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Turangi/Tongariro Community Board and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2006-108

Members

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

Complainant

  • Turangi/Tongariro Community Board

Dated

19th December 2006

Number

2006-108

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 – reported public criticism of Taupo District Council’s apparent inaction in Turangi over the state of a swimming pool, sports ground facilities, and footpaths – interviewed chairman of the Taupo/Tongariro Community Board – allegedly in breach of standards relating to the maintenance of law and order, balance, fairness and accuracy

Findings
Standard 2 (law and order) – no disrespect for principles of law shown– not upheld

Standard 4 (balance) – state of council facilities was controversial issue of public importance and reasonable opportunity given to respond to criticisms – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – criticisms advanced by named residents – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – Mr Ormsby given opportunity to reply to criticisms of specific facilities – Turangi described fairly – opportunity for residents to participate in setting priorities for expenditure of rates explained – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] As part of a series of programmes on the increases in local body rates throughout New Zealand, an item on Close Up looked at public criticism of the apparent inaction of the Taupo District Council in Turangi. The item covered issues concerning a swimming pool, toilets at a sports ground, and footpaths, and reported that some residents considered they were living under New Zealand’s worst council. The item was broadcast on TV One on 2 August 2006 beginning at 7.00pm.

[2] The criticisms were put to Don Ormsby, a Taupo District Councillor and chair of the Turangi/Tongariro Community Board. In regard to the swimming pool, he said that the council was investigating whether it was possible to raise the money to upgrade it properly, or whether it would be necessary to fill it in. The toilets, he said, were for public use and had not been intended to be used as sports clubrooms. The repair of the footpaths, he noted, would require either the expenditure of $500,000 or cutting down the trees by the footpaths.

[3] Mr Ormsby also spoke about the public’s opportunity to take part in the annual planning process which settled council expenditure. When he first moved to Turangi, he observed, it was “a construction town with four or five prisons” and, he stated, there was a perception then that Turangi was the “arsehole of New Zealand?”  These comments were followed by other residents offering their positive views about Turangi as a place to live. 

Complaint

[4] As chair of the Turangi/Tongariro Community Board of the Taupo District Council, Mr Ormsby complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster alleging a breach of the standards relating to the maintenance of law and order, balance, fairness and accuracy.

[5] In regard to the maintenance of law and order, Mr Ormsby said by filming within the pool premises, which were kept locked, TVNZ had trespassed, had condoned the criminal activity of those who had gained entry illegally.  Further, it had glamorised illegal activity by allowing what appeared to be liquor to be taken into the pool area.

[6] Mr Ormsby said that the presenter’s comments about Turangi were unbalanced and unfair. The item had not reported that the rates increase for the Turangi/Tongariro ward, at 4.98%, was smaller than most increases nationwide, and it did not refer either to the “ambitious capital budget programme” or to the recently established wastewater treatment plant.

[7] As for the alleged lack of impartiality, Mr Ormsby contended that the item had been instigated by a person who had personal grievances against him.  The reporter was aware of that matter, he added, but had not exercised the “extreme caution” necessary.

[8] The complainant then addressed the three specific issues which had been dealt with in the item and argued that the coverage was neither balanced nor fair. He said that the footage of the swimming pool did not acknowledge first, that the pool looked derelict only because it was out of service at that time of year; second, the large numbers who had free access and who used the pool last summer; and third, the extensive upgrade planned in the 2006/2007 year.

[9] The coverage of the footpaths, he wrote, did not show the footpath which had been replaced in 2004, and it did not acknowledge that the portion which was shown had suffered relatively recent root damage.

[10] The allegations in the item about the Turangi Park toilets were exaggerated, Mr Ormsby wrote, and it did not include relevant information about the former rugby league clubrooms in Turangi. Moreover, it did not acknowledge that the repairs to the vandalised toilets were awaiting an insurance assessor’s approval and it failed to show that there were other modern and clean toilet facilities in Turangi.

