The Broadcasting Standards Authority has not upheld three complaints alleging that a Television New Zealand Seven Sharp item about outgoing New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd breached broadcasting standards.
The item discussed why Mr Judd was not seeking re-election. Mr Judd said he suffered abuse and became "deeply unpopular" due to his campaign to increase Māori representation on the New Plymouth District Council.
During the item the reporter discussed the result of a referendum for the establishment of a Māori ward on the Council.
The complaints in Oswald and Television New Zealand Ltd 2016-040A (19 October 2016) and Short and Television New Zealand Ltd 2016-040C (19 October 2016) related to several of the report's comments, including that "83 percent of New Plymouth voters voted 'no' to any Māori at the Council table", were inaccurate.
The Authority has found that the statements alleged to be inaccurate were made as part of a lengthy explanation by the reporter about the proposed Māori ward and referendum. It says viewers would have understood that he was referrring to whether a Māori ward should be established on the Council, not to the wider issue of representation.
‘While the reporter’s statements were careless and loose, we are satisfied there was sufficiently precise and accurate commentary surrounding these statements to mitigate any lapses… in the context of a profile piece about Mr Judd for Seven Sharp, the reporter’s shorthand explanation did not reach the threshold for breaching the accuracy standard’, the Authority says.
The third complaint, Hayward and Television New Zealand Ltd 2016-040B (19 October 2016) related mainly to the presenter of the Seven Sharp programme, Mike Hosking's comments: "Sad to say – I’d never personally attack [Mr Judd], obviously – but he’s completely out of touch with middle New Zealand. There’s nothing wrong with Māori representation on Councils because any Māori who wants to stand for a Council is more than welcome to do so."
The Authority has found that these comments did not breach broadcasting standards because the right to freedom of expression allows individuals to express their opinion, even if it is unpopular or incorrect.
“Discussion and debate about the various perspectives on these issues is a valued aspect of freedom of expression and in the public interest While viewers may not agree with all perspectives given by broadcast presenters, this is not sufficient reason to limit their right to freedom of expression, or the right of audiences to receive such opinions and ideas," it says.
The Authority says it agrees that the presenters of a popular primetime television current affairs programme such as Seven Sharp are in an influential position. "They have the capacity to both inform and shape public debate and opinion about important issues. We understand that in this case, the two presenters’ comments on the preceding item which discussed Māori representation in our democratic society, including Mr Hosking’s view ... were dismissive of a valid issue in New Zealand which deserves meaningful discussion.
However, the Authority says its research – which specifically included consideration of broadcasts featuring Mr Hosking – illustrates that audiences are capable of being discerning in how they receive and interpret comments made by broadcast presenters.
"While this does not afford presenters free reign to espouse opinions at the expense of presenting other perspectives on important issues, we consider many viewers could reasonably be expected to apply their own critical analysis to the content of the item and the presenters’ comments."