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Taylor and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2009-039

Members

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

Complainant

  • Martin Taylor of Wellington

Dated

8th July 2009

Number

2009-039

Programme

Nine to Noon

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand National

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Nine to Noon – item about violence encountered by staff working with dementia patients – contained interviews with a nurse working in a dementia ward, a representative from the Nurses Organisation and a spokesperson from the Ministry of Health – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – broadcaster presented the required significant viewpoints – perspective of care providers not vital to discussion – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – comment complained about was not a statement of fact – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – people and organisations taking part and referred to treated fairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Nine to Noon, broadcast on Radio New Zealand National during the morning of 20 February 2009, discussed the issue of patient violence against staff working in dementia wards. The radio presenter interviewed "Rachel", a nurse working in a dementia ward. Rachel described the types of violence she encountered on a daily basis from patients which included having her hair pulled, being spat at and being hit. She went on to raise a number of concerns that she had about the aged-care industry, such as unsatisfactory staff-to-patient ratios, staff stress levels, management ignoring staff concerns to the detriment of patients, the general attitude of management and lack of support towards caregivers and nurses working with dementia patients, and inadequate training and pay.

[2]  The presenter then interviewed a representative from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation. The representative stated that Rachel's experiences were not new, unusual or isolated to her workplace and that violence against staff by patients was an ongoing problem. With respect to the concerns outlined by Rachel, the presenter asked the representative if any progress had been made in the elderly care sector. The representative replied, "Quite frankly, no", and said that, while there had been some progress in terms of pay, which she said was an average of $13 an hour, more progress was needed in the areas identified by Rachel.

[3]  The representative from the Nurses Organisation also argued that self-regulation of the elderly care industry was not working, as it was run by private providers who needed to make a profit. The representative went on to say, "So long as that is the case, we cannot rely on self-regulation for making sure that staff have adequate workloads." She also said that it should be a priority to have staffing ratios made mandatory in the sector.

[4]  The Ministry of Health's Chief Nurse, Mark Jones, was interviewed. He stated that Rachel’s situation was unacceptable and that she and the Nurses Organisation had raised valid concerns. He said that the Ministry had identified a range of priorities and that progress was being made in addressing many of the issues raised. Mr Jones stated that the government had made an undertaking to introduce spot audits of care facilities, that the spot audits would begin to take place in the near future and that the results would be made publicly available.

[5]  The presenter asked Mr Jones:

If people really care, why have these reports been coming at least since 2002? Why has it taken this long? Still no mandatory ratio, still no mandatory audits, still a modest increase only in terms of pay rates and still a training regime which [Rachel] says is utterly inadequate?

[6]  Mr Jones replied by saying that the Ministry recognised the need for an enhancement of the education capability and that it was looking at supporting an aged care-specific industry training organisation. He stated that $18 million had been set aside to specifically target standards of care in aged residential situations and that a large portion of that money would go on education and training. Mr Jones said, "Mandatory staffing ratios is an issue that the Nurses Organisation has made the Minister of Health very clear on their views, and he has assured us that we will look at staffing ratios."

[7]  The presenter concluded the item by saying:

...Mark Jones responding to Rachel speaking out against what she says are growing concerns of violence, growing instances, daily instances of violence for her and other nurses in dementia wards and the reasons for it.

Complaint

[8]  Martin Taylor, CEO of Health Care Providers NZ (HCPNZ), made a formal complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd (RNZ), the broadcaster, alleging that the item had breached standards of balance, accuracy and fairness.

[9]  Mr Taylor argued that the item was unbalanced because it had not included comment from himself, as CEO of HCPNZ, or from any care provider dealing with dementia patients.

[10]  Turning to accuracy, the complainant noted the presenter’s question to Mr Jones, outlined above in paragraph [5], and said that "a number of incorrect statements were presented as facts". First, he contended that there had never been any decision about mandatory staffing ratios, because there was no evidence that they improved patient outcomes. In fact, he said, the Ministry of Health recommended to the last government that there was "no value in mandatory staffing regimes".

[11]  Mr Taylor said the second inaccuracy related to mandatory audits in the sector. He argued that there were two mandatory audit regimes; one under the Public Health and Disability Act 2000 and another under the provider and District Health Board (DHB) contract carried out by DHB contracted agencies.

[12]  The complainant contended that the third inaccuracy related to the statement that there had only been modest increases in pay. He said, "The reality is, pay rates for caregivers and nurses in the aged care sector have increased by 22% between 2005 and 2008".

[13]  Mr Taylor argued that, while he could understand the presenter may not have had time to fully understand the topic, her producer should have ensured that she knew enough not to say things that were untrue and that the programme was balanced.

[14]  The complainant explained that he had phoned the broadcaster at 9.30am and asked to be interviewed, but was told by a staff member on the Nine to Noon team that this would not be possible. He said that he had asked to speak with the programme's producer and this request was also refused. Mr Taylor stated that the staff member agreed to take down a statement to be read on air correcting the inaccuracies, but his statement was never broadcast. Instead, he said, comments from listeners which reinforced the inaccuracies were read out.

[15]  Mr Taylor argued that "the unbalanced and inaccurate approach by Nine to Noon to this story lacked professionalism and damaged the entire aged care sector". He said that, "Listeners would have been left with the impression that there is no auditing in the sector, pay increases have been poor over recent years, and that staffing ratios are waiting to be implemented. All of which is completely untrue".

Standards

[16]  RNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

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.
Standard 6 Fairness

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

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[17]  With respect to Standard 4, RNZ stated, "There is little evidence that the topic of incidents of violence between dementia patients and their carers is a controversial one of public importance". It considered that the standard did not apply in the circumstances. However, it said that even if the standard did apply, "because the period of current interest has been open for so long on this overall issue and it appears will remain open for some time to come, no determination on that particular aspect can be made at this point".

