There was a tense debate at the Annual General Meeting of the Hero Trust, according to an item on Queer Nation broadcast on TV2 at 11.00pm on 5 October 1999. The meeting rejected a proposal to wind up the Trust, and a new Board was elected, the report continued. Several people who had been present at the meeting were interviewed.
Kat Jackson of Auckland complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the interview with a woman who had attended the meeting implied that she had the authority and knowledge to speak on behalf of the Trust. Ms Jackson said that the woman had unsuccessfully stood for a position on the Trust and was not empowered to speak on its behalf. She claimed that the broadcast of the interview without mention of this fact resulted in the item being unbalanced and partial.
TVNZ denied that the woman interviewed was represented as an official spokesperson for the Hero Trust. It considered she was a relevant person to interview as she was a vocal critic and outspoken activist for the gay and lesbian communities, it wrote. That she had been unsuccessful in seeking a position on the Trust was not relevant to the report, TVNZ argued. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Jackson referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
A report about the Annual General Meeting of the Hero Trust Board was included on Queer Nation broadcast on TV2 on 5 October 1999 beginning at 11.00pm. It was reported that there was a "tense debate" following a motion that the Trust should be wound up. That motion was not passed and a new Trust Board was elected, the item continued. Some people who were present at the meeting, including new Board members, were interviewed. They expressed optimism for the future of the Board, and identified its new focus as being fiscal responsibility and rebuilding bridges in the community.
Kat Jackson complained to TVNZ that the item was unbalanced because she believed it showed one woman being interviewed in a context which implied that she had the authority and knowledge to speak on behalf of the newly elected Trust. In fact, Ms Jackson recorded, the woman had been unsuccessful in her bid for a position on the Board and had no mandate to speak on its behalf. Furthermore, she complained, the item omitted to include footage showing the woman’s behaviour at the meeting when she accused the former Trust Board of mismanagement. In Ms Jackson’s view, the item deliberately tried to deceive viewers by including only some of the woman’s remarks.
TVNZ advised that it had considered the complaint under standards G6 and G7 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards require broadcasters:
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
G7 To avoid the use of any deceptive programme practice in the presentation of programmes which takes advantage of the confidence viewers have in the integrity of broadcasting.
TVNZ rejected the complainant’s proposition that the woman interviewed had been represented as an official spokesperson for the Hero Trust. It noted that she had been interviewed along with four other people who had been identified by their names and designations. In the case of the woman, only her name had been given. In TVNZ’s view, she was a relevant person to speak about the Trust as she was well known as a vocal critic and outspoken activist for the gay and lesbian communities. Furthermore, it added, she was not represented in the item as offering anything other than her own personal views.
Turning to the complaint that it was deceptive not to have informed viewers that the woman was an unsuccessful candidate for the Board, TVNZ responded that it did not believe this was necessary. Her comments were relevant and of interest, it said, because of her historical links with the Trust.
With respect to the complaint that it was deceptive to omit footage showing the woman accusing the former Trust of mismanagement, TVNZ noted that the item did not purport to be a historical review of the former Trust and had not included any material which was intended to analyse its operation.
As a final point, TVNZ said it had some difficulty in establishing what was so controversial about the woman’s remarks, and how they could be considered deceptive.
As far as standard G6 was concerned, TVNZ said the item was in no danger of being unbalanced, as a range of opinions had been sought and broadcast which provided a fair and balanced view of the meeting.
It advised that it did not consider standard G7 to be relevant.
When she referred the matter to the Authority, Ms Jackson emphasised that her complaint focused on the manner in which the woman had been presented in the item, and her concern that certain facts about her, including that she had been unsuccessful in her bid to be a member of the Board, had been omitted. Ms Jackson also objected to the woman being the first person to be interviewed after the footage of the meeting was shown because, she said, it gave validity to what the woman said. In her view, this gave a wrong impression that the woman was an authorised spokesperson, and this was a "deceptive programme practice."
Next, Ms Jackson took issue with TVNZ’s justification for including the woman’s remarks on the basis that she had historical links with the Hero Trust. She advised TVNZ to check with two previous chairmen of the Trust, who would confirm that there were no such historical links.
Ms Jackson also took issue with TVNZ’s description of the woman as "a vocal critic and outspoken activist for the gay and lesbian communities", and suggested that her appearance in the item had to do with a business relationship she had with the Executive Producer of the programme and the programme’s production company.
Clarifying her point to TVNZ, Ms Jackson said she had not claimed that interviewing the woman was deceptive. What was deceptive was that she was not presented in the item in a balanced and impartial manner, Ms Jackson wrote. Next, she questioned why TVNZ had failed to identify the woman as an unsuccessful Trust Board candidate, when all of the other interviewees had been identified with their designation.
