The BSA has ruled against Campbell Live in relation to a complaint from the Insurance Council, and unusually has ordered a summary of the decision be broadcast at the end of the 6 pm news.
There were two aspects where the BSA found Campbell Live were in the wrong.
- lack of balance
- inaccurately saying no one would front from the Insurance Council
In terms of the balance issue they found:
At no point did MediaWorks present an adequately balancing viewpoint to counter the overarching message of the programme, which was that the insurance industry was ‘substandard’, ‘lamentable’ and generally failing the people of Canterbury. Nor was anything presented to counter the negative portrayal of the general insurance landscape, the quality of repairs carried out or the scope and context of unsettled claims. The only positive reference to the insurance industry was a brief mention that some smaller insurance companies had implemented improved processes – although this comment was made by an advocate for homeowners, not an insurance industry spokesperson.
I think the more important issue is that they were misleading over the Insurance Council being willing to front. The background:
A stage was set with empty chairs holding pictures of Tim Grafton, the Chief Executive of ICNZ, the Chief Executive of EQC and the Minister responsible for EQC and the Canterbury earthquake recovery. Mr Campbell said that all three individuals had been asked to attend but that ‘they are not fronting’. He stated that Mr Grafton ‘declined at the last minute’ and said that it was ‘unbelievable’ that none of them were able to attend. Mr Campbell then approached audience members at random to hear their stories. All of the stories were negative about private insurers, EQC or both.
This was a meeting called specifically for people to complain about their insurers, so it is no surprise that all the stories were negative. But the issue is they said:
Mr Grafton ‘declined at the last minute’
This was false.
A key aspect of MediaWorks’ position is that reasonable efforts were made to provide balance by inviting ICNZ onto the programme – an invitation that it says was declined. It is apparent from the information provided to us that there was a considerable number of emails and phone calls between ICNZ and the programme producer before the date of broadcast, which essentially resulted in a stalemate. From 20 August 2014 up until the broadcast date on 4 September, a Campbell Live producer repeatedly invited ICNZ’s chief executive Tim Grafton to participate in the live broadcast at Shirley Boys High School, and ICNZ repeatedly indicated that Mr Grafton would happily participate in a live interview with John Campbell, but not in front of a live audience or in the proposed location and format. For example, ICNZ said in its correspondence:
- Tim Grafton ‘won’t be available for an interview in front of a live audience… [but he is] very happy to have a live one-on-one interview with John Campbell but no audience.’ (25 August)
- Mr Grafton was ‘not declining [the] invitation to be interviewed to discuss progress but not in front of an audience’. (30 August)
- Mr Grafton ‘remains available to respond positively to your request for an interview but not in the setting [proposed]’. (31 August)
- Mr Grafton was available to do a live interview – and had arranged travel and accommodation in Christchurch accordingly – ‘but not in the proposed setting’. (1 September)
 Following that correspondence the producer maintained that ‘we need to do all the interviews inside the hall at Shirley Boys High School on Thursday night because that’s where John Campbell will be. Technically, it won’t work to do an interview in another location’. ICNZ asked further questions about the rundown of the event at the school and whether it would cover unresolved claims against EQC or against insurers. The day before the broadcast (3 September), ICNZ indicated that Mr Grafton ‘could also accommodate a pre-recorded interview away from the venue if that worked for [the producer]’.
 It was understandable that ICNZ elected to decline the invitation to appear at the school in front of hundreds of dissatisfied homeowners. It was made very clear that Mr Grafton was willing to participate or comment in another way.
Campbell Live refused to do a pre-record or a one on one interview with Grafton. They wanted it to be a spectacle with a hall of angry homeowners howling the insurance rep down. It certainly would made for good viewing, but not for balanced journalism.