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Hartill and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-014

Members

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

Complainant

  • Bruce Hartill of Auckland

Dated

11th May 2005

Number

2005-014

Programme

Close Up @ 7

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up @ 7 – item discussing the noise levels at a speedway in Auckland – showed the names of those who had presented a petition to the Environment Court – allegedly in breach of law and order, privacy, balance and fairness

Findings
Standard 2 (law and order) – nothing inconsistent with the maintenance of law and order – no incitement to disorderly acts – not upheld

Standard 3 (privacy) – signatures on a petition not private facts – not upheld

Standard 4 (balance) – controversial issue – perspectives of both sides solicited in a balanced manner – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – subsumed

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] Recent controversy about the noise levels at the Western Springs Speedway in Auckland was discussed on Close Up @ 7 on TV One at 7pm on 17 December 2004. The item included a studio discussion with a member of the local residents’ group that had petitioned to get the noise levels reduced, and an Auckland City Councillor.

[2] The item began by showing the signatures of those whose petition over the noise levels had been presented to the Environment Court.

Complaint

[3] Bruce Hartill complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the stance taken by the presenter of Close Up @ 7 was unbalanced and unfair. He contended that the presenter’s demeanour was “by far the most extreme of those present”.

[4] In addition, publishing the petitioners’ names was tantamount to inciting impassioned speedway fans to “antisocial and disorderly acts”, he said. Mr Hartill stated that the programme had provided targets for behaviour such as the use of death threats.

[5] The complainant contended that the privacy of the petitioners had been breached, and asserted that the broadcaster should issue a public apology for the programme.

Standards

[6] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 2, 3, 4 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

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.

Standard 3 Privacy

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the privacy of the individual.

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 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

[7] TVNZ advised the complainant that he had misunderstood the role of the presenter in a debate of that nature, mistaking her use of the “devil’s advocate” approach for a lack of balance and objectivity. The broadcaster contended that the presenter had used this approach with both the representative of the residents’ group and the councillor.

[8] In the absence of any speedway supporters on the programme, it said, it was incumbent upon the presenter to inject that perspective into the discussion. The broadcaster found no evidence that the presenter had injected any personal opinion into the discussion.

[9] TVNZ referred to the acknowledgement in Standard 4 that balance can be achieved “within the period of current interest”. While it was satisfied that the devil’s advocate technique had assured balance in this item, the broadcaster noted that the item was only one of a number of news and current affairs pieces broadcast on the subject of the speedway controversy. TVNZ was of the view that its overall coverage had fully reflected “all shades of opinion on the issue”.

[10] Furthermore, the broadcaster was confident that reports of future developments on the issue would similarly be accompanied by coverage reflecting relevant discussion points. It found that there was no breach of Standard 4 (balance).

[11] In considering Standard 2 (law and order), TVNZ did not find any evidence in the programme that was inconsistent with the maintenance of law and order. The broadcaster was uncomfortable with any suggestion that people who sign petitions should have that action made subject to public and media suppression. It added:

The principle of naming and knowing one’s accusers seemed to the [complaints] committee to be fundamental in the concept of democracy.

[12] Similarly, in terms of Standard 3 (privacy), TVNZ found that the act of putting one’s name on a petition was a public one, and it amounted to a consent for the invasion of privacy. The broadcaster found no breach of Standard 3 on this occasion.

[13] The broadcaster also did not consider the item to be unfair to the studio guests. It asserted that they had been unimpeded in making their points, and that the presenter’s questions were fair, unambiguous and a reflection of public concerns. In TVNZ’s opinion, Standard 6 (fairness) was not breached.

Referral to the Authority

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

Balance and Fairness

[15] Mr Hartill maintained that the presenter had taken a “decidedly pro speedway stance” throughout the interview. He questioned TVNZ’s assertion that she had used the devil’s advocate approach because the speedway supporters were not represented. The presenter had introduced the Auckland city councillor as “a friend of the Speedway”, he said. In addition, Mr Hartill pointed to a statement on TVNZ’s website on 17 December 2004 which said:

[16] At a meeting on Thursday night, [the Auckland city councillor] urged the council to support the event, saying it had a 75-year history in the city.

