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Curran and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2007-052

Members

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

Complainant

  • P G Curran of Levin

Dated

14th August 2007

Number

2007-052

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item on meeting between Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley – included Tony Blair talking about peace process – Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern not mentioned – item was followed by BBC report reviewing past conflict in Northern Ireland that stated the total number of deaths caused by the conflict – allegedly inaccurate.

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – complaint raised matters of editorial judgment, not accuracy – 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 27 March 2007, reported on a meeting in Northern Ireland between the Unionist leader Reverend Ian Paisley and the President of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams. The two men were meeting to finalise a power sharing agreement that was part of an overall peace process between the two sides. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was shown stating:

In a sense everything we’ve ever done over the last ten years has been in preparation for this moment.

[2]  Directly after the item on the Paisley/Adams meeting, One News broadcast an item from the BBC that reviewed the past conflict and violence in Northern Ireland. During the course of the item a BBC reporter stated:

...the troubles claimed the lives of 3,524 people, more than 40,000 were injured, and uncounted thousands were left to grieve for their loved ones.

Complaint

[3]  P G Curran complained to Television New Zealand, the broadcaster, that both items breached Standard 5 (accuracy) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  In relation to the first item, the complainant argued that TVNZ should have referred to Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern. He believed the statement made by Tony Blair that “…everything we’ve ever done…”, was a direct reference to Mr Ahern and that by not making this clear in the item, TVNZ was ignoring the vital role he played in the peace process. He maintained that because the item had not mentioned Mr Ahern it was inaccurate by omission.

[5]  Secondly, the complainant stated that TVNZ should have shown footage of a meeting held in Dublin on 4 April 2007 between Mr Paisley and Mr Ahern. He argued it would have been “a fitting sequel to the ghastly Paisley/Adams meeting in Belfast on 26 March”. He was concerned that TVNZ was choosing to broadcast items that would leave New Zealanders with a bad impression about Protestant and Catholic relations in Ireland. He maintained TVNZ should have broadcast the meeting between Mr Paisley and Mr Ahern to show New Zealanders that relations between the two groups were good.

[6]  Thirdly, Mr Curran believed that the BBC item was inaccurate because the statistics used in it had not been broken down to reflect how many deaths each terrorist group was responsible for. He argued that TVNZ had access to the figures, it had a duty to present them and failed to do so.   

Standards

[7]  TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 5 of the Free to Air Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

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.

Guidelines

5a  Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

5b  Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

5c  Broadcasters must ensure that the editorial independence and integrity of news and current affairs is maintained.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8]  In its reply to Mr Curran, the broadcaster stated that the focus of the item was the meeting between Mr Adams and Mr Paisley, its significance and “what it symbolised in the context of the centuries old antipathy between the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland and the Catholic community”.

[9]  TVNZ maintained that the event was reported accurately and that viewers would have been left with an impression that the meeting was an historic moment for the peace process in Northern Ireland.

[10]  The broadcaster argued that the use of the word, “we’ve” by Tony Blair was not a direct reference to Mr Ahern, but to a wider team effort and to the collective achievement under Mr Blair’s governance. It maintained that to give credit to Mr Blair and Mr Ahern alone would itself have been inaccurate and misleading.  

[11]  The broadcaster argued that the BBC item following on from the report on the Paisley/Adams meeting was appropriate, because it reviewed the recent history of conflict in Northern Ireland. It went on to say that “implicit in the review was the possibility that the Paisley/Adams meeting indicated an end to the violence which has beset Northern Ireland, especially for the last 30 years or so”.  It maintained that everything contained in the item was accurate.

[12]  TVNZ concluded that there was no breach of Standard 5, and it declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[13]  Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Curran referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[14]  Mr Curran stated that TVNZ had not addressed the issue he raised concerning the non-coverage of the meeting between Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and Ian Paisley.

[15]  The complainant reiterated his concerns about the accuracy and the type of coverage TVNZ was giving to the events in Ireland relating to the peace process.

[16]  In reference to the statistics mentioned in the BBC item, Mr Curran believed that TVNZ had access to a report from Reuters News Agency that stated the Irish Republican Army was responsible for nearly half the 3,600 deaths. He believed that “TVNZ withheld this vital piece of news” and that the item was “a classic case of omission and innuendo”.

[17]  The complainant then referred to a book called “Lost Lives”, which he said had the correct figures for the number of deaths caused by each terrorist group in Ireland over the last 30 years. He said these figures were very close to those contained in the Reuters report and that TVNZ had failed in its duty to present them to the New Zealand public.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[18]  The broadcaster stated that Mr Curran was raising matters of editorial discretion and judgment, rather than establishing a breach of Standard 5. TVNZ argued that it was entitled to make the editorial decisions it did, based on the experience and professionalism of its editorial team.

[19]  TVNZ pointed out its editorial staff had to sift through a wide selection of material from multiple sources, and that time and space meant that it was not practical to include every angle of a story.   

Complainant’s Final Comment

[20]  Mr Curran reiterated the points made in his earlier correspondence.

Authority's Determination

[21]  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.

[22]  Mr Curran complained that three aspects of the item were inaccurate, those being:

  • the item did not mention Mr Ahern
  • TVNZ chose not to cover a subsequent meeting that occurred between Mr Paisley and Mr Ahern and as a result, New Zealanders would have been left with an inaccurate impression about Catholic/Protestant relations in Ireland
  • the broadcaster did not break down the total death figures contained in the BBC report to reflect the number of deaths for which each terrorist group was responsible.

[23]  The Authority declines to uphold all three aspects of the complaint. It considers that the matters which have been raised are ones of editorial discretion, rather than accuracy, for the following reasons.

[24]  First, the Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the focus of the first part of the item was the Paisley/Adams meeting and that it was not necessary for TVNZ to mention Mr Ahern in order to comply with the requirements of the accuracy standard.

[25]  Second, the Authority finds that TVNZ’s decision not to cover the subsequent meeting between Mr Paisley and Mr Ahern would not have left the New Zealand public with an inaccurate impression of Catholic/Protestant relations in Ireland.

[26]  Third, the Authority considers it was not necessary to the viewers’ understanding of the issue to break down the total death figures as reported in the BBC item. No issues of accuracy were raised by TVNZ choosing to report a total figure, rather than explaining how many deaths were caused by each terrorist group. In the Authority’s view, this was not the aim or the focus of the item.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
14 August 2007

Appendix

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

1     P G Curran’s formal complaint – 17 April 2007

2    TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 9 May 2007

3    Mr Curran’s referral to the Authority – 25 May 2007

4    TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 5 June 2007

5    Mr Curran’s final comment – 19 June 2007