Text of yesterday’s decision by the TVNZ Complaints Committee follows:
11 September 2014 (on TVNZ letterhead)
Dear Paul Tudor
Further to your email received 14 August I wish to advise the Complaints Committee has completed its enquiry into your formal complaint about Seven Sharp shown on 14 August on TV ONE.
Your complaint has been considered with reference to Standards 4, 5 & 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
The Complaints Committee has not identified any breach of the relevant standards and accordingly declines to uphold your complaint. The reasons for this decision are discussed below.
The Seven Sharp bulletin of 14 August looked at “Dirty Politics” a book by Nicky Hager. The programme was introduced:
Mike Hosking: ah so question – are we shocked at what Nicky Hager has in his book “Dirty politics”? In a word I think “no”. It is not the big expose Hager claims it is, there is no smoking gun. Sure it links dirty tricks to the Prime Minister’s staff but nothing directly to the Prime Minister himself.
Toni Street: still it’s an interesting insight into just how nasty things can get behind the scenes. Think Judith Collins’ name-calling and we are the first to talk to her about those comments. Heather du Plessis- Allan spent last night reading “Dirty politics” just for you.
Heather du Plessis- Allan then gives her perspective on the book including that:
The chapter on Judith Collins and Whale Oil is “so gossipy”; giving examples of name calling;
Cameron Slater’s alleged comments about the mother of a man killed in a car crash on the West Coast – described as “too unkind”; and the alleged comments calling the earthquake struck Labour voters in Christchurch “scum”;
This is followed by an interview with Steven Joyce and Nicky Hager about ”Dirty Politics”.
Mike Hosking starts the interview: Steven (Joyce) if I can just work with you really quickly, cleanly and concisely. Did Jason Ede break into Labour Party computers and steal stuff?
Steven Joyce: No.
MH: did anybody feed Slater SIS information ahead of anybody else?
SJ: as I understand it – no.
MH: did Collins feed any information about Bronwyn Puller to Slater?
SJ: not aware of that; I don’t know the answer to that one, but ah I suspect given the
strike-rate that Mr Hager’s having – no.
MH: has anybody in the National Party done anything illegal at any time, to your knowledge, at all, ever?
SJ: well I think there’s thirty-something thousand people in the National Party so I don’t think that I can vouch for all of them Mike.
MH: at the level we’re talking about? At the top floor, in the top echelons of the National party?
SJ: nah look, this is a major beat-up from Mr Hager, that’s the reality of it. Look nobodies arguing that Cameron Slater is the saint of great all things. Personally I’ve struggled with Cam a bit over the years; he’s not my biggest fan for example. He’s an individual who’s fiercely independent and will say whatever he feels like on whatever day it is. And so I’m not going to defend all his different things but the reality is, we brief bloggers, we have somebody that does that, so does the Labour Party, so does the Greens. Nicky Hager decides he wants to get horrified by it, well that’s fine, but actually in the modern world social media exists.
MH: do you defend Judith Collins’ behaviour?
SJ: well Judith and Cam go back a long way…
MH: well that doesn’t matter – do you defend her behaviour?
SJ: well I haven’t read the book, but ah I understand there’s some chatty emails there, amongst friends, and as in your story there’s some interesting descriptions of other MPs.
MH: acceptable descriptions?
SJ: well I don’t know, I’m not going to go through them one by one.
MH: are charges of any description going to come out of this?
SJ: I would very much doubt it although perhaps for whoever stole the emails, but look I think the whole things a bit ironic really. It’s called “Dirty Politics” is the name of the book, well I think he’s got that part right because what he’s done is about five of the “Dirty Politics” things. He’s gone out and had some emails stolen that he’s used, he’s gone out and reheated some old stuff which is an old political trick and all of that stuff has been through the mill in the past. He’s come up with some new allegations which are joining some dots and adding some heroic numbers together; and then he’s actually declared that the Prime Minister’s the sort-of the ‘devil-beast’ and that’s just classic attack politics.
MH: no-one’s going to end up facing charges? No-one’s heads going to roll out of any of this?
SJ: I very much doubt that.