[18]  The broadcaster said that its position was "that it would have been reasonable for listeners to expect the Ministry of Health representative to respond to the issues raised in [the complainant's] letter had the Ministry thought that the significant point of view you wish to express had not been put". It considered that, in the time available and with the range of people interviewed, reasonable opportunities had been given to those with significant viewpoints to express their views. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4.

[19]  Turning to accuracy, RNZ considered that Mr Taylor’s complaint had suggested that the presenter's questions were statements of fact with respect to mandatory staffing and audit regimes. It said "those items were put to the Ministry of Health’s representative as questions for him to reply to and not statements of fact". Further, the broadcaster said, "whether he responded adequately to those questions is not a matter which Radio New Zealand could control". With respect to questions concerning pay increases, RNZ argued that the Ministry’s representative had responded adequately. It declined to uphold the accuracy complaint.

[20]  Dealing with fairness, the broadcaster noted that the complainant had alleged its producer had agreed to take down a statement from him to be read on air. It argued that there must have been a misunderstanding. It said that Nine to Noon was not a "talkback style programme". It stated its standard practice was to advise those ringing to provide their feedback in written form, but that it did not guarantee to broadcast that feedback.

[21]  RNZ explained that an interview that was to follow the segment complained about did not go ahead, as the interviewee was unavailable. It said the programme's producers were "scrambling" to ascertain whether the interviewee would be available and that, "given such a pressured situation", it was not surprising that there were difficulties communicating with the producer concerned. It stated that Mr Taylor was told to put his comments in writing and that this was the most effective way of submitting feedback. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6 (fairness).

Referral to the Authority

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

[23]  The complainant argued that the item had discussed a controversial issue of public importance and reiterated his view that comment from aged care providers should have been included. He stated that the Ministry of Health did not represent aged care providers and that HCPNZ did.

[24]  The complainant said that the alleged breaches of accuracy flowed from RNZ's inability to identify HCPNZ as the correct body to respond to the presenter’s questions. He reiterated the accuracy points from his original complaint.

[25]  Mr Taylor maintained that listeners would have been left with the unfair impression that there was no auditing in the sector, pay increases had been poor over recent years and staffing ratios were waiting to be implemented, which was untrue.

Authority's Determination

[26]  The members of the Authority have listened to 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 4 (controversial issues - viewpoints)

[27]  Standard 4 requires broadcasters to present significant points of view when a controversial issue of public importance is discussed in a programme. On this occasion, the item discussed whether conditions for the safety of carers of dementia patients were adequate, and whether the government was doing enough to implement changes to improve the standard of care in the sector.

[28]  The Authority notes that the programme included comments from a nurse working with dementia patients, a representative from the Nurses Organisation and the Ministry of Health's Chief Nurse. It considers that, while input from health care providers would have been of added interest, the complainant has not identified any significant points of view that he could have added to the discussion which were not already covered by the other interviewees. The areas Mr Taylor was concerned about - pay rates, staffing, and audits – were in fact addressed in the programme. The representative from the Nurses Organisation noted that there had been some progress in terms of pay, and that the current rate of pay was, on average, approximately $13 per hour. Adding that wages had risen by 22% between 2005 and 2008 was not crucial. Further, Mr Jones from the Ministry of Health mentioned District Health Board audits and said that the government had made an undertaking to introduce spot audits of care facilities, and that the Minister would be looking at staffing ratios.

[29]  For this reason, the Authority finds that RNZ made reasonable efforts to present significant viewpoints on the controversial issue subject to discussion. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint that the segment breached Standard 4.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[30]  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. Mr Taylor's accuracy concerns related to the following question which was put to the Ministry of Health's Chief Nurse, Mark Jones, towards the end of the item:

If people really care, why have these reports been coming at least since 2002? Why has it taken this long? Still no mandatory ratio, still no mandatory audits, still a modest increase only in terms of pay rates and still a training regime which [Rachel] says is utterly inadequate?

[31]  In the Authority’s view, this was a short-hand summary of what had been discussed in the broadcast, and it was put to Mr Jones in the form of a question. It was not a statement of fact to which the accuracy standard applied. In the Authority's view, the context to the question had been provided in the preceding discussion which had touched on the actual rates of pay for nursing staff, the government's commitment to introducing spot audits, and the call by the Nurses Organisation for mandatory staffing levels which the Ministry of Health spokesperson said the Minister of Health would "look at".

[32]  In these circumstances, because the accuracy standard did not apply to the statement complained about, the Authority declines to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[33]  Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. Mr Taylor's fairness complaint is that he was not given an opportunity to put forward the view of health care providers during the programme.

[34]  The Authority notes that the fairness standard does not apply to Mr Taylor as he neither took part, nor was he referred to, in the broadcast. Accordingly it does not uphold the complaint that Mr Taylor was treated unfairly.

[35]  However, the Authority considers that there may be an argument that health care providers were referred to during the discussion and, as such, it turns to consider whether these organisations were treated fairly. The Authority has found above (see paragraphs [27] to [29] that RNZ was not required to seek comment from HCPNZ in order to ensure that the item was balanced. In these circumstances, the Authority also concludes that the broadcaster was not required, in the interests of fairness, to allow Mr Taylor to speak on-air or to read out his written statement.

[36]  Accordingly, the Authority considers that the broadcaster did not treat care providers unfairly, and it declines to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
8 July 2009

Appendix

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

1.         Martin Taylor's formal complaint – 25 February 2009
2.        RNZ's response to the formal complaint – 19 March 2009
3.        Mr Taylor's referral to the Authority – 9 April 2009
4.        RNZ's response to the Authority – 13 May 2009