BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Young and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2021-093 (16 February 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
Dated
Complainant
  • Peter Young
Number
2021-093
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

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

A news item on the centenary celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party reported that as part of President Xi Jinping’s speech he said ‘anyone opposing China will have their heads bashed against a great wall of steel’. The complainant alleged this was inaccurate and unbalanced, mainly because TVNZ had cut off the full quote, which clarifies the ‘great wall of steel’ is forged by ‘1.4 billion Chinese people’ and therefore conveys a more metaphorical meaning. The Authority found the item did not breach the accuracy standard on the basis that the broadcast was not likely to mislead viewers as a result of omitting part of President Xi’s sentence, and it was not inaccurate for TVNZ to use the more literal translation of ‘heads bashed’ over ‘collide’ in its translation. It further found the balance standard did not apply to the broadcast as it did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance as required.

Not upheld: Balance, Accuracy


The broadcast

[1]  An item on 1 News, broadcast on 1 July 2021, reported on the centenary celebration of the Communist Party in China as follows (emphasis added):

China's president has marked 100 years since the founding of the ruling Communist Party with a speech saying anyone oppressing China will have their heads bashed against a great wall of steel. Xi Jinping addressing a 70000 strong crowd in Beijing's Tiananmen Square as part of a highly choreographed ceremony. The celebrations also featuring jet flypasts and patriotic songs.

[2]  This was accompanied by images of President Xi speaking, the large audience clapping and waving flags, troops marching, and gun salutes. The item was about 30 seconds long.

Background

[3]  President Xi’s speech at the celebration was around an hour long and covered a range of topics related to the Communist Party.

[4]  The official transcript of the speech released by the party1 gave the following translation for the relevant part reported on by 1 News (emphasis added):

We Chinese are a people who uphold justice and are not intimidated by threats of force. As a nation, we have a strong sense of pride and confidence. We have never bullied, oppressed, or subjugated the people of any other country, and we never will. By the same token, we will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress, or subjugate us. Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.

[5]  When this story broke, there was some debate over the correct translation of President Xi’s words. AP News reported that: ‘The strongest elements of [the speech] — the references to bashing heads and bloodshed — were left out of state media’s English translation of the quote,’2 while Vice reported:3

Foreigners who bully China will bleed and get their heads bashed. That’s what Xi said, literally. But what he really meant with the seemingly violent language has set off a fierce debate among scholars of Chinese politics.

The president used a common Chinese phrase, comprising four characters that literally mean “head breaks, blood flows,” as he pledged to defend China against malicious foreign forces. But the colloquial use of the idiom does not always conjure up images of smashed skulls and a river of blood.

[6]  The more literal translation was used widely in English-language media reporting (discussed further below).

The complaint

[7]  Peter Young complained that 1 News’ report was inaccurate and unbalanced because:

  • It cut off the second part of President Xi’s sentence (that the wall of steel is made of/forged by Chinese people) making his comments sound literal. When the sentence is translated as a whole, ‘the only sense it could make is that the “head bashing” is intended figuratively, not literally’.
  • ‘Heads bashed’ is not the correct translation, and a neutral translation such as ‘collide’ is more appropriate when the sentence is translated as a whole to convey the metaphorical sense.
  • The item left out important context of the speech, which made it clear that the President meant foreign forces invading or attacking China would come up against a wall of Chinese people, not just any ‘oppressors’.
  • The item therefore did not present what was actually said, and wrongly portrayed President Xi’s intentions as ‘aggressively warlike to a bloodthirsty extreme’.

The broadcaster’s response

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

  • It did not agree that the addition of the second part of the sentence was necessary for the meaning to be clear. ‘The quote is an idiom which could be said to reference military strength, and this is explained in the context of the weaponry and military forces which is shown in the 1 News coverage of the ceremony.’
  • The literal translation for where the official transcript says ‘collision course’ is more along the lines of ‘heads break, blood flows’. It was therefore reasonable to report this translation as the meaning understood by many Chinese speakers.
  • Other media outlets had reported similar versions of the translation (examples were provided).4
  • It obtained the idea for the story, and the translation, from Reuters which is ‘an extremely reputable news provider’.
  • As the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance in New Zealand, the balance standard does not apply.

[9]  TVNZ provided a copy of the information from Reuters that it relied on in producing the item. The translation provided by Reuters for the relevant part of President Xi’s speech was: ‘At the same time, the Chinese people will never allow any foreign forces to bully, oppress, or enslave us. Anyone who dares try to do that will have their heads bashed bloodied against the Great Wall of Steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.’

