60 Minutes – item on Ritalin – offensive – irresponsible – failed to respect principles of law – likely to place children at risk
(1) Standard G5 – no disrespect for law evidenced – no uphold
(2) Standard G2 – public interest – current affairs – audience expectations unlikely to have been exceeded – no uphold
(3) Standard G12 – not relevant – no uphold
(4) Standard G16 – public interest – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
An item on the black market for the prescription drug Ritalin was broadcast on 60 Minutes on TV One on 11 June 2000 beginning at 7.30pm.
On behalf of ADHD.org.nz, Simon Stott complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item breached broadcasting standards relating to good taste and decency and the maintenance of law and order by "irresponsibly" reporting the street value of the drug. He also complained that the broadcast would be likely to lead to the targeting of children suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder by dealers.
Helen Oliver also complained to TVNZ that it was irresponsible for the programme to report the street price of Ritalin, and that the programme could lead to the targeting of ADHD sufferers.
TVNZ responded to both complainants that the item concerned a significant social issue, was balanced, and suggested a solution to the problem. It also maintained that the information about the drug’s street value was relevant, and that the item had highlighted a problem already in existence. It declined to uphold the complaints.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Stott and Ms Oliver referred their complaints 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 complaints.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about, and have read a transcript and the correspondence which is listed in the Appendices. The Authority determines these complaints without a formal hearing.
An item on the black market for Ritalin, a prescription drug which is prescribed to treat children with ADHD, was broadcast on 60 Minutes on TV One on 11 June 2000 beginning at 7.30pm. The item described the extent of the black market problem, questioned whether Ritalin was over-prescribed, and featured a story about a boy who had been expelled from school for giving away his medication. It also suggested that the problem might be alleviated by the introduction of a slow-release form of the drug, which could be administered daily under parental supervision.
On behalf of ADHD.org.nz, Simon Stott complained to TVNZ that the item breached broadcasting standards relating to good taste and decency and the maintenance of law and order by "irresponsibly" reporting the street value of the drug. Mr Stott also complained that the broadcast breached standards relating to the protection of children as he believed its likely result would be the targeting of ADHD children by drug dealers.
Helen Oliver also complained that the item had irresponsibly reported the street value of the drug and that ADHD children were at risk of being targeted as a result of the broadcast. She maintained that standards G5, G9, G11(i), G15 and G16 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice had been breached. Those standards require broadcasters:
G5 To respect the principles of law which sustain our society.
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.
The other standards read:
G15 The standards of integrity and reliability of information sources in news, current affairs and documentaries should be monitored regularly.
G16 News, current affairs and documentaries should not be presented in such a way as to cause unnecessary panic, alarm or distress.
TVNZ assessed Mr Stott’s complaint under standards G2, G5 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, and Ms Oliver’s complaint under the standards she had nominated. Standards G2 and G12 require broadcasters:
G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.
TVNZ began its response to both complaints by commenting that the item appeared to raise a significant social issue. It maintained that:
the drug problem in New Zealand is an issue of considerable public interest and concern, and that the public was entitled to know that a drug which users liken to speed, opium and ecstasy is circulating in significant quantities on the black market, even though its only source in New Zealand is through prescriptions.
TVNZ also contended that the item was balanced, and suggested a possible solution to the problem in the form of a slow-release version of the drug.
Addressing the particular concerns of the complainants arising out of mention of the street price of the drug and the potential targeting of children, TVNZ made the following points. First, it said that the information about street prices was relevant to the item, as it indicated why people were apparently succumbing to the temptation to sell the drug. It said it believed that without this information, the issue of how the drug got to the streets would have been left unanswered.
To the suggestion that reporting the street price would encourage others to sell the drug, TVNZ said that it considered the item had shown a situation which already existed, and the omission of this information would have been "a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted". Furthermore, TVNZ said that before the price of the drug was disclosed, the item had made it clear that money was a factor in its accessibility on the streets. In TVNZ’s view:
Had the price not been given the viewer would implicitly be invited to guess what it might be and arguably the imagination may place a price in the illegal drug market even higher than that given.
As to the potential targeting issue, TVNZ said that it believed the item had demonstrated that dealers already knew where to get the drug and that the information provided by the item would not have been new to those pursuing the illicit trade. In addition, TVNZ commented that the street trade in the drug was a social problem which should be brought to the attention of the general public.
In its response to Mr Stott, TVNZ concluded that standard G2 had not been breached. It commented:
That drug dealers cruelly target sick children for profit is certainly an offence to taste and decency, but reporting that this occurs as a matter about which the public should be concerned is not.
Turning to standard G5, TVNZ said that the item had revealed a significant problem, and offered a constructive option which might assist law enforcement. It declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
TVNZ also declined to uphold the complaint under standard G12. It contended that there was a benefit to those adversely affected in drawing the public’s attention to a problem which presumably resulted in some children being deprived of medication. In its view:
An informed society is one that can act to overcome such abuses.
