BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

White and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-130 (9 March 2021)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Robert White
Number
2020-130
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an item on 1 News which reported on the shooting of Jacob Blake by police and the subsequent protests that occurred. The complainant argued the item included false statements, and omitted relevant background information about the incident and about Mr Blake. The Authority found the statements made were not materially inaccurate and were unlikely to mislead viewers in the context, given the wide coverage and commentary available at the time. The Authority also found the omitted background information was not material to the matters reported. The Authority found the balance and fairness standards did not apply.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Balance, Fairness


The broadcast

[1]  During 1 News on 25 August 2020 an item reported on the shooting of Jacob Blake by police and the subsequent protests that occurred. It included the following comments:

  • ‘Racial tensions in America ignited again after the shooting of an unarmed black man by police.’
  • ‘Jacob Blake’s sons were in the backseat of his car when he was shot in the back at close range.’
  • ‘His fiancée says she told police there were children in the car.’
  • ‘Local activists say Jacob Blake had been intervening in a fight when he was targeted.’

The complaint

[2]  Robert White complained the item breached the accuracy, balance and fairness standards:

Accuracy:

  • The statement Mr Blake was unarmed was possibly false. He may have been holding a knife and it has been alleged he was reaching for a gun in the car.
  • The statement Mr Blake was intervening in a fight when he was targeted was false.
  • The item misled viewers through omission of relevant background information. The complainant alleges further research by TVNZ would have identified additional information, including:
    • Mr Blake was previously waving a knife around at a gas station.
    • The police unsuccessfully deployed a taser before shooting.
    • There were outstanding warrants for Mr Blake’s arrest on a number of charges.
    • Mr Blake was charged in 2015 with resisting arrest and carrying a weapon.

Balance:

  • The item should have been balanced by mention of additional background information about the incident and Mr Blake.
  • TVNZ could have shown balance through facts, including the statistical breakdown of death and violent crime by ethnicity in the United States (US). The item was following a narrative which is ‘not news but option [sic] and should be stated as so’.

Fairness:

  • The item was used to stir racial tensions in New Zealand. Mr Blake should not have been referred to as an ‘unarmed black man’ but as a ‘wanted felon’.

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  The broadcaster did not uphold Mr White’s complaint for the following reasons:

Accuracy:

  • It was widely reported that Mr Blake was unarmed. Fact checks have reported that claims on Facebook that Mr Blake said he was going to get a gun out of his car are false. It is known that police found a knife in Mr Blake’s car, but it is not known whether he was carrying the knife or threatening police with it when shot. The identified background information about the incident and about Mr Blake was either not credible or not material to the report:
    • There is no report of Mr Blake previously waving a knife around.
    • Shooting a person because of an outstanding warrant or a taser failure is open to criticism as being an unreasonable police response.
    • Outstanding warrants and previous charges have no relevance to the issue discussed in the item.

Balance:

  • The item discussed the shooting of a black man by police in the US, which is of public interest but not a controversial issue of public importance in New Zealand. The item focused on the shooting of Mr Blake and the subsequent protests, and it was not necessary to include information on the statistical breakdown of deaths or violent crime in the US in general, to ensure viewers were fully informed.

Fairness:

  • No specific allegations of a breach of fairness were made and no breaches identified.

The standards

[4]  The accuracy standard1 protects the public from being significantly misinformed.2 It 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.

[5]  The balance standard3 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.4 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.5

[6]  The fairness standard6 protects the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes.7 It ensures individuals and organisations are dealt with justly and fairly and protected from unwarranted damage.8

Our findings

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

[8]  We have also considered the important right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point. This includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of content and information and the audience’s right to receive it. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that justifies placing a reasonable limit on the right to freedom of expression. For the reasons below, we have not found such harm in this case.

Accuracy

[9]  Under this standard, the audience may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme. This standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.9 Where statements of fact are at issue, the standard is concerned only with material inaccuracy. Technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.10

[10]  Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.11 Programmes may be misleading by omission, or as a result of the way dialogue and images have been edited together.12

[11]  Mr White’s complaint focuses on the statements ‘Racial tensions in America ignited again after the shooting of an unarmed black man by police’ and ‘Local activists say Jacob Blake had been intervening in a fight when he was targeted’. His complaint is also that the omission of background information about the incident and Mr Blake was a deliberate attempt to mislead the audience.

Statements of fact

[12]  The statement regarding the ‘shooting of an unarmed black man by police’ is a statement of fact to which the accuracy standard applies.

[13]  At the time of broadcast, limited information about the incident was available, and video footage did not reveal any weapon on Mr Blake’s person.13 In addition, the witness who recorded the video footage told reporters he ‘didn’t see a knife’ and hopes Mr Blake ‘gets justice’.14 While Wisconsin investigators reported finding a knife at the scene, Mr Blake’s lawyer disputed that this was in his possession.15 Furthermore, as noted by TVNZ, it was widely reported that Mr Blake was unarmed.16

[14]  In these circumstances, the description of Mr Blake as unarmed at the time of broadcast was not materially inaccurate. Also, given the wide coverage of this incident at the time, the broadcast was unlikely to mislead viewers.

