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de Villiers and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-029

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Alexander de Villiers of Huntly

Dated

10th June 2009

Number

2009-029

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – reported sentencing of man convicted for stabbing a teenage tagger – reporter asked victim’s family for comment regarding defence lawyer telling them to “get over it” – footage showed lawyer saying it was “time for people to move forward, to move on” – allegedly in breach of accuracy and fairness

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – reporter’s question was a reasonable summation of the lawyer’s comments when juxtaposed with footage of lawyer’s comments – not inaccurate or misleading – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant did not identify who he thought was treated unfairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on Friday 13 February 2009, reported on the sentencing of a man convicted for fatally stabbing a teenage boy he discovered spray-painting his garage. Included in the item was footage of the defence lawyer responding to victim impact statements during the sentencing, saying, “Now is the time for people to move forward, to move on”. Immediately following this, the item cut to the reporter interviewing the victim’s mother outside the courtroom. She asked, “What did you think of [the lawyer] telling you to get over it now?” The mother responded that “maybe one of his should die and he might be able to get over it”.

Complaint

[2]   Alexander de Villiers made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards of accuracy and fairness. Mr de Villiers maintained that during the story the reporter had said that the accused’s lawyer “said that the family needed to get over it”. However, he said, in the filmed coverage, the lawyer said, “now is the time for people to move forward”. The complainant considered that “the statements are worlds apart and [the reporter’s] remark served only to inflame the public and the family of the victim”.

Standards

[3]   Mr de Villiers nominated Standards 5 and 6 and guidelines 5b, 6a and 6e of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Guideline 5b           
Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guidelines
6a   Care should 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.
6e   Broadcasters should take particular care when dealing with distressing situations, and with grief and bereavement. Discretion and sensitivity are expected.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4]   TVNZ relayed that the reporter had said that, having emerged from the court into a media throng surrounding the family, she had to quickly paraphrase the defence lawyer’s lengthy response to the victim impact statements into one sentence in order to get feedback from the victim’s mother. TVNZ considered that, while the reporter used different terminology to the defence lawyer, her question captured the essence of his comments in appropriate plain language both for the victim’s mother and for viewers.

[5]   The broadcaster concluded that the reporter’s comment was not in any way misleading, and declined to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

[6]   Looking at Standard 6, TVNZ noted that the item included footage of the defence lawyer’s comments followed immediately by the reporter’s question to the victim’s mother. It considered that viewers would have understood that the reporter was “putting an on-the-spot question to the woman having heard the defence lawyer’s comments”, and that the footage of the lawyer put the reporter’s question into context.

[7]   TVNZ concluded that the extracts of footage included in the item provided an accurate reflection of the events that day at the court. It declined to uphold the fairness complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[8]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr de Villiers referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[9]   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)

[10]   Standard 5 requires that news, current affairs and factual programmes be truthful and accurate on points of fact. The complainant argued that the reporter’s question to the victim’s mother, about how the family felt after the defence lawyer told them to “get over it”, misrepresented the comments made in court by the lawyer.

[11]   The Authority notes that, in the item, the reporter’s question to the victim’s mother immediately followed footage showing the lawyer saying in court, “Now is the time for people to move forward, to move on”. While acknowledging that the reporter’s paraphrasing of the comment was somewhat provocative, the Authority considers it was a reasonable, on-the-spot summation of the lawyer’s statement. Given that the victim’s family had heard what the lawyer had actually said in court, and the important part of this footage was shown also to viewers, the Authority finds that the reporter’s question was not misleading or inaccurate. It declines to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[12]   The fairness standard requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. The Authority notes that Mr de Villiers did not identify in his original complaint who he thought had been treated unfairly. In these circumstances, there is no basis upon which to uphold the fairness complaint. For the record, even if the complainant was concerned about fairness to the victim’s family, for the same reasons as outlined above under accuracy, the Authority finds that the broadcaster did not treat the family unfairly.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
10 June 2009

Appendix

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

1.          Alexander de Villiers’ formal complaint – 16 February 2009
2.         TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 17 March 2009
3.         Mr de Villiers’ referral to the Authority – 20 March 2009
4.         TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 21 April 2009