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Ward and TVWorks Ltd - 2010-027

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Tapu Misa
  • Leigh Pearson

Complainant

  • Jill Ward of Whangarei

Dated

1st June 2010

Number

2010-027

Programme

Campbell Live

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Campbell Live – item on the cats of Zion Wildlife Garden in Whangarei and the organisation’s desire to reverse declawing operations on some of their cats – included comments about former manager Craig Busch in relation to the decision to declaw the cats – allegedly inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – zoo consultant’s comments were opinion – statement that Mr Busch convinced authorities had a reasonable basis – complainant did not provide evidence to disprove statements about inbreeding or limping tiger – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – Mr Busch invited to participate – item included a response from Mr Busch – broadcaster dealt with Mr Busch and ZWG fairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Campbell Live, broadcast on TV3 at 7pm on Monday 9 November 2009, looked at the cats of Zion Wildlife Garden (ZWG) in Whangarei and the organisation’s desire to reverse declawing operations on some of their cats.

[2]   The presenter introduced the item by saying:

What a sad old story [the ZWG has] become after the glory days of The Lion Man TV series. The death of a keeper, the legal dispute between Craig Busch and his mother Patricia, and now the failing health of some of the cats themselves.

The Australian contractor brought in to sort this park out says some of the cats were declawed, a practice widely condemned throughout the world and you can see why it’s condemned when you see the results, as you are going to. The cats are clearly suffering because of it and an operation to reverse the declawing is urgently needed, but all the park needs is a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

[3]   The item included footage of the cats at ZWG and an interview with “international zoo consultant”, Tim Husband, about the declawing of the animals and how and why it had occurred.

[4]   Mr Husband was shown with some of the lions, who were caged, explaining and pointing out the effects declawing had on the animals. During the beginning of the interview, the reporter stated:

Gandor and 28 other big cats here are effectively walking on amputated stumps since they were declawed. Now, international zoo consultant Tim Husband says they’re falling apart.

[5]   Referring to one of the cats, Mr Husband stated, “see how she’s limping... she can’t support her weight... see how her leg is starting to bow right out now. That’s getting worse.”

[6]   Referring to the same cat, the reporter said, “Shanti’s front legs are shorter than the back, a sign of inbreeding, which also used to happen at the park. These three tigers are badly cross-eyed for the same reason.”

[7]   The reporter went on to say that, “Tim Husband says the overseas zoo fraternity called for [declawing] to stop, but it fell on deaf ears”.

[8]   Mr Husband then stated:

I think what happened was, the authorities and maybe even the vet that did this operation was convinced that this was for the best of the animals... That’s the only excuse I can find... But someone had convinced the authorities that this was the right thing to do.

[9]   The reporter then said, “That person was Craig Busch. He says his reasons included preventing the cats from hurting each other, making it safer for interaction with people and reducing damage to trees”.

[10]   The reporter went on to say that the declawing operations had been done under the watch of veterinarians from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and that “Busch says American experts told him it was safe”.

[11]   The reporter then explained what was involved during the declawing reversal operation and its cost. The head keeper of ZWG gave his opinion on the effects that other changes, such as safety procedures, had on the animals.

Complaint

[12]   Jill Ward made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was inaccurate and unfair.

[13]   The complainant argued that the item had attributed actions to Craig Busch “which were not backed up with any evidence”, and contended that neither Mr Busch nor the ZWG were given a right of reply.

[14]   With respect to the comments contained in the item that paw surgery was “urgently needed” and that the animals were “falling apart”, Ms Ward stated that, “Only a few weeks prior to this report, Tim Husband stated that the cats were in the best condition they had ever been in and they had all achieved top marks in a MAF inspection”.

[15]   The complainant argued that it was inaccurate for the item to state that “inbreeding used to happen at the park”, as there was no evidence to suggest this was the case. She also contended that it was inaccurate to state that Mr Busch had convinced the authorities and the veterinarians to proceed with the declawings, because it was not “evidenced in the 11-page MAF report on the declawings”.

[16]   Ms Ward said that Mr Husband was not a veterinarian and that there did not “seem to be a veterinary report on the cats and the need for this surgery”. She said an expert referred to in the item, Dr Jennifer Conrad, had not examined the cats and had made no recommendations regarding surgery for the cats or what it would cost.

[17]   The complainant stated that the medical issues suffered by the white tiger shown limping in the item, which she said was used as evidence of the issues created by declawing, were the result of a metabolic bone disorder of which the park staff were fully aware. She considered that the item was poorly researched, sensationalist, misleading, and detrimental to the reputation of Mr Busch.

Standards

[18]   TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standards 5 and 6 and guideline 5a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 5 Accuracy

Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:

  • is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or
  • does not mislead.

Guideline 5a

The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[19]   With respect to accuracy, TVWorks stated that it had a number of sources to support the statement that Mr Busch was responsible for the decision to declaw the cats. It noted an email from the complainant to a Campbell Live producer in which she stated:

We have not hidden the fact or ever denied that some of the cats have been declawed. We made a statement about it months ago, it has been discussed at length on our Facebook page and the link to the MAF report has been posted many times. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Craig is prepared to accept the joint responsibility, along with the management of ZWG, the vets and MAF.

[20]   The broadcaster considered the comments in the broadcast were contextualised by Mr Busch’s reasoning, the involvement of MAF, and the mention of Mr Busch’s reliance on American expertise.

