TVNZ v Throng

May 17th, 2011 at 11:40 am by David Farrar

has black-listed from receiving media releases from them, because of a dispute over whether a press releases from misled people by using “reach” instead of “average viewers”. I’ll come to the details of the issue shortly, but first want to focus on the big picture.

TVNZ is a state owned broadcaster, and has a news division which itself often reports news that others feel is unwelcome or unfair. It is vastly overkill to refuse to have an outlet on their media release list, just because you didn’t like one of their stories.

I would hope that TVNZ reporters and journalists will ask their colleagues in marketing and pr, whether they think it helps TVNZ’s brand to act in such a way, relaying on bullying and threats instead of reason.

First of all Throng, for those who don’t know it, is a website dedicated to New Zealand Television. It’s the work of a husband and wife team, who make their living from the Internet. They provide summaries, and feedback on all the major TV shows, plus general commentary on television issues. It’s the sort of site that a broadcaster should want to have a great relationship with. Sure it takes two to tango, but I know Regan and Rachel and I doubt you could find two more decent and honest people. Also as it happens Rachel got an A+ for Statistics at Auckland Uni, has lectured in Statistics and ironically helped write the materials for Stats 150 – “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics”.

On the 2nd of May they blogged about a press release from TVNZ which was putting the boot into 60 minutes ratings on TV3. Throng pointed out the stats were wrong. TVNZ agreed they made a mistake and said so. So this is not the post which caused the dispute, but I suspect is part of the reason why TVNZ is being hyper-sensitive.

A few days later Throng blogged:

Just a few days after TVNZ’s press release full of ratings blunders about TV3’s show 60 Minutes where they quote figures way lower than in reality, they’ve sent out another ratings press release which a number of people ended up being misled by.  

Using a statistical term such as “average” in that press release was ambiguous.  Many would take it to mean the most-quoted statistic of average audience, rather than what TVNZ had used and intended for people to understand: average reach. 

The two measures are very different and can lead one to very different conclusions about the popularity of a show.   

As a result, TVNZ has requested their publicity department ensure that in future all viewership figures are attributed to Nielsens and identified by their appropriate categories.

They went on to explain:

Cumulative Audience, also known as reach: 

Relates to the total number of different people within the selected demographic who tuned into the selected time period for 8 minutes or more (i.e. reached at least once by a specific schedule or advertisement). It is usually represented in thousands, but can be transferred into a percentage of the potential audience.

Average audience: 

The average number of people who tuned into the given time selected.

Now at the heart of the dispute is TVNZ is offended that Throng said their use of the “reach” was misleading. They say it is not misleading and a valid figure.

The comparison might be between a website which talks of the number of “hits” as oppossed to “page views” or even “visits”. They are all valid terms, but if you don’t label them precisely. What TVNZ said was:

In total, more than 2 million New Zealanders (all 5+) have tuned in to Go Girls this series, and on average 708,200 tune in each week (all 5+).

Now I think it is a fair criticism that people reading that could think it refers to average audience rather than average reach. It might not be deliberately misleading, but why have a lack of clarity? I think TVNZ itself has acknowledged this point by putting in place a policy where future releases will use precise descriptions such as reach or average audience.

Now it is because of that dispute, that TVNZ have decided to blacklist Throng and refuses to have them on the media release list. This is taking thin-skinned to new heights. And I think TVNZ are doing it because Throng are small and they think they can bully them. The NZ Herald often reports items very critical of TVNZ, but you don’t see TVNZ refusing to send press releases to the Herald do you?

Throng have talked to other media about the issue they face. They have been told they must remove the offending post or they will not be given co-operation again, or put on the media release list. They have approached other media about this, which resulted in a further e-mail from TVNZ which said:

I’ve had a call from the Dominion Post Regan, who have told me that you emailed them regarding our ratings figures.  You are certainly going the wrong way about getting any further cooperation from us.  I suggest you pull back from this exceptionally foolish position.

So now it is threats.