[11] Mr Ormsby contended that the cumulative effect of the item was unbalanced and unfair as it depicted Turangi “as an exceptionally bad example of a local authority”, on the basis that the assets and facilities were mismanaged by the council and the community board.

[12] As for the complaint that the item was inaccurate, Mr Ormsby said that the broadcaster had edited his statement to retain his use of the word “arsehole” in relation to Turangi but to omit his positive comments about the town. Moreover, by relying on a person who he described as “one of the lead instigators of the item”, TVNZ had not taken sufficient steps to ensure that its sources were reliable.

[13] In conclusion, Mr Ormsby sought a correction and a televised apology.

Standards

[14] TVNZ assessed the complaint under the standards in the free to air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice nominated by the complainant. They read:

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.

Guideline 2a   

Broadcasters must respect the principles of law which sustain our society.

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 5e   

Broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to ensure at all times that the information sources for news, current affairs and documentaries are reliable.

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.

Guideline 6a   

Care should be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure that the extracts used are a true reflection, and not a distortion, of the original event or the overall views expressed.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[15] TVNZ wrote that the item contained three essential elements. They were:

  • criticism from locals regarding alleged inaction by the council on matters important to them (the swimming pool, the facilities at the sports ground, and footpaths)
  • the council reaction, provided by Mr Ormsby as chairman of the community board
  • agreement by all concerned (including the studio presenter) that Turangi was a great place to live.

[16] Overall, TVNZ argued, the item was “well balanced” and the approach fair.

[17] TVNZ did not uphold the Standard 2 (law and order) complaint as the crew had been admitted to the swimming pool by an approved key holder.

[18] As the item included Mr Ormsby’s response to views of concerned residents, TVNZ considered that it had complied with the requirements of Standard 4 (balance). For the same reasons, TVNZ continued, the item complied with the requirements of Standard 6 (fairness).

[19] Looking specifically at the complaint that the coverage of the damaged toilet facilities was unfair as the local sports clubs had used them as “clubrooms”, TVNZ, contended that whatever the case, the maintenance of the public facilities remained a council responsibility.

[20] As for the complaint about the editing of the item, TVNZ noted the positive comments made by a number of people (including Mr Ormsby) and noted that the presenter had referred to Turangi as a “beautiful area”.

[21] TVNZ declined to uphold any aspect of the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[22] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, the Turangi/Tongariro Community Board referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[23] Mr Ormsby, on behalf of the Board, noted that a person, whom he named and described as the instigator of the complaint, was an approved key holder of the swimming pool only as a coach of the Turangi Amateur Swimming Club. As TVNZ did not have the approval of the council to film in the pool, Mr Ormsby maintained that Standard 2 (law and order) had been breached.

[24] He also disputed TVNZ’s contention that he had been given reasonable opportunities to present significant points of view. Because of TVNZ’s editing, he wrote, the story lacked balance and fairness.

[25] Mr Ormsby repeated that the item had not noted that the recently vandalised toilets were awaiting insurance assessment before being repaired.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[26] In response, TVNZ stressed that its crew was accompanied into the swimming pool by an approved key holder who, it asserted, was entitled to invite guests, and that there was no trespass.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[27] Mr Ormsby referred to the dispute which had arisen between him and the person he believed had instigated the item.  He said that he had advised TVNZ of this matter and maintained that, as a consequence, TVNZ should have exercised more caution.

[28] Mr Ormsby said that the council had not been aware that TVNZ had been on the premises of the swimming pool until the item was screened. The key holder who had admitted them, he added, was not acting on behalf of the club and had no reason to be in the complex when it was closed for the winter. Close Up, he continued, “chose to produce a fabricated, factually incorrect and imbalanced story that involved trespassing onto council premises to film parts of it.”

[29] Mr Ormsby repeated his explanations, made in the initial complaint, about the actions being taken by the Turangi/Tongariro Community Board to deal with the issues raised in the item.

[30] Because the recording of the item provided to the Authority by TVNZ did not include his full interview, he expressed doubts as to the Authority’s ability to judge whether it was “fair” and “balanced”.

