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Gadgil and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2007-119

Members

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

Complainant

  • Martin Gadgil of Rotorua

Dated

30th April 2008

Number

2007-119

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaints under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sensing Murder: Insight – programme looked into several historical unsolved murders – included commentary from three psychics – allegedly inaccurate

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – factual information contained in the programme was accurate – psychics’ commentary about the murders was presented as their own perspective – factual material clearly distinguished from opinion, analysis and comment – no evidence viewers were misled – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   A programme called Sensing Murder: Insight, broadcast on TV2 at 8.30pm on 4 September 2007, looked at several historical unsolved murders and three psychics’ comments and insights about each case. At the beginning of the programme the narrator stated:

Sensing Murder provoked a huge response from the public. Viewers were divided into two camps: believers and sceptics. The sceptics slammed the series as a con and branded the psychics fakes...

[2]   During the programme, a clinical psychologist who was a “die-hard sceptic” of psychic powers followed one of the psychics as she was looking into the case of a woman who died in Wellington in 1972.

Complaint

[3]   Martin Gadgil made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme was misleading and in breach of Standard 5 (accuracy).

[4]   The complainant stated that if Sensing Murder: Insight was to be taken as a factual programme then it was misleading. He also argued that “if it is purely entertainment, then it should not claim to be factual and should not present itself in the manner that strongly suggests the psychics have no foreknowledge or outside help”.

Standards

[5]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 5 and guideline 5b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   TVNZ stated that the premise of the programmewas that the psychics were not given information about the case they were looking into and that the production staff did not lead the psychics by providing signals or hints. It maintained that it did not know how the psychics managed to come up with their information and that the issue of psychic powers was outside its scope to determine.

[7]   The broadcaster argued that Sensing Murder: Insight was not a news, current affairs or factual programme as described in the code. It noted it was a reality programme and that there was “an expectation in society that programmes about mediums are told from a particular perspective”.

[8]   TVNZ pointed out that “as long as there have been mediums there have been sceptics” and that the discussions about whether psychics are deceiving people have been ongoing for centuries. It stated that “the audience is already well versed in the majority belief that what is happening is not real”.

[9]   The broadcaster noted that Sensing Murder: Insight was rated AO (Adults Only), and that it was broadcast after 8.30pm. It maintained that nothing contained in the programme would have misled adult viewers and it declined to uphold the accuracy complaint.    

Referral to the Authority

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

[11]   The complainant argued that the programme’s producers had gone to great lengths to portray the programme as being factual and that it was clearly presented as “an authoritative source of information”.

[12]   Mr Gadgil pointed out that the programme had included the views of a top forensic psychologist who had worked with the New Zealand police and who was sceptical of psychics. He maintained that, after following one of the psychics involved with the programme, the clinical psychologist backed the programme’s claims that the psychics had paranormal powers because he said that he could not explain what he had seen. Mr Gadgil argued that viewers would have considered the statements made by the psychologist as authoritative, and therefore would have been misled into believing that psychics were able to talk to the dead.

[13]   The complainant maintained that the programme did lead the psychics by confirming positive statements that they made.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14]   TVNZ argued that the programme makers did not lead the psychics. It maintained that confirmation was not given for every correct statement and that the confirmation of some accurate points did not explain the level of detail that the psychics gave about a case.

[15]   TVNZ noted that while Mr Gadgil did not believe that what was shown could be real, this did not mean that the programme and what happened with the psychics was altered in any way to deceive viewers.    

Complainant’s Final Comment

[16]   Gadgil reiterated that he failed to see how TVNZ could state that the psychics were not being led by the programme’s makers when they admitted to confirming correct answers given by the psychics. He maintained that, as a factual programme, Sensing Murder: Insight had to be impartial, objective and avoid misleading the audience. 

Authority's Determination

[17]   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 5 (accuracy)

[18]   Standard 5 requires that news, current affairs and other factual programmes be truthful and accurate on points of fact. Sensing Murder: Insight presented factual information about the people who had been murdered, how and where they were killed, and what attempts were made by police to solve the crimes. In light of this, the Authority considers that Sensing Murder: Insight was a “factual programme” for the purposes of Standard 5.

[19]   Mr Gadgil’s concern was that the programme presented the psychics’ comments as statements of fact. In the Authority’s view, the commentary provided by the psychics was not factual material for the purposes of Standard 5. Guideline 5d to the accuracy standard states that:

Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, should be clearly distinguishable.

[20]   The Authority finds that the psychics’ comments were obviously their personal opinions on, and analysis of, the murders. The programme did not present the psychics as authoritative sources of information; the presenter clearly acknowledged that people were “divided into two camps: believers and sceptics”. Viewers were simply presented with an account which they could choose to believe or not. In these circumstances, the Authority considers that the programme clearly distinguished factual material from opinion, analysis and comment. It declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

[21]   The complainant also asserted that the programme misled viewers because the psychics were assisted by the programme makers beyond what was seen in the programme. The Authority notes that Mr Gadgil has not provided any evidence to support his claim. As a result, the Authority has no reasonable basis upon which to conclude that the programme was inaccurate in this respect. Accordingly, the Authority finds that Standard 5 was not breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
30 April 2008

 

Appendix

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

1.            Martin Gadgil’s formal complaint – 17 September 2007
2.           TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 12 October 2007
3.           Mr Gadgil’s referral to the Authority – 5 November 2007
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 26 February 2008
5.           Mr Gadgil’s final comment – 6 March 2008