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Beets-Benton and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-050

Members

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

Complainant

  • Marrilyn Beets-Benton of Christchurch

Dated

13th August 2008

Number

2008-050

Programme

One News: Midday

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News: Midday – item on the sentencing of Millie Elder for drug offences – referred to her as the adopted daughter of Paul Holmes – allegedly unfair

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – the word “adopted” was not used in a pejorative way – statement was true – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on One News: Midday, broadcast on TV One at 12pm on Monday 31 March 2008, reported on the sentencing of Millie Elder on drug offences. At the beginning of the item, the presenter said:

The adopted daughter of broadcaster Paul Holmes, Millie Elder, will be sentenced in the Auckland District Court today on a range of drug charges. Paul Holmes arrived at court to support his daughter, as did her mother, Hine Elder.

[2]   Towards the end of the news report, the presenter stated:

The adopted daughter of broadcaster Paul Holmes, Millie Elder, faces sentence on drugs charges. We’ll have more on all those stories on our next news at 4.30 and the One News hour at 6. 

Complaint

[3]   Marrilyn Beets-Benton made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the news item had treated Millie Elder and all adopted persons unfairly.

[4]   The complainant noted that the news presenter had referred to Ms Elder twice during the report as the adopted daughter of Paul Holmes and argued that the reference to their adoptive relationship was unnecessary and unfair. She contended that she had never heard anyone described in a news broadcast “as the natural or non-adopted son or daughter of whomever” and that Ms Elder was Mr Holmes’ daughter “in every sense of the word”.

[5]   Ms Beets-Benton considered that reference to a person’s adopted status would be acceptable when reporting on adoption itself, but that “in this instance it is inappropriate to do so”. She believed that the description of Ms Elder as an adopted daughter was discriminatory and represented “sensationalism at its worst”.     

Standards

[6]   Standard 6 and guideline 6g of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to this complaint. They provide:

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.

Guideline 6g      
     
Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i)      factual, or

ii)     the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual
       programmes, or

iii)    in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7]   TVNZ argued that the term “adopted” was not pejorative and contended that the use of the term did not infer anything negative about Ms Elder or her family. It considered that the use of the term during the item would not have caused viewers to view Ms Elder in a negative way.

[8]   The broadcaster also noted that the use of the term was “factually correct – Millie was adopted by Paul Holmes”. TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6.

Referral to the Authority

[9]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Beets-Benton referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She maintained that it was unfair and discriminatory to define a person’s adopted or non-adopted status in a national news broadcast, when it was not done for all persons who were the subject of a reported court appearance.

Authority's Determination

[10]   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.

[11]   Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in an item. The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the use of the word “adopted” in the item was not pejorative and that it did not infer anything negative about Ms Elder to viewers. The Authority notes that it is a fact that Ms Elder is the adopted daughter of Paul Holmes and it does not consider the item’s reference to Ms Elder’s adopted status was unfair to her.

[12]   Ms Beets-Benton also argued that the description of Ms Elder as an adopted daughter was discriminatory (guideline 6g). In the Authority’s view, encouraging discrimination means to encourage the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment.

[13]   The Authority finds that describing Ms Elder as “adopted” merely explained the relationship between Ms Elder and her father. The item did not encourage discrimination against adopted persons. In these circumstances, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 6 (fairness).

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
13 August 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Marrilyn Beets-Benton’s formal complaint – 31 March 2008
2.           TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 30 April 2008
3.           Ms Beets-Benton’s referral to the Authority – 21 May 2008
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 23 May 2008