Case Number: 2626

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2017

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Mediaworks

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Headlines and Captions
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
Unfair Coverage


The complaint concerns a story featuring a Chinese fishing vessel, which appeared onNewshub TV3 news and on their website. Following an exchange with the complainant, Andi Liu, and the respondent, Mediaworks, the Press Council accepted the complaint for consideration. The grounds for the complaint included “subterfuge” which is covered in Press Council Principle 9, but does not appear as such in the standards of the Broadcasting Standards Authority, which could also have considered the complaint.

The Complaint

Newshub opened a broadcast and website story on 7 August 2017 with the sentence, “Another Chinese fishing vessel has been found in breach of multiple rules, after being boarded by the Royal New Zealand Navy off Fiji.” The complainant suggests use of the wording “…another Chinese….” without further explanation or accompanying infringement statistics by country, implies that rubbish dumping by fishing vessels from the Peoples’ Republic of China is disproportionately high. This makes the story unfair and unbalanced and tends to lead the viewer down a predetermined route. The footage was obtained through the presence of reporter Michael Morrah on board the RNZN ship Hawea, and the complainant believes this constitutes subterfuge, as the apolitical Navy would not have consented to use of the footage in this manner. Press Council Principles 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; 6 Headlines and Captions; 7 Discrimination and Diversity; and 9 Subterfuge are cited by the complainant.

The Response

The Mediaworks Standards Committee (MSC) responded to the complaint. The reference to “another” Chinese vessel arose because a similar story by Michael Morrah from theHawea screened on Newshub the previous night, 6 August 2017, had reported on rubbish dumping from a different Chinese vessel. The story was principally about New Zealand/Fiji co-operation on illegal fishing practices, and the Chinese fishing boats were simply examples of that work. The story was not unfair to the boat, whose crew and owners were not identified; and also reported that the vessel’s fish catch was not in breach of maritime regulations. In the context of reporting on illegal fishing practices off Fiji it was not necessary to include references to other nationalities. The MSC were satisfied that the story was fair, accurate and balanced.

In reference to the other principles cited, the MSC considered the headline conveyed a key element of the report; on discrimination and diversity issues there was no gratuitous emphasis; and in relation to subterfuge the reporter was openly and legitimately on board an RNZN ship.

The Discussion

Principle 1: the complainant’s main point is about the apparently gratuitous use of the phrase “another Chinese fishing vessel”. However, a viewing of the two relevant stories on 6 and 7 August 2017 shows that the 6 August report covered dumping of rubbish by a Chinese vessel, as did the 7 August report, which provides a reasonable explanation for the use of the word “another” in the later story. The broadcast reports also refer to more than 300 vessels boarded and inspected by crew from theHawea and more than 54 infringement notices issued, with no suggestion as to particular nationalities involved. There is explicit reference in the story to the possible future threat from unregistered Vietnamese blue vessels “caught stealing” fish in other areas. The Press Council is therefore satisfied that the story met acceptable standards of accuracy, fairness and balance required by Principle 1.

Principle 6: as the opening sentence (or headline) referred to a key element of the story, it did not constitute a breach.

Principle 7 allows for discussion of race, religion etc as long as there is no gratuitous emphasis. In this case the reporter was stating facts, that in two recent cases theHawea had discovered Chinese fishing boats had been involved in dumping rubbish at sea. We do not believe that this can be considered gratuitous emphasis.

Principle 9 subterfuge: for a breach to have occurred, Principle 9 requires the use of “subterfuge, misrepresentation or dishonest means” to obtain information. Since the reporter was openly and legitimately reporting from the RNZN shipHawea, there are no grounds for finding a breach.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Christina Tay.


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