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Carapiet and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-041

Members

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

Complainant

  • Jon Carapiet of Auckland

Dated

22nd April 2004

Number

2004-041

Programme

Holmes

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Holmes – lifting of moratorium on commercial release of genetically modified organisms – studio debate – “Trust and Country Image” report discussed – complainant maintained he accurately quoted report – presenter allegedly misrepresented report – presenter allegedly unfairly criticised complainant

Findings
Standard 5 – presenter’s introductory statement on report inaccurate – upheld

Standard 5 – presenter’s criticism a question of fairness, not accuracy – issue considered under
Standard 6

Standard 6 – presenter’s vehement interjection amounted to accusation of deliberate misrepresentation – content, manner and tone of interjection an unfair overreaction – upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Summary

[1] An item broadcast on Holmes on TV One on 23 October 2003 dealt with the lifting of the moratorium on the commercial release of genetically modified organisms. The item included a debate with Jon Carapiet, who represented GE Free New Zealand in Food and Environment, and the Environment Minister, Marian Hobbs. The debate included discussion of a University of Otago report entitled “Trust and Country Image”.

[2] Jon Carapiet complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was inaccurate and unfair. He complained that the presenter had misrepresented the report and had then accused Mr Carapiet of misrepresenting the report, when he had not. The complainant stated that the item cast doubt on his professional standing and credibility, and gave the impression he was lying or deliberately misleading viewers, when he was not.

[3] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It responded that Mr Carapiet had accurately quoted the report, but out of context, and disputed that the item cast doubt on Mr Carapiet’s professional standing, stating that he was seen to “vigorously espouse” his position.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Carapiet referred the 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 read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. They have also read relevant sections of the University of Otago’s report “Trust and Country Image”. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Programme

[6] An item broadcast on Holmes on TV One on 23 October 2003 dealt with the forthcoming expiry of the Government’s moratorium on applications for the commercial release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment. The item began with pre-recorded coverage of some of the issues, followed by a live studio debate. The debate featured Jon Carapiet, who represented GE Free New Zealand in Food and Environment, and the Environment Minister, Marian Hobbs. Mr Carapiet was in the Auckland studio with the presenter, and the Minister was on a remote camera in Wellington.

[7] Shortly after the commencement of the debate, the presenter asked the Minister whether she had done any formal assessment of the possible damage that lifting the moratorium might do to New Zealand’s clean, green image. The Minister responded that the University of Otago had produced a report called “Trust and Country Image”. The Minister stated that the report was not asked for by the Government, and continued:

… [the report] virtually said that clean, green image isn’t what sells our products. What sells our products is our very good quality assurance with food, our ability to trace where our crops are grown, where our lamb is grown, where our beef is grown, and be able to verify that out in the world.

[8] The debate continued as follows:

Presenter:
That’s right. That’s the University of Otago Business School study by Dr John Knight. They found this out by going to Europe. They went to 17 very big food distributors in Europe, at least one of whom has a turnover twice the size of New Zealand’s GDP. Only three of the 17 had even heard of our clean, green image, and nobody cared about genetically modified organisms. It was the things that Marian Hobbs is talking about …

Jon Carapiet:
No, they actually did care about genetically modified organisms …

Presenter:
In certain ways…

Mr Carapiet:
And do you know what they actually recommended? That the Government hold off on commercial release for all our major food exports. And that is not what they’ve put into place …

Minister:
No they didn’t. No they didn’t. I’m sorry …

Mr Carapiet:
They did …

Minister:
They said that if you’re about to do something like lamb …

Mr Carapiet:
Or feed …

Minister:
Or if you’re about to do – well, not even on the feed, and you know well Jon that …

Presenter:
All they cared about in Europe was the grass. They want the lamb to be eating the free grass without any genetically modified blades of grass.

Mr Carapiet:
The report said all the food people they talked to did not want anything to do with GM, including the feed that goes into animals.

Presenter:
That is an entirely incorrect misrepresentation of that report and I’ve read that report.

