BSA decision: One News on Harawira travel expenses

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Clayton and Television New Zealand Ltd – 2011-077

Dated: 13 September 2011

Number: 2011-077

Complainant:

Henry Clayton of Wellington

Channel: TV One

Broadcaster: Television New Zealand Ltd

Members

Peter Radich (Chair)

Te Raumawhitu Kupenga

Leigh Pearson

Mary Anne Shanahan

________________________________________

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

One News
item reported on Hone Harawiras travel expenses stated that he racked up a $35,000 travel bill… thats almost $4000 more than the Maori Partys total travel bill allegedly inaccurate and unfair to Mr Harawira

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) comparison based on Parliamentary Service expenditure only failed to mention that Maori Party MPs also received funds from Ministerial Services created misleading impression that Mr Harawira spent more than the entire Maori Party on travel upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) Hone Harawira is a political figure who should expect robust criticism not unfair not upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.

Broadcast

[1] An item on One News, broadcast at 6pm on Thursday 28 April 2011, reported on MP Hone Harawiras travel expenses. The presenter stated:

Figures out today show Hone Harawira racked up a $35,000 travel bill in just the first three months of the year more than $20,000 went on air travel, $14,000 on rental cars and taxis and thats almost $4000 more than the Maori Partys total travel bill. A spokesperson says Mr Harawira travelled to Hui across the country at the time due to concerns about the Maori Partys relationship with the National Government.

Complaint

[2] Henry Clayton made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the news item breached standards relating to accuracy and fairness.

[3] The complainant argued that the presenters statement that Mr Harawiras travel expenses were more than those incurred by the entire Maori Party was inaccurate and unfair to Mr Harawira. He said that the expenditure reported in the item did not take into account the Ministerial Services travel expenditure of Maori Party MPs Dr Pita Sharples and Tiriana Turia. While he accepted that the four Maori Party MPs spent a total of $31,658 on travel in the period 1 January 2011 to 1 March 2011, paid for by the Parliamentary Service,[1] he asserted that Mr Sharples and Ms Turia also received a total of $20,782 for domestic air travel within that period, paid for by Ministerial Services.[2]

Standards

[4] Mr Clayton raised Standards 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. These provide:

Standard 5 Accuracy

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/or

does not mislead.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcasters Response to the Complainant

[5] TVNZ noted that the brief item referred to the statistics for MPs expense disclosures for the period 1 January 2011 to 31 March 2011, paid for by the Parliamentary Service and the Office of the Clerk. It said that the item sought to compare the expenses incurred by Hone Harawira to those incurred by members of his previous political party, the Maori Party. It said that the item was only intended to represent the expenses paid for by the Parliamentary Service and did not make any claims about covering other expenses incurred and paid for by other agencies. The broadcaster stated, The aim of this item was to compare apples with apples so the same travel expenses, paid for by the same fund, were compared.

[6] On this basis, the broadcaster did not consider that the item contained any errors of fact or that viewers would have been misled. Accordingly, it declined to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

[7] As the broadcaster did not consider that the item was inaccurate, it found that it was not unfair to Mr Harawira. It declined to uphold a breach of Standard 6.

Referral to the Authority

[8] Dissatisfied with the broadcasters response, Mr Clayton referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that the item was inaccurate and unfair to Mr Harawira because the figures reported were based only on Parliamentary Service/Office of the Clerk expenditure and did not take into account Ministerial Services expenditure.

Authoritys Determination

[9] The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[10] Standard 5 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.

[11] Our task on this occasion is to determine whether the presenters statement that Hone Harawiras travel expenses were almost $4000 more than the Maori Partys total travel bill was inaccurate or misleading.

[12] The broadcaster stated that the item was only intended to represent expenses paid for by the Parliamentary Service/Office of the Clerk and did not make any claims about covering expenses incurred and paid for by other agencies. It said that the aim of the item was to compare apples with apples so the same travel expenses paid for by the same fund, were compared.

[13] While we accept that the figures reported in the item were an accurate reflection of MPs expenses paid for by the Parliamentary Service, we consider that it was misleading not to outline the limits of the comparison. Viewers were not informed that the comparison being made related only to Parliamentary Services expenditure, and did not take into account expenditure incurred by the Maori Party MPs in their capacity as ministers and therefore paid for by Ministerial Services. As the presenter stated that Mr Harawiras travel expenses were more than the Maori Partys total travel bill, we consider that viewers would have been left with the impression that the figures reported constituted total travel expenditure for the period specified, and not just expenditure administered by one agency. In our view, this was misleading, because, as pointed out by the complainant, in addition to the $31,657 incurred by the Maori Party for travel and paid for by the Parliamentary Service, the Maori Party also received $20,783 for domestic air travel in the same period and paid for by Ministerial Services.[3]

[14] Accordingly, we conclude that the presenters statement that Hone Harawiras travel expenses were almost $4000 more than the Maori Partys total travel bill was misleading.

