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Truong and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2007-110

Members

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

Complainant

  • Phuong Truong of Wellington

Dated

26th March 2008

Number

2007-110

Programme

Fair Go

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Fair Go – item discussed the case of an elderly woman who bought an expensive vacuum cleaner from a door-to-door salesman – item included an interview with the door-to-door salesman and a representative from the Consumers’ Institute – allegedly unbalanced, unfair and the action taken subsequently to correct an inaccuracy was insufficient 

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

Standard 5 (accuracy) – action taken by the broadcaster to correct the inaccuracy was sufficient – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – item gave the company and salesman an adequate opportunity to respond – host’s comment did not imply companies that sold expensive vacuum cleaners were dishonest – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Fair Go, broadcast on TV One at 7.30pm on 5 September 2007, looked at the case of an elderly woman who had purchased a vacuum cleaner from a door-to-door salesman for $1500. The woman said that she had been rushed into the deal without having time to really consider it.

[2]   The salesman who had sold the elderly woman the vacuum cleaner was interviewed in the item. During the interview, the reporter said in a voice-over “the law gives consumers seven working days to change their mind after buying from a door-to-door salesman”.

[3]   Later in the item, the Fair Go reporter spoke with a representative from Consumer Magazine about vacuum cleaners and their pricing. The representative stated “expensive vacuum cleaners may well be good, but we probably wouldn’t test them because of the price. Our testing over the years has shown that you don’t need to pay this sort of money for a really good vacuum cleaner”.

[4]   At the end of the item the host said “up to you how much you pay for a vacuum cleaner of course – but there you heard it. The Consumer Magazine reckons you shouldn’t have to go much over $800 – so don’t get sucked in”.        

Complaint

[5]   Phuong Truong made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item had breached standards of balance, accuracy and fairness.

[6]   The complainant argued that Fair Go was incorrect when it stated that “the law gives consumers seven working days to change their mind after buying from a door-to-door salesman”. He pointed out that only credit sales had the seven-day cancellation right and contended that the statement was misleading and confusing to the public.

[7]   Mr Truong considered that the item unfairly targeted “certain sectors and price ranges of premium vacuum cleaners” and that it was an “attack on vacuum cleaners over the price of $800”.

[8]   The complainant also argued that the item was an attempt to “price control” those in the business of selling premium vacuum cleaners.

Standards

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

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]   In response to the complainant’s concerns about the statements made by the representative from Consumer Magazine, TVNZ pointed out that Consumer Magazine was the magazine of the Consumers’ Institute. It stated that the Institute was a non-profit organisation with the sole aim of getting consumers a “fairer deal” and that it conducted a wide range of activities on consumer goods and services. The broadcaster also noted that the Institute commissioned independent laboratories to carry out product tests and that it made impartial judgements about many different products on a day-to-day basis.

[11]   In respect of the host’s final statement, TVNZ argued that he was referring to the Institute’s position on the relative costs and effectiveness of vacuum cleaners, and that his comments were balanced.

[12]   The broadcaster maintained that the Institute’s position on the relative costs of vacuum cleaners was “clearly expert opinion and did not require balance from vacuum cleaner salespeople”. It also pointed out that neither Fair Go nor the Institute made any claims about the quality of more expensive vacuum cleaners during the item. TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the item was unbalanced.

[13]   With respect to the statement “the law gives consumers seven working days to change their mind after buying from a door-to-door salesman”, TVNZ agreed that it was incorrect. It pointed out, however, that this inaccuracy had already been corrected in the episode of Fair Go that screened on 26 September 2007 with the following exchange:

Presenter 1:     Before you go a point to tidy up from your vacuum cleaner salesman story
                       from a few weeks ago.

Presenter 2:    Yes...we said that consumers had seven working days to change their mind
                       over a door-to-door sale. But we didn’t give ourselves time to say, and we
                       should’ve, that this applies only to purchases made on credit, not to cash
                       purchases. And you have to cancel the deal in writing.

[14]  The broadcaster upheld that Standard 5 (accuracy) was breached in this regard and noted that the programme had corrected the inaccuracy.

[15]  TVNZ stated that it “could not identify any point where the programme was unfair to door-to-door vacuum cleaner salespeople”. It considered that the item did not question the quality of expensive vacuum cleaners in general, but simply stated that consumers did not need to spend thousands of dollars to get a really good one. TVNZ maintained that the comments made about the price of vacuum cleaners were expert opinion. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item was unfair.         

