Sky Network Television (Sky) complained about an editorial published in the Manawatu Standard on July 5, 2012.

Sky claimed that the column breached Principles 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) and 4 (Comment and Fact) of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

The complaint is not upheld.

The editorial was headed ”Major events should screen on free TV” and provided an overview of what the writer saw as the ongoing erosion of major sporting events being shown on free television. He was concerned that major sporting events were screened more and more on pay-per-view television rather than on free to view television as had been the case in what he called “the good old days”.

The editorial outlined a brief history of Sky television, the largest provider of pay-per-view television, in New Zealand and the fact that many major sporting events were now being shown live on Sky and therefore people who did not have a Sky subscription could only see either a delayed coverage, or in some cases, only excerpts of an event.

The writer highlighted rugby tests and the Olympics as examples. He went on to say that while Sky had the rights to the Olympics coverage, only some coverage would be shown on Sky’s free to air channel, Prime.

The writer felt that major sporting events were important to the collective experience of New Zealanders and expressed concern that “something must be done” to preserve the ability of people to see major sporting events live on free to air television.

Sky complained that, while the editorial was an opinion piece, it inferred that television coverage of sporting events, namely the Olympics and rugby tests, is somehow harmed by Sky’s doing.

The complainant stated that no attempt was made by the editorial writer to contact Sky to provide a factual balance to the article.

Sky believed that the London Olympics rights being owned by Sky was beneficial to both Sky subscribers and non subscribers as it was the most extensive coverage ever planned for New Zealand.

The complaint outlined information regarding sporting coverage and also the amount of free to air coverage on Prime of the Olympics, and the many sports screened on free to view channels not affiliated to the Sky network.

It stated that the major sporting codes of New Zealand want to be broadcast on Sky as it leads to more revenue for them which provided more funds. It went on to state that coverage of the All Blacks rugby tests is also screened on Prime with a delay of generally only 90 minutes from kickoff.

Sky was disappointed that the newspaper had published such an unbalanced and factually incorrect article.

In response to a later point made by the newspaper, Sky disputed the relevance of the Press Council decision 2134 and did not believe it was applicable. Sky noted that in that case the main facts were not in dispute. The question there was whether the editor should have enquired about other facts.

Sky believed that the article was about how much sport programming is on free to air television as a result of Sky’s actions, not about whether the free to air coverage is live or delayed.

The Newspaper’s Response
In reply to the complaint from Sky, the editor stated that the editorial was clearly an opinion piece, and was presented as such. It was published on the newspaper’s “Opinion” page, and appeared online with a bright red “OPINION” label.

He stated that while Sky has listed a number of points it would have liked included in the article, Sky has not pointed to anything that is factually inaccurate. Sky was offered the opportunity to express its opposing viewpoint in the form of a letter to the editor but declined to do so.

He acknowledged that Sky had not been contacted for comment, prior to the editorial being written but believed he was not obliged to and quoted a Press Council decision, Case Number 2134.

The editorial was about pay-to-view television as opposed to delayed free to air coverage of sport. The situation today was compared to the “good old days” before pay television when everyone was on the same footing which created a sense of occasion and shared experience around major sporting events.

Access to coverage of those same events is now variable and the editorial clearly argues that all New Zealanders should have the same access to events that are important to this country.

Discussion and Decision
The editorial was clearly marked as opinion both in the newspaper and on line.

It discussed the changes in sporting coverage over the years from when any coverage was on free to view television and today, where major sporting events are often on pay-per-view television, and coverage on free to view television is often delayed broadcast.

The editorial used rugby and the Olympics as examples and noted Sky as the main pay-per-view provider in New Zealand.

The editorial was clearly about pay-per-view television and this was reiterated throughout.

The editorial discussed the effects of the loss of free live sports coverage, especially compared with watching a delayed broadcast ie the “collective experience” enjoyed by the public was becoming increasingly weakened.

As stated in the decision from Case Number 2134, an editorial is an opportunity for a newspaper to comment on an issue in the news and express an opinion. It is an opinion piece only.

Sky was given the opportunity to provide an opposing viewpoint in the form of a letter to the editor but declined to do so.

Accordingly, this complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.

Clive Lind took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


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