One News, Breakfast – archival footage not identified as such – Prime Minister not in Parliament – upheld by broadcaster
Action taken insufficient – public misled – private apology insufficient
Broadcast of statement
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
A news report on a debate in Parliament about the Dover Samuels affair was accompanied by footage showing the Prime Minister shaking her head as if denying the allegations made by the Leader of the Opposition. The item was broadcast on One News on 13 August and Breakfast and Midday on 14 August 2000.
Hon Richard Prebble MP complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that as the Prime Minister was not in Parliament at the time when the allegations were made, the footage was a fabrication. In fact, he said, no government MP had denied the allegations.
TVNZ responded that it accepted, without reservation, that the Prime Minister had not been in Parliament at the time and that the shot of her shaking her head "provided an account of proceedings which was, quite simply, wrong." It upheld the complaint and advised that its news and current affairs department had taken steps to ensure such an error would not be repeated.
Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ, Mr Prebble 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 upholds the complaint that the action taken was insufficient.
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. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
Items on One News on 13 August and Breakfast and Midday on 14 August reported on allegations made by the Leader of the Opposition regarding the Prime Minister’s office’s involvement in the Dover Samuels affair. Footage accompanying the item showed the Prime Minister shaking her head apparently in response to the allegations made.
Hon Richard Prebble MP, the leader of the ACT party, complained to TVNZ that the footage must have been from the archive and its use in the item was a fabrication as the Prime Minister was not in the House at the time of the debate. In fact, he said, no government MP had denied the allegations. He added that his Hansard confirmed what he was saying.
He asked how TVNZ could justify "making up" the news.
TVNZ advised that it had assessed the complaint under standards G7 and G14 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Standard G7 requires broadcasters:
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.
The other standard reads:
G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.
TVNZ wrote that it:
…accepted, without reservation, that the Prime Minister was not in Parliament at the time Mrs Shipley made her allegations and that therefore the shot of her shaking her head provided an account of proceedings which was, quite simply, wrong. [TVNZ] found the accuracy provision of standard G14 to have been breached.
The broadcaster explained that the error had occurred through a breakdown in communication between the journalist and the tape editor, and that the tape editor had used the archival shot without the journalist’s knowledge. It accepted that this amounted to a breach of standard G7.
TVNZ informed Mr Prebble that it had taken the following action:
TVNZ concluded that the action taken was, in the circumstances, sufficient. It was noted that TVNZ had "suffered substantial embarrassment" as a consequence of the breach of standards.
Mr Prebble responded both to TVNZ and the Authority, complaining about the extent of the action taken by TVNZ. He noted that broadcasters regularly used library film without advising viewers. In his view, accurate newscasting required viewers to be informed when library film was used.
In Mr Prebble’s view, it was not an adequate response for TVNZ to apologise to the Speaker in private, as it was viewers who were misled. He suggested that the Authority should make a ruling that:
TVNZ noted that on One News broadcast on 14 August, the shot of the Prime Minister had been described as "historical" and Mr Prebble had been heard to tell the House that the Prime Minister had not been in the debating chamber during the debate.
In TVNZ’s view, it had taken the matter very seriously, and had acted responsibly in dealing with the complaint.
Referring to Mr Prebble’s suggestion that file footage should be identified as such, TVNZ advised the Authority that it regularly superimposed graphics identifying library tape, often with the precise date on which it was shot. However, it noted, there were circumstances when a short generic shot was required and the library tag was not always appropriate. In this case, it wrote, the problem had not been that the shot was library footage, but that it placed the Prime Minister in the House and appeared to show her expressing an opinion about what the Leader of the Opposition had said.
In his final comment, Mr Prebble reiterated his point that it was viewers who were misled by TVNZ’s error, and therefore TVNZ should publicly correct it. When mistakes were made, they were to be corrected publicly and immediately. He repeated that the Authority should make a ruling to ensure that when archive footage was shown, it was clearly labelled as such, especially where the footage used implied something different from the facts.
The question for the Authority is whether the action taken by TVNZ was sufficient, having upheld the complaint that two broadcasting standards were breached. The complainant contended that the error should have been publicly corrected and acknowledged, and that it was not sufficient to make a private apology to the Speaker.
The Authority accepts that the inclusion of the file footage was a genuine mistake but, because it amounted to a significant fabrication of events, considers that it was a serious breach of broadcasting standards. In the Authority’s view, it is a breach which goes to the heart of news credibility.
The Authority notes that an item on One News the following day referred to the use of the file footage of the Prime Minister in the context of the repercussions in the House that day. However, the item did not contain any acknowledgment by TVNZ that it had misrepresented the facts by including pictures which implied that the Prime Minister had been present in the House. It merely recorded that One News was "also under scrutiny" because Mr Prebble had complained about "historical shots" of the Prime Minister. Because viewers were misled by a deceptive and misleading action, the Authority considers that the error should have been publicly acknowledged. It does not believe that the private letter to the Speaker sufficed to acknowledge the breach. Accordingly, it upholds the complaint that the action taken was not sufficient.
The Authority is not inclined to accede to Mr Prebble’s request to make prescriptive rules relating to archival footage. Where it is alleged that such use distorts an event so as to breach standards, the Authority will rule on it. It sees no necessity to make a blanket ruling requiring all archival material to be labelled as such.
For the reasons given, the Authority upholds the complaint that the action taken by TVNZ, having upheld a complaint, was insufficient.
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under s.13 and s.16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Accordingly, the Authority sought submissions on penalty from the complainant and the broadcaster.
The Authority has considered the submissions received and concludes that an appropriate penalty is to order the broadcaster to publish a statement on each of One News, Breakfast and Midday. It makes the following order:
Pursuant to s.13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Broadcasting Standards Authority orders Television New Zealand Ltd to broadcast a statement within one month of the date of this decision. The statement shall be broadcast on One News, Breakfast and Midday on dates approved by the Authority and shall contain a summary of this Decision in a form approved by the Authority.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
30 November 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: