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BSA decision: One News on Sale of BMWs

Office of the Prime Minister and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-082

Dated: 13 September 2011

Number: 2011-082

Complainant:

• Office of the Prime Minister

Channel: TV One

Broadcaster: Television New Zealand Ltd

Members

• Peter Radich (Chair)

• Te Raumawhitu Kupenga

• Leigh Pearson

• Mary Anne Shanahan

________________________________________

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item discussed “new questions on a car deal related to John Key’s National Party getting money from a top BMW dealership” – allegedly in breach of accuracy standard

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – item did not state as fact or imply that there was a link between the car contract and the donation – item fairly presented views of the Prime Minister and the dealership involved – high level of public interest in reporting allegations made in Parliament – not inaccurate or misleading – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.

Broadcast

[1] An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 11 May 2011, was introduced by teasers which stated, “new questions on a car deal related to John Key’s National Party getting money from a top BMW dealership”.

[2] Introducing the item, the newsreaders stated:

A new turn now in the Government’s upgrade of its fleet of BMW limousines. New Zealand’s biggest BMW dealership donated $50,000 to the National Party soon after a contract was signed for more than 30 new cars. Political reporter [name] broke the original story. She has the latest developments.

[3] Reporting from Parliament, the reporter stated:

Well it’s certainly an issue that got the Prime Minister fired up. He was short with us when we approached him for his reaction. He did release this statement though late this afternoon, saying that any link between the purchase of 34 new cars and a donation to the National Party are baseless, and, quote, a smear on his integrity.

[4] Proceeding to a pre-recorded item, the reporter said:

Next month John Key will be ferried around in a new Series 7 BMW. That’s after the Government signed off on a deal to buy 34 of them. Now it’s been revealed that Team McMillan donated money to the National Party. The car dealership’s a separate entity from BMW Limited New Zealand, which has the contract with the Government.

[5] Footage was shown of Parliament, in which Labour MP Chris Hipkins questioned, “Is he aware that two days after his chief of staff met with VIP Transport to discuss the upgrade of the VIP fleet, the owner of an exclusive new and used BMW dealership in Auckland gave a $50,000 donation to the New Zealand National Party?” John Key responded, “Speaker, I have no responsibility for that.”

[6] The reporter went on to say:

Documents show that on July 28 last year the Prime Minister’s chief of staff met the Internal Affairs Department to discuss buying the BMWs. Two days later a $50,000 donation was made to the National Party. One News understands part of the money was collected at a fundraising event in June hosted by the boss of Team McMillan. He then topped it up from his own pocket. We put that to the Prime Minister.

[7] The reporter and the Prime Minister had the following exchange:

Key: It was a contract signed in 2007... by Labour.

Reporter: You did roll over the deal though.

Key: Yeah, but the contract was signed by Labour. The decision was made by Ministerial Services.
As we’ve always said, we weren’t briefed actually at the time. That was one of the failures of the
system so there’s no basis to the allegations.

Reporter: Politics is about perception, though.

[8] Mr Hipkins was shown commenting, “I think he’s been ducking for cover. Clearly this all happened at the same time.” The reporter stated, “One News first broke the story about the BMW deal on February 15. The deal was signed by Labour and then rolled over by National; the new cars [will be] on our roads in a matter of weeks.”

[9] Back in the studio, the newsreader asked, “Okay... plenty from the political point of view, though what’s BMW saying?” The reporter responded:

I’ve spoken to BMW New Zealand Limited and also to Bob McMillan who made the donation. They both say that there’s absolutely no link between the purchase of the cars and the donation, and Bob McMillan says there’s no financial benefit for him with the purchase of these new cars.

Complaint

[10] On behalf of the Office of the Prime Minister, Kevin Taylor made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was inaccurate and misleading in breach of Standard 5 (accuracy).

[11] Mr Taylor argued that it was “factually incorrect” to suggest that there was a link between a donation to the National Party by the BMW dealership Team McMillan, and the deal signed by the previous Labour Government with BMW New Zealand to replace the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) VIP Transport fleet. He noted that BMW New Zealand was not even a dealership, and was not Team McMillan. He also noted that the donation from Team McMillan had already been publicly disclosed, in accordance with electoral law.

[12] Mr Taylor noted that in a teaser for the story the newsreader stated, “Also, new questions on a car deal related to John Key’s National Party getting money from a top BMW dealership.” He argued:

This is factually inaccurate. The car deal referred to is the previous Government’s decision to replace the VIP Transport fleet with BMWs. That is not “related” in any way to a donation to the National Party by Team McMillan.

[13] The complainant also noted that the introduction to the item stated, “To a new turn now in the Government’s upgrade of its fleet of BMW limousines.” He maintained that this was also inaccurate, as there had not been any “new turn” in the “Government’s upgrade of its fleet of BMW limousines”, for the reasons stated above.

[14] Mr Taylor considered that the item misled viewers by “attacking the integrity of the Prime Minister in an utterly unfounded way”. He argued that, “Taken together, the promo and the item paint a picture of a dodgy deal which is not backed up by any facts presented by [the reporter].” He noted that in the story it was stated that there was “absolutely no link between the purchase of the cars and the donation, and Bob McMillan said there’s no financial benefit for him with the purchase of these new cars”.

