast did not sufficiently present Russia’s perspective on the allegations of war crimes. In assessing whether the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant perspectives on the issue, we note:

  • The broadcast stated ‘Russia says the images are fake and a provocation by Ukraine,’ indicating that it denied the allegations of war crimes.
  • The broadcast noted that the International Criminal Court had commenced an investigation, signifying the issue of whether Russia had committed war crimes had not yet been determined.
  • Other significant perspectives on the issue were also presented, including from Ukrainians who had lost loved ones, the Ukrainian President, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, the German Chancellor and New Zealand Prime Minister.
  • The standard allows for balance to be achieved over time, ‘within the period of current interest’ in relation to a particular issue.17 Russia’s claims about the allegations of war crimes were reported in more detail in other media coverage at the time.18 The audience could therefore reasonably be expected to be aware of its position from other media coverage.

[24]  Taking into account the factors above, we consider the broadcaster did make reasonable efforts to present significant perspectives on the issue discussed, including that of Russia, and the balance standard was not breached.

[25]  We also note that aspects of the complaint appear more directed at issues of bias in the reporting. As previously recognised by the Authority, the balance standard is not directed at ‘bias’ in and of itself.19 Broadcasters, as a matter of freedom of expression and editorial discretion, are entitled to present matters from particular perspectives or with a particular focus.

11 April broadcast

[26]  The complainant has alleged the broadcast of 11 April lacked balance as it did not discuss what he considers as possible negative consequences of New Zealand providing aid to Ukraine.

[27]  The broadcast discussed the New Zealand government’s decision to provide further aid to Ukraine, including troops to assist at the Ukrainian border and further financial aid. We consider this to be a controversial matter of public importance, given it involves the spending of public funds and dispatch of New Zealand troops to aid Ukraine as part of a significant international conflict. The balance standard therefore also applies to this broadcast.

[28]  In assessing whether the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant perspectives on this issue, we note the broadcast included perspectives from the New Zealand Prime Minister, an international relations expert, National Party Defence spokesperson Gerry Brownlee and Green Party Defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman. Given the political nature of the decision, these views were highly relevant to the discussion of the issue and were a representation of the significant positions in the discussion from a New Zealand perspective.

[29]  We therefore consider that significant viewpoints were presented during the item, and that the balance standard was not breached.

[30]  The complainant’s concerns bordered on matters of personal opinion as to what should have been included in the broadcast. It was a matter of editorial discretion whether to explore other potential impacts, but we consider significant perspectives at the time were conveyed.

Accuracy

[31]  In assessing whether the requirements of the accuracy standard were met, we must consider whether the broadcast was inaccurate or misleading, and if so, whether the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to ensure all material statements of fact were accurate and that the broadcast as a whole did not mislead viewers.20

[32]  The complainant has alleged that the report of 4 April misled viewers by inferring, through the commentary and images, that Russia was to blame for the killings of civilians in Bucha.

[33]  Firstly, we note the broadcast did not state definitively that Russia committed the killings. It noted the Russian Government denied the allegations, and that the International Criminal Court was undertaking an investigation into the matter. In our view, the substance of the broadcast was that there was ‘mounting evidence’ that Russia had committed war crimes in Ukraine based on reports from the area (including the killings in Bucha) and the broadcast then included relevant comment from affected Ukrainians and world leaders. Given the substantial reporting from other reputable sources of such mounting evidence,21 we do not consider this to be inaccurate or misleading, and find no breach of the accuracy standard.

[34]  We note one of the key sources the complainant cites to support his views that the broadcast was inaccurate, RT, is a Russian network that receives funding from the Russian Government and has been widely criticised for its reporting.22

[35]  The complainant did not make any specific allegations of inaccuracies in the 11 April broadcast.

Discrimination and Denigration

[36]  Where discrimination and denigration complaints are concerned, the importance of freedom of expression means that a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, will usually be necessary to find a breach of the standard.23

[37]  The standard only applies to recognised ‘sections of the community,’ which is consistent with the grounds for discrimination listed in the Human Rights Act 1993.24 The complainant has alleged that the broadcasts encouraged discrimination against Russian people generally. We are satisfied that Russian people constitute a recognised section of the community for the purposes of this standard.

