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Sunday Item On ‘looming Health Crisis’ In Engineered Stone Industry Unbalanced, BSA Finds

A Sunday item suggesting New Zealand was failing to address a “looming health crisis” in the engineered stone industry was unbalanced, the Broadcasting Standards Authority has found in a split decision.

A majority of the Authority upheld a balance complaint about the 16 April 2023 episode of the programme on TVNZ 1.

This reported on an “epidemic” of silicosis – an irreversible chronic lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust – among Australian engineered stone workers and raised questions about New Zealand’s response to the same concerns.

The complaint alleged the broadcast breached the accuracy and balance standards as it misled the audience to believe the industry in New Zealand had the same regulatory failings as Australia.

It also alleged it was unbalanced as it omitted other perspectives on the New Zealand situation (for example, from the industry). The majority of the episode focused on Australian workers, doctors and experts discussing the situation there, with one relatively short interview with a New Zealand spokesperson towards the end of the segment.

The Authority unanimously did not uphold the accuracy complaint, finding it was reasonable for TVNZ to rely on the selected interviewee as a local authoritative source and spokesperson on this issue.

“We are unanimous in our view that no harm was caused under the accuracy standard that outweighs the public interest or value in the programme, or justifies restricting freedom of expression,” the BSA said.

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However, a majority found the broadcaster did not provide any balancing perspectives within the programme to the impression created that nothing was being done in New Zealand – and this lack of balance was not, in the majority’s view, outweighed by the public interest in the broadcast or by the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

“Rather, the public interest would have been better served, and the audience better informed, by broadening the range of perspectives included.

“Viewers were likely to rely on this broadcast to be a balanced, considered report, particularly as it was a long-form, hard-hitting, investigative piece,” the Authority said.

The minority considered that while the broadcast may have lacked balance, its overall value in highlighting a serious health risk outweighed the potential harm.

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