From our “Boggles the Mind” Files…
Q: When is a lie fair?
A: When the Broadcasting Standards Authority sez so.
Case in point,
A One News item that claimed MP Hone Harawira spent more on parliamentary travel than the entire Maori Party has been ruled inaccurate but fair.
The story aired on April 28 stated that the MP had “racked up a $35,000 travel bill that’s almost $4000 more than the Maori Party’s total bill”.
The Broadcasting Standards Authority found that the figure compared Parliamentary Service expenditure only, and failed to mention that Maori Party MPs also received funds from Ministerial Services.
Maori Party MPs Dr Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia also spent $20,782 on domestic air travel from ministerial budgets, in addition to $31,658 spent the four Maori Party MPs on their parliamentary budget.
Quoting one figure and not mentioning the other was deemed misleading by the BSA.
“As the presenter stated that Mr Harawira’s travel expenses were more than the Maori Party’s ‘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.”
The complainant Henry Clayton of Wellington also considered the item unfair to Harawira because it was misleading, but the Authority decided politicians should expect to face closer media scrutiny than other people.
“Although we have found that the presenter’s comment was misleading, we consider that, given Mr Harawira’s high profile status as an often controversial politician, he should expect to face robust criticism, especially with regard to the expenditure of public money,” said the decision.
The Authority said the news presenter’s comments related to Harawira in his professional capacity as an elected representative, and did not stray into “abusively personal territory” which is deemed unfair, even for political figures.
The background article which sparked the complaint to the BSA,
“ An item on One News, broadcast at 6pm on Thursday 28 April 2011, reported on MP Hone Harawira’s 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 that’s almost $4000 more than the Māori Party’s total travel bill. A spokesperson says Mr Harawira travelled to Hui across the country at the time due to concerns about the Māori Party’s relationship with the National Government.” Source
So let me get this right… a story that is so inaccurate as to be worthless in terms of accuracy is still “fair” – according to the Broadcasting Standards Authority- “given Mr Harawira’s high profile status as an often controversial politician, he should expect to face robust criticism, especially with regard to the expenditure of public money “?!?!
Have I fallen down the rabbit hole to Wonderland?
If the media has reported the BSA’s decision accurately and fairly, then this decision is astrounding and unbelievable on several levels.
Firstly. I think it not unreasonable that the public expect their media to be accurate when presenting information to us. It’s not a big thing to expect accuracy – it is what informative News and Current Affairs shows should be predicated on.
If standards of accuracy no longer apply, or are not a matter of high priority, then the credibility of News reporting has been undermined to the point where it is worthless.
Secondly. So what if Hone Harwira is a “controversial”, “high profile”, politician? Since when should that matter one iota when we are presented with information from the media?
If anything, it behoves the News media to be even more scrupulous in presenting factual, unbiased, and complete information to the viewer/listener/reader. We, the public may well decide whop to vote for in upcoming electuions based on what the media presents to us.
There is also a matter of basic fairness and justice involved here. I don’t care if it’s Hone Harawira, Don Brash, Phil Goff, John Key, or Uncle Tom Cobbly – I think everyone deserves the basic decency of being treated fairly by the media, irrespective of being controversial or not.
Thirdly. For the BSA to arrive at a decision that it is acceptable for a news item to be “misleading” because ” the Authority decided politicians should expect to face closer media scrutiny than other people” defies understanding. Of course politicians an rightly expect “closer media scrutiny”.
But it is not beyond the realms of rationality that the public expect the media to be fair and accurate in the way that they present their information to is, the public.
For the BSA not to comprehend this most basic idea is truly disturbing. Especially so when, just recently, the BSA decided to fine a complainant $50 for a supposedly “frivolous complaint”. Full story. This despite the fact that the complainant was factually correct in his complaint.
What is also as bizarre is the Authority’s determining statement,
“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.
 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.” Source
So, to clarify; the BSA accepts that the TVNZ broadcast breached standards of fairness and accuracy.
But then, they go on to state that “in our view, the publication of this decision is sufficient to remedy the breach“. A “sufficient remedy”?!
In effect, the BSA is agreeing that TVNZ brokes the rules and that the mere publication of the BSA’s decision on their website is a sufficient “remedy”.
That would be like a burglar being found guilty by a Court of Law of breaking into my home and nicking my property – but the mere fact that the Court found the burglar guilty and reported the fact is suffient “remedy”. The burglar is free to go – just don’t do it again, sez the judge.
I am fast losing all respect and confidence in the BSA and it’s increasingly bizarre decisions.
If someone makes a mistake, it behoves them to correct it. In the case of the media, they have wide-ranging, considerable, influence on the public. These influences can affect the way we perceive the world around us; social issues; our political institutions and representatives. As such, errors that can impact on public perceptions, must be rectified.
It is worth noting that the TVNZ website reports do not contain any reference to the BSA ruling on this issue; nor any attempt to correct the mis-information contained within the reports.
The lie is therefore perpetuated.
The media have a responsibility in this matter that they must not be allowed to shirk, no matter how “minor” it may be seen by decision-makers, nor how inconvenient it might be to management and producers. And which the BSA must take more seriously than they seem to be doing.
Otherwise the role of the BSA must be called into question.
A media report that is “inaccurate but fair” is most certainly not “fair”. Not by any reasonable definition.
I note that the Chair of the BSA is Peter Radich. May I pose a question on my blog; is it possible that Mr Radich has a penchant for wearing women’s underwear – would that be “misleading but fair” reporting on my part?
Text of Complaint to BSA:
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