It was "extraordinary" that TV3 screened its Corngate interview with Prime Minister Helen Clark knowing it presented disputed facts, a High Court judge said yesterday.

"I can't see how it could possibly be justified," Justice Ronald Young told TV3 lawyer Clare Bradley in the High Court at Wellington.

The court is hearing TV3's appeal against a Broadcasting Standards Authority ruling that the July 2002 news special, run a fortnight before the election, breached balance, accuracy and fairness standards.

The programme, fronted by newsreader John Campbell, quoted a book by activist Nicky Hager, Seeds of Distrust, that said the Government had covered up the planting of thousands of genetically engineered sweetcorn plants.

Helen Clark was interviewed for the programme, but was not told that the source of the allegations was Mr Hager's book. She and her chief press secretary, Mike Munro, complained to the authority, as did some members of the public.

After the programme, a furious Helen Clark called Campbell "a little creep".

Government scientists said at the time that initial tests showing GM contamination of imported corn seeds were faulty and later tests found no contamination, but Mr Hager said the testing regime had been changed.

The authority ordered TV3 to broadcast an apology and to pay a $14,000 penalty to the Crown and $11,000 towards Helen Clark's legal fees. The appeal is against those orders.

Ms Bradley said TV3 had given balancing and opposing viewpoints to the 7pm news special in its regular news bulletins.

But Justice Young said TV3 knew when it ran the allegations as facts on the 7pm special that the issue was in dispute.

"I can't understand why the 7 o'clock programme was shown, knowing they weren't established facts."

Ms Bradley said the special programme had to be seen in the context of the preceding 6pm news bulletin and bulletins over subsequent days that gave opposing points of view.

She said the authority had not ruled on the science of whether the corn seed was contaminated, so there was no ruling that the programme was inaccurate.

"There has been no demonstration of inaccuracy."

Justice Young said that on any reading of the interview with Helen Clark, the allegations were presented as fact. "Broadcasters cannot be in the business of selecting the facts they like and presenting them as fact," he said. "They should present both sides."

Ms Bradley said the latter was exactly what TV3 did in its news bulletins. She played videos of subsequent news broadcasts, including ones where ministers and officials rejected Mr Hager's allegations.

The hearing is expected to end today.


The case

* TV3 is appealing against a Broadcasting Standards Authority ruling that its July 2002 news special on Corngate breached standards of balance, accuracy and fairness.

* The authority ordered TV3 to broadcast an apology and to pay a $14,000 penalty to the Crown and $11,000 towards Helen Clark's legal fees.