[15] The complainant asserted that TVNZ had not contacted the DIA. He pointed out that a press statement issued by the DIA released on the same night as the broadcast stated:

The Department of Internal Affairs advises that its purchase of BMW cars for its VIP Transport fleet was made from BMW New Zealand and that no vehicles were purchased from any BMW dealership. Arrangements for replacement vehicles are also with BMW New Zealand and not with any BMW dealership.

[16] The complainant therefore questioned why the item had been broadcast at all. He requested an on-air apology and correction.

Standards

[17] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

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.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[18] TVNZ maintained that the item had not made the claims alleged by Mr Taylor in the complaint. It noted that the story reported that:

• The Team McMillan car dealership had donated $50,000 to the National Party soon after the contract was signed for the replacement of the BMW fleet.

• It was understood that part of the donated money was collected at a fundraising event in June, and the rest was topped up by the boss at Team McMillan.

• The contract to purchase the vehicles was signed by Labour in 2007, and was rolled over by National.

• The deal was with BMW New Zealand, and not Team McMillan, which were separate entities.

[19] TVNZ considered that the remainder of the story related to the political issue arising from these facts, raised in the House of Representatives that day by Labour MP Chris Hipkins. It said that Mr Hipkins had asked whether the Prime Minister was aware of the facts, namely that the contract for the cars was renewed with BMW New Zealand within days of a donation being received from Team McMillan. The Prime Minister responded, “Speaker I have no responsibility for that,” which was reported in the item.

[20] TVNZ maintained that the Prime Minister’s perspective had been adequately presented in the story. It noted that, at the beginning of the story, the reporter referred to a press release that afternoon in which Mr Key described any link between the donation and the car deal as “baseless and a smear on his integrity”. Later in the item when questioned by the reporter, Mr Key said that the contract was signed by Labour and the decision to roll the contract over to National was made by Ministerial Services. TVNZ said that Mr Key explained that he was not briefed at the time the contract was rolled over, which was a failure of the system.

[21] The broadcaster pointed out that the reporter repeated that the Prime Minister maintained he knew nothing about the car deal. The reporter again highlighted that both BMW New Zealand and Bob McMillan of Team McMillan categorically denied any link between the donation and the renewal of the contract, and that Mr McMillan told her he would not benefit financially from the purchase of the new cars from BMW New Zealand, it said.

[22] With regard to the teaser at the beginning of the programme, TVNZ considered that it was accurate to refer to “new questions on a car deal related to John Key’s National Party getting money from a top BMW dealership”, as there were “new questions raised during oral questions in Parliament on that day”, concerning the donation. With regard to the newsreader’s introduction, “to a new turn now in the Government’s upgrade of its fleet of BMW limousines”, TVNZ argued that this was “an alternative way of saying there was a new development, twist or aspect to this issue. The Labour MP drawing public attention to the Team McMillan donation to the National Party was indeed a new development that had not been previously reported,” it said.

[23] TVNZ concluded that the item did not contain any inaccurate material points of fact. It went on to consider whether the story was misleading in the manner alleged by the complainant.

[24] For the reasons already discussed, the broadcaster did not consider that the item attacked the integrity of the Prime Minister or gave an impression of a “dodgy deal”. It considered that, if there was any attack on Mr Key’s integrity, it was made by the Labour Party in its questioning in Parliament. TVNZ maintained that One News was thorough in its reporting of the questions raised and in its reporting of the Prime Minister’s position.

[25] TVNZ reiterated its view that the item made it clear that the car deal was with BMW New Zealand, which was a separate entity to Team McMillan. It said, “At no point in the reporting of this story was it stated or suggested that cars for the VIP Transport fleet were purchased from any BMW dealership, nor did it report that arrangements for replacement vehicles were made with any BMW dealership.”

[26] TVNZ concluded its decision by making comments relating to political reporting and public interest. It argued that there was a high degree of public interest in the story, given the Opposition’s questioning of the Prime Minister. It considered that the questioning in Parliament had put the issue in the public domain. TVNZ wrote, “Given that, TVNZ felt that the public interest was best served with a report that clarified the details surrounding issues that the questions had raised. One News fulfilled its obligations in making clear the responses of the Prime Minister and Mr McMillan, and at no point in the report was it claimed, alleged, or insinuated that there was any impropriety.”

[27] The broadcaster argued:

The reporting of the political response to the matter does not raise any issue under Standard 5. Political points of view, perceptions of a conflict of interest, and matters of government accountability are all clearly matters of comment and opinion rather than fact. Matters of national politics are also by definition matters of public interest, and the media has an important role in reporting them. This is strongly reinforced by the law relating to qualified privilege and section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

[28] TVNZ noted that the story had also been covered extensively in other media, in particular an editorial in The New Zealand Herald which “neatly sums up why it is important for the media to run and debate these stories – it is at the heart of ensuring an honest government”.

