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Acclaim Otago Inc and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-026

Members

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

Complainant

  • Acclaim Otago Inc of Dunedin

Dated

1st April 2004

Number

2004-026

Programme

How’s Life?

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
How’s Life? – three panellists suggested that people not medically cleared for work should nevertheless get a job – potentially dangerous – insensitive

Findings
Standard 1 – light-hearted context – not upheld

Standard 6 – agony aunt entertainment programme – not sufficiently serious to be unfair – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Summary

[1] How’s Life?, which was broadcast each weekday on TV One at 5.30pm, featured a panel of local personalities who gave their own prepared answers to questions about human relationships submitted by viewers. The programme broadcast on 30 September 2003 considered a question from a person in receipt of accident compensation who was keen to return to work. Three of the four panellists suggested the questioner seek work.

[2] The Secretary of Acclaim Otago Inc, Joy Sadler, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the advice to return to work without medical clearance was insensitive and potentially dangerous, and showed disrespect for the questioner.

[3] In response, TVNZ said the panellists did not claim to be experts and that an aspect of the advice from each panel member was for the questioner, first, to contact the ACC. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision the Secretary of Acclaim Otago Inc. referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Programme

[6] How’s Life? was broadcast each weekday on TV One at 5.30pm and featured a panel of personalities answering questions submitted by viewers about human behaviour and human relationships. The programme, TVNZ said, was deliberately light-hearted and was intended primarily as entertainment.

[7] A question from a person on compensation through the ACC due to a back injury was discussed in the programme broadcast on 30 September 2003. The letter read out on air said:

I’m on ACC due to a back injury. I didn’t want to go on but did, so they would leave me alone. I’ve followed all their requirements but they don’t seem to care about me. I want to go back to work but they’ve forgotten all about me and the longer I’m off work the harder it will be to find.

[8] One panellist gave the blunt advice to go and find a job, and that approach was supported by two others. There was advice to the questioner that contact should be made with the case worker at ACC or, if that was unsatisfactory, to use the ACC complaint service.

Complaint

[9] On behalf of Acclaim Otago Inc, an ACC support-action group, the Secretary (Joy Sadler) complained to TVNZ that the advice to find a job was insensitive and potentially dangerous. Unfit workers, she said, could put their fellow workers and the public in danger. Moreover, claimants who undertook work against medical advice were not covered for any further injury. She also complained about the comment from one panellist which suggested that the letter writer and others in a similar situation should remove their “digits” from their “orifices”.

[10] The complainant asked for an apology and said panellists should treat such requests for help with dignity and respect.

Standards

[11] TVNZ assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by the complainant. Standards 1 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Guidelines

1a  Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification. The examples are not exhaustive.

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

[12] TVNZ suggested that the complainant was taking the incident “rather too seriously”, in that the programme, an “agony aunt” column, emphasised entertainment. It pointed out that the letter writer was concerned about difficulties in returning to the work force. Each panellist, it continued, “tried to take a different angle” and the comments ranged from blunt advice “to get a job” to those which suggested caution. There was a consensus, TVNZ said, that the letter writer should approach the case worker at ACC, and use ACC’s 0800 complaints number if that was not satisfactory.

[13] TVNZ did not accept that the broadcast contravened the requirement for good taste or decency or that it had dealt with anyone unfairly. It declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[14] The complaint was referred to the Authority as the complainant contended that TVNZ had not adequately addressed the concerns raised in the complaint.

Authority’s Determination

[15] The panellists on How’s Life?, the Authority notes, were not presented as “experts”. From the outset, they were promoted as, and seen to be, local personalities answering viewers’ questions about human behaviour in a way which was intended primarily to be light-hearted entertainment.

[16] The overriding message from each of the panellists to the questioner, who was on ACC but who wanted to return to work, was to be proactive and to “take action”. The action proposed ranged from speaking to ACC about the situation, by using the ACC’s 0800 complaints number (which was given) if need be, through to seeking work.

[17] The complainant, an ACC support-action group, complained about some of the language used (Standard 1), and the fairness of the advice (Standard 6) in view of the possible consequences both to the viewer and potential fellow workers.

[18] The Authority does not consider that the language used (removing “digits” from “orifices”) was sufficiently offensive to contravene the requirement for good taste and decency (Standard 1) given the context – an “agony aunt” broadcast – in which it was used. It considers that the use of the colloquial expression was consistent with the light-hearted banter displayed by the panellists.

[19] The Authority is also of the view that the broadcast did not contravene the fairness requirement in Standard 6. Not only did the panellists emphasise that the first appropriate step for the questioner was to approach the ACC, all the advice was given by panellists who did not pretend to be anything other than concerned fellow citizens. It was apparent from their answers that they had taken the question seriously and in some cases, had carried out a little research. In the context of an entertainment show, however, the comments were not of sufficient depth or impact to amount to a breach of the requirement to treat the questioner fairly.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
1 April 2004

Appendix

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

1. Acclaim Otago Inc’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 2 October 2003

2. TVNZ’s Response to the Complainant – 24 October 2003

3. Acclaim’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 17 November 2003

4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 4 December 2003