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Gall and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-040

Members

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

Complainant

  • David Gall of New Plymouth

Dated

22nd April 2004

Number

2004-040

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
One News – seabed and foreshore – Waitara hui – closing headline stated hui “disintegrated into conflict and name-calling” – allegedly inaccurate and misleading

Findings
Standard 5 – closing headline substantially misreported events – inaccurate and misleading – upheld

Standard 6 – inaccuracy a question of scripting, not editing – Guideline 6a not applicable – closing headline unfair to organisers and participants – upheld

Order
Broadcast of statement

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Summary

[1] A closing headline on One News broadcast on TV One on 23 September 2003 reported that the hui held that day in Waitara on the seabed and foreshore issue had “ disintegrated into conflict and name-calling.”

[2] David Gall complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the closing headline was inaccurate and misleading, and not supported by what was reported in the main body of the news item.

[3] TVNZ acknowledged that “disintegrated” may not have been the most appropriate word, and that the words “deteriorated” or “degenerated” might have been more accurate. When considered in the context of the main news item, however, TVNZ considered that the word “disintegrated” was not “sufficiently inappropriate” to breach broadcasting standards.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, the complainant referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape 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] An item broadcast on One News on TV One on 23 September 2003 reported on the hui held that day in Waitara on the seabed and foreshore issue. The item was introduced as follows:

The roadshow the government launched to try to sell its seabed message to Maori has struck new problems. The schedule is tonight in danger of being cut short amid fears of protest. It comes after angry scenes in Taranaki where the government’s plans were again rejected.

[7] In a closing headline at the end of the bulletin, the presenter recapped the story as follows:

And there are fresh problems for the Government’s attempts to sell its seabed and foreshore policies to Maori.

Fear of protest has prompted Ngati Whatua to withdraw the welcome mat for Friday’s final hui in Auckland after today’s hui in Taranaki disintegrated into conflict and name-calling.

Complaint

[8] David Gall complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the aspect of the closing headline that the hui had “disintegrated into conflict and name-calling” was inaccurate and misleading, and not supported by what was reported in the main body of the news item.

[9] Mr Gall advised TVNZ that he had attended the hui. He stated that he was disappointed but not surprised that the One News coverage of the hui had “snatched at the more sensational moments of the day’s events while not really showing a meeting that, apart from those few moments alluded to in your broadcast, was well run and well controlled.” He was, however, surprised and angry that the report had

cross[ed] over from sensationalising the situation as it happened to actually inventing … an incident within the story and inserting that in the whole.

[10] Mr Gall argued that even if the word “conflict” was given a liberal meaning, to say that the meeting “disintegrated into conflict” was “without doubt misleading as it indicates a situation that did not happen.” He complained that anyone watching only the end of the news bulletin would have received a “distorted version of events”.

[11] Mr Gall said he was annoyed that the news item gave no weight to the fact that “this public hui was well run and chaired to a very high standard.”

Standards

[12] TVNZ assessed the complaint against Guideline 5b of Standard 5 and Guideline 6a of Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, as nominated by the complainant. The standards and relevant guidelines read:

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.

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

[13] TVNZ advised Mr Gall that the purpose of closing headlines was to summarise very briefly the content of significant news stories shown earlier in the bulletin, and to remind viewers of their content through the use of “trigger” pictures or shorthand phrases. In the opinion of TVNZ’s complaints committee, it could not in fairness consider the closing headline in isolation.

[14] TVNZ wrote:

The sentence, “Today’s hui disintegrated into conflict and name calling” was backed up by pictures which had, in the main item, indicated that there had been a level of verbal conflict and name calling at Waitara. The conflict had been illustrated by pictures of cabinet minister Trevor Mallard waving his arms in an agitated manner as he argued vigorously with one or more members of his audience – who were, presumably, opposed to the government’s proposals. Conflict was further implied in the presence of a group of protestors with placards, who were seen to act defiantly towards representatives of the organisers of the hui. The name calling was illustrated by the protest placard which described Margaret Wilson as a ‘political cripple’.

[15] TVNZ acknowledged that the word “disintegrated” may not have been the most appropriate, and that words such as “deteriorated” or “degenerated” might more accurately have reflected how events unfolded at the hui. Its complaints committee felt, however, that when considered in the context of the main news item, the word “disintegrated” was not “sufficiently inappropriate” to breach broadcasting standards. It wrote:

When used in conjunction with images of Mr Mallard and the protestors it gave a sense of stress, tension and a polarisation of views – which, the committee understood, was present at the Waitara hui and also was indicated in the Ngati Whatua decision which formed an important part of the same news item.

[16] TVNZ apologised to Mr Gall for the use of the word “disintegrated”, which it described as “unfortunate”. It did not believe, however, that its use was such that, overall, viewers received from either the news item or the headline, impressions of developments at Waitara which were significantly misleading, untruthful or inaccurate. TVNZ considered the item was balanced in indicating the strength of feeling of both those who oppose and those who support the government’s proposals.

