Cast your mind back, if you will, to a post I wrote on August 16 of last year. It was headed A Shameful Ruling by the Broadcasting Standards Authority. The story was about Don McDonald, a Wellington beneficiary who had become a thorn in the flesh of the BSA as a result of his numerous complaints to the broadcasting watchdog about inaccurate reporting on radio and television. The final straw for the Authority was a complaint by Mr McDonald about an item on One News. In its bulletin of 6 January the network had reported on the discovery of a supernova by a 10-year-old Canadian girl, Kathryn Gray. The report included the following statement: ‘The Canadian Astronomical Society says Kathryn’s supernova was in a galaxy 240 light years from Earth.’ Mr McDonald complained to TVNZ that the statement was inaccurate because ‘a supernova star at such close distance would barbecue the earth.’ He said the distance from the earth to its neighbouring galaxy Andromeda was at least two million light years.
He was right. What’s more, TVNZ agreed that he was right. Kathryn’s supernova was in a galaxy not 240 but 240 million light years from the earth. In other words, a million times further that TVNZ had reported. Mr McDonald thought the broadcaster ought to issue a retraction and apology for its mistake but TVNZ disagreed. It thought the distance of the Supernova from earth wasn’t really all that important to the item which it considered a human interest story about Kathryn’s amazing discovery. It declined to retract or apologise. So off Mr McDonald went to the BSA with another complaint. The BSA sided with TVNZ and rejected Mr McDonald’s complaint, saying that the supernova’s distance from the earth was ‘peripheral to the story’. But it went further. Tired of Mr McDonald’s endless and vexatious complaining, it ordered him to pay TVNZ $50 for its and their trouble. As a ‘form of deterrent’.
I concluded my post:
If there’s a bottom line to this story, it is that the Broadcasting Standards Authority, whose mandate is surely to look after the interests of the consumers of broadcasting rather than the broadcasters themselves, has ordered a beneficiary on the bones of his financial arse to hand over $50 to a multi-million dollar corporation which had its facts wrong. That stinks. It did. But that’s not the end of the story. Don McDonald is a battler and decided he would challenge the BSA’s rejection of his complaint against TVNZ and its $50 ‘fine’ in the High Court of New Zealand. The Court’s finding was released yesterday. Conclusion The appeal against the decision to dismiss the complaint without determination is dismissed. The appeal against an order to pay $50 costs is allowed, and the order quashed. I’d call that a reasonable finding and a partial victory for Don McDonald. The BSA, it seems to me, was entitled to turn down his complaint about their finding on the Supernova issue, but when an organisation funded out of the public purse, and charged with upholding broadcasting standards (including standards of accuracy), orders an elderly complainant who was actually right, to hand over 50 bucks to TVNZ, they really have lost the plot. Congratulations Don! It was a matter of principle and you really stuck it to them.