Target – description of house cleaner as tradesperson – denigration of tradespeople – inaccurate – unfair – unbalanced – offensive
(1) Standard G1 – no inaccuracy – no uphold
(2) Standard G2 – no uphold
(3) Standard G4 – no unfairness – no uphold
(4) Standard G13 – no denigration or discrimination – genuinely held opinion – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
An episode of Target broadcast on TV3 at 7.00pm on 14 May 2000 featured footage of employees of four Hamilton house cleaning services who had been secretly filmed as part of a hidden camera trial. One of the male cleaners had been filmed engaging in improper sexual behaviour.
Gary Reading complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was unfair, inaccurate and denigrated tradespeople and tradesmen, as it had misdescribed the house cleaners as tradespeople, and failed to provide a balanced view as to the way tradespeople/tradesmen generally acted in other people’s homes.
TV3 responded that the cleaner had not been referred to in the programme as a tradesperson or as a tradesman. It said that such references, where made, were not about the cleaner, but about "offenders who might indulge in such unacceptable behaviours". TV3 did not agree that the programme was inaccurate, unfair or discriminated against tradespeople or tradesmen. It also disagreed that the programme had breached standards of good taste and decency. It declined to uphold Mr Reading’s complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Reading 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 a transcript of the item and the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
An episode of Target broadcast on TV3 at 7.00pm on 14 May 2000 featured footage of employees of four Hamilton house cleaning services who had been secretly filmed as part of a hidden camera trial. One of the cleaners had been filmed engaging in improper sexual behaviour.
Gary Reading complained to TV3 that the programme was unfair, inaccurate and denigrated tradespeople and tradesmen, as it had misdescribed the house cleaners as tradespeople or tradesmen, and failed to provide a balanced view as to the way tradespeople/tradesmen generally acted in other people’s homes.
Mr Reading, who described himself as a carpenter and tradesperson, submitted that Target had cast "a short but sick shadow over the reputations of tradespeople". In his view, the programme implied that the actions of the male cleaner who had been caught acting improperly were actions which a person could reasonably expect of a tradesman. He suggested that:
the actions of the house cleaner were in fact most un-tradesman like, and the suggestion made by Target [was] highly offensive.
Mr Reading maintained that a house cleaner was not a tradesperson, and that this misdescription was intentionally misleading.
Target’s Executive Producer initially responded to Mr Reading’s complaint, as TV3 had initially treated the complaint as an informal complaint. Dissatisfied with that response, Mr Reading wrote to the Authority, reiterating the concerns he had expressed in his original letter to TV3.
TV3 explained to the Authority that Mr Reading’s initial complaint had been treated informally, but that it would respond formally to him. In that response, TV3 advised that the complaint had been assessed under standards G1, G2, G4, G11 and G13 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice and s.21(1)(e) of the Broadcasting Act, as requested by Mr Reading. The nominated standards require broadcaster:
G1 To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.
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.
G4 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any programme.
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.
G13 To avoid portraying people in a way which represents as inherently inferior, or is likely to encourage discrimination against, any section of the community on account of race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation or the holding of any religious, cultural or political belief. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:
i) factual, or
ii) the expression of genuinely-held opinion in a news or current affairs programme, or
iii) in the legitimate context of a humorous, satirical or dramatic work.
Section 21(1)(e) of the Broadcasting Act provides:
21. Functions of the Authority – (1) The functions of the Authority shall be –
(e) To encourage the development and observance by broadcasters of codes of broadcasting practice appropriate to the type of broadcasting undertaken by such broadcasters in relation to –
(i) The protection of children:
(ii) The portrayal of violence:
(iii) Fair and accurate programmes and procedures for correcting factual errors and redressing unfairness:
(iv) Safeguards against the portrayal of persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, race, age, disability, or occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural, or political beliefs:
(v) Restrictions on the promotion of liquor:
(vi) Presentation of appropriate warnings in respect of programmes, including programmes that have been classified as only for particular audiences:
TV3 began its response by addressing whether standards G1, G4 or G13 had been breached. It contended that:
Both Target and [the spokesperson for Consumer magazine who commented during the programme] were careful not to refer to the cleaner whose actions were the subject of the programme as a tradesman. He was at all times referred to as a cleaner.
TV3 acknowledged that comment made by a police spokesperson and a psychologist had included reference to tradesmen, but submitted that they were making comments in a much wider framework:
They were not simply referring to the actual cleaner the subject of the programme; they were talking about offenders who might indulge in such unacceptable behaviours.
TV3 observed that according to Target’s experience, of the 20 percent of people who had acted inappropriately in houses, 85 percent were from registered trades and all were men. It added that the Target sample included more than 100 "occasions" and so was a "reasonably sized sample from which to extrapolate some generalisations". It concluded:
The short point is that, in the main, it is in fact tradesmen who are the offenders. In this particular programme it was not a tradesman but a cleaner and Target made that clear.
