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Teoh and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-091

Members

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

Complainant

  • Dr Heng Teoh of Auckland

Dated

25th November 2008

Number

2008-091

Programme

Close Up

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – item followed up on three recent killings of Asian people – a Chinese woman stated in the item that she was carrying one thousand dollars in cash in her handbag and that it was part of Chinese culture to carry a lot of cash – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

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

Standard 5 (accuracy) – clearly interviewee’s opinion – no suggestion that other interviews were suppressed – not misleading or inaccurate – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – interviews did not distort original events – item did not encourage discrimination – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Close Up, broadcast on TV One at 7pm on 17 June 2008, followed up on the killings of three Asian people in South Auckland. Close Up’s host introduced the item by saying:

It may be an unpalatable question, but one that needs to be addressed: are Asians being targeted by an underclass in parts of South Auckland who perceive them as easy targets?

[2]   A Close Up reporter visited a shopping mall car park, where he interviewed the husband of a victim of a recent attack. A number of Asian women were shown in the car park loading their cars with shopping, with their handbags clearly visible or sitting in trolleys. The reporter stated that “Asian women being slight and known for carrying cash in their bags are easy targets”. He asked one woman how much money she was carrying in her handbag, and she replied “maybe one thousand dollars”. Later he asked her why she was carrying so much cash, and she answered, “Maybe this is Chinese culture”.

[3]   Close Up’s host then sought comment from the Prime Minister about the youth gang problem in South Auckland and an alleged crisis of leadership in the Police.

Complaint

[4]   Dr Heng Teoh made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair.

[5]   The complainant considered that, because a Chinese woman was shown in the item telling the reporter she had one thousand dollars in her handbag, TVNZ was “propagating the myth that Chinese women carry a lot of cash in their handbags”, which would have encouraged thieves to target Chinese women. The complainant argued that this breached guideline 6g because the item constituted a form of discrimination that endangered a section of the public, and had compromised the safety of Chinese women.

[6]   Dr Heng Teoh said that he was “certain that other Chinese women were interviewed during the preparation for the programme”, but that “Close Up chose to broadcast only this interview because it was sensational”. This breached guideline 5b, Dr Heng Teoh said, because “other interviews were suppressed”, resulting in misleading information being broadcast. The complainant considered that TVNZ also breached guideline 6a, because it did not ensure that the extracts used in the item were a true reflection of the situation.

[7]   Further, Dr Heng Teoh argued that it was inaccurate to broadcast the comment by the same interviewee that the reason she had that amount of cash in her handbag was that “it is Chinese culture”. Dr Heng Teoh considered that Close Up should have verified that information with “responsible members of the Chinese community”, who were much more likely to use EFTPOS or credit cards.

[8]   The complainant maintained that TVNZ had breached guideline 4a because it failed to provide balance when discussing a controversial issue. Dr Heng Teoh said that it was “controversial whether Chinese women carry a lot of cash in their handbags”, and that TVNZ “displayed presumptive bias in not checking with responsible members of the Chinese community regarding the issue”.

Standards

[9]   Dr Heng Teoh nominated Standards 4, 5 and 6, and guidelines 4a, 5b, 6a and 6g of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint, which 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.

Guideline 4a

Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality.

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.

Guideline 5b

Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

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.

Guidelines

6a   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.

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

[10]   Looking at the balance standard, the broadcaster considered that the controversial issue of public importance discussed in the item was the senseless killings of Asian people, not whether Chinese women carried large amounts of cash in their handbags. The issue of senseless killings received appropriate balance, TVNZ said. The item included the views of potential victims seen at a recent crime scene, and then comment from the Prime Minister about the youth gang problem in South Auckland and the alleged crisis of leadership in the Police. TVNZ concluded that significant points of view were presented in the item, achieving the balance required by Standard 4, and it declined to uphold Dr Heng Teoh’s balance complaint.

[11]   Considering the accuracy standard, TVNZ strongly denied that any interviews were “suppressed”. It said that the woman interviewed and shown in the item was approached by the Close Up reporter who identified himself, and that she showed no hesitation in answering his questions and was aware she was being filmed. The reporter commented:

I considered her response was particularly relevant as it seemed to reinforce the perception that Asian women carry considerable amounts of cash in their handbags. I further believe that perception is widespread and I also do not believe the criminal fraternity were provided with any information that they did not know.

