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Green Cabs and TVWorks Ltd - 2009-071

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa

Complainant

  • Green Cabs of Wellington

Dated

17th September 2009

Number

2009-071

Programme

Target

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Target – conducted a hidden camera trial of six taxi companies in Auckland – noted that driver of Green Cab had looked down at something six times during the journey – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – broadcaster was entitled to edit footage – unclear what the driver was looking at – Target legitimately commented that he demonstrated lapses in concentration and took his eyes off the road – programme broadcast fair reflection of Green Cabs’ response – not unfair – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – concerns better dealt with under fairness – subsumed into consideration of Standard 6

Standard 4 (balance) – programme did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   During an episode of Target, broadcast at 7.30pm on TV3 on 12 May 2009, the presenter summarised the results of a hidden camera trial in which an actress, pretending to be drunk, caught a taxi using six different companies. The following was said about Green Cabs:

Green Cabs are next, and arrive in just under 10 minutes. A friendly greeting, our actress gives the address and 90 seconds later they’re off. But hello, what’s this driver looking at here? Eyes back on the road and he’s driving well, indicating and observing the road rules. But, like a previous driver he’s taking a slightly longer route. This is odd. He’s stopped at a red light and uses the time to turn on his interior light and study his map and glance down again. The light changes to green but he forgets to turn off the interior light and again he’s looking at something not once, not twice, but six times before the journey ends.

[2]   As the presenter said this, the taxi driver was shown repeatedly glancing down and to the left, in the direction of the front passenger seat, where the actress was sitting. The presenter went on to say:

Driving with an inside light on is dangerous. Yes, you can see things inside the car but it makes seeing things outside a whole lot more difficult.

At the destination our actress hands over 80 dollars and gets the correct change for her eleven-dollar fare.

So, to the results. A pretty good job from Green Cabs let down by some concentration lapses, and he really shouldn’t be driving at night with the interior lights on. We’ve given Green Cabs seven out of ten. They respond: “He was checking that he had correctly run his taxi meter”. That’s very conscientious.

Complaint

[3]   Green Cabs made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair.

[4]   The complainant stated that Target had sent a letter to Green Cabs after they had conducted the hidden camera trial. The letter informed Green Cabs that it was one of six randomly chosen companies that would feature on Target, and that several points might be mentioned in the programme, including the allegation that the driver had looked at the actress’s legs five times in the course of the trip. Green Cabs said it had objected to this, as it had showed Target’s letter to the driver, who said he was not looking at the actress’s legs but was actually checking the taxi meter. The complainant therefore contacted Target and requested the unedited footage, which was supplied to the company’s lawyer, and a time to view it was arranged.

[5]   Green Cabs said that, having viewed the footage, it was clear that on three of the five occasions the driver was looking at the meter. It noted that in Green Cabs’ taxis, the details of the job sent from the dispatcher are displayed on the meter, and that the meter sits just below the centre of the dash board so that it is next to the passenger’s leg above the knee. On two of those three occasions, the complainant said, the driver was checking a map book to determine the route he should take, and on the third he was looking at the meter.

[6]   Green Cabs said it believed that on the fourth and possibly fifth occasion, the driver was looking at the passenger, and “as she was acting drunk and disoriented it could be fair to assume he was checking her state (as in, would she be able to get out of the taxi at the other end).” The complainant said it contacted Target to explain the location of the meter in the car, and sent a car so that Target could check this.

[7]   Referring to the rest of the footage, which showed the actress getting into the taxi and being greeted by the driver, Green Cabs noted that the driver had the interior light on, as it was night time, and pulled out his map book. He checked the details on the screen a couple of times while planning his route before turning the light off and starting the meter. The driver stopped at a set of traffic lights, turned the light on and checked his map book again. While he was doing this, the lights changed and so he quickly put the book away before continuing to the destination. Green Cabs said:

The driver checked the meter again to make sure it was going... it was only the second day on the road driving a taxi for our driver and the day before he had forgotten to start the meter on three occasions and therefore not been paid for three jobs which is why he checked the meter, according to him a couple of times during the journey.

