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Lubinska and Rowland and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-046

Members

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

Complainant

  • Ev Lubinska and Richard Rowland of Waiheke Island

Dated

18th September 2008

Number

2008-046

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaints under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item looked at a couple running the One World Foundation who had been banned from Samoa because of allegations regarding the legitimacy of their work – allegedly in breach of balance, accuracy and fairness

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

Standard 5 (accuracy) – no inaccuracies – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainants were treated fairly – chosen interview excerpts fairly represented the complainants’ position – 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 10 March 2008, reported that “a New Zealand-based couple’s been banned from Samoa for life after being accused of taking freebies in the name of charity”. The Samoan Deputy Prime Minister was shown saying “a few people questioned [the couple’s] integrity”, and it was reported that the couple had to stay in Samoa for ten weeks trying to retrieve a “confiscated passport”.

[2]   Viewers were told that Richard Rowland and Ev Lubinska came to New Zealand on a work permit to run the One World Foundation of New Zealand, an educational charitable trust whose aim was “cultural togetherness”, which involved them travelling around the world and uploading a travel log on the internet, while also creating an educational website for One World.

[3]   The reporter stated that “the way they get free travel is under scrutiny”. An excerpt from an interview with a rental car company owner was shown, in which he said he had offered to help Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska because they had told him their programmes would benefit Samoa’s culture and its children. Then the reporter said:

This Samoan car rental business is among dozens of companies from New Zealand and the Pacific who’ve given freebies to what they’re told is a worthy cause. In exchange the businesses are reviewed on the couple’s very full travel website. But their One World website is surprisingly empty.

[4]   Photos were shown of the couple in various holiday settings, including in a restaurant, and in a swimming pool drinking cocktails.

[5]   The reporter stated that the Ministry of Education had refused to endorse the One World project, and that education specialists considered the project worthless. An excerpt of an interview with the Dean of Education from the University of Auckland, John Langley was shown. He said:

There’s nothing of merit in it at all... in terms of curriculum, in terms of teaching methodology, in terms of bringing cultures together. When I look at this stuff I run a hundred miles an hour in the opposite direction.

[6]   Viewers were also told that UNESCO had “done an about turn after hearing its letter of support had been used to prove [Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska] were legitimate”. A woman from the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO was shown commenting that this was “totally unacceptable... That was not the purpose of this letter”.

[7]   The One News reporter stated that “Richard and Ev claim they’re the innocent victims of a vindictive campaign”. She questioned Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska as to whether they could understand why people were “suspicious”, given that “there are dozens of photos on the internet of you two living it up but there’s very little work being done on the educational side”. Ms Lubinska responded that “education doesn’t occur only in schools, the idea is to teach kids...”

[8]   The reporter then said to them that the people sponsoring them to write a travel log wanted to see evidence that they were actually running a charitable trust. Ms Lubinska responded that “the charitable trust and the evidence of our work is what we are writing. It’s learning materials”. Mr Rowland commented that perhaps they were “over-ambitious” and people didn’t understand their project because it was “too novel”, but that he “would like to come back to the fact that [they] are honest people”.

[9]   The One News reporter concluded the item by saying, “Honest perhaps, but a cloud of doubt surrounds their work.”

Complaint

[10]   Richard Rowland and Ev Lubinska made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was “biased, unfair, misleading, unbalanced and a misrepresentation of the actual facts”. They argued that the reporter confused facts and opinion, and that the item had “done a great deal of harm” to their work for One World.

[11]   Firstly, the complainants took issue with the clip of the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa near the beginning of the item, who was shown saying “a few people questioned their integrity”. They said that at no stage were these “few people” identified, but that the rest of the item sought to show that “these few unnamed people were correct”.

[12]   The complainants maintained that the reporter’s use of the term “freebie” in the item was “at best, inappropriate, and at worst deliberately misleading”. They said that “what [they] offer and receive amounts to sponsorship-in-kind”, and that the reporter was well aware that when they asked companies for help, it was in return for promoting them on their travel and tourism website. They said that all the companies that have sponsored them have “got exactly what they were promised”. The complainants also considered that the item was misleading because the reporter neglected to mention that their journey around the Pacific was “without taking a salary and as such fitted the charity image”.

[13]   The complainants also objected to the reporter’s use of the words “living it up” and the choice of photos shown in the item of the couple travelling. They argued it was misleading, because their sponsors were told they would receive a write-up of each trip as well as pictures on the website of them “sampling or in the location being written about”. They said the photos shown represented “less than 0.5% of those on the two sites and give a very unfair indication of our work”. In this respect, they contended that “the choice of beach location [for the interview] now also seems misleading”.