[12]   TVNZ maintained that the interviewee’s comment that carrying large amounts of cash was a part of Chinese culture was clearly distinguishable as her opinion rather than a statement of fact. It concluded that the item was accurate on all points of fact and declined to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

[13]   Turning to Standard 6 (fairness), the broadcaster contended that the comments made by the interviewee were her opinion, and noted that guideline 6g “is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is... the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes”. TVNZ disagreed with the complainant that by including the Chinese woman’s comments, the item encouraged discrimination against any section of the community. It noted that the Bill of Rights Act required a high level of invective to conclude that a broadcast encouraged denigration or discrimination in contravention of Standard 6. TVNZ maintained that this item did not meet the threshold for discrimination.

Referral to the Authority

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

[15]   The complainant maintained that the issue of whether Chinese women carry large amounts of cash in their handbags was a controversial issue that required balance.

[16]   With respect to Standard 5, Dr Heng Teoh noted that TVNZ had not revealed in its response the number of people interviewed for the item, and how they responded to the reporter’s questions about the amount of cash they were carrying and the reason for carrying that amount. The complainant disagreed with TVNZ that it was not inaccurate to broadcast the controversial opinion of one interviewee.

[17]   Looking at fairness, the complainant considered that TVNZ had not provided evidence that it had exercised due care in editing the programme material that the portrayal of Chinese women in the item had not encouraged discrimination. Dr Heng Teoh reiterated his concern that the item had compromised the safety of Chinese women.

Authority's Determination

[18]   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 (balance)

[19]   Standard 4 requires broadcasters to provide balance when discussing controversial issues of public importance. This Close Up item discussed whether Asian people were targets of crime in South Auckland. The Authority appreciates that the attacks on members of the Asian community would be of serious concern to many viewers, including the complainant. However, while the issue discussed in the item may be one of public concern, it was not “controversial” to suggest, following the three deaths and further incidents mentioned in the item, that the Asian community was possibly a target, or to suggest possible reasons why that might be the case. Accordingly, the Authority finds that the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance to which the balance standard applies.

[20]   Dr Heng Teoh’s main concern was that the item did not include another perspective on what he considered to be the “controversial issue” of whether Chinese women carry a lot of cash in their handbags, to balance the view offered by the woman interviewed. The issue of whether Chinese women carry a lot of money is not a “controversial issue of public importance” as envisaged by Standard 4. Regardless, the Authority considers that viewers would have appreciated that this was simply the view of one interviewee.

[21]   The Authority therefore declines to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[22]   Dr Heng Teoh argued that it was inaccurate and misleading to show the interviewee stating that she had one thousand dollars in her handbag and that it was part of Chinese culture. The complainant maintained that TVNZ “suppressed” other interviews so that showing only that particular woman was misleading.

[23]   The Authority has been provided with no evidence to suggest that TVNZ “suppressed” interviews with other members of the Chinese community. Further, it was clear that the interviewee was offering her opinion that carrying a lot of cash may be Chinese culture; her comment would not likely have been interpreted by viewers to be a statement of fact.

[24]   Accordingly, the Authority concludes that the item was not inaccurate or misleading. It declines to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[25]   Dr Heng Teoh argued that because TVNZ must have interviewed other people and not included them in the item it breached guideline 6a. As outlined above, the complainant has provided no evidence that TVNZ “suppressed” other interviews such that the extracts used in the programme distorted the original events or overall views expressed. Accordingly, the Authority considers that the item was not unfair in this respect.

[26]   The complainant also contended that the item encouraged discrimination against Chinese women and compromised their safety in breach of guideline 6g, because it propagated the myth that they carry a lot of cash. In Decision No. 2008-050, the Authority found that encouraging discrimination means to encourage the different treatment of the members of a particular group, to their detriment.

[27]   The Authority appreciates that Dr Heng Teoh is genuinely concerned for the safety of Chinese women. However, it considers that the item did not encourage discrimination against them in the manner envisaged by guideline 6g; the item simply reported on a number of recent incidents and responses to those events, and questioned whether Asian people were being targeted. Accordingly, the Authority concludes that members of the Asian community were not treated unfairly in this respect.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
25 November 2008

Appendix

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

1.           Dr Heng Teoh’s formal complaint – 20 June 2008
2.          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 24 July 2008
3.          Dr Heng Teoh’s referral to the Authority – 15 August 2008
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 26 September 2008