Walker and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-093 (28 January 2021)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Spencer Walker
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority did not uphold a complaint that a 1 News item covering the resignation of David Clark as Minister of Health misrepresented the complainant’s views in breach of the accuracy standard. The complainant was shown in a series of vox-pops with members of the public in Dunedin (Mr Clark’s electorate). He complained his comments were taken out of context and shown in response to a different question than the one he was asked. The Authority acknowledged the item did not make clear the particular question the vox-pop participants were responding to, which had the effect of misrepresenting the complainant’s views. However taking the item as a whole, the general audience were unlikely to be significantly misinformed at a level justifying regulatory intervention.
Not Upheld: Accuracy
 A 1 News item on 2 July 2020 (TVNZ 1) reported on the resignation of David Clark as Minister of Health:
COVID-19 is not going away yet, with two more cases today. But gone from his role, the health minister who kept breaching lockdown rules, David Clark, resigned from the senior role but will stay on as a Dunedin MP.
 The item included clips of comments from Mr Clark, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the then-deputy leader of the National Party about the resignation. It also included a series of vox-pops1 from members of the public in Dunedin with an introduction from the political editor/reporter, as follows:
Reporter: David Clark still wants to stay on as the MP in Dunedin. So what do they think?
Interviewee 1: I think he probably didn’t have much option.
Interviewee 2: That's disappointing, he’s a very good bloke. Good job.
Interviewee 3: I think it's a little late.
Interviewee 4: About time, made too many mistakes, so pleased to see him go.
Interviewee 5: I feel that now Clark has been put under a bus.
 Spencer Walker was one of the members of the public who appeared in the item. He said he was asked two questions and he responded as follows:
- What do you think about David Clark resigning as Minister of Health?
‘That’s disappointing, he’s a very good bloke, done a good job.’
- What do you think about David Clark standing again as MP for Dunedin?
‘That’s excellent news.’
 Mr Walker complained the item misrepresented his views in breach of the accuracy standard, as his answer to the first question was shown on air as his answer to the second question.
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not uphold Mr Walker’s complaint. It said it understood Mr Walker felt his views were misrepresented, however it did not agree viewers were misled in the context of the item about the overall tenor of Mr Walker’s comment, or that they would have understood him to be saying it was ‘disappointing’ Mr Clark was still seeking to stand as MP for Dunedin. The broadcaster said:
The segment is introduced ‘David Clark still wants to stay on as MP in Dunedin, so what do they think?’ Several people are then shown commenting on Mr Clark’s resignation as Minister of Health.
While the Committee agrees that the question is confusingly worded, and would have been [better] represented as the full question which was put to you in the first instance, we find that its meaning ‘so what do you think’ encompasses the issue of David Clark resigning as Minister of Health, and how the people of Dunedin see it.
We note in support of this that all of the people in the item are shown referencing the resignation rather than the direct issue of David Clark running for Dunedin MP.
 The accuracy standard2 states 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. Its objective is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.3
 We have watched the broadcast and reviewed the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 We have also considered the important right to freedom of expression, which includes both the broadcaster’s right to present information and ideas to the public, and the audience’s right to receive that information. Our task is to weigh the value and public interest in the broadcast against the level of harm potentially caused by the broadcast.
 In this case the harm alleged by the complainant is that the item ‘misrepresents [him] by falsely editing the footage of what [he] said about David Clark’.
 The broadcaster acknowledged the introduction to the vox-pop segment was confusing as it did not reference the issue of David Clark resigning as part of the question put to the interviewees. We agree with the complainant that this had the effect of taking his views out of context and misrepresenting his response. Broadcasters need to be respectful of comments elicited at random from members of the public and the way those are used and presented in a broadcast.
 However, the focus of the accuracy standard is ensuring the general audience is not significantly misinformed. So the key question for us was whether the way the vox-pop segment was presented would have materially affected viewers’ understanding of the item as a whole or caused harm in this respect at a level that justifies limiting freedom of expression.
 We concluded the presentation of the vox-pops and the complainant’s comments would not have significantly misled viewers in the context of the item as a whole, because:
- While there were references to Mr Clark staying on as the Dunedin MP, the majority of the item focused on Mr Clark’s resignation as health minister and the circumstances leading up to it (Mr Clark’s breaches of COVID-19 lockdown rules).
- While the vox-pops did not directly relate to the introductory statement by the reporter (‘David Clark still wants to stay on as the MP in Dunedin. So what do they think?’), in the context of the full item viewers would have understood the complainant and the others interviewed had been asked what they thought about Mr Clark’s resignation. All of the comments appeared to be reacting to the resignation rather than to Mr Clark staying on as Dunedin MP.
- Following the vox-pops the item continued to focus on the resignation, reporting who had been appointed to replace Mr Clark as Minister of Health. The newsreader then asked the political editor in a live cross, ‘what do you make of this resignation today?’
 In these circumstances, although we recognise the complainant was dissatisfied with the way his views were presented, we have not found harm caused by the broadcast under the accuracy standard which warrants regulatory intervention or restricting the right to freedom of expression.
 We therefore do not uphold the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
28 January 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Spencer Walker’s complaint to TVNZ – 4 July 2020
2 TVNZ’s decision on the complaint – 28 July 2020
3 Mr Walker’s referral to the Authority – 7 August 2020
4 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 25 September 2020
1 Short interviews with members of the public to gauge popular opinion
2 Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
3 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18