[14]   Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska objected to the reporter’s comment in the item that the One World website was “surprisingly” empty. They said they had explained to the reporter why the site had less material on it, and told her that the material from Tonga, Fiji and Samoa would be up by the end of April.

[15]   The complainants took issue with the fact that the item failed to mention that John Langley, who was shown criticising One World, had endorsed the project 18 months earlier. They considered that the phrase “education specialists say...” indicated that the reporter had spoken to people other than Dr Langley, and that she had not clarified who these “experts” were and was therefore “trying to confuse opinion, from an unknown source, with fact”.

[16]   Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska maintained, with respect to the comment that the Ministry of Education refused to endorse One World, that they had told the One News reporter that the Ministry had in fact “suggested some changes [be made] to the [One World] website before they would place it on a list of recommended sites”. They said that if the reporter’s comment was based on a verification by the Ministry, then that was acceptable, but if it was based on the information they provided then it was “deliberately misleading”.

[17]   With regard to their interview with the reporter, the complainants argued that one of their answers was matched with a different question, which they said had been recorded by the reporter after the interview had finished:

Reporter:    There are dozens of photos on the internet of you two living it up but there’s
                   very little work being done on the educational side, can’t you understand why
                   people are suspicious?

Ev:              But education doesn’t occur only in schools, the idea is to teach kids...

[18]   The complainants said:

This question was, we are virtually certain, answered by Richard Rowland and [the reporter] has inserted an answer by Ev Lubinska to a totally different question. The actual answer given also seems to indicate this as it does not make sense based on the question.

[19]   The complainants maintained that the excerpt of an interview with a UNESCO spokeswoman shown in the item was completely out of context, and they wanted to know the question to which it was given in response. They argued it was misleading because:

A letter of support is a letter of support, and it was only ever used to show UNESCO supported us and indeed in Samoa wanted to meet with us and ask us to submit a grant proposal, stating the work done on New Zealand on our site was very good and hoping we could do the same for the Islands. None of this is made clear [in the item]...

[20]   Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska contended that the reporter’s reference to a “confiscated” passport was misleading, and that she knew, from the information provided by them, that the passport “was withheld, illegally by a car rental company following advice by the CEO of the hotel association, the woman who had initially questioned our integrity and possibly the only one who did”.

[21]   The complainants also took issue with the reporter’s phrase “honest perhaps” at the end of the item. They said that there was “very strong emphasis on perhaps, [which was] another attempt to confuse opinion and fact”.

[22]   Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska concluded their complaint by requesting that TVNZ remove the story, entitled “Couple accused of charity scam”, from its website, because it was being adopted by other websites and their work was suffering considerably as a result.

Standards

[23]   TVNZ 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 Complainants

Standard 4 (balance)

[24]   TVNZ maintained that the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance and therefore the balance standard did not apply. It argued that:

There is no disagreement that Samoa has banned both of you from re-entering the country for life. It also appears that there is some doubt about the legitimacy of the One World Charity. Both sides had an opportunity to comment on their position about these concerns and the reporter honestly put the allegations to you so that you had a chance to answer them.

[25]   With regard to the complainants’ objection to the reporter’s use of the phrase “honest perhaps – but a cloud of doubt surrounds their work”, the broadcaster asserted that the statement did not dispute the fact that the complainants may be honest people, but did reiterate that there were questions about the work of One World. It maintained that “the item did not place blame or favour on any particular side”.

[26]  TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4 (balance).

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[27]   TVNZ dealt with each of the complainants’ accuracy arguments in turn.

Interview with Samoan Deputy Prime Minister, Misa Telefoni

[28]   With regard to the complainants’ argument that the item did not specify the “few people [who] questioned their integrity”, the broadcaster argued that it was not required to list every person who had, but that some were identified, including John Langley, the UNESCO spokeswoman, the Deputy Prime Minister and the rental car company owner.

[29]   The broadcaster maintained that the Deputy Prime Minister had:

...made it clear to the TVNZ reporter that it was very rare for Samoa to ban anyone from the country but the Government felt they had no choice. The reporter also spoke to the Head of Immigration in Samoa – he confirmed that [the complainants] left Samoa owing money to a car rental company he stated “there were grave doubts over what the pair was doing”. The head of the local Hotel Association in Samoa issued a warning letter out to its members about [the complainants] and the Editor of the Samoan Observer ran a number of negative stories about [the complainants] and One World also.

