Decisions

Cumming vs Radio New Zealand (13/003)

Content: “Climate deniers ordered to pay court costs”

Publisher: Radio New Zealand

Outcome: Not Upheld

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The Chairman noted that Richard Cumming considered the term “Climate deniers” to be derogatory and discriminating. Mr Cumming said “The use of this term is a disturbing trend especially by the state funded broadcaster and could be construed as a form of propaganda.” The Chairman accepted that the range of views on climate change could be considered under Standard 4 as a matter of political belief however, in his view the threshold to affect a breach of this Standard had not been met in this instance and he ruled this part of the complaint had no grounds to proceed.

The Chairman then directed the Committee to consider the part of the complaint that related to a possible breach of the Accuracy standard

The Complaints Committee viewed a copy of the content, the complaint, the preliminary and further responses from Radio New Zealand and the relevant Standard from the Code, Standard 1 – Accuracy.

The Committee noted the concerns of Mr Cumming about the accuracy of the use in the headline of the term “climate deniers”. Mr Cumming said “The Plaintiffs are/were not “Climate deniers” (no-one is), the case was nothing to do with climate whether changes are man-made or natural but about NIWA’s methodology …”.

The Committee discussed the term “climate deniers” and its use in the context of the news story before them. The Committee agreed the term was one of common usage and was used to describe those who disagreed with the established view on climate change. It noted that the term was often interchangeable with “climate sceptics”.

In the Committee’s view, the headline of “Climate deniers ordered to pay court costs” was not in breach of Standard 1, “requiring publishers make reasonable efforts to ensure that news and current affairs content is accurate and/or does not mislead in relation to all material points of fact”. In reaching this decision the Committee noted the story clearly referred to the facts of the case, which challenged the science behind work undertaken by National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research and agreed that in this instance the reference to “climate deniers” had not meet the threshold to affect a breach of the Code.

While the Committee ruled to not uphold the complaint, it noted for future reference that it was important that headlines conformed to the Code of Standards along with the text in news and current affairs content. In the Committee’s view, the need for care with headlines is particularly relevant in an online environment, where those browsing news and current affairs content may only view the headline in the first instance.

Complaints Committee Decision:    Not Upheld

Date of Decision:    4 December 2013