CHRIS PROWSE AGAINST RNZ
Case Number: 3328
Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2022
Decision: Not Upheld
Publication: Radio NZ
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Conflicts of Interest
Conflict of Interest
Apology and Correction Sought
- On 22 July 2022, Radio New Zealand (RNZ) published an online article entitled Drama behind the scenes at Film Commission. The article was from RNZ’s podcast series, ‘The Detail’. Mr Prowse complained that the article lacked any reference to the involvement of NZ On Air, which provided the funds that benefitted the CEO of the NZ Film Commission. Mr Prowse was not satisfied with the changes made to the article following his complaint to RNZ, and believed the article remained in breach of Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness, and Balance, and Principle 10 Conflicts of Interest.
- The complaint is not upheld under Principle 1 because the amended article sufficiently clarified that the funding for Mr Strong’s project came from NZ On Air. The complaint is not upheld under Principle 10 because NZ On Air’s funding to The Detail was general rather than specifically for the article, and RNZ sufficiently disclosed that.
- RNZ’s article covered the standing down of David Strong, Chief Executive of the NZ Film Commission while a conflict of interest review was underway. The article explained the review was of the potential conflict of interest from Mr Strong receiving “public money” for his project to develop a TV drama series (The Pilgrim).
- The article said the review took place in the context of major change and upheaval in the industry, saying “If you're a film or TV producer in New Zealand, getting funding for your project is a life changer. Almost always that funding is from the public purse, and it is heavily contested.” The article said the backdrop to the controversy was the publicly funded body, the Film Commission, which is a major funder of projects both in New Zealand and overseas, meaning the Film Commission’s “heads are ‘highly courted’ by the industry.”
- After receiving the complaint from Mr Prowse, RNZ amended the article to include details of the funding from NZ On Air for Mr Strong’s project. The amendment included information on the timing of the funding decision relative to Mr Strong’s appointment as head of the NZ Film Commission.
- Mr Prowse complained the original article breached Principle (1) because it lacked any reference to the involvement of NZ On Air in funding Mr Strong’s project, giving the impression the Film Commission itself had funded the project.
- Mr Prowse said RNZ’s changes to the article did not address his concerns. He said, “a balanced account would have considered NZ On Air’s role in the matter”, and that “NZ On Air was a leading protagonist in this tale.” Mr Prowse felt an examination of NZ On Air’s role was necessary to provide fairness and balance. He was also concerned that the correction was not shown as such on RNZ’s website.
- Mr Prowse said the article breached Principle (10) because RNZ’s “The Detail” receives direct funding from NZ On Air’s Public Interest Journalism Fund, which was only disclosed by the inclusion of NZ On Air’s logo. Mr Prowse said this was insufficient to deal with the conflict of interest where the story involved the funder. Mr Prowse felt omitting reference to NZ On Air’s funding of Mr Strong’s project in the original article questioned whether RNZ acted independently and free of obligation to NZ On Air.
- RNZ did not accept its story was in breach of Principle (1) or suffered from any conflict of interest. However, on considering the initial complaint from Mr Prowse, RNZ made further enquiries and amended the article to include information about NZ On Air’s involvement and its timing relative to Mr Strong’s appointment. RNZ said the prime focus of the article was on the “plight” of the NZ Film Commission’s Chief Executive, saying no imbalance arose from not pursuing every angle of the story.
- RNZ did not agree NZ On Air’s funding for The Detail presented any conflict of interest. RNZ said the fact The Detail received funding from the Public Interest Journalism Fund was made clear by having the Public Interest Journalism Fund’s logo at the end of the article. Finally, RNZ said “there is no obligation on the part of The Detail to NZ On Air, in fact quite the opposite is reinforced in the contractual arrangements”.
Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness, and Balance
- The complaint is not upheld under Principle (1). While the initial article meant readers may have reasonably believed the funding causing the potential conflict of interest came from the NZ Film Commission, the amended article sufficiently clarified this. Not only did the amended article set out the funding from NZ On Air ($22,000), but it also set out the timing relative to Mr Strong’s appointment to the NZ Film Commission. The article said, “Just as The Pilgrim was going through the funding process, Strong was in the final stages of being appointed Film Commission chief executive.”
- It was open to RNZ to further investigate NZ On Air’s involvement and include further information in the published or a subsequent article. However, not doing so did not breach Principle (1) because it did not “deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission”.
- The Council is satisfied RNZ’s action in amending the article meets the requirements of Principal (12). Principle (12) Corrections requires significant errors to be promptly corrected with fair prominence. Mr Prowse said RNZ should have given the amendment more prominence. The Council disagrees as the amendment was adding detail to the story (including on the source of funding for Mr Strong’s project), rather than to correct a misstatement of a fact.
Principle 10 Conflicts of Interest
- The complaint is not upheld under Principle (10). While RNZ has confirmed it receives funding from NZ On Air for The Detail, it did not receive funding for this specific article. Principle (10) says “Where a story is enabled by sponsorship, gift or
- financial inducement, that sponsorship, gift or financial inducement should be declared.” [emphasis added] 15.
- Mr Prowse said RNZ’s disclosure of funding from NZ on Air through the inclusion of a logo under the article was not sufficient to deal with the conflict. The Council notes RNZ also discloses NZ On Air’s funding on its webpage for The Detail, saying “Made possible by RNZ & NZ On Air”. The Council is satisfied RNZ has sufficiently disclosed NZ on Air’s funding and there is no breach of Principle (10).
Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (chair); Hank Schouten; Rosemary Barraclough; Scott Inglis; Ben France-Hudson; Judi Jones; Marie Shroff; Alison Thom; Richard Pamatatau. Council member Tim Watkin registered a conflict of interest and withdrew from the discussion.