MH: OK so Jason Ede is safe in your view he’s done nothing wrong at any point?
SJ: well there’s one criticism of him that he actually looked at the wide-open Labour Party server at some point, and interestingly don’t forget that was back in 2011 when the Labour Party actually apologised for leaving all their secure data for the world to see; and apparently that’s news today. And of course they’re horrified today and somehow it’s some sort of massive interference.
MH: now Nicky bring you into this, since I talked to you on the radio this morning, everybody’s denied everything. Give me one of your allegations that people haven’t denied today?
Nicky Hager: one of the sad things about doing a piece of work like this is, that you would hope that people would sometimes say, admit, when they have done something wrong. But you’re quite right all the key figures have just said “no, no didn’t do it”. But it’s a book full of communications and exact documentary evidence and so they’re just hoping that people who haven’t seen the book will believe them.
MH: … In talking to you today I put specific allegations to you you’ve been allowed all day to say ‘he did this, she did this, he said that’; every single one of these people have come out and go ‘not true’. So we end the day ‘not true’.
NH: well every person who has read the book with an open mind, which I don’t think it sounds like includes you, but every person who has read the book with an open mind has looked at the stuff about a National Party senior staff member going with Whale Oil inside the Labour Party’s computers, which I think that the police are investigating now,
NH: and then planning hits from that against them is not just probably illegal but completely off the scale of unreasonable behaviour… this is somebody that sits in an office two doors from the Prime Minster.
MH: understand that; which comes back to this over-arching thing that … you seem to be outraged about. There’s this dirty game of politics and people do this stuff and leak and brief. But most of us are saying to you, and have said all day, it’s been going on for years this isn’t big news.
NH: well can I tell you most people haven’t been saying that to me all day. You’ve did on the radio this morning, in fact if you show the public silly little, trivial or petty things that Judith Collins says then they won’t think there’s much of a story so let me give you a different story from the Judith Collins chapter…
MH: give me your best hit right now on Judith Collins…
NH: from the Judith Collins chapter – where she believes that she knows who’s leaked some information about Bill English’s house from inside Ministerial Services, she gives that name to Cameron Slater and Cameron Slater crucifies that guy … he ends up with death threats being made against him, the police have to come in to protect him. And that was a Minister of Police, a Minister of Corrections who’s giving that unsubstantiated name to a blogger and then having the guy crucified. Now that’s just not how a Minister should act.
MH: OK, alright so on that and every other thing that you’ve raised in this book and throughout the media today once every investigation is held and the Greens have run to everybody I can think of that would investigate this; if and when it comes back and literally nothing comes out of this, then what?
NH: I believe that normal New Zealanders who hear about this, not the cynical, maybe not people who feel cynical and ‘all politics is dirty’ but … most New Zealanders will say ‘hang on a moment can we please debate issues, can we please debate policies, and not have that kind of dirty tricks going on with our Cabinet Ministers’…
MH: are you in trouble with this Steven in any way, shape or form?
SJ: ah I don’t think I’m in the book.
MH: no not you personally, your government?
SJ: no I don’t think so. The simple reality is that this is Nicky Hager sitting there saying that these are all these things yet he is the guy doing exactly the stuff. I mean he’s the one actually doing the dirty politics.
MH: which Nicky really is the ultimate irony of this whole book isn’t it? Somebody hacked in, stole a bunch of stuff, you got it ran it through a printer and called it a book?
NH: ha, ha well I tell you what actually happened. Somebody did hack into Whale Oil’s computer, and out of that came a whole lot of information about New Zealand politics which the public knew nothing about. If it had been offered to TVNZ they would have grabbed it. If it had been offered to the NZ Herald they would have grabbed it. They happened to bring it to me, and in my job I wrote it as carefully and faithfully as I could, and you can see every footnote in the back and apart from a few cynics like you actually…
MH: I’m not a cynic I just ask questions, I’ve seen a lot of politics, I’ve seen all this for year after year, after year. I looked for a smoking gun there isn’t one, there will be no charges, no-ones head’s going to roll, you’ve fired off a whole lot of allegations and nothing will come of it.
