Home > Media > From our “Boggles the Mind” Files…

From our “Boggles the Mind” Files…

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Q: When is a lie fair?

A: When the Broadcasting Standards Authority sez so.

Case in point,

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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.

Source

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The background article which sparked the complaint to the BSA,

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“[1]  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

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Full Story

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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 “?!?!

Say what?

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.

[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.” 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.

Harawira tops MPs’ expenses list

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?

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Text of Complaint to BSA:

Clayton and Television New Zealand Ltd – 2011-077

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  1. Gosman
    20 September 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Two things here.

    They are Ministers of the Crown so I would expect them to travel more.

    Why is one person’s travel expenses so high that it is well over half of what four other MP’s from the same party, including two Ministers?

  2. 20 September 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Gosman :

    Two things here.

    Why is one person’s travel expenses so high that it is well over half of what four other MP’s from the same party, including two Ministers?

    “They are Ministers of the Crown so I would expect them to travel more.”

    Gosman – distraction.

    “Why is one person’s travel expenses so high that it is well over half of what four other MP’s from the same party, including two Ministers?”

    Are you sure about that? Because I can’t see those figures anywhere.

    The point here is that TVNZ misreported Harawira’s travel expenses. The BSA upheld the complaint; chose to do nothing about it; and have described the media story as “inaccurate but fair”.

    Does that seem remotely rational to you?

    • Gosman
      21 September 2011 at 11:01 am

      Those figures are in the article you quoted.

      [Quote] “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.”[/quote]

      So if my maths is correct $20,782 plus $31,658 equals $52,440. $52,440 divided by $35,000 is close to 67%.

      Are you disputing that he actually spent $35,000 on travel because I can’t see that figure being called into question in anything you have posted?

      • 21 September 2011 at 11:28 pm

        Even if those figures are correct – and I have to question TVNZ’s credibility now – so what?

        The point of this article is that they mis-represented the figures by omitting travel funded by Ministerial mServices.

        Trying to justify that omission by pointing to another “fact” simply doesn’t wash.

        Using your logic, the media can mis-represent any political figure’s activities and it could be justified because you or I can point to some other un-related or semi-related activity?!

        The issue here is not who spent what. The issue here is fair and accurate reporting of the facts so that the public get the full picture. Not a partial picture.

      • Gosman
        22 September 2011 at 8:28 am

        No Frank I think you are missing what the original story was all about. It was about Hone Harawira spending a large amount on trave as compared to his, (at the time), fellow Maori party MP’s. Yes the EXACT details were not reported accurately but the substance remains the same. Hone Harawira spending is high compared when compared to the rest of the Maori party members. That is probably why the BSA did not order any sanction for this. If it was shown that he hadn’t spent over $35,000 then I’d suggest there would be more likely that TVNZ would have got something harsher.

  3. 20 September 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Aeroplanes cost more to run than waka. LOL

  4. 22 September 2011 at 8:54 am

    Gosman :

    No Frank I think you are missing what the original story was all about. It was about Hone Harawira spending a large amount on trave as compared to his, (at the time), fellow Maori party MP’s. Yes the EXACT details were not reported accurately but the substance remains the same. Hone Harawira spending is high compared when compared to the rest of the Maori party members. That is probably why the BSA did not order any sanction for this. If it was shown that he hadn’t spent over $35,000 then I’d suggest there would be more likely that TVNZ would have got something harsher.

    What nonsense! The BSA’s role is not to make determinations on MP’s spending. You are subscribing a role to them they do not have. In effect you are attempting to deflect from the issue here: that TVNZ was taken to task for misleading the viewer with inaccurate facts.

    The point of thecomplaint to the BSA is that the story from TVNZ was deemed “inaccurate but fair”.

    Simple question, Gosman; do you believe that is is satisfactory for the media to mis-report facts and still be deemed “fair”?

  5. Gosman
    22 September 2011 at 4:40 pm

    I told you how this story could be described as inaccurate but fair however just to reiterate for you.

    It was inaccurate to state that his spending was more than the rest of the entire Maori party caucus as that did not take into account the ministerial travel.

    It was a fair story in that it basically pointing out that his spending was disproportionate to the rest of the members of the Maori party. Now this last point you aren’t bothering to even debate, perhaps because you know it is the truth and is a little embarrassing to admit.

    Media gets facts wrong all the time. It is easy enough to do. However unless that is grossly impacting on the message trying to be conveyed then this is acceptable. Obviously the BSA thought so.

    Your alternative seems to be that the BSA is actually biased against poor Hone. If so then we should just do away with such a politically partisan body.

  6. 22 September 2011 at 11:17 pm

    “It was a fair story in that it basically pointing out that his spending was disproportionate to the rest of the members of the Maori party. “

    Rubbish!

    That is NOT what the story was pointing out at all. The issue of “disproportionate” is not an issue. That is your invention.

