3 News – comment by sports presenter about player "milking" injury – incident during rugby match
(1) Standard G14 – interpretation acceptable – no uphold
(2) Standard G4 – not unfair in context – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
During a sports item on 3 News about a head-high tackle which had occurred during a rugby match, the sports presenter commented that the tackled player’s team-mates were "quick to ensure he milked it for all it was worth". The item was broadcast on TV3 between 6.00pm and 7.00pm on 12 March 2000.
Mathew Zacharias complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item had breached numerous broadcasting standards. In his opinion, the presenter had wrongly interpreted the actions of the tackled player’s team-mates, who he believed were probably trying to ensure that he was not moved until he had been checked by medics.
In its response, TV3 said that the remark was a statement of the presenter’s opinion, and although the wording had not been ideal, it had not been unjust or unfair to those involved. It did not accept that the comment in any way glamorised the actions of the player who was penalised. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TV3’s decision, Mr Zacharias 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.
During a sports item on 3 News about a head high tackle which had occurred during a rugby match, the sports presenter commented that the tackled player’s team-mates were "quick to ensure he milked it for all it was worth". The item was broadcast on TV3 between 6.00pm and 7.00pm on 12 March 2000.
Mathew Zacharias complained to TV3 that the item had breached numerous broadcasting standards. In his opinion, the presenter had wrongly interpreted the actions of team-mates. He commented that:
Anyone who knows about possible neck injury must know that any person with a suspected neck injury (as it could easily happen in a head-high tackle) must not be moved until he has been checked up by the "medical team". This is a safety issue.
Mr Zacharias believed team-mates of the tackled player were probably trying to "do the correct thing" by ensuring that he was not moved until he had been medically checked.
Mr Zacharias believed that standards G1, G4, G6, G7, G9, G11(i), G12, G14, G15, G19, G21 and V15 had been breached. The first seven of those standards require broadcasters:
G1 To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.
G4 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any programme.
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.
G9 To take care in depicting items which explain the technique of crime in a manner which invites imitation.
G11 To refrain from broadcasting any programme which, when considered as a whole:
(i) Simulates news or events in such a way as to mislead or alarm viewers.
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.
The remaining standards provide:
G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.
G15 The standards of integrity and reliability of information sources in news, current affairs and documentaries should be monitored regularly.
G19 Care must be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure that the extracts used are a true reflection and not a distortion of the original event or the overall views expressed.
G21 Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest possible opportunity.
V15 Sports announcers and commentators must avoid making comments which appear to approve of or glamorise any violent behaviour on or off the field which is not in accordance with the rules of the particular sport.
TV3 assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by the complainant. By way of background, it explained that the item had been compiled the day after the game, and that the presenter knew the player in question had not been hurt. Moreover, it added that the presenter had:
considerable experience as a sports commentator and it was clear to him, from the way in which the player moved after he was tackled, that he was not injured.
TV3 then dealt individually with the breaches alleged by Mr Zacharias. In relation to standards G1 and G14, TV3 said that the comment was clearly a statement of the presenter’s view and not a matter of fact. Although it found no breach of the standards, TV3 noted that it had suggested to the presenter that he preface future views with "it appeared to me that…".
Turning to consider standard G4, TV3 did not accept that the presenter’s comments were unjust or unfair to the players involved. It explained that it understood that it was not uncommon for penalties to be "milked" and this was something "often remarked upon by match commentators." Accordingly, TV3 found no breach of standard G4.
Next, TV3 said it considered that standards G6, G7, G9, G11, G12 and G15 were not relevant to the item under consideration and declined to uphold aspects of the complaint relating to those standards.
As the item was not edited, TV3 did not find any breach of standard G19. As to standard G21, TV3 found that no correction was warranted.
Finally, TV3 did not accept that the comment made by the presenter in any way glamorised the actions of the player who had been penalised. It noted that the penalty was reported then and in subsequent items. It found no breach of standard V15.
In his referral to the Authority, Mr Zacharias said that the theme of his complaint was "the safety issue in potential neck injuries". He said he believed that the presenter had ridiculed the players "who were trying to do their best to prevent a serious problem." In his view the impression would have been given "to people, particularly young people, that there is no need to worry about a potential neck injury".
Mr Zacharias suggested that the Authority seek the advice of an injury prevention expert during its review process.
In its response to the referral, TV3 advised that it had no further comment.
The Authority records that it subsumes the standard G1 complaint under standard G14 on this occasion, as the issue to be considered is the same under both standards.
The Authority’s task under standard G14 is to determine whether there was any inaccuracy, partiality or lack of objectivity evidenced by the presenter’s comment. In its view, the remark was best categorised as an expression of the presenter’s opinion, and an opinion is not a matter about which the Authority can make a finding of inaccuracy. The Authority considers that the opinion expressed was one which the presenter was entitled to hold, and its articulation did not result in the broadcast being partial or lacking in objectivity. Accordingly, the Authority finds no breach of standard G14.
Whether the expression of the reporter’s opinion was fair to the players referred to is the question the Authority turns to under standard G4. The Authority considers that the remark did not ridicule the players concerned and was not unfair to them. It observes that the suggestion by a commentator that a player has "milked" a situation is not uncommon, and in the circumstances disclosed on this occasion it does not justify a finding that standard G4 was breached.
As to the remaining standards cited by the complainant, where relevant, the issues raised have been considered under standards G14 and G4 above.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
20 July 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Mathew Zacharias’ Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 22 March 2000
2. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 20 April 2000
3. Mr Zacharias’ - Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 30 April 2000
4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 26 May 2000