Reporter’s statement “they get free travel” and use of the term “freebie”

[30]   TVNZ argued that the description of the couple as getting “things for free because they say they are doing a charity project” was the opinion of the Samoan government, and at least one business in Samoa. It argued that the term “freebie” was an accurate description of the transactions that took place between the couple and the companies or service providers.

Complainants’ concern that the reporter stated that “the companies believe that they are sponsoring us for a worthy cause but this has never been stated by any company”

[31]   The broadcaster considered that the comments made by the rental car company owner showed that the sponsors believed they were helping a worthy cause. He said that the complainants “said that they can contribute to Samoa... so I said to him maybe we can help”.

Reporter’s statement that the One World website was “surprisingly empty”

[32]   TVNZ maintained that at the time of the item the website was empty, and that it was still empty, so the statement was accurate.

Reporter’s failure to mention that Dr Langley endorsed the One World Project

[33]   The broadcaster argued that “it appears that Dr Langley no longer endorses the One World project. He claims that he did not endorse the project two years ago”. It said that when he examined the website of One World he was “damning” about it.

Reporter’s statement that the Ministry of Education “refused to endorse” the project

[34]   The broadcaster maintained that the reporter had spoken to the Senior Communications Advisor of the Ministry about the One World charity and its website, and that he had responded that “it was not the Ministry’s policy to endorse these sorts of projects and that alarm bells were ringing over this in particular”.

Reporter’s failure to clarify who the “education specialists” were

[35]   TVNZ considered that Dr Langley and the Ministry of Education qualified as “education specialists”.

Alleged impropriety in putting together the item and the editing of the interview

[36]   The broadcaster maintained that the beach location was used for the interview because Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska were staying as guests at someone’s house and they requested that the interview not take place there; there was nothing sinister in suggesting the beach location, it said.

[37]   With regard to the editing of the interview, TVNZ stated that the reporter claimed that most of the interview focused on the lack of schools on the One World website and the absence of education references. The reporter said that both Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska discussed these issues in depth, but she had chosen to include Ms Lubinska’s reply in the item. TVNZ argued that it was not required to show the entire interview in the item and it was “standard procedure to choose statements that sum up the interviewee’s position on the question”. It maintained that the choice of Ms Lubinska’s response did not misrepresent the couple’s perspective as a whole.

[38]   The broadcaster maintained that it was also common when only one camera was used to first film the interviewees’ responses and then later re-film the reporter asking questions and edit them together for the item. It said this process did not alter the meaning of what was said.

The reporter’s use of the phrase “living it up” and use of photos

[39]   TVNZ argued that the use of the phrase was consistent with the thrust of the item and the interview, which was that people were offering the couple free travel to help the One World charity, not to be featured on the couple’s website. This was supported by the comments from the rental car company owner. TVNZ noted that the photos shown from the travel website showed the couple “enjoying the amenities i.e. ‘living it up’”.

References to “sponsoring” and the use of the terms “charity” and “charitable trust”

[40]   The couple pointed out that they had not been awarded a salary while travelling around the Pacific. TVNZ argued that, based on the One World website, “charitable trust” was a fair and accurate way to describe One World in the item. It noted that Ms Lubinska herself referred to it as a “charitable trust” in her interview response shown in the item.

UNESCO

[41]   The complainants argued that the clip of the woman from UNESCO was completely out of context. TVNZ maintained that:

...the original letter given to [the couple] by UNESCO was not a letter of support validating One World but rather to give One World support to seek funding. UNESCO have now withdrawn that support. They have also conducted their own investigations into One World’s work in Australia and they have stated to TVNZ that they were unimpressed.

[42]   The complainants had also claimed that UNESCO wanted to meet with them in Samoa. TVNZ again noted that UNESCO no longer supports One World.

Use of the term “confiscated” in relation to Mr Rowland’s passport

[43]   TVNZ argued that “confiscated” means “taken without permission or consent especially by or as if by a public authority”. It said that it appeared that the passport was taken by the rental company as it claimed the couple damaged the car and owed it money for petrol. The passport was clearly taken without permission or consent and was taken to prevent the couple leaving while there was a dispute over money owed, TVNZ said. It therefore concluded that the term “confiscated” had been used appropriately.

Use of the phrase “honest perhaps” at the end of the item

[44]   TVNZ noted that the phrase was used in the following exchange:

Mr Rowland:  ...I would like to come back to the fact that we are honest people.

Reporter:       Honest perhaps, but a cloud of doubt surrounds their work.

[45]   The broadcaster maintained that the reporter’s closing statement did not necessarily dispute Mr Rowland’s comment, but that it pointed out that there was still doubt about the One World charity.

[46]   TVNZ concluded that no breach of Standard 5 (accuracy) had occurred.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[47]   TVNZ maintained that the complainants had been treated fairly in the item and were given an adequate opportunity to respond. The reporter was very clear in her line of questioning; the allegations made about One World were outlined and put to the complainants and their points of view were included in the item, it said. The responses that were chosen for the item were an accurate and fair representation of the complainants’ positions, and the closing statement “honest perhaps...” succinctly summed up the issues presented in the item.

[48]   Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska had been treated unfairly in breach of Standard 6.

Referral to the Authority

[49]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska referred their complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. They claimed that they had received personal threats and their work had been seriously affected as a direct result of the One News item.

[50]   The complainants maintained that originally, they had explained to the reporter that the issue was “quite controversial and sensitive”, but she had told them the purpose of the item was “to put the record straight and let us clear our name. She said ‘you certainly have a story to tell there’”. They said that they had shown the reporter many documents which supported their side of the story, that she had then interviewed them for around 30 minutes, and then gone to get the “Samoan viewpoint”.

[51]   Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska alleged that when the reporter returned, “she took a completely different attitude and instead of asking for [their] point of view, confronted [them] with accusations”, for which they believed they had legitimate explanations. However, the reporter then constructed a very one-sided item, the complainants said, which was “designed to portray [them] in a very poor light”, and which at no time referred to the evidence they had provided.

[52]   The complainants disagreed with TVNZ that the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance. They said they considered that the issue of “a government banning innocent people for life for no factual reason is of public importance” and further that the story of “two innocent tourists” having their passports withheld for eight weeks and becoming “virtual prisoners” would be of interest to New Zealanders considering travelling to Samoa. They said that this was “undeniably controversial”, so that the item should have maintained balance, but did not.

[53]   The complainants maintained that the closing statement, “honest perhaps, but a cloud of doubt surrounds their work”, coloured the whole item and was the opinion of the reporter. They argued that in the interests of balance the same questions and doubts should have been raised with regard to the Samoan side of the story. Further, the complainants were not given a chance to comment on their being banned from Samoa and accused of taking freebies, they said, only the fact that the One World website was surprisingly empty.

[54]   Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska reiterated their concerns about the editing of the interview, which meant that their views with regard to the allegations were not presented in the item. They also argued that the use of the phrase “surprisingly empty” was “unfair, inaccurate, and furthered the unbalanced view”, and that it was not a “surprise” at all because they had explained to the reporter why that was the case. They said they “[hoped] that TVNZ did not lose this raw footage”.

[55]   The complainants also said that TVNZ was incorrect in stating that the majority of the interview focused on the lack of schools on the One World website; they believed this took up approximately three out of around 40 minutes. They reiterated that the choice of response in the item misrepresented their explanation as to why the website was lacking content.

[56]    Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska maintained that the choice of educational specialists was unbalanced because they had provided the reporter with letters from other specialists who thought highly of the project.

[57]   The complainants considered it was “ludicrous” for TVNZ to list Dr Langley and UNESCO as being the “few people” the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa referred to as questioning their integrity.

[58]   The complainants maintained that it was inaccurate for the item to say they were given “freebies” in exchange for reviews and promotion on their travel website. They said, “A freebie is a freebie. It cannot be given in exchange for something. This is a swap at worst or as, we maintain, sponsorship in kind”. They reiterated that the use of the term was misleading, because all of their sponsors got what they asked for, some congratulated them on their work on the website and asked if they could use the photos for promotional purposes and presentations. They said, “It was a very fair exchange and not a freebie”.

[59]   Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska argued that it was misleading for the item to state that the Ministry of Education refused to endorse One World, given that the Ministry spokesman had told TVNZ that it was not the Ministry’s policy to endorse these sorts of projects. They said, “if they never endorse something like this, then not endorsing this one is not unusual”.

[60]   The complainants maintained that it was inaccurate to say one of their passports had been confiscated due to money owed. They claimed that the passport had been given to the rental company as security when they rented a car, and it was then kept by the company after the rental period ended. They said it was not until four weeks later that they discovered there was a dispute over money owed.

[61]   With regard to fairness, the complainants argued that the reporter’s use of the phrase “living it up” was unfair. They considered that rather than living it up, they in fact spent a lot of time working to get photos that promoted the sponsors’ products, and talking to, for example, chefs to learn about those products. They argued that the photos shown were misleading, and only represented a very small percentage of all the photos on their two websites. They considered those photos breached guideline 6a which requires that extracts used in programmes are a true reflection and not a distortion of events or views expressed. The One World website, they said, contained dozens of photos of them “visiting sites, visiting homes, learning customs, visiting schools”, which “show the result of hard work”.

[62]   The complainants argued that the pictures had resulted in them receiving hostile responses from some individuals who knew little about One World but got the impression from the item that they are “just using people and living for free”. They said:

The news item was short, the matter was complex, the images easy to remember and understand and this was what most probably many of the viewers were left with.

Further Information Requested from the Complainants

[63]   In their referral, the complainants mentioned that they could provide written documents to support their arguments. They claimed they had shown these documents to the reporter and that she had ignored or misrepresented them. The Authority requested copies of the documents in order to assist with the determination of the complaint.

[64]   Mr Rowland provided to the Authority:

  • A fax, forwarded to Mr Rowland, sent by the General Manager of the car rental company, PK Rentals, to the CEO of the Hotel Association regarding the couple’s dealings with the rental company and money allegedly owed by them.
  • Email correspondence between the CEO of the Hotel Association and a staff member at UNESCO, which discussed their concerns about the couple. Another UNESCO representative then responded to them saying that the couple had been “misconstrued” and asking them to show courtesy towards the couple while they were in Samoa.
  • A letter of support from the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, which endorsed “the application of the organisers for institutional sponsorship by UNESCO” and wished them well in securing funding, but declined to provide financial resources itself.
  • An article entitled “Abuse season is upon us”, which included a section about the couple (apparently from a Samoan newspaper).
  • An editorial entitled “Being nice does not mean dumb”, about how “abuse of hospitality might reveal a side of Samoans no one wants to see”, in relation to the “suspicious couple” (apparently from a Samoan newspaper).
  • A letter from the Ministry of Police and Prisons in Apia, Samoa, to Mr Rowland, informing him that based on the evidence collected by them, there was no criminal case against him in relation to a claim made by PK Rentals.
  • A letter from the Ministry of Education in Fiji, granting approval for the complainants to “visit selected schools to share their knowledge and experiences and also to witness cultural presentations and discuss about culture”.
  • Three letters from schools; two asking to participate in the One World project and one thanking the complainants for their visit and wishing them well.
  • Email correspondence between Air Pacific and Mr Rowland confirming its offer of a 50% discount on the complainants’ airfares to Pacific Island destinations, not including taxes and surcharges, and discussing how the airline would be promoted on the websites in return.
  • A letter from Ha’apai Tourism asking that the district of Ha’apai be promoted on the complainants’ websites.

Further Information Requested from the Complainants

[65]   The item contained this sequence:

Reporter:    There are dozens of photos on the internet of you two living it up but there’s
                  very little work being done on the educational side, can’t you understand why
                  people are suspicious?

Ev:              But education doesn’t occur only in schools, the idea is to teach kids...

[66]   The complainants argued that this question and answer were mismatched, and that the interview was edited in a way that misrepresented their position and did not show the explanation they gave for why there was very little information on their educational site. They recalled that Mr Rowland, not Ms Lubinska, provided the answer to the above question. The Authority asked Mr Rowland how he answered the reporter’s question.

[67]   Mr Rowland replied:

I recollect that my answer was along the following lines:

Of course I understand why people might think that but the educational site [is] new and it will take time to develop it. If people ask as to why there is this gap I can explain it completely.

If people now go to www.theoneworld.org/teddy/index.shtml people could now see that my argument was not only valid but borne out by fact.

[68]   The Authority then asked Mr Rowland if this was the only explanation given to the reporter over the course of their interviews, about why there was little information on the educational site, and if he could please provide his full explanation.

[69]   Mr Rowland replied:

No this was not the only explanation given. The reporter was told several times that the one world site was being built slowly from our visits. She was also told that we were working with AUT students to improve this site, following chats with representatives of the Ministry of Education... She was shown the full site with NZ material on it and told that we were working on the site. The delay we had had in Samoa had caused a further delay with this site. In our view the reporter was well aware as to why the one world site was less full than the snapshotsfrom site. It is very easy to write a simple review of somewhere but putting together an educational site to be used globally takes longer. If the reporter had been honest she would have mentioned this fact instead she tried to make out that there was a hidden reason for the emptiness of this site. She knew this was a lie.

Further Information Requested from the Broadcaster

[70]   The Authority noted the following excerpt from the item which was relevant to the complaint (see paragraph [19]):

Reporter:    But now UNESCO’s done an about turn after hearing its letter of support had
                  been used to prove they were legitimate.

UNESCO:   Totally unacceptable, we would say. That was not the purpose of this letter.

[71]   The Authority asked TVNZ:

  1. What was the question put to the UNESCO representative which led to her response above?
  2. What was the background information given to UNESCO about the story and One World?

UNESCO question

[72]   TVNZ responded that the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO spokeswoman was asked about the letter which was given to The One World Project. It said she told the reporter that the letter was not a letter endorsing the organisation, but was merely a letter giving the couple leave to apply for funding within the UN, which is a first step requirement. She said it was not to be shown to anyone else as a letter of support.

[73]   The reporter then asked UNESCO whether it was acceptable for the couple to be showing the letter as a means of validating One World as an organisation, and she replied as was shown in the item. She also said that UNESCO had withdrawn the letter but the couple obviously still had their original copy.

UNESCO background

[74]   TVNZ’s reporter said that when she first contacted the UNESCO representative, the representative and her office were already well aware of One World and the “Samoan incident” and had completed their own investigation into One World. The reporter said that she told UNESCO that the couple were claiming that they had been the victim of some campaign against them, and felt they were entitled to show people the UNESCO letter.

[75]   The reporter said that the UNESCO representative and the office “were not happy about the way in which the letter had been used”. The New Zealand UNESCO office had been directly contacted by Samoan authorities, its representative said, to check whether the letter was provided for the purpose of being used as a “means of endorsement”. The UNESCO office had told those authorities that it was not. The representative also gave the reporter some information about UNESCO’s investigation into One World which “in brief, showed [the One World] project to be lacking”.

Further comments on Mr Rowland’s response

[76]   TVNZ emphasised that the point regarding the lack of information on the educational website was that both complainants had been in New Zealand for nearly three years and they could not adequately explain why it had “sat virtually empty for two years” following their trip around New Zealand.

[77]   TVNZ noted that the couple had appeared twice on Breakfast; once in April 2006 and once in October 2006. In their April interview they “clearly stated they would be visiting schools and outlined their project which was based on their educational website”. TVNZ quoted the interview:

Breakfast presenter:    You will live in the community, travel around the world and then go
                                   into schools, spend time in schools talking about the different
                                   communities you live in?

Mr Rowland:                 Well that will be on the website each week. There will be an update
                                   on the website that tells people our observations, the questions
                                   we’ve asked people and what we’ve learned.

Presenter:                    How will a school know you’re available to them, how will they
                                   find out?

Mr Rowland:                Any school can see the project because it’s on the internet. When we
                                  go to a certain country, a certain area, we’ll make contact first and
                                  say we’d like to meet one school this week another school the
                                  following week and those schools will form a network as we travel –
                                  a web ring of schools that we’ve been to.

[78]   TVNZ commented, “Needless to say, no ‘web ring’ of schools eventuated”.

[79]   The broadcaster also noted that Mr Rowland’s comment that One World was working with AUT students was a new development in 2008 and did not explain why their website had remained relatively empty for nearly three years. The Fiji and Samoa trips took place a year-and-a-half after their travels through New Zealand so delays in their travel did not explain why they had nothing on their website.

[80]   TVNZ maintained that the Ministry of Education had told the couple that their project did not fit in to New Zealand’s curriculum. The reporter said that the Ministry’s communications advisor had told her in a number of conversations that it was not the Ministry’s policy to endorse these sorts of projects and “alarm bells were ringing over this one”. The reporter said “I later rang him back and asked if it was fair to say the Ministry does not endorse this project and he said yes”.

[81]   There was no hidden reason, the broadcaster said, as to why the One World website was virtually empty. The reporter said, “It was virtually empty because virtually no work had been done on it in three years”. She also said that “after (but on the same day) One News questioned the couple... about the lack of schools on their site they sent off an email (dated 7 March 2.56pm) asking for Tongan schools to contribute”. 