[8]   The complainant went on to say:

...the driver after a few moments looked at the passenger for no more than one second. A few moments later he then looked in the direction of what may have been the passenger’s legs but as they can’t be seen in the footage it is unclear.

[9]   Green Cabs said the taxi then arrived at the destination, the driver asked the passenger twice if she was all right, and then gave her the correct change before she got out of the taxi.

[10]   The complainant argued that this version of events was at odds with what Target said in its letter. After speaking to Target and threatening to take further action if it continued with its version of events, Target said that it would not be stating that the driver looked at the passenger’s legs. Instead, it would say that he looked down five times and then display Green Cabs’ explanation.

[11]   Green Cabs maintained that the programme portrayed a “grossly unfair and inaccurate version of events”. It noted that the programme had edited the footage to ask, “and what is the driver looking at one, two, three, four, five, six times?” It considered that, out of context, this gave the impression that the driver was behaving in an inappropriate manner, and that Target had edited the hidden camera footage to give this impression.

[12]   The complainant said it was told by Target that Green Cabs would have a chance to respond at the end of the segment. Having viewed the raw footage, it sent the following response:

It is unfortunate that the driver was on only his second day on the road driving a taxi when caught in the hidden camera trial. The previous day he missed payment on three jobs after failing to turn on the meter.

The meters in our Green Cabs are positioned in the middle of the car, under the dash, next to the customer’s knees. Having viewed the unedited footage and heard our driver’s side it is clear that he checked the details of the job on the meter at the start when selecting his route. He again checked that the meter was running during the journey and then checked the condition of the passenger as she appeared drunk/disoriented when nearing the destination.

Although it is not shown on camera our driver stated to us he was concerned enough about the passenger’s state that he waited until the passenger was inside before driving to the next job.

With regard to leaving the interior light on we asked our driver if he was scared of the dark. He assures us he is not.

Given that it was only our driver’s second day on the job we are very pleased with his performance.

For Green Cabs passenger safety is paramount. ALL Green Cabs drivers must pass a mandatory police check if they want to drive for us.

We would also recommend that for both passenger and driver safety, that if anyone is travelling alone in any taxi (especially females) that they sit in the left rear passenger seat of the vehicle.

[13]   Green Cabs noted that the response broadcast by Target was “he was looking at the meter”. It considered it was read by an unconvincing voiceover and did not provide the balance that was intended. It said that the company was left “with the impression that the company was lying and that the driver was probably dodgy to say the least”.

[14]   The complainant also argued that Target’s letter said the journey was 3.7 kilometres and the shortest route was 3.7km, but when the programme aired it stated that the driver had travelled 4km while the shortest distance was 3.7km.

[15]   Green Cabs reiterated its view that the programme breached standards of balance, accuracy and fairness. It also noted that it had requested the unedited footage so it could be displayed on the Green Cabs website, but this was denied.

Standards

[16]   TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

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.

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[17]   Looking at Standard 4 (balance), TVWorks maintained that the programme did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance. It said that, “while the service and conduct of taxi drivers around the country is often revisited by Target, the topic is not controversial in the sense that there is ongoing public debate about it”. TVWorks concluded that the complainant’s concerns were better addressed under fairness, and declined to uphold the balance complaint.

[18]   TVWorks was of the view that Standard 5 (accuracy) did not apply in the circumstances as the complaint did “not deal with the broadcast of misstatements of fact”. It said “the discrepancy in the distance travelled is broadcast accurately however you point out you were informed of a different distance”. Therefore, TVWorks again considered that Green Cabs’ concerns would be better dealt with in terms of fairness.

[19]   Turning to Standard 6 (fairness), TVWorks stated that it had asked the programme’s producer to provide explanations and details regarding the aspects of Target that caused concern. It said the producer did check the location of the meter in the taxi, “however this did not convince him or the rest of the Target team of the driver’s explanation as to what he was looking at during the trial”. TVWorks emphasised that the programme had not stated that the driver was looking at the actress’s legs, and that it had broadcast Green Cabs’ response that “he was checking that he had correctly run his taxi meter”.