In its response to Ms Oliver, TVNZ said it found no breach of standard G5, for the same reasons it gave in its response to Mr Stott. As to the remaining standards cited, TVNZ considered that:
standard G9 was not breached as there was no technique of crime explained in the item
standard G11(i) was not breached as there was no news event "simulated" in the programme
standard G15 had not been breached, as it could not identify any sources used in the item whose word should be doubted
standard G16 had not been breached, as any alarm or distress caused by the item was not unnecessary in the context of reporting about "a societal problem of this nature".
In his referral of the complaint to the Authority, Mr Stott maintained that the programme placed children with ADHD at unnecessary risk. He did not agree that drawing attention to a social problem justified the broadcast. His organisation, he said, did not understand TVNZ’s suggestion that "keeping the matter quiet" benefited nobody. In his view, keeping the matter quiet would have ensured that the problem did not escalate.
As his final point, Mr Stott maintained:
By bringing the problem to the attention of previously unaware (profiteering) persons, the Ritalin drug trade is now likely to expand nationwide, and as a result children with ADHD will suffer. We believe that few of the arguments made [by TVNZ] justify the endangerment of the ADHD community. The welfare and safety of the child must be absolutely paramount at all times.
In Ms Oliver’s referral to the Authority, she said she was referring the complaint because TVNZ:
did not acknowledge that stating the street price of Ritalin put us, our son, our home and others like us at risk of being targeted by the drug world, let alone accept responsibility for the way items like this make us feel.
Ms Oliver did not agree with TVNZ’s justification for broadcasting the street value of Ritalin. She added:
The majority of families like us put their children on Ritalin only on specialist medical advice and for very good reasons, and not because they want their children to become drug dealers. The prescribing procedures for Ritalin are more controlled than the programme made clear.
In its response to the referral of Mr Stott’s complaint, TVNZ advised that it had been informed by police that following the broadcast there had not been any detectable increase in incidents of targeting children for Ritalin. It reiterated that children were being targeted before the item was broadcast. Furthermore, TVNZ noted that it had been informed by the boy featured in the item that he had not had further problems with people trying to obtain his medication.
In his final comment, Mr Stott remarked that TVNZ’s inquiries of authorities about whether there had been any change in the rate of incidents involving targeting of ADHD children were "beyond the point". He reiterated his organisation’s concern that TVNZ potentially placed ADHD children in harm’s way, and that the welfare of the child should be of the utmost concern at all times.
Between them, the complainants contended that standards G2, G5, G9, G11(i), G12, G15 and G16 had been breached by the broadcast of the item.
In the Authority’s view, standards G9, G11(i) and G15 are not relevant to its determination of the complaints. No technique of crime was described in the broadcast, no "simulation" of news was depicted, and no evidence was produced which impugned the reliability or integrity of any news source for the item.
Turning to consider the remaining standards, the Authority deals first with Mr Stott’s contention that the broadcast breached standard G5 because his organisation considered an increased incidence of black market sales would be the likely result of the broadcast. In the Authority’s view, the item was a matter-of-fact account of a social problem which already existed. Although the Authority acknowledges the belief of Mr Stott’s organisation that it was unwise to highlight the price difference between the prescription and street price of the drug, it does not consider that this information in itself disclosed any disrespect for the law. Accordingly it declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
As to Mr Stott’s claim that the item breached standard G2, the Authority considers the following contextual matters are relevant to its decision as to whether the item breached the good taste and decency standard. First, it agrees with TVNZ that the broadcast concerned a matter of social importance, and that there was legitimate public interest in highlighting the issue. Secondly, the programme was a current affairs programme, broadcast in an established current affairs timeslot, and the Authority considers that viewers of current affairs programmes expect that broadcast material may deal with problematic or challenging current social issues. In this context there was no material included which challenged the good taste and decency standard. The Authority concludes that standard G2 was not transgressed by the broadcast.
The final standard that Mr Stott contended was breached was standard G12 which requires broadcasters to be mindful of the effects of programmes on children. The focus of this standard is directed to the effects of a programme on child viewers. The Authority does not consider the standard applies in relation to a claim that the item put child sufferers of ADHD at risk of being targeted by drug dealers.
Ms Oliver contended that standard G16 was breached because the broadcast had caused "unnecessary panic, alarm or distress". While the Authority sympathises with the position of Ms Oliver as a parent of an ADHD sufferer, and accepts that the item caused her distress, it again considers that the public interest on balance outweighs this concern. It declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
As a final point, the Authority acknowledges that there is a risk involved in screening reports such as in this case, revealing a black market for a prescription drug which may fuel an ongoing problem, and potentially place some individuals at risk. This is a matter for a responsible broadcaster to evaluate. In this case, the Authority considers that the dissemination of information to the wider community justified the decision and equally could be seen as being in the interests of children who are potentially at risk.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
P J Cartwright
28 September 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Simon Stott’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 19 June 2000
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 28 June 2000
3. Mr Stott’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 29 June 2000
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 13 July 2000
5. Mr Stott’s Final Comment – 24 July 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Helen Oliver’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 19 June 2000
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 29 June 2000
3. Ms Oliver’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 20 July 2000
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 1 August 2000