[21]   With respect to the comments made by Mr Husband, it argued that his statement that someone “convinced” the authorities to declaw the cats was immaterial, given that Mr Busch was clearly a party to the decision, and that Mr Husband had been expressing his opinion.

[22]   Turning to the footage of the limping tiger, TVWorks said that it could make no comment on the issue, but was “willing to investigate further” if Ms Ward was prepared to provide it with some evidence supporting her claim of inaccuracy.

[23]   The broadcaster argued that the statement about inbreeding was supported by Mr Husband’s assessment of the situation. It also said that the reporter had told it that the statement could be “evidenced though video footage for the television series”. Further, it said that the inbreeding was not attributed to any one person and that it had not claimed Mr Busch was responsible for it.

[24]   TVWorks concluded that “the report was not inaccurate in any way”. It said that, while the evidence to support the statements of fact made were not referred to in the report, “this did not undermine the validity of the statements”. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item had breached Standard 5.

[25]   Looking at fairness, the broadcaster stated that its reporter had told it:

Jill Ward was in contact with Campbell Live prior to the broadcast on November 9 alleging the reason why Zion Wildlife Gardens was claiming it needed to raise $250,000 was not for the declawing surgery, but to repay debt. We put that question to Zion Wildlife Gardens who said donations for declawing would be held in a separate account. Ms Ward was in phone and email contact with Campbell Live that day and her comments considered before the story was broadcast.

[26]   TVWorks also contended that, following the broadcast, the Executive Producer told Ms Ward that Campbell Live was “happy for Craig Busch to appear on the programme to discuss the issue and his visit to the United Kingdom”, but that the offer had not been accepted. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item had treated Mr Busch or ZWG unfairly.

Referral to the Authority

[27]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Ward referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She reiterated her argument that the item was inaccurate and unfair to Mr Busch.

[28]   The complainant argued that the broadcaster had relied on the unqualified opinion of Mr Husband, who she said had worked at ZWG for four months before making allegations of animal suffering and leaving shortly afterward.

[29]   Ms Ward said she had only been alerted to the broadcast by a promo for Campbell Live and argued that the broadcaster had not made any attempt to “contact us to contribute to this programme, nor were any issues referred to us for comment when we did.” She stated that she had contacted the programme prior to broadcast, but she had not been asked to comment on declawing.

[30]   Ms Ward said that the decision to go ahead with the declawing surgery legally had to be made by a veterinarian and that Mr Busch had not “convinced” the authorities to perform the operations.

Authority's Determination

[31]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[32]   Standard 5 states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact and does not mislead.

[33]   With respect to the statement that Mr Busch had “convinced” the authorities to go ahead with the declawing, we consider that the complainant's concern appears to be that the statement implied that Mr Busch had improperly influenced the authorities to carry out the declawing. In our view, the statement simply implied that Mr Busch played a leading role in the decision to declaw the cats.

[34]   We note that Mr Busch initiated the declawing process, which was carried out by veterinarians under MAF supervision, and that he strongly supported the declawing. It is clear that the process would not have happened without Mr Busch's support. He provided the reporter with the reasons why he was in favour of the declawing operations, which included “preventing the cats from hurting each other, making it safer for interaction with people and reducing damage to trees”.

[35]   We therefore consider that there was a reasonable basis for the reporter’s statement and that viewers were not misled about Mr Busch’s role in declawing the cats at ZWG. Accordingly, we decline to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

[36]   The complainant argued that it was inaccurate for the item to state that “inbreeding used to happen at the park”, as there was no evidence to suggest this was the case. We accept that the statement about inbreeding was supported by Mr Husband’s assessment of the situation and, in light of the fact that no evidence to the contrary has been provided by Ms Ward, we decline to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

[37]   Turning to the footage and statements made about the limping tiger, we have not been provided with any evidence from Ms Ward to show that the statements were inaccurate. In these circumstances, we have no basis upon which to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

[38]   With respect to the comments that paw surgery was “urgently needed” and that the animals were “falling apart”, we consider that these were clearly distinguishable as the opinion of Mr Husband and, as such, are exempted from the requirement for accuracy under guideline 5a.

[39]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[40]   Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

[41]   In our view, the item focused squarely on the declawing of cats that had occurred at ZWG. Given that Mr Busch initiated and was heavily involved in the process, we agree that the broadcaster was required, in the interests of fairness, to present his side of the story.

[42]   We note that the item did include Mr Busch’s reasons for supporting the declawing process, including “preventing the cats from hurting each other, making it safer for interaction with people and reducing damage to trees”. Mr Busch was also quoted as saying that the declawing had been done under the watch of MAF veterinarians, and that American experts had told him it was safe.

[43]   There is no suggestion from the complainant that this statement did not accurately represent Mr Busch’s views, and we consider that this fairly encapsulated Mr Busch’s responses in other media coverage. We also note that an offer of an interview was made to Mr Busch (through the complainant) after the item was broadcast, but this was not accepted.

[44]   In these circumstances, we consider that the broadcaster treated Mr Busch fairly by outlining his perspective on declawing in the item, and by offering him a right of reply. We therefore decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 6 was breached.

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
1 June 2010

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1.        Jill Ward’s formal complaint – 4 December 2009

2.        TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 21 January 2010

3.        Ms Ward’s referral to the Authority – 18 February 2010

4.        TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 11 March 2010