I’m amazed TVNZ is being so petty, rather than just doing the “we agree to disagree”. What really galls me is that they would not act so high handed with a more powerful organisation.

I could understand their position if Throng refused them to have their say on the site. to the contrary they run unedited all their press releases. Surely the solution is TVNZ issue a formal “right of reply” to Throng, which Throng would publish.

But really this is beating up a mountain from a molehill. The “sin” was saying that using reach instead of audience average was misleading. For this, they have instituted a boycott.

I hope that those in the news and editorial sections of TVNZ will defend freedom of the press, and ask their corporate colleagues to reconsider the damage they do to TVNZ’s brand by instituting a boycott against a site because of one critical blog post.

Throng are not asking to be given special access to anything – they just want to be put back on the press release list. The ball is in TVNZ’s court.

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36 Responses to “TVNZ v Throng”

  1. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    1. Does scoop get these media releases?

    2. Are you on TVNZ’s media release list? Set up an autoforward :-)

    3. Actually, I think I’m on TVNZ’s media release list.

    4. TVNZ is covered by the OIA. This is official information. They should complain to the Ombudsman.

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  2. Chris2 (766 comments) says:

    Graeme is right. Throng should put in an OIA to TVNZ asking for copies of all internal e-mails and meeting minutes that led to Throng being “blacklisted” by TVNZ.

    It’s likely such a request will see a senior TVNZ staffer contact Throng and say there has been a terrible mis-understanding and Throng are back on the Distribution List!

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  3. Pete George (23,567 comments) says:

    I thought press releases from a media company were promotional, not for hissy fit threats.

    What’s the worst that can happen if Throng doesn’t receive and puiblish TVNZ press releases? They wouldn’t appear even handed? Or do their site users like to see them there?

    I’d suggest Throng post a reference to each TVNZ press release in the usual place with the comment: “Contents not released by TVNZ”.

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  4. Auberon (873 comments) says:

    I know I’m too old to be using this phrase, but I’ll do it anyway. TVNZ – EPIC FAIL!

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  5. peterwn (3,273 comments) says:

    This puts TVNZ fairly and squarely in the category of Winston Peters and Rob Muldoon.
    Incidentally it was the newsroom of NZBC (of which TVNZ was part) which recorded a phone call from Rob Muldoon threatening budget cuts if they did not ‘pull’ a certain news item.

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  6. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    Incidentally it was the newsroom of NZBC (of which TVNZ was part) which recorded a phone call from Rob Muldoon threatening budget cuts if they did not ‘pull’ a certain news item.

    Maybe he should have done what Savage used to do, with final approval of the Radio NZ news bulletin provided by the PM’s office?

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  7. TripeWryter (716 comments) says:

    Peterwn: Was that the ‘Bick affair’? About 1966, before Harry Lake died, and Muldoon was an undersecretary of finance. If I remember correctly, Gordon Bick was a programme controller in the NZBC.

    Holyoake was very angry.

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  8. George Patton (349 comments) says:

    Perhaps the Minister would like to tell the CEO of TVNZ to be a little more open with bloggers.

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  9. flipper (4,067 comments) says:

    GEg …
    Interesting assertion.
    But is the detail correct ?
    Please substantiate.

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  10. flipper (4,067 comments) says:

    I plead to being dumb.
    But am I wrong on these points:

    1. TVNZ is owned by NZ taxpayers.

    2. TVNZ has told a NZ TAX payer to get “stuffed”

    Ergo, TVNZ executives need to take independent, personal, legal advice.

    Malfeasance threatens !

    They also need to take a sedative.

    But easy solution: Grow up, back track, and get on with life.

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  11. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    Oh hai TVNZ! Yes you have been busted on Kiwiblog and we’re all watching now. Look we all know where this is going to end and hey, why not just eat the dead rat and make that call to Throng and say sorry, all a big misunderstanding.

    Then we’ll all forget about it nice and quick.

    OR!

    You could push you luck and watch every other media outfit play pile on. Hi TV3, we can see you there.

    Come on TVNZ, play ball before the ball plays you.

    Gotta love the blogs.

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  12. Mr Nobody NZ (391 comments) says:

    TVNZ’s action’s demonstrate why NZ Taxpayers should not wasting their money on this organisation. The sooner they are either sold or closed down the better.

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  13. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    GEg …
    Interesting assertion.
    But is the detail correct ?
    Please substantiate.

    I wish I could remember where I saw it. Something like Prime’s 50 Years of New Zealand Television series, or some old documentary that’s been shown on NZonScreen?

    It was Savage answering a question – possibly in the House – where his reply was basically “of course we write the script, what’s wrong with that?”

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  14. Rick Rowling (813 comments) says:

    “No, Mr Scott, no.

    Heh heh heh.”

    /Even though Graeme Edgeler kind-of beat me to it

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  15. Pete George (23,567 comments) says:

    Cullen: Restored Michael Joseph Savage footage
    Speech: New Zealand Government

    In fact, as Prime Minister, Savage took responsibility for personally editing radio news bulletins before they went to air!

    So it’s a Labour legend.

    He had developed an effective broadcasting technique and once in office he determined to use the radio to the utmost in order to counter the lack of sympathy, often amounting to hostility, displayed towards his Government by the bulk of the daily press. For the same reason, in 1936, he instituted broadcasting of the proceedings of Parliament and so added a new dimension to New Zealand politics.

    http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/savage-right-hon-michael-joseph/1

    A different era – or so we are led to believe.

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  16. La Grand Fromage (145 comments) says:

    Listen to you pussy’s. This is how business works. If you have an advantage then use it. If there is a smaller player that you can bully to your advantage then do it.
    If your business is reliant on the goodwill of a larger player then dont piss them off.

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  17. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    And if you’re a big business who uses OUR money to do it then bloody well stand from under when WE get pissed off cheesy.

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  18. wreck1080 (3,917 comments) says:

    Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

    Stiff bikkies.

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  19. KiwiGreg (3,255 comments) says:

    Only when all media outlets are state owned will this sort of confusion end. VOTE MANA!!

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  20. Peter P (3 comments) says:

    David

    Your summary of the situation is pretty good. I few points though.

    TVNZ accepts that the offending story was withdrawn as requested. But it was replaced with something that was little better. The large bold headline from the original story, clearly implying wrongdoing on the part of TVNZ, remained.  And the replacement story continued the line that the Go Girls press release was misleading.  It was not.

    The stats were not ‘bad’, and the use of the word ‘average’ was not ambiguous.  The press release was legitimate and properly worded, with no intention to deceive or mislead anyone. Nielsens even told Throng there was nothing wrong with it.

    Throng chose to base their criticism on the proposition that there was something wrong and dodgy about using Reach as a measure.  That may be their genuine belief, but it is ill-founded and without justification.

    Their story was presented as fact, not opinion, which means like with all news items they had a responsibility to get the facts right. Throng rightly expect high standards of accuracy and integrity from us. In turn it’s not much to expect that from them.

    I spoke with Throng about this yesterday and told them that we love Throng. It’s great that someone is writing about the broadcasting industry. And, I said, from time to time we will have differences of opinion and that’s fine. But I did say that we were reasonable to be demanding fairness, balance and accuracy from their news stories. I said our team had become frustrated that they didn’t seem to get that and had come to the conclusion that it was deliberate.

    As a way of resolving matters I suggested they pop in for a coffee and we sort it out. But clearly the publicity for their site is more important to them than genuinely resolving matters.

