Broadcasting watchdog fines RNZ over Greenpeace claims

Fishing industry claims rare victory.

The fishing industry is claiming a rare victory over the media in a decision that reveals state broadcaster RNZ ran unbalanced Greenpeace allegations.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority has imposed a $2000 fine and ordered RNZ to broadcast a statement acknowledging it treated a fisheries research company unfairly.

Trident Systems, which provides ship-based monitoring equipment, complained after an Insight documentary programme, broadcast in mid-March, failed to balance comments made by Greenpeace NZ executive director Russel Norman.

According to the decision, Mr Norman had alleged Trident, in a 2012 Ministry for Primary Industries monitoring trial, had “found nothing”, while a rival research company, Archipelago, found “lots of illegal behaviour.”

Mr Norman then implied the MPI awarded a contract to Trident for filming of a commercial fishery because of these results. Trident was not able to respond to this claim.

“While Trident did provide comment on other aspects of the broadcast, it was not given the opportunity to refute this particular allegation or provide further, more informed, context to [the interviewee’s] comments,” the BSA ruled.

Technology trials
The Archipelago study involved six fishing vessels and 162 catch events, while the Trident technology trial involved video equipment on three vessels and 27 catch events.

During the study, Archipelago reported the death of a single dolphin. Trident reported no dolphin deaths in its technology trial because none was observed.

MPI contracted both Archipelago and Trident to undertake a further video observation study in 2014, focused on the Snapper 1 trawl fishery.

The BSA says while Mr Norman is entitled to an opinion, his remarks amount to “conjecture” and he “conflates” a report on the 2012 trial.

“MPI’s next step was to award the contracts for videos in Snapper 1 to Trident, obviously because Trident passed the test, they found nothing and that’s what MPI wanted,” Mr Norm said in the broadcast.

A complaint regarding accuracy was not upheld because the standard applies only to statements of fact and his remarks amounted to "analysis, comment or opinion."

Trident chief executive David Middleton and chairman Jeremy Fleming declined the opportunity to comment to NBR, saying in a statement they were satisfied with the BSA’s “robust process” and that they are “comfortable with the outcome.” 

RAW DATA: Read the BSA decision here.

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