The relevant standards

[10]  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

[11]  The balance standard7 states 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. This can be in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest. The purpose of this standard is to ensure competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to come to an informed and reasoned opinion.8

Our analysis

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

[13]  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.9

Accuracy

[14]  Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two stages. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading. If it was, the second step is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure that the programme was accurate and did not mislead.10 This means that a programme may be inaccurate or misleading, but nevertheless may not breach the standard if the broadcaster took reasonable steps to check accuracy.11

[15]  Audiences may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme as a whole.12 Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts.’13 Programmes may be misleading by omission, or as a result of the way dialogue and images have been edited together.14

[16]  The question in this case is whether the broadcast misled by giving the wrong impression of what President Xi said in his speech. For the reasons set out below, we consider it did not.

[17]  In our view, the broadcast was not likely to mislead viewers as a result of omitting the second part of President Xi’s sentence. While a literal interpretation of the cut-off version of the sentence was possible, it is more likely viewers would understand the sentiment to be metaphorical. Metaphors are commonly used in the Chinese language, and we consider this comes across.

[18]  We do acknowledge the complainant’s concerns, and agree that linguistically the report would have been clearer if it had included the second part of the sentence. In this regard, we note that the full sentence was widely reported by other media outlets (RNZ,15 BBC,16 and AP News17 for example, all included a translation of the full sentence at least somewhere in their articles) and by the broadcaster’s own news source, Reuters.

[19]  In the context of this brief bulletin however, our view is that TVNZ has editorial discretion to truncate material in such a way. We do not consider that intervening and limiting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression in this case would be reasonable or justified. 

[20]  With regard to the complainant’s concerns that TVNZ used the more literal translation of ‘heads bashed’ over ‘collide,’ we consider it was not inaccurate for TVNZ to do so. As noted above, there has been debate around the correct translation of the President’s sentence. The translation ‘heads bashed’ was also used by many other reputable news outlets, shown in the examples provided by TVNZ. Further, ‘heads bashed’ was the translation that Reuters (a highly reputable news source) itself provided to TVNZ, which TVNZ could reasonably rely on.

[21]  On the basis of the above factors, we do not consider that regulatory intervention is justified in this case, and the complaint should not be upheld under the accuracy standard.

Balance

[22]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to ‘news, current affairs and factual programmes’ which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance,’ it must be ‘controversial,’ and it must be ‘discussed’.18

[23]  The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public.19 A controversial issue will be one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.20

[24]  We do not consider that this item amounted to a ‘discussion’ of a controversial issue of public importance. Rather, it was a straightforward news report on the centenary celebrations and the contents of part of President Xi’s speech. While there has been wider debate around the correct translation of President Xi’s words, the item did not discuss this debate. Further, the celebrations in themselves cannot be said to have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to members of the New Zealand public.

[25]  As the item did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance, the balance standard does not apply.

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

 

Susie Staley
Chair
16 February 2022   

 

 

Appendix

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

1  Peter Young’s original complaint to TVNZ – 2 July 2021

2  TVNZ’s response to complainant – 27 July 2021

3  Young’s referral to the Authority – 17 August 2021

4  TVNZ’s response to the referral – 21 September 2021

5  Young’s final comments – 23 September 2021

6  TVNZ’s response to request for further information – 18 November 2021


1 Nikkei Asia (1 July 2021) “Full text of Xi Jinping’s speech on the CCP’s 100th anniversary” <www.asia.nikkei.com>
2 Ken Moritsugu “At Communist Party centenary, Xi says China won't be bullied” AP News (online ed, 2 July 2021)
3 Viola Zhou “Did Xi Jinping Threaten to Bash Enemies’ Heads Or Was It ​Lost In Translation?” Vice (online ed, 2 July 2021)
4 These included: David Crawshaw and Alicia Chen “’Heads bashed bloody’: China’s Xi marks Communist Party centenary with strong words for adversaries” The Washington Post (online ed, 1 July 2021); Akshita Jain “Xi Jinping says those who bully China will ‘get their heads bashed’ on Communist Party’s 100th anniversary” The Independent (online ed, 1 July 2021); Waiyee Yip “CCP 100: Xi warns China will not be ‘oppressed’ in anniversary speech” BBC News (online ed, 1 July 2021)
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 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
8 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
9 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
10 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
11 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
12 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
13 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110
14 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
15 “CCP 100: Xi warns China will not be ‘oppressed’ in anniversary speech” RNZ (online ed, 2 July 2021)
16 Waiyee Yip “CCP 100: Xi warns China will not be ‘oppressed’ in anniversary speech” BBC News (online ed, 1 July 2021)
17 Ken Moritsugu “At Communist Party centenary, Xi says China won't be bullied” AP News (online ed, 2 July 2021)
18 Guideline 8a
19 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
20 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18