    Peter Parussini
    TVNZ

    [DPF: If the offer for coffee is still open, I hope it is taken up. This should not be an unsolvable dispute]

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  21. Mick Mac (1,091 comments) says:

    So TVNZ is a bully, what’s new?
    This seems to be the Kiwi way, if you can bully do.
    It works in schools and also by the government.
    In fact the modus operendi seems to be to enable bullies or don’t deal to the problem.
    Good on you David, pity about the ginga jokes though. :-)

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  22. peterwn (3,273 comments) says:

    Trypewriter – I do not think it was part of the ‘Bick’ affair. There were run-in’s between the Government and NZBC the whole time. Rob Muldoon was in the habit of phoning up the NZBC newsroom telling them to stop particular stories. Newsroom people got sick of it so set up a ‘sting’ by having a tape recorder at the ready. Scott as Broadcasting Minister and Postmaster Gener al blew his lid and said he would legislate against phone calls but nothing happened. In Australia and some other countries it was mandatory to send a beep bown the line each 15 seconds if recording a call. Scott also tried to block Radio Hauraki wearing his Minister of Marine hat by vetoing a safety survey for Tiri, but was knocked back by a (old) Supreme Court judge.

    Those were the days!

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  23. Jman (84 comments) says:

    Absolutely pathetic behaviour by TVNZ! I don’t think this is going to end well for them.

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  24. lastmanstanding (1,297 comments) says:

    Time these jumped up little employees of mine and your at TVNZ learnt to respect their masters. Heel NOW!!!!!!

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  25. lyndon (325 comments) says:

    Even accepting the offence in the terms Peter describes it – I don’t – you have a dispute of interpretation. Feel the resentment and move on, like every other person who is vaguely wronged by the media every day.

    Two attacks – one of which was entirely justified – does not indicate a malicious personal campaign.

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  26. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    lyndon: Based on the TVNZ description, sounds to me like we have a website that spends it’s time (amongst other things) in critiquing media organisations for their ability to clearly separate opinion from fact, and presumably beating them when they get it wrong. Which is something that we need – given the regular bleeding from one into the other in NZ media.

    I can see someone getting their knickers in a knot if that website then blurs that line itself. Which is what TVNZ perceive has happened.

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  27. Viking2 (11,471 comments) says:

    And, I said, from time to time we will have differences of opinion and that’s fine. But I did say that we were reasonable to be demanding fairness, balance and accuracy from their news stories. I said (our team), THE PUBLIC had become frustrated that they (TVNZ), didn’t seem to get that and had come to the conclusion that it was deliberate.

    So black piss pot calling the Kettle black.

    The day we see objective unbiased reporting from the TVNZ newsroom hell will freeze over.
    Perhaps those that are unable to report accurately the events of the day should go get a new job with the big banks. Then its called PR.

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  28. andretti (130 comments) says:

    Cant wait until we all get ultra fast broadband,then all tv will be stuffed,first to go will be TVNZ.

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  29. dion (95 comments) says:

    Peter – good of you to front up, however I think that what people find the most galling about this is that TVNZ’s own headlines quite often “imply wrongdoing” where none exists.

    The implied accusations that the National Party took bribes from BMW are one recent example – where the headline says one thing, and then the facts get revealed further on into the story.

    Why is it that TVNZ are so quick to dish out all kinds of insinuations of their own on the evening news, and yet feign moral outrage when the shoe is on the other foot? It’s not like a blog is claiming to be an objective news source or anything like that, is it?

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  30. Pete George (23,567 comments) says:

    Peter Parussini: But I did say that we were reasonable to be demanding fairness, balance and accuracy from their news stories. I said our team had become frustrated that they didn’t seem to get that and had come to the conclusion that it was deliberate.

    As a way of resolving matters I suggested they pop in for a coffee and we sort it out. But clearly the publicity for their site is more important to them than genuinely resolving matters.

    Can we demand fairness, balance and accuracy from TVNZ news stories?

    Or is publicity for the network more important than genuine journalism?

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  31. Rachel Cunliffe (2 comments) says:

    In response to Peter Parussini’s comment:

    “Throng chose to base their criticism on the proposition that there was something wrong and dodgy about using Reach as a measure.  That may be their genuine belief, but it is ill-founded and without justification.”

    This is completely incorrect.