[15]  The accuracy standard does not apply to the statement, ‘Local activists say Jacob Blake had been intervening in a fight when he was targeted’, which is clearly distinguishable as a comment or opinion (attributed to local activists, and followed by footage of one such activist expressing this opinion).

Impression of facts

[16]  The background information referred to by Mr White in his complaint includes Mr Blake’s alleged criminal history and the events leading up to the shooting. Such information, for example concerning alleged previous charges, the nature of outstanding warrants, and the unsuccessful deployment of a taser, may have been relevant to an understanding of the risk factors for police. However, the omission of such information did not create a wrong impression of the material facts, which were that Mr Blake, a black American, was shot by police and that racial tensions had reignited and protests broken out as a result.

[17]  In the context, the broadcast was unlikely to significantly misinform or mislead viewers. We have not found actual or potential harm at a level which justifies our intervention.

[18]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.

Balance

[19]  As above, for this standard to apply, the subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’ and it must be ‘discussed’.

[20]  Mr White’s concerns under this standard relate to information he considers necessary to balance viewers’ understanding of:

  • the shooting incident itself
  • the ‘Narrative of Identity Politics’ implicit in the way the item was presented.

[21]  The broadcast was a news programme, reporting on the shooting of Mr Blake by police. It also depicted demonstrations by Black Lives Matter protestors in the shooting’s aftermath. As reported, the incident came ‘less than three months after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, which sparked protests across the globe’, including in New Zealand.16 The Black Lives Matter movement has driven considerable discussion and debate amongst commentators and politicians in New Zealand, including on issues of systemic racism within New Zealand law enforcement institutions.18 Accordingly, we accept that issues of systemic racism constitute a controversial issue of public importance for the purposes of the standard.

[22]  However:

  • The shooting incident itself did not constitute a controversial issue of public importance in New Zealand. Therefore, the balance standard did not apply to require any further information concerning that incident.
  • To the extent the complainant’s concerns about a ‘narrative of identity politics’ relate to the question of systemic racism, they do address a controversial issue of public importance. However, that issue was not ‘discussed’ in the broadcast which, as described above, focused on the shooting itself and its aftermath. Viewers would not expect a short news item focused on an event to incorporate detailed information and statistics challenging issues and perspectives promoted by the Black Lives Matter movement, even if such protests were briefly depicted.

[23]  Accordingly, the balance standard does not apply and we do not uphold the complaint under this standard.

Fairness

[24]  As above, this standard applies only to individuals or organisations taking part or referred to in a broadcast. Mr White did not identify any individual or organisation that he considered was not treated fairly in the item. Therefore, the fairness standard does not apply to his complaint.

[25]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the fairness standard.

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

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

9 March 2021

 

  
Appendix

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

1  Robert White’s formal complaint – 26 August 2020

2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 23 September 2020

3  Mr White’s referral to the Authority – 27 September 2020

4  TVNZ’s response to the referral – 4 November 2020

5  Mr White’s final comment – 6 November 2020


1 Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Standard 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
5 As above
6 Standard 11 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
7 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
8 As above
9 Guideline 9a
10 Guideline 9b
11 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
12 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
13 Eric Litke “Fact check: Jacob Blake did not ‘brandish’ knife, get gun before Kenosha police shooting” USA Today (online ed, United States, 28 August 2020)
14 Derica Williams “‘I didn’t see a knife’: Man who recorded viral video of shooting of Jacob Blake ‘hopes he gets justice’” Fox6 (online ed, Milwaukee, 24 August 2020)
15 Brendan McDermid and Stephen Maturen “Wisconsin investigators say knife found at scene of police shooting of Jacob Blake” Reuters (online ed, United States, 26 August 2020)
16 Radio New Zealand (26 August 2020) “Yet another police shooting of an unarmed black man in US” <www.rnz.co.nz>; CNN (25 August 2020) “Video shows police shoot Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man, in the back” <www.youtube.com>; Amanda Arnold “Wisconsin Police Shot a Black Man Multiple Times in the Back” The Cut (online ed, United States, 6 September 2020); Daily Mail (25 August 2020) “New footage shows Jacob Blake brawling with cops before being shot as two white Wisconsin officers are placed on leave while police chief calls Gov. Tony Evers 'wholly irresponsible' for condemning law enforcement” <www.dailymail.co.uk>
17 Radio New Zealand (14 June 2020) “Thousands of NZers march for Black Lives Matter” <www.rnz.co.nz>
18 Zoe Mills “Why New Zealand’s response to Black Lives Matter is crucial” TearAway (online ed, New Zealand, 23 June 2020); Katey Thom and Khylee Quince “Black Lives Matter outrage must drive police reform in Aotearoa-New Zealand too” The Conversation (online ed, New Zealand, 9 June 2020)