[17] Finally, TVNZ noted that at no time did the item or headline suggest that the hui was not well run or organised. It wrote:

On the contrary, during the sequence showing Mr Mallard, a man’s voice – presumably an organiser – was heard gently telling the minister he did not need to shout. Similarly the organisers were seen to take a firm but courteous approach to the protestors and their placards.

Referral to the Authority

[18] In his referral to the Authority, Mr Gall argued that TVNZ’s statement that it could not in fairness consider the closing headline in isolation, indicated its disregard for Guideline 6a of Standard 6. In relation to TVNZ’s statement that closing headlines reminded viewers of the content of earlier news stories through the use of “trigger” pictures and shorthand phrases, Mr Gall wrote:

Nowhere in the news item could there have been a portrayal of a meeting that had DISINTEGRATED. It was not possible because the meeting never Disintegrated.

[19] Mr Gall argued that in its response to his complaint TVNZ had used the clip of Trevor Mallard both to defend its summary and to show that the hui was well run and organised. He stated:

TVNZ can not possibly hope to have it both ways. It would be laughable, if the overall issue being debated was not so important to all New Zealanders.

[20] In relation to the committee’s apology to him, acknowledging that the word was unfortunate, and its belief that it would not significantly have misled viewers if seen in conjunction with the rest of the programme, Mr Gall stated:

May I remind you that it was a closing summation and viewers would not necessarily have seen the beginning of the programme.

Authority’s Determination

[21] TVNZ apologised for using the word “disintegrated”, and suggested that “deteriorated” or “degenerated” might have been more appropriate. The broadcaster did not, however, consider the word “disintegrated” to be “significantly misleading, untruthful or inaccurate” so as to breach broadcasting standards.

[22] The Authority does not agree. There was no evidence in the main news item that the hui “disintegrated into conflict and name-calling”. Nor, for that matter, was there any evidence of “deterioration” or “degeneration”. In the Authority’s view, there was nothing in the main news item to suggest the high level of disarray portrayed by the closing headline. In the absence of supporting information from the original news item, or subsequently from TVNZ, the Authority concurs with the complainant that the closing headline was a substantial misreporting of the events. As such, the closing headline was misleading and breached Standard 5.

[23] Mr Gall complained that the closing headline breached Guideline 6a of Standard 6. Guideline 6a requires broadcasters to take care when editing 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. The Authority considers that Guideline 6a is not applicable to this complaint, as it was the scripting of the headline, not its editing from the main news story, which was misleading.

[24] The Authority considers, however, that the closing headline breached the requirement for fairness in Standard 6. Under Standard 6, TVNZ was required to deal justly and fairly with those who organised and attended the hui. In misrepresenting the conduct of the hui, the Authority considers that the closing headline breached the requirement to treat organisers and participants justly and fairly.

[25] While it is always important that the media report events fairly and accurately, the Authority reminds broadcasters of the need to take particular care to report accurately and dispassionately issues which evoke intense feeling and public debate.

[26] For the avoidance of doubt, the Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching this determination. For the reasons given above, the Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd on One News on TV One on 23 September 2003 breached Standard 5 and Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[27] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It invited submissions from the parties.

[28] TVNZ advised the Authority that it did not wish to make a submission on the decision. TVNZ noted in mitigation that it had apologised to the complainant and had acknowledged to both the complainant and the Authority that the word “disintegrated” was inappropriate.

[29] The complainant submitted that an order directing TVNZ to broadcast a statement summarising the decision and the reasons why the complaint was upheld was reasonable. He submitted that it would also be reasonable to expect TVNZ to broadcast such a statement on the same programme as the item complained about.

[30] Mr Gall did not seek an award of costs, stating that it was his “desire to set the record straight, not to gain pecuniary advantage” which drove him to complain. He advised the Authority, however, that he reserved the right to “value [his] time and costs equal to any professional engaged by TVNZ” should TVNZ appeal the Authority’s decision.

[31] Taking into account that the breach occurred during the closing headline at the end of the news bulletin, and that the closing headline substantially misreported the events and requires correcting, in the circumstances the Authority considers that a brief statement summarising the effect of the decision is appropriate. It therefore imposes the following order.

Order

Pursuant to section 13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders Television New Zealand Ltd to broadcast on One News, within one month of the date of this decision, a brief statement explaining why the complaint was upheld. The statement shall be approved by the Authority and broadcast on a day and at a time to be approved by the Authority.

The Authority draws the broadcaster’s attention to the requirements of section 13(3)(b) of the Act for the broadcaster to give notice to the Authority and the complainant of the manner in which the above order has been complied with.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
22 April 2004

Appendix

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

1.  David Gall’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 21 October 2003

2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 13 November 2003

3. Mr Gall’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 16 December 2003

4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 20 January 2004

5. Mr Gall’s Submission on Order – 30 March 2004

6. TVNZ’s Submission on Order – 31 March 2004