West and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2018-043 (24 August 2018)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Paula Rose QSO
- Wendy Palmer
- Jim West
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority upheld a complaint under the accuracy standard about an item on 1 News, which discussed the Auckland Council’s vote on the draft proposal for the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax (the Tax). The Authority found the segment, through the omission of key information about the ongoing consultation and the presenter’s use of the terms ‘green light’ and ‘done deal’, was likely to mislead viewers into thinking the proposal voted on by the Council was final and that there was no further period of public consultation. The importance of keeping audiences informed on issues of public and political significance was emphasised by the Authority. The Authority did not uphold the complaint under the balance standard, finding the item achieved balance through the presentation of a wide range of views from politicians and members of the public who were for and against the implementation of the Tax.
Upheld: Accuracy. Not Upheld: Balance
 From 28 February 2018 to 28 March 2018, the Auckland Council (the Council) ran a public consultation on their 10-year budget and plan. The feedback form included a question about supporting the implementation of a Regional Fuel Tax in Auckland (the Tax).1
 On 30 April 2018 (the day of the broadcast) the Auckland Council voted to approve the draft Regional Fuel Tax Proposal (the Proposal). The Proposal included plans to introduce a Regional Fuel Tax and a transport programme, which featured 14 different transport projects, some of which would be funded by the Tax.2
 The Council also approved a period of public consultation regarding the Proposal from 1 to 14 May 2018, to comply with the consultation requirements of the Land Transport Management (Regional Fuel Tax) Amendment Bill Act.3
 The public consultation asked the public for feedback on the Regional Fuel Tax Proposal and Draft Regional Land Transport Plan, asking whether submitters supported the Tax, what projects people preferred, and what people valued in terms of transport.4
 The final proposal was approved by the Council on 31 May 2018. The Land Transport Management (Regional Fuel Tax) Amendment Bill was passed on 26 June 2018 and the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax came into force on 1 July 2018.
 A 1 News item, broadcast on 30 April 2018, discussed the Auckland Council’s vote on the draft proposal for the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax and the proposed spending of money received from the tax.
 The item began with presenter, Simon Dallow, saying:
It’s a done deal, Aucklanders will soon be paying more at the pump after the Council gave the green light to the controversial fuel tax.
 The broadcast featured discussion from politicians such as National Party leader Simon Bridges and Mayor of Auckland Phil Goff, as well as members of the public, who had differing opinions regarding the proposed tax. The item also featured comment from TVNZ Political Editor Jessica Mutch, who explained the tax’s legislative process and when Aucklanders would be affected by it.
 The item was broadcast on TVNZ 1. In our consideration of the complaint, the members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 Jim West complained that this segment and in particular, the presenter’s statement that the tax was ‘a done deal’, was inaccurate and misleading. He said the item left the impression that the proposal was finalised and did not make viewers aware of the public consultation. He also submitted that, due to the need for government permission to implement the tax and the divided nature of public opinion about it, there was no certainty the tax would be implemented.
 Mr West also considered the broadcast was unbalanced as the item omitted information about the public’s opportunity to make submissions on the draft proposal, including support for the tax itself. He said it was possible that overwhelming disapproval from the public would have led to the tax not being implemented. However, as the tax was presented as a ‘done deal’, few people knew they had the option of making a submission.
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not consider the item was inaccurate or misleading. It submitted:
- Ms Mutch clearly stated in the item that while the Council ‘gave the green light’ for the tax, it would not become law until July:
[T]oday the Auckland Council gave the green light for a regional fuel tax; fifteen Councillors voted in favour and two against… We’ll start to see the costs when the regional fuel tax becomes law in July. The next step is the nationwide fuel tax set to kick in, in September.
- The ‘consultation period’ referred to by the complainant related solely to which of the proposed projects the money from the regional fuel tax should be used for; not whether the tax should go ahead.5
- Other news providers discussed the issue in the same way at the time.6
 TVNZ believed the item was balanced as it included significant viewpoints on the tax including from Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, National Party Leader Simon Bridges, Transport Minister Phil Twyford, and various Auckland residents.
 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 receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.
 The balance standard (Standard 8) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest. The standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.
 In consideration of this complaint the Authority found accuracy to be the more relevant standard. This broadcast discussed an issue that had a high level of public interest and political discourse, due to its ability to effect the people of Auckland and the region as a whole. Through the news on items such as this, viewers are informed of their civic rights. In order for democracy to operate fairly and freely, therefore, it is critical that news reporting on items that impact on or relate to the exercise of those civic rights is accurate. As such the accuracy standard serves as an important limitation on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.