[15] Further, we consider that the broadcaster did not make reasonable efforts to ensure that the item was accurate in this respect and did not mislead. The information referred to above (paragraph [13]) is readily available on the internet. As noted by the complainant, the page on Parliaments website which provides a list of MPs expenses contains a link to Related information about travel and accommodation for Ministers [which] is available on the Department of Internal Affairs website.[4] This makes it clear that Parliamentary Service expenditure does not encompass MPs total expenses, as suggested in the item.

[16] Having found that the presenters statement was misleading, and that TVNZ did not make reasonable efforts to ensure that the item was accurate and did not mislead, we must now consider whether to uphold the complaint as a breach of Standard 5.

[17] We acknowledge that upholding the Standard 5 complaint would place a limit on the broadcasters right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. In Pryde and RNZ,[5] the Authority determined that upholding a complaint under Standard 5 would be prescribed by law and a justified limitation on the broadcasters right to freedom of expression as required by section 5 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990.

[18] We have found above that by failing to outline the limits of the comparison being made, the item created the misleading impression that Hone Harawiras travel expenses were more than the Maori Partys total travel bill. While we acknowledge that it is not possible for programmes to contain every fact relevant to the subject matter reported on, on this occasion, the information omitted related to the core element of the item expenditure by different political parties and figures vis--vis each other. In this respect, the omission prevented viewers from developing their own informed judgements about the material presented to them. For these reasons, we consider that upholding the complaint clearly promotes the objective of Standard 5, which is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.

[19] We are also of the view that upholding the complaint would not place a significant limit on TVNZs right to freedom of expression. We are not suggesting that the item should not have been broadcast. Our finding simply indicates that broadcasters need to include sufficient information, when making comparisons, to enable viewers to develop informed judgements about the material presented to them. Superficial comparisons have significant potential to influence viewers perception of the people or subject matters being compared.

[20] In these circumstances, we find that upholding the complaint would be a justified and reasonable limit on TVNZs freedom of expression. We therefore uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 5.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[21] Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in programmes.

[22] While the accuracy standard exists to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled, the fairness standard is concerned with protecting individuals referred to or taking part in broadcasts. In Kiro and RadioWorks Ltd,[6] regarding a complaint that a radio host unfairly scrutinised the actions of a public figure, the Authority observed that the fairness standard:

…does not prevent criticism of public figures. Indeed, it is an essential element of free speech that even the most trenchant criticism of public figures be allowed. …The question for the Authority is whether that criticism overstepped the boundaries of fairness, that is, whether it strayed into abusively personal territory.

[23] On this occasion, the complainant argued that the item was unfair to Hone Harawira because it created the misleading impression that his travel expenditure was more than that incurred by the entire Maori Party. Although we have found that the presenters comment was misleading, we consider that, given Mr Harawiras high profile status as an often controversial politician, he should expect to face robust criticism, especially with regard to the expenditure of public money. In this instance, the presenters comments related to Mr Harawira in his professional capacity as an elected representative, and did not stray into abusively personal territory.

[24] For these reasons, we do not consider that Mr Harawira was treated unfairly and we therefore decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of an item on One News on 28 April 2011 breached Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[25] Having upheld the complaint, we may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. We do not intend to do so on this occasion. In our view, the publication of this decision is sufficient to remedy the breach, and serves to remind broadcasters to take care when making comparisons of this nature.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Peter Radich
Chair
13 September 2011

Appendix

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

1 Henry Claytons formal complaint 29 April 2011

2 TVNZs response to the complaint 27 May 2011

3 Mr Claytons referral to the Authority 2 June 2011

4 TVNZs response to the complaint 15 July 2011

________________________________________

[1] www.parliament.nz/en-nz/MMP/MPs/Expenses

[2] www.dia.govt.nz/ministers_expenses

[3] www.dia.govt.nz/diawebsite.nsf/wpg_URL/About-us-Our-Organisation-Ministers-expenses

[4] www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/MPP/MPs/Expenses

[5] Decision No. 2008-040

[6] Decision No. 2008-108

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1109/S00267/bsa-decision-one-news-on-harawira-travel-expenses.htm

 

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