NH: well I would like you to know around the rest of the media, and with people I’ve been talking to all day, and around the country where this book was sold out in a few hours and the printing presses are running now, people don’t agree with you.
Toni Street: so basically there’s two things to come out of this, the police investigation which we will wait for and secondly how you the public view this. Do you believe these allegations and will it affect the way you vote? Because that’s ultimately what it comes down to isn’t it? (Mike: I guess so).
Later in the bulletin at the end of the programme as part of the standard format of Seven Sharp Mike Hosking has his ‘final word’ –giving his views on the topic of the day. In this segment Mr Hosking states: which brings us sadly to this book. 24 hours on here’s my take on Hager’s efforts. It’s Wellington-centric, it’s got the politicos running around in ever decreasing circles today. For the wider world my sense is no-one really cares. Hager’s taken stolen emails, reprinted them unverified and said to us ‘look! This is shocking!” and for those of us who have been around a bit, it’s not shocking, it’s politics. And politics is a dirty game, always has been. Do the main players come out looking ‘squeaky’? Of course not. But there is no ‘smoking gun’, nothing to bring the government down, nothing I suspect even to the move the polls. Today has been its phosphorous moment; it’s burned -tomorrow it will be out.
You state: I have never, ever lodged a formal complaint about your programming, however having watched Mr Hosking’s appalling behaviour tonight, I am absolutely shocked at his behaviour towards Nicky Hager. His questions to Mr Hager were attacking, repetitive, not open. His questions to Minister Joyce were open, leading and friendly. He said twice that no charges would be laid – although his assistant host Toni Street pointed out at the end that there was a police investigation pending. Mr Hosking is trying to mislead people to believe that no criminal activity took place. He also interrupted Mr Hager – he did not interrupt the National Party politician. Given how close we are to an election, this bias needs to be stopped.
If the allegation in Hager’s book is correct, that a senior employee in the a Prime Minister’s office has hacked into a Labour Party server, this incident is as bad as what happened in the Watergate saga. The Watergate affair would have been shut down, were it not for some great journalism. Unfortunately, TVNZ seems to be lacking great journalism at present and in Mike Hosking you have a very dangerous person who is breaking all rules of fairness and balanced reporting.
The Relevant Standards
Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints
When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
4a. No set formula can be advanced for the allocation of time to interested parties on controversial issues of public importance. Significant viewpoints should be presented fairly in the context of the programme. This can only be done by judging each case on its merits.
4b The assessment of whether a reasonable range of views has been presented takes account of some or all of the following:
the programme introduction;
whether the programme approaches a topic from a particular perspective (e.g. authorial documentaries, public access and advocacy programmes;
whether viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware of views expressed in other coverage.
Before considering a complaint under this standard, the Complaints Committee must determine whether the issue being discussed is a ‘controversial issue of public importance.’
The Broadcasting Standards Authority has typically defined an ‘issue of public importance’ as something that would have ‘a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’ (refer BSA decision 2005-125). A ‘controversial issue’ is defined by the BSA as one which has topical currency and excited conflicting opinion or about which there has been on-going public debate (e.g. BSA decision 2006-076). The Committee agrees that the revelations in “Dirty Politics” and the subsequent revelations on this topic are such an issue.
As discussed extensively under “The Programme” above all significant viewpoints on “Dirty Politics” were given ample time in the Seven Sharp bulletin. While Mike Hosking did give his opinion on the likely weight of the revelations in the book at the end of the programme and directly to Mr Hager in the interview, freedom of speech as preserved by the Bill of Rights Act explicitly entitles Mr Hosking to hold and express an opinion on this matter, even if that opinion is unpopular with some viewers. Mr Hager was able to respond to this opinion and directly challenges Mr Hosking about this point in the interview. Such expression is also permitted under this standard. No breach of standard 4 has been identified.
Standard 5 Accuracy
Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:
is accurate in relation to all material points of fact and/or
does not mislead.
5a The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.
5b In the event that a material error of fact has occurred, broadcasters should correct it at the earliest appropriate opportunity.
5c News must be impartial.