Authority's Determination

[82]   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)

Interview with Samoan Deputy Prime Minister, Misa Telefoni

[83]   With regard to the complainants’ argument that the item did not specify the “few people [who] questioned their integrity”, the Authority finds that it was not misleading or inaccurate to show the Deputy Prime Minister making this comment and not specify who the “few people” were. It was clear from the item that there were a number of people, including the rental car company owner and the UNESCO representative, who had doubted the legitimacy of the complainants’ work and One World. The Authority does not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Reporter’s statement “they get free travel” and use of the term “freebie”

[84]   The Authority does not consider that it was inaccurate or misleading to say that the couple “get free travel” or to use the term “freebie”. The item explicitly mentioned the “exchange” between the couple and their sponsors, and “freebie” was a fair and accurate description of products and services that were either free or heavily discounted. The Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

Failure to mention in the item that the couple were not paid a salary while travelling

[85]   In the Authority’s view, neglecting to mention explicitly in the item that the couple did not take a salary while travelling the Pacific did not result in the item being misleading. This fact was implicit in their cause and their work. Further, this information was not relevant to the focus of the item – why the couple had been banned from returning to Samoa and why their One World Foundation had been called into question – and would not have added to viewers’ understanding of the issues. The Authority does not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Reporter’s use of the words “living it up” and choice of photos for the item

[86]   The Authority does not consider that the reporter’s use of the phrase “living it up” or her choice of photos from the websites for inclusion in the item were misleading. It agrees with TVNZ that they were consistent with the thrust of the story and helped to illustrate why there was doubt about the couple’s motives. The Authority declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

Reporter’s statement that the One World website was “surprisingly empty”

[87]   Having visited the complainants’ two websites, the Authority finds that the comment that the One World website was “surprisingly empty” was not inaccurate, but was reasonable, especially when the website was compared to the travel website. Further, having directly asked Mr Rowland twice, he has failed to provide the Authority with a detailed or reasonable explanation for why the website remains empty, only stating that it was being built slowly. The item was not inaccurate or misleading in this respect.

Reporter’s failure to mention that Dr Langley endorsed the One World Project

[88]   The Authority does not consider that the item needed to state that John Langley, who was shown criticising One World, had earlier endorsed the project. Mr Langley expressed his opinion at the time of the item; what he thought 18 months earlier was not relevant. The item was not inaccurate or misleading in this respect.

Reporter’s failure to clarify who the “education specialists” were

[89]   The Authority agrees with TVNZ that the Ministry of Education and John Langley qualified as “education specialists”, and that the item was not inaccurate or misleading in this respect.

Use of the phrase “honest perhaps” at the end of the item

[90]   The Authority considers that the phrase “honest perhaps” was used as a linking statement, and agrees with TVNZ that it served to summarise fairly the issues raised in the item. The Authority does not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Reporter’s statement that the Ministry of Education “refused to endorse” the project

[91]   The complainants argued it was inaccurate and/or misleading to state that the Ministry of Education “refused” to endorse the One World project. They said it had actually suggested some changes be made before it would add One World to a list of recommended sites. TVNZ maintained that the Communications Advisor at the Ministry had told the reporter that “it is not policy for the Ministry to endorse these sorts of projects and that alarm bells were ringing over this one”. The reporter said, “I later rang him back and asked if it was fair to say the Ministry does not endorse this project and he said yes”.

[92]   In these circumstances, the Authority does not consider that it was inaccurate for the reporter to state in the item that the Ministry was “refusing” to endorse the One World project. It accepts TVNZ’s evidence that the Ministry was aware of this particular project and that it had not offered any endorsement. Accordingly, it does not uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

UNESCO

[93]   The complainants argued that the clip of the UNESCO spokeswoman was shown out of context and was misleading because the letter from UNESCO was a letter of support. TVNZ maintained that UNESCO had withdrawn all support for One World, and that the letter was only supportive of their application for funding.

[94]   Based on the further information provided by TVNZ (paragraphs [72] to [75] above), the Authority finds that the excerpt of the reporter’s interview with the UNESCO spokeswoman was not misleading. It declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

Use of the term “confiscated” in relation to Mr Rowland’s passport

[95]   The complainants argued that it was inaccurate to say that the passport had been “confiscated” as they had in fact handed it over as security for their rental car, and it had then been withheld by the rental car company because of money owed.