Referral to the Authority

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

[17]  The complainant argued that the correction made by Fair Go was insufficient to correct the inaccuracy in the earlier programme.

[18]  Mr Truong reiterated his argument that the item amounted to price controlling the premium vacuum cleaner industry as the Consumers’ Institute representative had indicated to viewers that it was unnecessary to buy a vacuum cleaner over $800.

[19]  Mr Truong also argued that the host’s statement “so don’t get sucked in” inferred criminality or dishonesty by those firms selling vacuum cleaners over $800.    

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[20]   The broadcaster maintained that Fair Go did not attempt to “price fix” the vacuum cleaner industry, pointing out that price fixing related to agreement between business competitors to sell a product or service at the same price.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[21]   Mr Truong reiterated his argument that the action taken by TVNZ to correct the inaccurate statement was insufficient and that many consumers had mentioned the item to traders “which proved the action taken was insufficient”. He believed that TVNZ should be fined or sanctioned.

[22]  The complainant also disputed the broadcaster’s argument that the Consumers’ Institute was an expert on vacuum cleaners and that the item was a balanced and fair report. He maintained that the item was an attempt to damage the premium vacuum cleaner market and that his reference to price fixing should be considered under its dictionary meaning.  

Broadcaster’s Further Response

[23]   TVNZ stated that it had corrected the inaccurate statement promptly and that it had clarified what was correct in terms of the Door-to-Door Sales Act 1967.

[24]   TVNZ stated that Fair Go had built a reputation for providing opinion on various products and services and that this opinion was not always what the product or service provider wanted to be broadcast. It maintained the item was not an attempt to damage the premium vacuum cleaner industry.

Authority's Determination

[25]   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)

[26]   Standard 4 requires that balance be provided when programmes discuss controversial issues of public importance. The item complained about discussed an individual case where a consumer felt that she had been subjected to high pressure sale tactics to rush her into purchasing an expensive vacuum cleaner. The presenter then briefly discussed vacuum cleaner pricing with a representative from the Consumers’ Institute. In the Authority’s view, this item did not deal with a controversial issue of public importance to which the standard applies; it dealt with a contractual dispute between two parties. As Standard 4 did not apply to the programme, the Authority declines to uphold the balance complaint.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[27]   The accuracy standard requires news, current affairs and other factual programmes to be accurate on points of fact. TVNZ upheld Mr Truong’s complaint that the item inaccurately stated that “the law gives consumers seven working days to change their mind after buying from a door-to-door salesman”. The Authority notes that the broadcaster corrected this inaccuracy during a subsequent episode of Fair Go. The Authority finds that the correction clearly explained to viewers why the statement was inaccurate and what the correct rules were with respect to buying goods and services from door-to-door salespeople.

[28]   The Authority considers that the action taken by the broadcaster to correct the inaccuracy was appropriate and sufficient in the circumstances. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint that the action taken by TVNZ was insufficient.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[29]   The fairness standard requires broadcasters to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. The complainant alleged that the item unfairly attacked companies that sold vacuum cleaners over the price of $800. However, the Authority notes that the item directly referred to only one company – the company that sold a vacuum cleaner to the elderly woman who had complained to Fair Go.

[30]   The item included an interview with the salesman who sold the woman her vacuum cleaner. The Authority considers that he was given an adequate opportunity to respond to the issues that were put to him, on his own behalf and on behalf of the company. Accordingly, the Authority finds that the salesman and the organisation referred to in the item were treated fairly.

[31]  Mr Truong considered that the item was an attempt to price control the premium vacuum cleaner industry. The Authority does not have any jurisdiction to deal with such claims as they do not raise an issue of broadcasting standards.  

[32]  The complainant also argued that the host’s statement “so don’t get sucked in” inferred criminality or dishonesty by those firms selling vacuum cleaners over $800. The Authority disagrees. To the extent that makers or sellers of premium vacuum cleaners were indirectly referred to in this statement, the Authority finds that the host did not imply that such companies were dishonest. Rather, the host used a pun to point out that, for domestic use, the Consumers’ Institute believed that a person did not have to spend over $800 to get a vacuum cleaner that would do a good job. Accordingly, 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
26 March 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Phuong Truong’s formal complaint – 6 September 2007
2.           TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 1 October 2007
3.           Mr Truong’s referral to the Authority – 15 October 2007
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 11 December 2007
5.           Mr Truong’s final comment – 20 December 2007
6.           TVNZ’s further response – 7 January 2008