TV3 concluded that the programme had not breached standards G1, G4 or G13.
In assessing the complaint against standard G2, TV3 also disagreed that the programme breached standards of good taste and decency. It submitted that although the programme screened at 7.00pm, children were not the expected audience, and were only likely to watch in the company of an adult. It also explained that a warning had preceded the programme and this warning had been repeated three times before the footage of the cleaner was screened. Furthermore, TV3 advised that the footage had been heavily edited, which included "dense pixellation" of the cleaner’s face and penis, and that the voiceover was simple and factual and did not include emotive language.
As to the decision to screen the material, TV3 commented that this had involved careful thought and consideration. It submitted that there was a high level of public interest in revealing unacceptable behaviour discovered through Target’s hidden camera trials, and that people who engaged tradesmen to work in their homes had a right to know that their privacy might be invaded in such an offensive way. According to TV3, Target had found that publicity associated with "unmasking" offenders had been positive.
Lastly, TV3 contended that standard G11(i) was not apposite to the complaint, and that s.21(1)(e) of the Broadcasting Act was inapplicable to a consideration of whether or not the programme had breached broadcasting standards.
In his referral of the complaint to the Authority, Mr Reading said he was unhappy with TV3’s response, as he believed that the concerns he raised had not been addressed. In his view, Target and TV3 had continued to "presume upon the reputations of the vast majority of decent tradespeople in an opportunistic and contrived fashion".
In its response to the referral, TV3 submitted that:
Target is about more than just unseemly behaviour. Its producers feel (with justification, in our view) that it has clearly established a "public good" basis for its work.
In Mr Reading’s final comment, he disagreed with TV3’s contention that Target was about more than just unseemly behaviour. He considered that Target relied on such material to promote an interest in the programme. He also repeated his earlier complaint that Target had misdescribed tradespeople, commenting that, in his opinion, neither Target nor TV3 understood their error.
The Authority deals first with the complainant’s contention that the broadcast breached standard G1, by referring to cleaners as tradespeople, and by stating or implying that tradespeople engage in improper behaviour.
The Authority observes that there were references made to tradespeople in the programme, and that cleaners were on several occasions during the programme referred to as tradespeople by programme guests and once by one of the Target reporters. However, the Authority does not accept that these references were inaccurate in the context of the issues being discussed. In its opinion, the term "tradesperson" was used in a generic sense, and was not intended to refer only to those with specific industry qualifications.
As to the suggested implication that tradespeople engage in inappropriate behaviour, the Authority is also satisfied that what was broadcast was not inaccurate. It accepts the broadcaster’s contention that some tradespeople do engage in inappropriate behaviour, based on the programme maker’s experience.
Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
Standard G2 requires broadcasters to take into account currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, bearing in mind the context in which programmes are broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include the warnings about the content which preceded the footage about which Mr Reading complained, the fact that the footage was edited and pixellated, the public interest in broadcasting information about what had occurred during the hidden camera trial, and the fact that the behaviour was broadcast in a consumer rights programme. In this context, the Authority does not consider that there was any breach of standard G2.
As to Mr Reading’s complaint that the programme was unfair to tradespeople, the Authority does not agree. As noted above, there was no inaccuracy in what was broadcast, and the Authority does not consider that the broadcast was unjust or unfair to tradespeople as a group. In the Authority’s opinion, what was conveyed by the item was that some people who perform services in other people’s homes engage in inappropriate behaviour. This was accurate in terms of the programme maker’s experience, and there was genuine public interest in reporting the findings of the hidden camera trial. In all the circumstances, the Authority does not consider that standard G4 was breached.
For the programme to breach standard G13, tradespeople or tradesmen as an occupational group must have been portrayed as inherently inferior or in a manner which would be likely to encourage discrimination. The Authority does not consider that tradespeople were denigrated or discriminated against through reporting that some people who perform services in other people’s homes may engage in inappropriate behaviour. Even if that were the case, any representations made about tradespeople and tradesmen in the programme were genuinely held opinions of those who made statements about them. The Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
The Authority accepts TV3’s submission that standard G11(i) is inapplicable on this occasion, as there was no simulation (the footage complained about was of an actuality) and the item was not a news item. It also agrees with TV3 that s.21(1)(e) is not relevant. Section 21 sets out the Authority’s functions. It is not a standard against which it is possible to measure the conduct of a broadcaster.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
5 October 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Gary Reading’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 14 May 2000
2. Vincent Burke’s Letter to Mr Reading – 23 May 2000
3. Mr Reading’s Letter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 28 May 2000
4. TV3’s Letter to the Authority – 9 June 2000
5. Mr Reading’s Letter to TV3 – June 11 2000
6. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 30 June 2000
7. Mr Reading’s Letter to TV3 – 23 July 2000
8. Mr Reading’s Referral to the Authority – July 23 2000
9. TV3’s Response to the Referral – 18 August 2000
10. Mr Reading’s Final Comment – 3 September 2000