[29] The broadcaster concluded that the item was not inaccurate and would not have misled viewers, and it declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

Referral to the Authority

[30] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Taylor referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[31] The complainant rejected TVNZ’s argument that the item did not imply that there was a link between Team McMillan’s donation and the deal to replace the transport fleet. He considered that the following comments in the item suggested that there was a link:

• “Also new questions on a car deal related to John Key’s National Party getting money from a top BMW dealership.” (newsreader)

• “New Zealand’s biggest BMW dealership donated $50,000 to the National Party soon after a contract was signed for more than 30 new cars. Political reporter [name] broke the original story. She has the latest developments.” (newsreader)

• “Next month John Key will be ferried around in a new Series 7 BMW. That’s after the Government signed off on a deal to buy 34 of them. Now it’s been revealed that Team McMillan donated money to the National Party.” (reporter)

• “Documents show on July 28 last year the Prime Minister’s chief of staff met the Internal Affairs Department to discuss buying the BMWs. Two days later a $50,000 donation was made to the National Party.”

[32] The complainant therefore maintained that the item breached Standard 5, and considered that an apology and correction should be broadcast on One News.

Authority’s Determination

[33] The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[34] Standard 5 states that 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 does not mislead.

[35] The complainant argued that the following aspects of the programme breached Standard 5:

• The implication that there was a link between the donation and the car deal

• The statement in the teaser, “new questions on a car deal related to John Key’s National Party getting money from a top BMW dealership”

• The statement in the introduction to the item, “A new turn now in the Government’s upgrade of its fleet of BMW limousines”

• The teaser and item were misleading because they gave the impression of a “dodgy deal” and attacked the Prime Minister’s integrity.

[36] With regard to the complainant’s argument that the item implied there was a “link” between the donation and the car deal, we note that the item contained the following comments:

• “new questions on a car deal related to John Key’s National Party getting money from a top BMW dealership...” (newsreader)

• “A new turn now in the Government’s upgrade of its fleet of BMW limousines. New Zealand’s biggest BMW dealership donated $50,000 to the National Party soon after a contract was signed for more than 30 new cars.” (newsreader)

• “Next month John Key will be ferried around in a new Series 7 BMW. That’s after the Government signed off on a deal to buy 34 of them. Now it’s been revealed that Team McMillan donated money to the National Party. The car dealership’s a separate entity from BMW Limited New Zealand, which has the contract with the Government.” (reporter)

• “Documents show that on July 28 last year the Prime Minister’s chief of staff met the Internal Affairs Department to discuss buying the BMWs. Two days later a $50,000 donation was made to the National Party. One News understands part of the money was collected at a fundraising event in June hosted by the boss of Team McMillan. He then topped it up from his own pocket. We put that to the Prime Minister.” (reporter)

• “One News first broke the story about the BMW deal on February 15. The deal was signed by Labour and then rolled over by National; the new cars [will be] on our roads in a matter of weeks.” (reporter)

[37] In our view, the item did not state as fact that there was a link between the Government’s car deal and the donation received by the National Party from a BMW dealership. Nor do we consider that viewers would have been left with this impression, or with the impression that the Government had made a “dodgy deal”. The item included clear statements refuting any suggestion that there was a link:

• “Well it’s certainly an issue that got the Prime Minister fired up. He was short with us when we approached him for his reaction. He did release this statement though late this afternoon, saying that any link between the purchase of 34 new cars and a donation to the National Party are baseless, and, quote, a smear on his integrity.” (reporter)

• “The car dealership’s a separate entity from BMW Limited New Zealand, which has the contract with the Government.” (reporter)

• “...the contract was signed by Labour. The decision was made by Ministerial Services. As we’ve always said, we weren’t briefed actually at the time. That was one of the failures of the system so there’s no basis to the allegations.” (John Key)

• “I’ve spoken to BMW New Zealand Limited and also to Bob McMillan who made the donation. They both say that there’s absolutely no link between the purchase of the cars and the donation, and Bob McMillan says there’s no financial benefit for him with the purchase of these new cars.” (reporter)

[38] In these circumstances, we find that the item was not inaccurate in this respect, and would not have misled viewers, who were left to form their own judgement about the matters raised. We are also of the view that the audience would have understood that it was Labour MP Chris Hipkins who had questioned the Prime Minister’s integrity, rather than One News. In this respect, we consider that the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to fairly and accurately present the Prime Minister’s response to the allegations made by Mr Hipkins.

[39] With regard to whether the item was accurate in referring to “new questions” and a “new turn”, we agree with TVNZ that this was a fair representation of the fact that a Labour MP had raised a question in Parliament, under privilege, relating to the donation. We therefore do not consider that the item was inaccurate or misleading in this respect.

[40] Further, in our view, there was a high level of public interest in the story. Reporting on allegations of this nature which are raised in the House is an important role of the media, and a vital component of freedom of expression.

[41] Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
Chair
13 September 2011

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1 Kevin Taylor’s formal complaint – 12 May 2011

2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 10 June 2011

3 Mr Taylor’s referral to the Authority – 15 June 2011

4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 29 July 2011


ENDS

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