    My criticism was that the measure being used (reach) was not clearly defined and as such, people were misled about what the figure being quoted actually meant. As I had said in emails to TVNZ that you would have been privy to:

    “Just been looking through old press releases and the usual figure quoted is average audience and whenever the reach figure is used in some way, it is clearly explained as such so that people understand the difference in figures. Statistics can be very misleading without clarification and I think in this instance, it is leading people to make an incorrect conclusion about the viewership.”

    In a later email, I clearly explain I have no issue with using reach as a measure:

    “I have no issue with the use of reach as a measure of performance. It makes perfect sense for a special event such as the Royal wedding, sporting matches and finales of reality shows. It also makes sense to use it as an overall season figure (hence I did not question the overall reach for the season). I don’t recall seeing reach being averaged across episodes in a press release before.

    Using a statistical measure without clearly defining it can easily lead people to be misled, as happened in this instance, and others were questioning the figures before I did. In the absence of a clear definition, people tend to use the figure they see being used most commonly. The figure most commonly mentioned in press releases, and those published, not just on Throng but in magazines, newspapers, elsewhere online etc is the ratings, or average ratings.

    I find it contradictory that you do not find the use of the figures to be at all misleading, but as a result of my post you are changing your policy to further clarify any statistics used in your press releases.”

    Having lectured statistics at The University of Auckland for almost ten years, leading and co-writing a course which teaches students how to critique statistical reporting, the press release is an example to me of one of common problems in the communication of statistics: clearly defining measures being used.

    “And the replacement story continued the line that the Go Girls press release was misleading.  It was not.”

    As a result of the press release, people were misled and this can be seen in the comments on the original press release. Misleading means “tending to confuse” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/misleading)

    TVNZ contradicts themselves because in this email to me they write:

    “”People” have not been misled by the press release – a handful may have been confused by the different but equally legitimate methods of measurement.”

    “Misleading statistics” is a common term for when people are confused and/or end up arriving at a wrong conclusion. Using the word “misleading” is not a judgment on the motives of those providing the statistics. Misleading someone can be inadvertent and may very well be the case in this instance.

    “Nielsens even told Throng there was nothing wrong with it.”

    Nielsens told us that the reach figure quoted was the correct number but said they do not comment on the use of ratings figures. My blog post does not take issue with the number but the lack of clarity about the measure being quoted. Perhaps the wording around that figure is very clear to those in the industry but not necessarily to the public.

    My blog post was intended to be an educational one which explains how people were confused, what the two figures were and their differences in definition. As a result of my blog post, TVNZ told me they would: “ask Publicity to ensure that in future all viewership figures are attributed to Nielsens and identified by their appropriate categories, as we do at the foot of News and Current Affairs releases.”

    I’m pleased that happened as a result of my post since understanding statistical information is often not something that is easy and I’m hopeful that this means less of these types of misunderstandings occur as a result of the change in policy.

    As we said to TVNZ “The updated post educates people about the different measures in the hopes of clearing up the confusion people experienced when reading the press release. Good statistics is all about the clear communication of data, including clearly defining measures used, even if the numbers themselves are accurate.”

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  32. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    Good and detailed answer Rachel.

    Seems to me that both your answer and TVNZ’s seemed reasonable. There is a clear divergence of understanding between what’s gone on. Perhaps that coffee is in order?

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  33. Peter P (3 comments) says:

    My shout…and DPF is very welcome to come along too.

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  34. Thomas the Unbeliever (141 comments) says:

    I’m with Dion @7:35pm
    … “however I think that what people find the most galling about this is that TVNZ’s own headlines quite often “imply wrongdoing” where none exists.”

    TVNZ seem to specialise in this sort of faux outrage – which is as insubstantial as the stories headlining at 6pm.

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  35. Rachel Cunliffe (2 comments) says:

    I am happy to meet and discuss my blog post and TVNZ’s handling of the situation as long as we can record and blog about the meeting afterwards and I can bring a colleague from the University of Auckland if I wish.

    It is important to me that everything is kept transparent in this matter now as I have felt bullied, have been threatened and my honesty, integrity, motives and professionalism have each been questioned.

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  36. Peter P (3 comments) says:

    Ditto Rachel

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