[20]   In response to Green Cabs’ contention that the footage had been edited unfairly, TVWorks said the producer had responded by saying that the footage was edited in sequence, which was “especially necessary as it was a road trip from a pick up point to a destination”. TVWorks said it agreed with the producer’s view that the footage and narration supported this and that no trickery was involved. It said the producer also pointed out that “the taxi was equipped with a GPS device which brings into question the need for a map and an internal light”.

[21]   TVWorks considered that the complainant’s main concern was the disagreement over what the driver was looking at in the taxi. It said the production team stated:

Having observed the driver’s behaviour prior to turning on the light and checking his map, Target believes he didn’t forget to turn out the light but took advantage of the fact that our actress was acting disoriented... he then proceeded to look at her.

[22]   The broadcaster concluded that, “given Target’s role as a consumer rights advocate, the Committee believes they took the necessary steps to communicate their point of view while respecting your position on the matter”.

[23]   With regard to Green Cabs’ argument that it had been informed of a different “shortest route” than that mentioned in the programme, TVWorks provided the following comment from the producer:

The distance is in dispute because Wises map shortest distance tool was used online. The map suggests that the shortest route was the one the driver took but when you enter the alternative route manually... the route suggested by Wises as the shortest is in fact longer by 0.3 of a kilometre. This was an oversight but it was pointed out in earlier stages of the programme and was only included in a graphic and not mentioned verbally in the segment.

[24]   Finally, in response to Green Cabs’ contention that the programme left viewers with the impression that “the company was lying and that the driver was probably dodgy to say the least”, TVWorks said it:

...acknowledges that production considerations meant that your response could not be broadcast in full and this has been reflected in the programme for the eleven years it has been on television. Understanding the crux of your issue with Target’s point of view, the most relevant extract of your response was broadcast.

[25]   The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 6 was breached.

Referral to the Authority

[26]   Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, Green Cabs referred its complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[27]   The complainant noted that TVWorks had not viewed the unedited footage from the hidden camera trial, but had relied on the word of the production company. The complainant considered that the Authority should obtain a copy of the footage so it could be compared to the version broadcast.

[28]   Green Cabs maintained that broadcasting a very small excerpt of its response was unfair and unbalanced, because its response was designed to alleviate public concerns about the safety of riding with Green Cabs.

[29]   The complainant reiterated its view that the footage had been edited to portray a series of events that was at odds with the unedited footage, and its request to be given the unedited footage so it could be displayed on Green Cabs’ website.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[30]   TVWorks provided further comments from the programme’s producer, outlining the exact timing of when the driver glanced down “because that seems to be the part of the item that [the complainant] claims we’ve edited and, in doing that distorted what actually happened”.

[31]   The producer said that during the 7 minutes 44 seconds it took the driver to get to the destination, he glanced down six times in the direction of the actress’s legs. He listed the exact timing of those six occasions, noting that the incidents were “reasonably spaced” for the most part. He acknowledged that the instances were edited together, “because it’s not feasible to run the entire trip”. However, the producer said, a number of things indicated that the instances occurred over the duration of the trip, such as the background outside the car changing, a “clock wipe” on screen and also a ticking sound which suggested the passage of time.

[32]   The producer concluded by saying:

Target maintains that it will be very clear to any viewer that this segment of edited “glance downs” represents a compression of the time it took to drive the distance and that it focuses on these key moments because in the opinion of Target they represent “unusual” and some would say “unprofessional” behaviour from the taxi driver.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[33]   Green Cabs reiterated its view that the editing of the hidden camera footage was unfair. It noted that viewers would not have been able to determine the period of time that passed between each time the driver looked down, or that four of the six times he was looking at the taxi meter.

Authority's Determination

[34]   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 6 (fairness)

[35]   Standard 6 requires that broadcasters deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. Green Cabs considered that the programme breached Standard 6 because the hidden camera footage was edited unfairly, the programme unfairly implied that the driver was looking at the actress’s legs when he was actually looking at the meter and his map book, and the programme did not fairly reflect Green Cabs’ response.

Driver looking down

[36]   For the record, the Authority acknowledges the concern Green Cabs has shown for its employee. However, it considers that the complainant’s perception of the programme may have been coloured by the events leading up to the broadcast and its dealings with the Target production team (see paragraphs [4] to [10] above). It notes that overall the driver and the company were portrayed in a favourable light, receiving a score of 7 out of 10.