 Taking into account key omissions from the segment, and the other coverage of the Council’s decision, we find the broadcast was likely to mislead viewers and therefore breached the accuracy standard.
 Calling the Tax a ‘done deal’ and stating the Council had given the Tax the ‘green light’, while colloquial, were statements of fact regarding the status of the Tax and the Council’s decision.7
 Other media coverage around the time of the Council’s decision and this broadcast framed the issue in a way that identified the ‘proposed’ tax, specified that the Council had approved a period of consultation, and acknowledged the public’s right to have their say on whether they supported the tax and what projects they supported.8
 One article included a correction which stated: ‘An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the council had voted to adopt the [Regional Fuel Tax].’9
 In contrast, this broadcast made no mention of the proposal being a draft or the public consultation period. It was therefore possible viewers would not be aware they had the option to have their say on the draft proposal. Ms Mutch’s comments about when the Tax would be enforced were not enough to clarify the situation regarding the draft proposal and public consultation.
 We find the absence of this information from the segment combined with the use of the terms ‘green light’ and ‘done deal’ was likely to mislead the public into thinking the proposal voted on was final and that there was no further public consultation.
 Regarding TVNZ’s submission that the consultation period solely related to which transport projects should be supported, we note the first question of the Council’s proposal feedback form, titled ‘Questions relating to the draft proposal for a regional fuel tax’, asks:
To enable us to deliver projects that improve congestion, public transport and road safety, we recommend an RFT of 10 cents per litre plus GST (11.5 cents). What is your opinion on this proposal? Support / Do not support / Other
 The first seven pages of the Council’s analysis of the feedback received breaks down the public’s views on the implementation of the Tax including the proportion who supported it or not. It is therefore not correct to describe the consultation as relating solely to the projects the Tax might be used to fund.
 The proposed tax clearly had the potential to impact a large number of people, particularly in Auckland. On matters of political significance regarding public participation in the democratic process, it is important the public are fully informed. While the broadcaster may have seen the implementation of the tax as a foregone conclusion upon the passing of the draft proposal and the public consultation period as inconsequential, the omission of key information left it open for viewers to be misled.
 Accordingly we uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.
 This item discussed a controversial issue of public importance that had the potential to affect a large number of New Zealanders.10 As discussed above, there was a high level of public interest and political discourse surrounding the Tax, therefore it was important the media reported on it in a balanced way that allowed the public to form their own reasoned opinions.
 This item contained numerous comments from politicians (Simon Bridges, Phil Goff and Phil Twyford) and members of the public who were both for and against the Tax. We find viewers were given a balanced and wide range of differing views regarding the positives and negatives of implementing the Tax.
 Therefore we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.
For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of 1 News on 30 April 2018 breached Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 Having upheld one aspect of the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 As the Tax has since been implemented by the Council, we consider publication of this decision is sufficient to publicly notify the breach of the accuracy standard, and to censure the broadcaster.The decision also provides guidance on the application of this standard and the level of care that is required when presenting a factual report on an issue of public importance.
 In these circumstances we do not make any order.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
24 August 2018
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Jim West’s formal complaint – 1 May 2018
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 29 May 2018
3 Mr West’s referral to the Authority – 29 May 2018
4 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 20 July 2018
110 Year Auckland Plan ad Budget Feedback Form (Auckland Council)
2Draft Regional Fuel Tax Proposal (Auckland Council)
3 Section 65F, Land Transport Management (Regional Fuel Tax) Amendment Bill Act
6 See: Auckland Council gives regional fuel tax green light (Newsie, 30 April 2018)
7 Standard 9a
8 See: Auckland Council votes to send 11.5 cent a litre regional fuel tax for public consultation (Stuff, 30 April 2018), Two weeks to have a say on Auckland fuel tax (RNZ, 30 April 2018), Aucklanders to have say on regional fuel tax of 11.5c a litre (NZ Herald, 1 May 2018), Auckland Council approves 11.5 cent per litre fuel tax for consultation (Newstalk ZB, 30 April 2018) and Auckland Council votes overwhelmingly in favour of regional fuel tax consultation (Newshub, 30 April 2018)
9Auckland Council votes to send 11.5 cent a litre regional fuel tax for public consultation (Stuff, 30 April 2018)
10 Standard 8a