COLIN GOOCH AGAINST RNZ

Case Number: 3272

Council Meeting: JUNE 2022

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Radio NZ

Principle:

Ruling Categories:

Overview

  1. On 9 March 2022 RNZ published an online article headed Natural Paint Co: The Kiwi business stripping out the nasties. The article followed an interview with James Mount from The Natural Paint Company, which followed an earlier interview with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE). RNZ said the PCE had questioned whether chemicals approved for use in New Zealand undergo sufficient scrutiny. The PCE noted only a few approved chemicals are routinely tested and believed changes to the regulatory environment were needed to ensure the environmental effects of approved chemicals were not overlooked.

  2. Mr Gooch complained that the RNZ interview and online article allowed The Natural Paint Company’s claims about its paint products to go unchallenged. Mr Gooch said RNZ permitted and indeed encouraged Mr Mount to denigrate Resene Ltd, Mr Gooch’s employer, by reference to New Zealand’s ‘two main paint brands’. Mr Gooch ‘s complaint referenced Principles 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and 4 Comment and Fact.

     3. Following up on the PCE interview, RNZ said The Natural Paint Company (TNPC) had not waited for any changes to regulations or monitoring but created paint products ‘stripped of all the nasty stuff’. RNZ said the TNPC’s products were made of natural pigments and oils, and it details all its ingredients in its products. RNZ noted the founders of TNPC (James Mount and Grace Glass) were 22 years old when they started the company and had secured over a million dollars in capital funding.

       4. In the interview with Mr Mount, RNZ explored the background to Mr Mount and his founding partner, Ms Glass, establishing TNPC. The interview initially focused on their youthful entrepreneurship and the pathways they had travelled to develop their product line. As TNPC is a challenger paint brand, the interview necessarily included references to other paint products.

       5. The online article covered much of the same ground, with slightly less focus on TNPC’s founders and slightly more focus on TNPC’s products and rationale.

The Complaint

      6. The main point in Mr Gooch’s complaint to the Media Council was that RNZ allowed Mr Mount to malign the mainstream New Zealand paint industry without challenge from RNZ.

      7. In his complaint to RNZ, Mr Gooch complained Mr Mount from TNPC inferred Resene deliberately added ‘nasties’ to its paint products and RNZ allowed this to go unchallenged. Mr Gooch had several specific examples to support his concern, including Mr Mount’s comments about titanium dioxide and acetone.

      8. Mr Gooch also complained to RNZ about the interview not referencing Environmental Choice NZ, a certification standard not obtained by TNPC, but one endorsed by the NZ Government and the only independent NZ certification standard of its kind.


The Response

      9. RNZ did not uphold Mr Gooch’s complaint. RNZ said the comments complained about by Mr Gooch were the expressions of opinion from Mr Mount of TNPC. RNZ agreed Mr Mount made a number of statements that were critical of the established paint industry in NZ, but this was not unexpected from a new company that could be considered a disruptor to the current marketplace.

     10. RNZ said the expression of opinion was protected in the NZ Bill of Rights Act and there was nothing in Mr Mount’s statements to justify limitation of his right to free speech.

     11. On the specific examples complained about, RNZ said acetone was not mentioned in the online article and was mentioned in the interview as an example of a volatile organic compound (VOC). RNZ said Mr Mount did not say NZ paint manufacturers were adding acetone to NZ paints.

     12. RNZ said Mr Mount’s comments about titanium dioxide had to be considered in the context of the article and interview being pitched to the ordinary New Zealand who has little chemical knowledge. RNZ said whether titanium dioxide or its source material was mined was minor in the context of discussion of the ethical status of supply chains and mining practices in China.

     13. RNZ said Mr Gooch may have preferred that the interview and online article at least referenced Environmental Choice NZ, but this did not mean RNZ had breached the Principles. RNZ said it is not bound to mention or reference every aspect of a topic covered in an interview or article.

The Discussion

     14. The Council does not uphold the complaint about the online article under either of the Principles referenced. The Council has not considered the complaint about aspects of the broadcast interview, as this is not within its jurisdiction.

     15.   Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness, and Choice) requires publications to be bound by accuracy, fairness and balance, and to not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission. The comments about which Mr Gooch complained were Mr Mount’s and there was no information to suggest RNZ deliberately misled or misinformed readers. The article was not positioned as being a complete review or investigation of the relative claims of New Zealand paint manufacturers, but rather presented a different approach being taken by a new entrant business. The topic was not a matter of controversy or disagreement that required a fair voice being given to the opposition view.

     16. Acetone was given as an example of a VOC to assist the ordinary person understand the concept of VOCs in the interview. However, the online article did not mention acetone, either generally or as an additive to paints made by TNPC or its competitors. The article briefly mentioned titanium dioxide as an ingredient, and as an example of TNPC’s focus on the sustainability of the overall supply chain.

     17. The article did not mention Resene Ltd and the comparison to other major paint brands was brief and generalised. The term ‘two main paint brands’ did not appear in the online article.

     18. On Principle 4 (Comment and Fact), it was clear Mr Mount was providing his view of his business’s products and approach, and of the broader context of paints both in NZ and internationally. The online article was a feature based on the opinions of the TNPC’s founders, rather than in-depth investigation of the issues covered or an opinion piece. However, the complaint does highlight the risk of media running single source stories, especially about a single company, featuring some quite serious claims without the normal journalistic research. Such stories are perilous, as can be seen by this complainant raising issues of which RNZ were clearly unaware.

     19. It may have added to depth to the article to have asked Mr Mount why TNPC chose the certification regime they had, rather than Environmental Choice NZ. However, we do not find this is a flaw that would make the article breach the Principles. It remains open for RNZ to interview another paint manufacturer or Environmental Choice to continue providing readers with information on the topic.

 

Decision: The complaint is not upheld.

Council members considering the complaint were the Hon Raynor Asher (Chair) Judi Jones, Rosemary Barraclough, Hank Schouten, Alison Thom, Jonathan Mackenzie, Craig Cooper, Marie Shroff, Richard Pamatatau, Ben France-Hudson, and Tim Watkin.

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