Authority's Determination

[31] The members of the Authority have viewed a recording and read a transcript of the broadcast complained about.  They have also read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 2 (law and order)

[32] Standard 2 requires broadcasters to maintain standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.  Mr Ormsby argued that the standard was contravened as TVNZ had entered the swimming pool premises illegally. 

[33] The Authority does not need to determine whether the TVNZ crew were legally entitled to be on the swimming pool premises.  The Authority has stated on a number of occasions that the intent behind the law and order standard is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity (see for example Decision No. 2006-051).  In light of this interpretation, irrespective of whether the crew was trespassing, nothing in the broadcast threatened the standard.  Accordingly, the Authority does not uphold this part of the complaint.  

Standard 4 (balance)

[34] The Authority accepts that the state of the council’s facilities in Turangi and its apparent inaction was a controversial issue of pubic importance (at least to the residents of Turangi) and, accordingly, TVNZ was required to provide reasonable opportunities to present significant points of view in response to the residents’ criticisms made in the item.

[35] The Authority points out that the standard refers to “reasonable opportunities”.  While Mr Ormsby would have preferred that more of his comments and more contextual information were included in the item, and might have regretted some of his comments which were broadcast, the Authority finds that Mr Ormsby, as chair of the community board, was given a reasonable opportunity to reply to the critical comments.  His broadcast comments about the state of the swimming pool, the footpaths, and the sports ground facilities are summarised in paragraph [2] above.  Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the balance complaint.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[36] Guideline 5e states that broadcasters should take reasonable steps to ensure that their sources are reliable.  In the present case, Mr Ormsby did not refer to any inaccuracies but alleged that the person he believed to have been the “instigator” of the item was unreliable, as that person had a grievance against him. 

[37] The Authority notes, however, that even were it to accept Mr Ormsby’s unsubstantiated contention that the person he named instigated the item, this individual did not take part in the programme; he was not referred to, and his views on the issue under discussion were not sought.  Accordingly, given the fact that any input he may have had was omitted from the item, the Authority concludes the person named by Mr Ormsby was not a “source” for the purposes of guideline 5e. 

Standard 6 (fairness)

[38] Mr Ormsby argued that the item was unfair to the community board in view of the way it dealt with a number of issues, including the state of the swimming pool, the footpaths and the sports park facilities.  The Authority does not uphold the complaint relating to the portrayal of the state of the pool in winter, as the item explained that the pool was not open when the item had been filmed as it “only opens to the public in summer”.  The Authority considers that the item was fair in relation to the other two matters as Mr Ormsby was given a reasonable opportunity to explain the reasons for the council’s apparent inaction. 

[39] As another aspect of the unfairness complaint, Mr Ormsby contended that the item was edited to retain his word “arsehole” to describe Turangi, but to omit his positive comments which had followed that remark.  The Authority concludes, however, that it was clear from the item that Mr Ormsby was describing Turangi as he saw it a number of years previously.  The item did not suggest that this was Mr Ormsby’s current opinion and, in fact, the reporter said that Mr Ormsby and the disgruntled residents agreed that Turangi was a great place to live.  Accordingly, the Authority does not find that the editing was unfair.

[40] Overall, Mr Ormsby complained, the item was unfair in that it depicted Turangi as a place where the assets and facilities were “mismanaged” by council staff and the community board.  The Authority points out that the item did not allege mismanagement in the sense of waste or incompetence.  Rather, it considers that the item raised valid questions from residents about the priorities for rates expenditure and it gave Mr Ormsby a fair opportunity to respond to these criticisms. In these circumstances, it considers that Standard 6 (fairness) 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
19 December 2006

Appendix

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

1    Turangi/ Tongariro Community Board’s complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd –
      23 August 2006

2    TVNZ’s response to the complainant – 28 September 2006

3    The Board’s referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 9 October 2006

4    TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 24 October 2006

5    The Board’s final comment – 9 November 2006