[17] It was clear to the complainant that two “counterpoised parties” were present on the programme, and it was actually incumbent on the host to present the piece in a fair and unbalanced manner, he said.

Privacy and Law and Order

[18] Mr Hartill reiterated the points made in his original complaint to TVNZ with respect to Standard 2 (law and order).

[19] While he was not a signatory to the petition, he understood that the petitioners had made a request for privacy when the petition was delivered. Given this prior request for name suppression, he asked the Authority to consider whether publishing their names had amounted to a breach of Standard 3 (privacy). Mr Hartill argued that it was important to be able to express one’s views without threat of intimidation, and wondered what TVNZ had set out to achieve by showing the petitioners’ names.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[20] TVNZ stated that the city councillor did not support the speedway’s position as much as the other interviewee opposed it. Because certain arguments favouring the speedway’s position were not forthcoming from the councillor, it said, it was necessary for the presenter to adopt the devil’s advocate position.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[21] In his final submission to the Authority, Mr Hartill made three points:

  • He did not accept TVNZ’s explanation for the presenter’s approach. He maintained that she had displayed bias from the beginning of the item.
  • It was not necessary to broadcast the names of petitioners. Mr Hartill submitted that not all petitions are public documents.
  • Publishing the petitioners’ names had potentially made more people targets for the kinds of unsociable acts that had already been committed by speedway fans. This was in violation of Standard 2 (law and order).

Authority's Determination

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

Law and Order

[23] The Authority does not agree with the complainant’s assertion that publishing the petitioners’ names was tantamount to inciting speedway fans to “antisocial and disorderly acts”. The complainant has not pointed to any statement or action by the presenter which could have been said to encourage such behaviour.

[24] In the Authority’s view, the simple act of showing the signatures – which the petitioners had already appended to a public document – did not amount to an incitement to act in a manner inconsistent with law and order. It does not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Privacy

[25] The complainant has also alleged that the privacy of the petitioners was breached when their names were screened on Close Up @ 7 . In order for there to have been a breach of Standard 3 (privacy), there must have been a disclosure of “private facts”. In the Authority’s view, a signature on a public petition cannot be regarded as a private fact. The petitioners had affixed their names to a document as a public statement of their support for a course of action.

[26] The Authority considers that there can be no expectation of privacy in appending one’s signature to a public petition, and therefore finds that Standard 3 was not breached.

Balance

[27] Standard 4 requires that balance be provided when “controversial issues of public importance” are discussed. On this occasion, the broadcast discussed the closure of the Western Springs Speedway and what was happening afterwards. The Authority agrees that this was a controversial issue of public importance to which Standard 4 applies.

[28] The Authority agrees with TVNZ that the presenter adopted the “devil’s advocate” approach in order to test the validity of the arguments advanced by the interviewees. It did not signify a lack of balance on the part of the presenter.

[29] In the Authority’s view, the presenter adopted an approach which was reasonable given the strong views held by the interviewees. In addition, the Authority finds that the presenter solicited opinions from both sides of the debate in a fair and balanced manner, and both interviewees had a chance to present their viewpoint.  It finds that Standard 4 was not breached on this occasion.

Fairness

[30] The Authority notes that the complainant has not articulated any separate grounds for his allegation of unfairness other than contending that the broadcast was unfair due to a lack of balance, breach of privacy and the failure to maintain standards of law and order. Therefore, the Authority subsumes this aspect of the complaint under its consideration of Standards 2, 3 and 4.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
11 May 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Bruce Hartill’s formal complaint – 22 December 2004
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 3 February 2005
  3. Mr Hartill’s referral to the Authority – 21 February 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 17 March 2005
  5. Mr Hartill’s final comment – 30 March 2005