[38]  However, the broadcasts at issue concerned possible war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine, and New Zealand providing aid to Ukraine. Any mention of ‘Russia’ or ‘Russians’ was in relation to the Russian government which instigated the war, and the Russian military which is carrying out the government’s orders, rather than Russian people generally. In light of this, we find no breach of the discrimination and denigration standard in relation to Russian people as a section of the community.

[39]  We acknowledge there have been unacceptable instances of aggression towards people of Russian descent and Russian institutions in New Zealand. However, we consider reasonable viewers would understand Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is attributable to its government and military, and would not interpret reporting on the war as condemning Russian people generally.

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

 

Susie Staley
Chair
31 August 2022   

 

 

 

Appendix

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

1  Peter Wakeman’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 12 April 2022

2  TVNZ’s response to formal complaint – 6 May 2022

3  Wakeman’s referral to the Authority – 31 May 2022

4  Wakeman’s various OIA requests and emails to TVNZ – 31 May 2022

5  Wakeman – copies of various news stories – 31 May 2022

6  Wakeman – additional comments for referral – 3 June 2022

7  Wakeman – copies of various OIA requests and responses – 3 June 2022

8  TVNZ confirming no further comments – 21 June 2022

9  Wakeman providing further information – 24 July 2022

10  TVNZ confirming no further comments – 26 July 2022

11  Wakeman’s further comments and additional news stories – 29 July 2022

12  TVNZ confirming no further comments – 3 August 2022

13  Wakeman providing further information – 9 August 2022

14  Wakeman providing further information – 10 August 2022

15  Wakeman providing further information – 11 August 2022


1 The complainant provided the following article in support: Lincoln Tan ‘Russians in Auckland experiencing hostility and abuse over war in Ukraine’ NZ Herald (online ed, 7 March 2022)
2 Standard 8 of the Free-to-Air Code of Broadcasting Practice
3 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
4 As above
5 Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
6 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
7 Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Code of Broadcasting Practice
8 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
9 Standard 11 of the Free-to-Air Code of Broadcasting Practice
10 For a similar finding, see Barnett and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-055 at [19]
11 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
12 See section 5(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, which states that complaints based merely on a complainant’s preferences are not, in general, capable of being resolved by a complaints procedure
13 Guideline 8a
14 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
15 Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern and Hon Nanaia Mahuta “Aotearoa New Zealand condemns Russian invasion of Ukraine” (24 February 2022) The Beehive <beehive.govt.nz>
16 Emma Hatton “Ukraine invasion: NZ economy feeling flow-on effects of sanctions against Russia” RNZ (online ed, 3 March 2022); John Weekes “Russia-Ukraine war: Putin’s blockades will impact Kiwi consumers, Brownlee says” NZ Herald (online ed, 2 June 2022)
17 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
18 “Russia denies killing civilians in Ukraine’s Bucha” Reuters (online ed, 4 April 2022); “Russia denies military forces killed Bucha civilians in Ukraine” Al Jazeera (online ed, 4 April 2022); “Ukraine invasion: Kremlin denies Ukrainian allegations Russian forces killed civilians near Kyiv” Newshub (online ed, 5 April 2022)
19 Drinnan and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-083 at [14]; Robinson and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2021-133; Edwards and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-021 at [13]
20 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
21 Jeremy Bowen “War in Ukraine: Evidence grows of civilian killings in Bucha” BBC News (online ed, 2 April 2022); David Boffey and Martin Farrer “’They were all shot’: Russia accused of war crimes as Bucha reveals horror of invasion” The Guardian (online ed, 3 April 2022); “CBS News finds evidence of atrocities near Ukraine’s capital as Russia is accused of war crimes” CBS News (online ed, 5 April 2022); Francois Murphy “European rights experts say Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine” Reuters (online ed, 14 April 2022); Michael Shields “U.N rights office cites growing evidence of war crimes in Ukraine” Reuters (online ed, 23 April 2022)
22 Muvija M and Willam James “UK says Russian channel RT is tool of Kremlin disinformation” Reuters (online ed, 24 February 2022); Tom Pullar-Strecker “Sky TV stops broadcasting Russia Today in light of war on Ukraine” Stuff (online ed, 27 February 2022); Amol Rajan “Russia Today: News channel RT’s UK licence revoked by Ofcom” BBC News (online ed, 18 March 2022); Robert Elliott “How Russia spreads disinformation via RT is more nuanced than we realise” The Guardian (online ed, 26 July 2019)
23 Guideline 6b
24 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16