In this case the presenter discussed his opinion on “Dirty Politics”; his main criticisms were put to Mr Hager in the interview and Mr Hager was given time to address the points as he saw them. Mr Hosking’s commentary on the information in the book was clearly presented as his opinion. Opinion and commentary are permitted under this standard. The right to make such commentary is permitted, it is what is commonly termed “freedom of speech”, and is protected under the Bill of Rights Act 1990.
The Committee notes that this bulletin was very early in the “Dirty Politics” story (which is still on-going) and the emails behind the book had not yet been revealed by “Whaledump”. In the Seven Sharp bulletin Nicky Hager was given time to outline his arguments (including a key claim that Judith Collins has given a public servant’s name to Mr Slater and that the public servant had received death threats). Steven Joyce’s (the National Party’s) denial on all fronts in the Seven Sharp interview was also important to record.
In the context of the interview and discussion at the time it is acceptable to challenge the claims in the book, and indeed to accept claims of this nature uncritically would be irresponsible. The story was further reported on TVNZ and in other media as it unfolded including the “Whaledump” emails.
Standard 5 is not designed to regulate personal opinion or commentary (as per guideline 5a). No breach of standard 5 has been identified.
Standard 6 Fairness
Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
6a A consideration of what is fair will depend upon the genre of the programme (e.g. factual, dramatic, comedic or satirical programmes).
6b Broadcasters should exercise care in editing programme material to ensure that the extracts used are not a distortion of the original event or the overall views expressed.
6c Except as justified in the public interest:
Contributors and participants should be informed of the nature of their participation
Programme makers should not obtain information or gather pictures through misrepresentation;
Broadcasters should avoid causing unwarranted distress to surviving family members by showing footage of bodies or human remains.
6d Broadcasters should respect the right of individuals to express their own opinions.
6e Individuals and particularly children and young people, taking part or referred to should not be exploited, humiliated or unfairly identified.
6f Where the programme deals with distressing circumstances (e.g. grief and bereavement) discretion and sensitivity are expected.
This standard is designed to protect those people and organisations taking part or referred to in broadcast. You have complained that the interview was unfair to Nicky Hager. The BSA has previously explained that criticism of political and public figures is permitted and protected under the Bill of Rights Act. In decision 2010-186 concerning the treatment of a representative from the Council of Trade Unions in an interview the Authority noted:
…In Kiro and Radioworks Ltd,3 the Authority stated that the fairness standard:
… does not prevent criticism of public figures. Indeed, it is an essential element of free speech that even the most trenchant criticism of public figures be allowed. …The question for the Authority is whether that criticism overstepped the boundaries of fairness, that is, whether it strayed into abusively personal territory.
 As noted above, we accept that the host was aggressive and confrontational towards Ms Kelly, particularly in the second half of the interview. However, it is our view that the criticism was aimed at Ms Kelly in her professional capacity, and was not an attack against her personally. With regard to comments that Ms Kelly’s handling of things was “a complete failure”, that she “might be fantasising”, was “preaching”, and was “clueless”, we consider that the host was expressing his personal opinion, and repeating others’ opinions, of Ms Kelly in her professional capacity, and that freedom of expression protects his right to do so.
In the case of the Seven Sharp broadcast the hosts’ discussion focussed solely on criticism and commentary concerning “Dirty politics” and Nicky Hager in his professional capacity. While some of this commentary included the presenters’ personal opinion, it did not stray
into the personally abusive. Mr Hager was confident in the interview and familiar with the media. He handled the discussion adeptly and was able to put his position across – which he did in a professional and composed manner; indeed in subsequent interviews in other media (NZ Herald AUG 30) he discussed how proud he was of his responses in this interview. The sort of discussion shown in the Seven Sharp bulletin is permitted under broadcasting standards. No breach of standard 6 has been identified.
Right to Refer to Broadcasting Standards Authority and Time Limit
In accordance with section 7(3) of the Broadcasting Act you are hereby notified that it is your right, should you be dissatisfied with this decision, to refer the matter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, P O Box 9213, Wellington, as provided under section 8 of the Act, for the purpose of an investigation and review of the decision. You have 20 working days after receipt of this letter to exercise this right of referral.