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Headley and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2007-020

Members

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

Complainant

  • Wendy Headley of Hamilton

Dated

3rd May 2007

Number

2007-020

Programme

Close Up

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – two items about the disappearance of a six-year-old boy who had allegedly been kidnapped by his maternal grandfather – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

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

Standard 5 (accuracy) – no inaccuracies in either item – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – 5 December broadcast not unfair to mother of six-year-old boy – complainant did not specify any person in the 20 December broadcast who was treated unfairly – 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 5 December 2007, looked at the on-going search for Jayden Headley, a 6-year-old boy at the centre of a custody dispute who had been taken into hiding by his maternal grandfather, Dick Headley, two months previously. The presenter introduced the item as follows:

It's been six weeks since Hamilton woman Kay Skelton was locked up for refusing to tell a judge where her kidnapped son Jayden Headley was in hiding.

[2]   The presenter said that "to add insult to injury", Dick Headley's wife, Wendy Headley, had also gone missing. At the conclusion of the programme, the presenter said that Close Up had asked the Hamilton Police to comment on the search for Jayden, and said:

So, why is this case still dragging on, still unsolved? Well, the simple answer, say the Police, is that Jayden's extended family are withholding information, and information is what they need to solve this case.

[3]   On 6 December 2007, the Close Up presenter said that Wendy Headley had left a message stating that she was not missing, and reiterating that neither she nor her daughter Kay Skelton knew where Jayden was.

[4]   On 20 December 2007, Close Up included an interview with Jayden Headley's father, Chris Jones, who expressed his desire to have Jayden home for Christmas.

Complaints

[5]    Wendy Headley made a formal complaint about the 5 December item to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster. She stated that the programme was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair. Mrs Headley maintained that Kay Skelton did not know where Jayden was, and therefore she had not "refused" to reveal his whereabouts. Furthermore, she said, the immediate family did not know where Jayden was. Mrs Headley also complained about the statement that she had gone missing.

[6]   In a separate complaint about the 20 December interview with Chris Jones, Mrs Headley asserted that the programme was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair.

Standards

[7]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5 and 6 and guideline 5a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, 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.

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 5a    

Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

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

[8]   TVNZ noted that it was not the media that had sent Mrs Headley's daughter to prison. It was a judge who considered that Ms Skelton was in contempt of court for not producing Jayden, it said, and the judge clearly believed that Ms Skelton knew his whereabouts. TVNZ maintained that its reports had done no more than reflect the judicial conclusion.

[9]   The broadcaster admitted that it had made an error in stating that Mrs Headley had gone missing. It upheld this part of the complaint as a breach of Standard 5 (accuracy) and apologised. It also noted that a correction had been broadcast on Close Up the following evening, in accordance with guideline 5a.

[10]   Looking at Standard 4 (balance), TVNZ said that the story of Jayden's disappearance had been reported over the months in a straightforward and responsible manner. It had reported that Ms Skelton had been sent to prison for contempt of court, and it had also reported Mrs Headley's assertion that the family did not know Jayden's whereabouts. TVNZ maintained that the views of Chris Jones were also important in achieving balance.

[11]   The broadcaster found no evidence that Close Up was unfair to Mrs Headley's family, Mr Jones or the courts, and therefore it declined to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Mrs Headley referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

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

5 December broadcast

[14]   Mrs Headley complained about the introduction to the 5 December item, stating that Kay Skelton had not "refused" to reveal where Dick and Jayden Headley were hiding. However, the Authority agrees with TVNZ that the presenter's introduction simply reflected the finding of the High Court judge who had jailed Ms Skelton for contempt of court, based on his conclusion that she was refusing to disclose their whereabouts. The Authority considers that the introduction was neither inaccurate nor unfair to Ms Skelton.

[15]   The complainant also argued that the programme inaccurately stated that Jayden's extended family was withholding information from the police. The presenter said:

So, why is this case still dragging on, still unsolved? Well, the simple answer, say the Police, is that Jayden's extended family are withholding information, and information is what they need to solve this case.

[16]   In the Authority's view, the presenter was accurately reporting the view of the Hamilton police that the extended family was refusing to cooperate with their investigation. As it was clearly presented to viewers as being the opinion of the police, and not as a point of fact, the Authority finds that the reporter's statement was neither inaccurate nor unfair to the extended family.

[17]   Looking at Mrs Headley's Standard 4 (balance) complaint, the Authority notes that Standard 4 requires that balance be provided only when controversial issues of public importance are discussed. Although the kidnapping of Jayden Headley was of great interest to the public, the programme was simply a factual report presenting new developments in the case. It did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance as envisaged by the balance standard. Therefore the Authority declines to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

20 December broadcast

[18]   Mrs Headley's Standard 5 complaint centres on her allegation that TVNZ was biased and was "helping" Mr Jones' cause. However, she has not provided the Authority with any evidence to suggest that TVNZ's coverage of the Jayden Headley case was partial. In these circumstances, the Authority finds that Standard 5 was not breached.

[19]   Standard 6 (fairness) complaints must relate to a specific individual or organisation that took part, or was referred to, in a programme. Because Mrs Headley has not specified any person who she alleges the broadcaster treated unfairly in the 20 December broadcast, the Authority declines to uphold the fairness complaint.

[20]   For the same reasons outlined above in paragraph [17], the Authority concludes that the balance standard did not apply to the 20 December item, and therefore it does not uphold this part of the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
3 May 2007

Appendix

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

1             Wendy Headley's formal complaints – 6 December 2006 and 21 December 2006
2            TVNZ's decision on the formal complaints – 22 January 2007
3            Mrs Headley's referral to the Authority – undated
4            TVNZ's response to the Authority – 8 March 2007