[96]   The Authority agrees that the use of the word “confiscated” could have created the impression that Mr Rowland’s passport had been seized by police or other officials.  However, the Authority considers it was not inaccurate to use the word in the more colloquial or informal sense – in this case to describe the actions of the rental car company in taking the passport as security and subsequently withholding it in the belief that the couple owed money.

[97]   Further, it represented a minor detail in the context of the item and the Authority considers that a finding that it breached the accuracy standard would place an unreasonable and unjustified limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. Accordingly, the Authority does not uphold this aspect of the accuracy complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

Alleged impropriety in putting together the item and the editing of the interview

[98]   The complainants argued that the excerpts chosen from their interview to be included in the item were mismatched and therefore they were denied a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations made against them. They maintained that Mr Rowland had given the reporter a legitimate explanation for why the One World website was relatively empty, and she had chosen not to include it in the item.

[99]   Because it was not apparent in their submissions, the Authority asked the complainants what explanation they had given to the reporter. Mr Rowland replied that he had told the reporter that “the educational site [is] new and it will take time to develop it”, and that “if people ask as to why there is this gap I can explain it completely”.  The Authority then asked Mr Rowland exactly what his explanation was, to which he replied:

...the one world site was being built slowly from our visits... we were working with AUT students to improve this site, following chats with representatives of the Ministry of Education... [The reporter] was shown the full site with NZ material on it and told that we were working on the site. The delay we had had in Samoa had caused a further delay with this site. In our view the reporter was well aware as to why the one world site was less full than the snapshotsfrom site. It is very easy to write a simple review of somewhere but putting together an educational site to be used globally takes longer.

[100]   Based on this response, and TVNZ’s further comments (see paragraphs [76] to [79] above), the Authority finds that TVNZ’s choice of excerpts from the interview was a fair representation of the couple’s position and that the couple was given sufficient opportunity to comment. It notes that the next excerpt from the interview was as follows:

Reporter:    People aren’t just sponsoring you to do a travel log, you’re a charitable trust
                  and they want to see some evidence of that.

Lubinska:    Well yes but the charitable trust and the evidence of our work is what we are
                  writing. It’s learning materials.

[101]   In the Authority’s view, this question was synonymous with that allegedly answered by Mr Rowland, which asked “there’s very little work being done on the educational side, can’t you understand why people are suspicious?” The Authority considers that Ms Lubinska’s answer summarised the couple’s position and their response to the allegations that had been made against them, so that it did not matter that Mr Rowland’s explanation was not included.

[102]   Accordingly, the Authority finds that the editing of the interview did not result in the complainants being treated unfairly. It declines to uphold this aspect of the fairness complaint.

The reporter’s use of the phrase “living it up”

[103]   The Authority considers that the reporter’s use of the term “living it up” in reference to the complainants was not unfair. It was a fair description of the information and photos from the travel website.

The reporter’s choice of photos

[104]   In the Authority’s view, the choice of photos used in the item was not unfair to the complainants. As mentioned above, they were consistent with the thrust of the item and helped to illustrate why there were doubts about the couple’s motives.

[105]   Further, the choice of photos did not distort the original events or views expressed (guideline 6a) as argued by the complainants. They were taken directly from the couple’s travel website, which the item explained was an important part of their agreement to promote One World’s sponsors, and the couple was specifically questioned about the photos and given a fair opportunity to comment.

Standard 4 (balance)

[106]   Standard 4 requires broadcasters to provide balance when discussing controversial issues of public importance. The item reported on the story of a couple who had been banned from Samoa after questions were raised about the legitimacy of their operations.

[107]   The Authority considers that this did not constitute a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance as envisaged by the standard. The item told the story of one couple’s experience in Samoa, and was confined to the questions raised about the couple’s activities which had led to them being banned in Samoa. Although the couple was in discussions with government ministries and funding organisations, the item did not attempt to explore any wider issues arising out of that, such as implications for government policy, operations or conduct. 

[108]   In these circumstances, the Authority finds that the balance standard is not applicable. It declines to uphold the complaint that the item was unbalanced.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
18 September 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Richard Rowland and Ev Lubinska’s formal complaint – 10 March 2008
2.           TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 15 April 2008
3.           Mr Rowland and Ms Lubinska’s referral to the Authority – 13 May 2008
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 23 May 2008
5.           Further information from Mr Rowland – 9 July 2008
6.           Further information from Mr Rowland (2) – 23 July 2008
7.           Further information from the broadcaster – 8 August 2008