Ms Jackson continued by noting that in omitting to broadcast comments made by the woman at the meeting, which were critical of the outgoing Board, viewers had been deceived into believing that she was supportive of the Hero Trust and the gay and lesbian community. Ms Jackson asserted that that was not what the woman had conveyed when she spoke at the meeting.
As a further point, Ms Jackson questioned whether TVNZ had viewed the source footage of the item, which would have demonstrated the woman’s stance. She also objected to the description of the woman as having a historical link with the Hero Trust. She wrote:
In conclusion the comments of [the woman] at the meeting which are not shown gives no context to the comments included and the item does not clearly identify her as a candidate for the Trust who was unsuccessful.
Ms Jackson asked the Authority to consider the complaint under standards G6, G7, G14 and G19.
In its response to the Authority, TVNZ said that both it and the programme’s production company remained "somewhat bewildered" by the complaint. It maintained that there was no editorial reason why the woman should not have been interviewed at the meeting. It continued:
Who is selected for interview is a matter of editorial judgement based on what the journalist recognises as the key issues at the meeting. It is accepted that the complainant may have identified different issues and different personalities, but that does not invalidate the editorial judgment of the journalist on the spot.
Responding to Ms Jackson’s argument that the woman did not have historical links with the Hero movement, TVNZ advised the Authority that she had led the opposition to the Council’s withdrawal of financial support for the Hero Parade and was also one of the organisers of the Hero Gala in 1997 and 1998. It said that the woman had been active in the politics surrounding the Hero movement for a number of years.
Next, TVNZ rebutted the claim that there was a business relationship between the woman and the production company. It stated categorically that there was no commercial relationship between them at the time of the elections, or in the present. It suggested that the insinuation might have been based on the fact that three weeks after the election, the Executive Producer of the programme had presented a proposal to the Hero Board to organise the parade in February 2000. In that proposal the woman and another person had been suggested as being appropriate people to help organise the event. However, TVNZ emphasised, this occurred weeks after the story to which the complaint referred and had no link with the story at all.
In her final comment, Ms Jackson emphasised that, in her view, the programme had deceived viewers by including the woman’s views without referring to her actual contribution to the meeting. She also reiterated her objection to the programme’s failure to advise viewers that the woman had been an unsuccessful candidate for a position on the Board.
Ms Jackson suggested that the Authority should view field footage of the meeting in order to assess the complaint.
The Authority begins with its response to the request that it obtain field footage of the meeting. It advises that it has formed the view that viewing field tape footage would not assist it in dealing with the issues which it considers are the essence of this complaint, and consequently has decided not to seek further material from the broadcaster.
The complaint concerns the inclusion of an interview with a woman who was present at the Trust meeting and who, it transpires, was an unsuccessful candidate for the Trust Board.
The Authority’s initial observation is that the selection of interviewees involves editorial discretion on the part of the programme-maker. The complainant has contended that the inclusion of the woman as an interview subject breaches broadcasting standards. In support of that contention, Ms Jackson maintained that viewers would have inferred that the woman had the authority to speak on the Trust’s behalf and, in addition, that the interview misrepresented her contribution at the meeting.
In assessing this complaint, the Authority has carefully examined the full item. The report related that at a meeting attended by about 30 people, there was "intense debate" about the future of the Trust Board. After the report about the meeting, the woman was interviewed. She offered her view that the meeting had demonstrated that there was not enough communication between the community and the Board members, and that it was the responsibility of supporters to let the Trust members know of their concerns and to get involved themselves. Other interviewees reported on the Board’s intention to become more fiscally responsible and to get more people involved in its activities.
The Authority is unable to discern any breach of standards in the inclusion of the woman in this item and the way her comments were presented. She was entitled to give her personal view about the future of the Board and, in the Authority’s view, it was irrelevant that she had been an unsuccessful candidate for a position on the Board. Her earlier conduct at the meeting was likewise irrelevant to the item. The Authority is not persuaded that the interview misrepresented the position in any way. Even if she behaved provocatively during the meeting, she was still entitled to offer a more reflective and reasoned view on the Board’s future when she was interviewed subsequently. The Authority concludes that no issue of lack of balance, or use of a deceptive programme practice arises here, and that no broadcasting standards were breached.
As a final point, the complainant has contended that the reason the woman was selected to be interviewed because she had some kind of business relationship with the production company. The Authority is satisfied with the explanation provided by TVNZ in relation to this point and reiterates its view, as articulated above, that her selection was a matter of editorial discretion for the programme-maker.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
16 December 1999
The following correspondence was received and considered when the Authority determined this complaint:
1. Kat Jackson’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 6 October 1999
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 27 October 1999
3. Ms Jackson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 29 October 1999
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 9 November 1999
5. Ms Jackson’s Final Comment – 14 November 1999