[37]   Green Cabs argued that the programme implied that the driver was looking at the actress’s legs, which was unfair, because the company had told Target that he was looking at the meter and at his map book. It considered it was possible on two of the six occasions that he was looking at the actress to check her state because she was acting drunk and disoriented.

[38]   The Authority notes that Target took account of Green Cabs' concerns. Although its production team was not entirely convinced by their explanation (see paragraphs [21] and [22]), Target did not broadcast the allegation that the driver had been looking at the actress's legs, saying it had taken the necessary steps to communicate its point of view while respecting Green Cabs' position.

[39]   In the Authority’s view, to the average viewer, it was not clear from the programme what the driver had been looking at on the six occasions shown. Target simply commented at the end of its evaluation that he had suffered lapses in concentration and taken his eyes off the road. The Authority considers this was a legitimate comment to make in the context of an evaluation of the driver’s performance, including his professionalism and compliance with road rules, among other things. Further, Target broadcast Green Cabs’ response, which asserted that the driver had been looking at the taxi meter.

[40]   In these circumstances, the Authority is of the view that Green Cabs was not treated unfairly in this respect. It declines to uphold this aspect of the fairness complaint.

Editing

[41]   Green Cabs argued that TVWorks had selectively edited the hidden camera footage to create an unfair impression of the driver. Guideline 6a to the fairness standard states:

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.

[42]   In the Authority’s view, there is no evidence to suggest that what was shown in the programme was a distortion of the original events. While compressing a journey of 7 minutes 44 seconds into a one-minute segment may have tended to accentuate the driver's actions, the Authority considers that the broadcaster clearly indicated to viewers, by way of the ticking clock, that the footage of the journey had been edited. Furthermore, Target had already shown similar highlights of hidden camera footage for several other taxi companies before Green Cabs was featured.

[43]   Further, as stated above in paragraph [36], the Authority is of the view that Green Cabs’ perception of the programme was coloured by its prior dealings with Target, and did not reflect the impression a reasonable viewer would have taken from watching the programme for the first time – that being that the driver had a number of times been looking at something other than the road, but overall had performed relatively well.

[44]   Accordingly, the Authority finds that Target did not create an unfair impression of the driver, and it declines to uphold this part of the Standard 6 complaint.

Green Cabs’ response

[45]   Green Cabs argued that it was unfair that Target had not broadcast more of its response in the programme.

[46]   Having seen Green Cabs’ response in its entirety, the Authority is of the view that Target was entitled to select the part which most closely related to the focus of the segment, that the driver had taken his eyes off the road and had looked down at something on a number of occasions. In that context, the Authority considers that the comment broadcast was sufficient and fairly reflected the response provided by Green Cabs. It declines to uphold the complaint that Green Cabs was treated unfairly in this respect.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[47]   Standard 5 requires that news, current affairs and other factual programmes are truthful and accurate on points of fact. The Authority notes that, in its complaint, Green Cabs did not identify any statements in the programme which it considered to be inaccurate, only arguing that the footage used had been edited to create a misleading impression. In the Authority’s view, this concern has been appropriately and adequately dealt with in its consideration of fairness above. It therefore subsumes its consideration of the accuracy standard into its consideration of Standard 6.

Standard 4 (balance)

[48]   Standard 4 requires broadcasters to make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in a programme.

[49]   The Authority has previously found that Target episodes which rated products or evaluated a particular business did not discuss controversial issues of public importance.1 On this occasion, Target evaluated the performance of six taxi companies. In the Authority’s view, this did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue as envisaged by the balance standard. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
17 September 2009

Appendix

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

1.             Green Cabs’ formal complaint – 21 May 2009

2.             TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 22 June 2009

3.             Green Cabs’ referral to the Authority – 23 June 2009

4.             TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 13 July 2009

5.             Green Cabs’ final comment – 23 July 2009


1See, for example, Parker and TVWorks (Decision No. 2008-033) and Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association of New Zealand and CanWest TVWorks (Decision No. 2006-100)