    The issue here is how the story reported that one MP “spent more on parliamentary travel than the entire Maori Party”. No mention of “disproportionate” whatsoever.

    “Media gets facts wrong all the time. It is easy enough to do. However unless that is grossly impacting on the message trying to be conveyed then this is acceptable.”

    “Acceptable”?! Really? No, Gosman, it is not acceptable. Not by a long-shot. And I doubt if most people would agree with you. If you think it’s ok for the media to get it wrong and you find that acceptable, then answer this: How do you measure what degree of inaccuracy is acceptable?

    • Gosman
      23 September 2011 at 9:39 am

      You asked me how the story could be described as inaccurate but fair. I gave you an answer. You may disagree but it is still a valid answer and I would suggets to you it is likely to be the one the BSA took. The alternative seems to be that the BSA is either incompetent or corrupt. Do you really think this is the case and if so why aren’t the opposition parties up in arms about this?

  7. 23 September 2011 at 10:07 am

    Gosman :

    You asked me how the story could be described as inaccurate but fair. I gave you an answer. You may disagree but it is still a valid answer and I would suggets to you it is likely to be the one the BSA took. The alternative seems to be that the BSA is either incompetent or corrupt. Do you really think this is the case and if so why aren’t the opposition parties up in arms about this?

    That may be your answer, Gosman but it doesn’t address the issues raised. Trying to justify inaccuracies by suggesting that “unless that is grossly impacting on the message trying to be conveyed then this is acceptable” is simply not good enough.

    “…and if so why aren’t the opposition parties up in arms about this?”

    They should be!

    It appears that you have predicated your response on the fact that Hone Harawira is a controversial figure – as did the BSA. Yet when has fairness ever been determined by how popular/unpopular a public figure is? Based on that, John Key can do no wrong and Don Brash can do no right.

    Question: Is that how you want our media to operate?

    I notice you haven’t answered the point I raised; “How do you measure what degree of inaccuracy is acceptable?”

    • Gosman
      23 September 2011 at 10:21 am

      It is a subjective matter Frank that is dependent on how large the inaccuracy is compared to the claim being made.

      If I state that NZ has a Balance of Payment problem as our deficit is 3.1 Billion dollars and it is actually on 2.1 Billion dollars the inaccurate reporting of the statistics doesn’t detract from the underlying message.

      However If I claim there is a Balance of Trade crisis as our deficit is 3.1 Billion dollars but we actually have a surplus on our balance of Trade then that is a completely untrue story.

      So if we take your recent posting about the magical 5.3 Billion dollars disappearing from NZ your story is inaccurate in that you mistake Imports and Exports with flows of capital. Whether it detracts from what you think your point is and makes it unfair is obviously open for debate.

      • 23 September 2011 at 2:14 pm

        Gosman, if our standards of reporting in our news and current affairs is to be based on “subjective matter” rather than on fard facts, then we’re wasting our time.

        You may be satisfied with such an unprofessional culture of ad hocery, but I doubt if most others would be.

        But then, I’m wondering if your views are coloured by the fact that the person at the center of this story is Hone Harawira.

        Would you be so blase if it was a political figure that you supported? Or an ideology that you supported?

        Going by your earnest endeavours to comment on each and every thing I post here, to correct my “errors”, I’m thinking that you have an innate desire for truthfulness as well?

  8. Gosman
    23 September 2011 at 2:41 pm

    The difference being is that I take pleasure from pointing out your errors in themselves. I don’t expect you to be punished by some outside body for making simple and understandable mistakes. I mean everyone does so from time to time. Yet you feel that there is some sort of conspiracy afoot against poor Hone Harawira because of a relatively minor reporting inaccuracy.

    As for whether I would be happy if other politicians more aligned to my political philosophy were subjected to similar inaccuracies, well I think that happens all the time. I am happy with this. It is part and parcel of politics and they do deserve it a lot of the time in my opinion.

    • 23 September 2011 at 10:17 pm

      “…I don’t expect you to be punished by some outside body for making simple and understandable mistakes…”

      The BSA doesn’t cover Blogs (that I’m aware of), so your comparison is false.

      • Gosman
        23 September 2011 at 11:30 pm

        I didn’t say you should be punished by the BSA. I said I don’t expect you to be punished by an outside body for making inaccurate statements in your blog. A simple acknowledgement would be good but if you can’t do that then it is fine with me. It is only you that seems to require your pound of flesh.

  9. 24 September 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Gosman :

    I didn’t say you should be punished by the BSA. I said I don’t expect you to be punished by an outside body for making inaccurate statements in your blog. A simple acknowledgement would be good but if you can’t do that then it is fine with me. It is only you that seems to require your pound of flesh.

    “Pound of flesh”…

    We went metric in 1967.

    Anyway. Thank you for views. Time to move on.

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