TOM FREWEN AGAINST RNZ
Case Number: 3394
Council Meeting: 8 May 2023
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Publication: Radio NZ
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
Ruling Categories: Misleading
Radio New Zealand ran a story on its website headlined, Democracy on the cheap: Skint Parliament to turn off the radio. The story, based on its regular programme called The House, reported the Clerk of the House of Representatives, David Wilson, saying that the live radio broadcast of Parliament will be cut unless extra funding is provided in the July Budget. He said the broadcast contract costs Parliament about $1.3 million a year – “a cost we can no longer carry.”
Tom Frewen complained the story breached Media Council principles relating to accuracy, fairness and balance; comment and fact; headlines and captions. The article was incorrect as there were other options for cost cutting.
It also failed to mention section 177 (2) (a) of the Radiocommunications Act which relates to broadcasting proceedings of the House of Representatives and that ending the broadcasts would require an amendment to the Act which would have to be supported by a majority of MPs.
RNZ said Mr Frewen’s comment was more in the nature of feedback and comment on the programme and did not accept there had been any breach of principles.
The Media Council has found no indication that the story was inaccurate or that RNZ was remiss in not mentioning the law relating to Parliamentary broadcasts.
The Clerk of the House announced what the headline said. The article made it clear that the decision might be reversed if funds were found. While the headline expressed in absolute terms something that may not happen, it paraphrased what the Clerk said.
The section of law cited by Mr Frewen does not make the broadcasting of Parliament mandatory. It just says the proceedings have first priority on a radio frequency pursuant to an agreement between the right holder and any other person. Ending the broadcasting of parliament may require an amendment to the law, as Mr Frewen suggests. But that doesn’t rule it out – laws are frequently amended.
No case has been made to show how the story was wrong and the headline accurately reflected its key point. There are no grounds for upholding a complaint that the article was in breach of Media Council principles.
Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.