Litmus Testing 2015


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Litmus Testing 2015/2016 PDF(1.08MB)

Date published: June 2015

Research Company: Nielsen



  • To determine whether the public can understand (and accept) the rationale for the BSA's decisions in relation to a particular aspect of the accuracy standard – the distinction between fact and opinion. This is an important distinction as the accuracy standard only applies to statements of fact, and does not apply to statements which are analysis, comment or opinion.
  • To understand how audience members determine what is fact and what is opinion and the type of ‘cues’ they use to make this distinction.


  • Four focus group meetings were conducted in Auckland with 6 participants in each group.
  • The groups covered three age groups/life stages (18–30, 30–45, 45-65), plus one group of avid news consumers (‘Newshounds’).
  • The groups were of equal gender breakdown, and covered a range of ethnicities, household income brackets and employment statuses.


  • Respondents identified a number of ‘cues’ that they used to distinguish between fact and opinion, including: the language used; the personal experience or expertise of the speaker; the role or reputation of the speaker; the type of programme; and to a lesser extent non-verbal cues such as body language and whether there is visual proof.
  • Respondents had difficulty clearly discerning between fact and opinion. However after seeing a summary of the BSA’s decision the vast majority of participants were able to follow the Board’s rationale and agree with, or at least accept, the decision made, when they considered the decisions in the context of the legal and other guidelines the Board operates within.
  • The age or life stage of the respondents did not make a significant difference to their reactions or views regarding the clips tested or the BSA rulings. Although the Newshounds group had a higher level of engagement with news and current affairs than the other groups, their reactions were similar to the other groups.