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Batchelor and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-123

Members

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

Complainant

  • Karen Batchelor of North Shore City

Dated

15th February 2010

Number

2009-123

Programme

Breakfast

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast – news item on puppies being euthanized by Invercargill City Council – included interview with the mayor of Invercargill – allegedly in breach of controversial issues, accuracy and fairness standards 

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – complainant’s concerns did not relate to a material point of fact – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – standard not applicable – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Breakfast’s news segment, broadcast on TV One at 8.05am on Thursday 20 August 2009, reported on puppies being destroyed by Invercargill City Council. The presenter stated:

Invercargill’s Mayor is standing by his Council amid accusations that it’s unnecessarily killing puppies. The SPCA claims the Council put down six impounded puppies which could easily have been re-homed. But Mayor Tim Shadbolt says the Rottweiler Mastiff puppies may have grown up to threaten the public.

[2]    Footage was shown of Mr Shadbolt saying:

...they’re Pit Bull Terrier crosses with a dog, a Rottweiler. They’re big, strong, tough, aggressive dogs and New Zealand is just going to have to do something about it.

[3]   The presenter concluded by saying that the Invercargill City Council killed a higher percentage of impounded dogs than any other region of the country.  

Complaint

[4]   Karen Batchelor made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item had breached standards relating to controversial issues, accuracy and fairness.

[5]   The complainant argued that the item was inaccurate, because the lineage of the euthanized puppies was unknown. She noted that the item’s introduction stated that Mr Shadbolt had said that the puppies were a cross between the Rottweiler and Mastiff breeds. She pointed out that, when footage of Mr Shadbolt was shown, he referred to the puppies as being a cross between Pit Bull Terrier and Rottweiler.

[6]    Ms Batchelor contended that Mr Shadbolt did not know the breed of the puppies and that the SPCA had told her that its “best guess” was that they were a cross between the breeds Rottweiler and Huntaway.

[7]    With respect to Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints), the complainant noted that the issue had been discussed during an episode of Close Up the evening before and that both Mr Shadbolt and a representative from the SPCA had been given an opportunity to speak. She said that the news item had repeated Mr Shadbolt’s “unsubstantiated claims” that the puppies were Pit Bull crosses, which inferred that they would grow up to be dangerous. She argued that the item should have included the SPCA’s view expressed by its representative the evening before that no breed of dog was born “bad” and that, due to their age, the puppies were harmless.

[8]    Ms Batchelor also contended that, because Mr Shadbolt and the Council were “unaware of how the puppies were bred”, it was unfair of the item to allow Mr Shadbolt to cast aspersions on Pit Bulls and Mastiffs and vilify the breeds.  

Standards

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

Standard 4 Controversial Issues - Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or 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 justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.           

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[10]   TVNZ stated that, when considering a complaint alleging a breach of Standard 4, it had to first determine whether the item had discussed a controversial issue of public importance. It contended that, while the issue of Invercargill City Council deciding to euthanize puppies instead of re-homing them may be considered of interest to viewers and of some importance to the Council and to dog lovers, the issue was not a controversial issue of public importance to which the standard applied.

[11]    With respect to accuracy, the broadcaster argued that it had “no reason to believe that the reference by the Breakfast newsreader to Rottweiler Mastiff puppies was inaccurate”. TVNZ stated that the item concerned allegations that the Invercargill City Council was unnecessarily killing puppies and that whether the puppies were Rottweiler-Mastiff, Rottweiler-Pit Bull or Rottweiler-Huntaway was secondary to the report and not material to the item.

[12]   TVNZ considered that Mr Shadbolt’s comments about the breed of the puppies was his opinion, and it declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.

[13]   Turning to fairness, the broadcaster argued that “breeds of animal” were not protected under the standard, as it specifically referred to dealing fairly with “any person or organisation”. It declined to uphold the fairness complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[14]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Batchelor referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[15]   The complainant reiterated her contention that the item was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair.

Authority's Determination

[16]   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 4 (controversial issue – viewpoints)

[17]   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 news, currents affairs and factual programmes.

[18]   While there is currently intense public interest around the issue of dog attacks by certain breeds, the item that is the subject of this complaint focused specifically on whether the Invercargill City Council was unnecessarily euthanizing puppies which could possibly have been re-homed. It was therefore peripheral to the broader controversial issue.

[19]   In any event, the Authority notes that the complainant’s concern was that a representative from the SPCA had not been invited to express the view that no breed of dog was born bad and that, because of their age, the puppies were harmless. This view was expressed in a longer item on Close Up the previous evening, but was not included in the shorter Breakfast news item that is the subject of this complaint, in which the Mayor of Invercargill was interviewed about his Council’s policy. The Authority points out that Standard 4 allows for significant perspectives to be expressed over the period of current interest, as happened in this case.

[20]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[21]   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.

[22]   The complainant argued that the item was inaccurate because the lineage of the euthanized puppies was unknown and the presenter and Mr Shadbolt had given differing descriptions of the puppies’ breed.

[23]   The Authority considers that the exact breed of the puppies was not a material point of fact to which the accuracy standard applied. The news item focused on the council’s policy and the critics’ views that the council was unnecessarily putting down puppies, irrespective of their breed.

[24]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item was inaccurate.   

Standard 6 (fairness)

[25]   Ms Batchelor contended that, because Mr Shadbolt and the Council were “unaware of how the puppies were bred”, it was unfair to allow Mr Shadbolt to cast aspersions on Pit Bulls and Mastiffs and vilify the breeds.

[26]   Standard 6 specifically refers to broadcasters dealing fairly with “any person or organisation” taking part or referred to in a programme. The Authority agrees with TVNZ that the fairness standard does not apply to breeds of dog 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

 

Peter Radich
Chair
15 February 2010

Appendix

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

1.           Karen Batchelor’s formal complaint – 20 August 2009
2.          TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 16 September 2009
3.          Ms Batchelor’s referral to the Authority – 21 September 2009
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 1 December 2009