Mr Carapiet:
And I’ve read it too. If you look at the back page in the conclusions they recommend that government does not allow commercial release of our major food products at this stage.

Presenter:
Well. Minister, what did they say?

Minister :
I disagree Jon. They actually said that there could be a marketing problem if you were marketing genetically modified lamb into Europe …

Presenter:
Because opposition is growing …

Minister:
That there would be a problem there. And they said “take that on board in your decision making”. They didn’t say “don’t genetically modify potatoes”. In fact they said if there was work done on potatoes, there would be no effect on non-genetically modified or conventional lamb. They said there was no crossover between something you might be doing on one crop and the food you are promoting, so I think that that is a really false picture that you have just given, Jon.

[The debate continued.]

Complaint

[9] On 24 October 2003, the day after the broadcast, Mr Carapiet emailed a letter to the producer of the Holmes show headed “Formal Complaint and request for a Correction On-Air”. Mr Carapiet wrote that his statement that the University of Otago’s report recommended that the “Government hold off on commercial release for all our major food exports” was correct. Noting that meat and dairy products are New Zealand’s major food exports, he quoted the recommendation from page 78 of “Trust and Country Image” as follows:

New Zealand should defer commercial release of GMOs in farm animals for meat or milk production, and for pasture and animal feed, until such time as this technology becomes widely accepted in European markets.

[10] In relation to the presenter’s statement that he had given an “entirely incorrect misrepresentation of the report”, Mr Carapiet wrote:

This is a serious accusation that casts a cloud on my professional standing and credibility. I believe my statement – referring to the recommendations … – was correct and did not justify [the presenter’s] vehement criticism.

[11] Mr Carapiet requested that TVNZ make a statement on air quoting the passage of the report “to correct the impression given in the show that I was lying or deliberately misleading viewers, rather than referencing a real statement in support of my views.”

[12] Mr Carapiet also complained that, contrary to the presenter’s assertion that respondents to the survey did not care about genetically modified organisms, the respondents were

indeed concerned about GM and didn’t want anything to do with it as far as the products they were importing were concerned.

[13] On 4 November 2003, Mr Carapiet sent a copy of his letter of complaint to TVNZ’s complaints committee and requested a response to his complaint. He advised the committee that while he had received a message from the Holmes show that his complaint had been received, he had not had a response to his complaint.

Standards

[14] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 5 and 6 of the Free to Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They 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.

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

[15] In a letter dated 8 December 2003, TVNZ apologised to Mr Carapiet for the delay responding to his complaint.

[16] TVNZ advised Mr Carapiet that its complaints committee had looked closely at the University of Otago’s report when considering his complaint. The broadcaster wrote:

The committee’s first observation was that your complaint highlights an issue which arises from time to time in which a small section of a report can be described accurately – but out of context of the total report can nevertheless be misleading and misrepresent the overall message in the document concerned. The problem is heightened in matters of controversy, such as this one, when polarised views are passionately held and there is disagreement between the two poles on what that overall message is.

In this case [the presenter] did not say you were lying. He said your selective quotation was a misrepresentation, and, in the committee’s view that seemed a fair comment. The committee thought that overall the conclusions in the Otago report urged care and caution, and specifically

warned against “exaggeration and over-publicising of perceived risks”. Both the message of caution and the warning about exaggeration place the comment you were referring to in a somewhat different overall context.

[17] After quoting a transcript of the part of the debate it believed was at the heart of Mr Carapiet’s complaint, TVNZ stated that in its complaints committee’s view the average viewer would have taken from the exchange that the words Mr Carapiet quoted were in the report, but that they formed part of a wider context.

[18] TVNZ declined to find a breach of the requirement for accuracy in Standard 5, stating that both Mr Carapiet and the Minister had quoted accurately from the report and “it was just that in both cases the selection of phrases were heard out of context.” TVNZ continued:

If there was an issue of accuracy here, the committee felt it was in the absence of a broader overview of what the Otago Report actually said – but it was also noted that if that had been done you and the Minister would still not have agreed on what the report was advocating!

