Skip to main content

Wolf and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-068, 2008-069

Members

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

Complainant

  • Graham Wolf of Lower Hutt

Dated

21st October 2008

Number

2008-068–069

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News: Midday and One News – reported on a police drugs bust involving former Australian swimmer Scott Miller – Charlotte Dawson mentioned as being his ex-wife – one item included wedding photos of Ms Dawson and Mr Miller – allegedly in breach of law and order, balance, accuracy and fairness

Findings
Standard 2 (law and order) – items did not encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise condone, promote or glamorise criminal activity – not upheld

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

Standard 5 (accuracy) – items were accurate on points of fact – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – Ms Dawson was treated fairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on One News Midday, broadcast at 12pm on Thursday 17 April 2008, reported on a police drugs bust involving former Australian swimmer Scott Miller. The presenter introduced the item by stating:

A celebrity drug bust has hit the headlines in Sydney. Olympic swimming medallist Scott Miller, who was married to New Zealand-born model Charlotte Dawson, and former Wallaby rugby player Mark Catchpole, have been arrested in a raid in Sydney’s Northern beaches.

[2]   An item on One News, broadcast at 6pm on Thursday 17 April 2008, reported on the same story. It included wedding shots of Charlotte Dawson and Scott Miller as a reporter stated:

Scott Miller isn’t just famous for his feats in the pool. He’s also a familiar face in celebrity circles, marrying model Charlotte Dawson. She says she hasn’t spoken with her ex in eight years.

[3]   Both items mentioned the fact that Mr Miller was not a stranger to controversy, stating he had once spent a night in an American jail, and that in 1997 he lost his scholarship with the Australian Institute of Sport after being involved in a “scuffle”.         

Complaints

[4]   Graham Wolf made complaints to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that both items had breached standards of law and order, balance, accuracy and fairness.

[5]   Mr Wolf argued that the items “strongly implied that Charlotte Dawson associates with serious criminals, perhaps engages in criminal activity, and is a convicted criminal herself”.

[6]   The complainant contended that the items “showed an offensive and sensationally unbalanced visual portrayal of Charlotte Dawson in the Scott Miller drugs/firearms ‘Sydney police bust’ story”. He argued that the broadcaster had made Ms Dawson the “feature” of the item instead of Mr Miller.

[7]   Mr Wolf argued that the items were inaccurate as they made a “huge deal” about Charlotte Dawson and her involvement with Mr Miller, “but conveniently failed to mention Miller’s previous convictions for aggravated assault, being arrested and briefly jailed previously, plus failed dope tests”. He believed those facts were highly relevant and should have been included in the items.

[8]   The complainant contended that the items’ portrayal “of a 100% innocent Charlotte Dawson was anything but fair”.      

Standards

[9]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 2, 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 2 Law and Order

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.

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

[10]   With respect to Standard 2 (law and order), TVNZ argued that the items did not contain any material that implied Ms Dawson was a criminal. It contended that the law and order standard was aimed at preventing broadcasts that encouraged viewers to break the law or otherwise promoted, condoned or glamorised criminal activity. The broadcaster considered that neither item contained any such material. It declined to uphold the law and order complaint.

[11]   Turning to the balance standard, the broadcaster noted that Standard 4 only required balance to be provided when items discussed controversial issues of public importance. It argued that the items did not discuss such an issue. TVNZ stated that, even if the items had discussed a controversial issue of public importance, they were not unbalanced. It said that the Midday item had only briefly mentioned Ms Dawson in its introduction, and the One News item had only included a wedding shot of Ms Dawson and Mr Miller when discussing his past.

[12]   With respect to accuracy, TVNZ contended the items did not make a “huge deal” about Ms Dawson as alleged by the complainant. It considered that neither item contained any errors of fact and it declined to uphold the accuracy complaint.

[13]   Dealing with fairness, the broadcaster argued that the items had treated Ms Dawson justly and fairly. In the second of two fleeting references to Ms Dawson, viewers were told she had not spoken to Mr Miller in eight years, it said. TVNZ considered that neither item had implied that she was involved in Mr Miller’s current legal problems. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaints.        

Referral to the Authority

[14]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Wolf referred his complaints to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[15]   The members of the Authority have viewed recordings of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[16]   Mr Wolf has argued that the items had breached standards relating to law and order, balance, accuracy and fairness. The Authority disagrees and declines to uphold the complaints for the following reasons.

[17]   The Authority has stated on previous occasions (e.g. Decision 2005-133) that the intent behind the law and order standard is to prevent broadcasts which encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity. The Authority considers the items did not contain any such material, and that Standard 2 was not breached.

[18]   The balance standard only applies to news, current affairs and other factual programmes when they discuss controversial issues of public importance. The items complained about reported on the arrest of Mr Miller and Mr Catchpole on drugs charges by Australian police. The Authority finds that the subject matter of the reports did not constitute a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance as envisaged by Standard 4 (balance). Accordingly, the standard does not apply.

[19]   The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the items did not contain any inaccurate statements of fact, and therefore Standard 5 was not breached. Lastly, the items’ references to Ms Dawson were fleeting and did not imply that she was involved in Mr Miller’s legal problems. The Authority finds that Ms Dawson was dealt with justly and fairly in both items. 

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
21 October 2008

Appendix

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

1.           Graham Wolf’s formal complaint – 6 May 2008
2.          TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 10 June 2008
3.          Mr Wolf’s referral to the Authority – 4 July 2008
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 22 August 2008