BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Wilding and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2020-161 (20 April 2021)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Geoffrey Wilding
Number
2020-161
Programme
The Project
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about a comment by Mark Richardson on The Project regarding the Green Party and its responsibility for the protection of native trees. The statement was an opinion not subject to the accuracy standard, and was not unfair to the Green Party. The programme information standard did not apply.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Fairness, Programme Information


The broadcast

[1]  An item on The Project broadcast at 7pm on TV3 on 9 September 2020 examined local movements in Auckland Central to protest and prevent the removal of mature native trees. At the conclusion of the item, guest presenter Mark Richardson commented:

You know what, the people that most people in this story need to have the beef with is in fact the Green Party. They are in government, are they not? Now, they've had three years to repel or reintroduce this law that removed the protection. And they haven't. They haven't brought it back. That's what they're there for. If they are a Green Party, I feel right now you are letting down the people who vote for you.

The complaint

[2]  Geoffrey Wilding complained that Mark Richardson ‘made the comment that the New Zealand Green Party have had three years to save native trees from being cut and have done nothing to stop trees being cut down’ in breach of the accuracy, fairness and programme information standards:

  • This comment was not fact-checked.
  • ‘Where is Mark Richardson getting his information to back up his statement from…’?
  • Mr Richardson did not mention ‘the fact the New Zealand National Party led by John Key took away the protection rights of native trees in New Zealand…but instead blamed the Green Party for not doing anything’.
  • ‘Is this statement made by Mark Richardson his own view? If so why is Mark Richardson putting his personal opinion on public television?’

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  MediaWorks did not uphold Mr Wilding’s complaint, writing:

The Project's style is well-established, the tag line for the show is 'News done differently' and it routinely sets up a topic for discussion or shows a story, with some commentary and banter amongst the presenters to follow back in the studio. The Committee is satisfied that regular viewers of the programme would have recognised Mr Richardson's comment as his personal opinion, to which he is entitled, and we are confident the comment did not constitute a breach of the nominated broadcasting standards.

The standards

[4]  The purpose of the accuracy standard1 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.2 It states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.

[5]  The fairness standard3 protects the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes.4 It ensures individuals and organisations are dealt with justly and fairly and protected from unwarranted damage.

[6]  The programme information standard5 is concerned with ensuring programmes are correctly classified and scheduled in appropriate timeslots. It is not applicable to the complainant’s concerns and we therefore do not uphold this part of the complaint.

Our analysis

[7]  The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy and it is important that we weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm that may have potentially been caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

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

Accuracy

[9]  The complainant has expressed concern that Mr Richardson suggested ‘the New Zealand Green Party have had three years to save native trees from being cut and have done nothing to stop trees being cut down’. We do not agree with the complainant’s summary of Mr Richardson’s comment.

[10]  However, the statement represents Mr Richardson’s opinion in response to the preceding item. The Project format typically includes personal comment from the presenters, as it is a ‘news analysis’ programme, in which hosts discuss and debate current events.6 The accuracy standard does not apply to comment, analysis or opinion.7

[11]  The complainant questioned why Mr Richardson was expressing his opinion. However, it is not in itself a breach of broadcasting standards for presenters or broadcasters to present opinions, so long as they do not cause harm at a level justifying regulatory intervention.

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

Fairness

[13]  It is well established that the threshold for finding a breach of the fairness standard in relation to public figures, politicians and political parties (who are familiar with dealing with the media) is higher than for a layperson or someone unfamiliar with the media.8

[14]  The Authority has previously recognised that it is an essential element of free speech that even the most trenchant criticism of public figures, in their professional capacity, be allowed. The question is whether such criticism overstepped the boundaries of fairness and strayed into personally abusive territory.

[15]  The suggestion that a particular political party, the Green Party, who were part of the Government, have some responsibility for an issue affecting a community (native tree removal in Auckland), is reasonable political criticism and not unfair to the Green Party.

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

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

20 April 2021    

 


Appendix

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

1  Geoffrey Wilding’s formal complaint – 15 September 2020

2  MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 12 October 2020

3  Mr Wilding’s referral to the Authority – 28 October 2020

4  Discovery NZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 16 December 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 11 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21
5 Standard 2 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
6 Anson and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2018-087 at [14]
7 Guideline 9a
8 See, for example, Hagger and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2020-032 and Marra and MediaWorks Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2019-023