[19] TVNZ declined to find a breach of the requirement for fairness in Standard 6. TVNZ stated that its complaints committee did not feel that the item reflected adversely on Mr Carapiet’s professional standing or credibility. Mr Carapiet was seen to “vigorously espouse” his position on the issue of genetic modification, and to “strongly challenge” the Minister’s assertions. The broadcaster continued:

The item did not reach a conclusion – it was never expected to do so – but thanks to your contribution and that of [the Minister] viewers were presented with information that would have allowed them, perhaps, to become clearer in their minds about some of the arguments surrounding the GM debate.

[20] Mr Carapiet had been given the “last word” in the discussion, TVNZ stated, and its complaints committee found no part of the interview in which Mr Carapiet was “vehemently criticised”. TVNZ concluded:

The committee also noted with interest that according to the Holmes production crew you left the studio apparently happy with the way the interview had gone, and you did not voice any concerns at that time.

Referral to the Authority

[21] In his referral to the Authority, Mr Carapiet noted that he had emailed his original complaint to the producer of the Holmes show the day after the broadcast and had requested “prompt action”. When he did not receive a response, he sent his complaint to TVNZ’s complaints committee on 4 November, and he did not receive TVNZ’s response (dated 8 December) until 10 December. Mr Carapiet wrote that the “unfortunate delay has not allowed my concerns to be addressed fairly and promptly after the incident – irrespective of the decision now made by TVNZ”.

[22] In his referral, Mr Carapiet noted that the transcript of the debate quoted by TVNZ in response to his complaint did not include the presenter’s introductory comments that “nobody [interviewed for the University of Otago report] cared about genetically modified organisms”. Mr Carapiet wondered if TVNZ’s complaints committee had viewed the entire interview when coming to its decision.

[23] According to the complainant, the presenter’s introductory statement unfairly represented the contents of the report, and this was an important factor in the alleged breach of standards. Mr Carapiet argued that the presenter had set the context of the report in a manner likely to mislead. The complainant wrote:

With [the presenter’s] opening gambit it was clear a fair summary was virtually impossible: [the presenter] implied there was “no concern” when the reality is quite the contrary.

[24] Mr Carapiet reiterated his original complaint that the presenter’s response to his comments about the report was vehement and unfair.

[25] Mr Carapiet rejected TVNZ’s comment that he left the studio “apparently happy”. He advised the Authority that immediately after the interview he commented to the presenter that the report “really did have that recommendation I had quoted”, told the presenter he could show him the recommendation, and the presenter seemed uninterested. In relation to TVNZ’s comments that he had had the “last word”, Mr Carapiet stated that this did not excuse his treatment.

[26] Mr Carapiet disputed that the item did not reflect adversely on his professional standing.

[27] Mr Carapiet stated that it was clear from the interview that the presenter and the Minister were prepared to discuss the report, and had discussed it off-air. In preparation for the interview, Mr Carapiet said he did not recall being advised that the report would be raised. He stated:

This is somewhat unusual because the Report has not been widely publicised or read. Indeed many other people [the presenter] could have invited to interview that evening would not have read the Report as I have, and would have been unable to correct [the presenter’s] portrayal of its contents.

With the lack of prior notice to me that the Report would be raised potentially putting me at a disadvantage, the introductory comments from [the presenter] indicate the interview lacked the degree of impartial, objective and fair process required under [standards] 5 and 6 of the [Television Code].

[28] Finally, Mr Carapiet asked the Authority to note the following:

  • Respondents to the University of Otago’s report did in fact care about genetic modification, especially in food, and the presenter’s statement to the contrary and subsequent rebuttal of the complainant were unfair and breached standards.
  • The presenter and the Minister appeared to have prior knowledge of “the angle” [the presenter] took on the report.
  • Despite supportive comments for the release of genetically modified organisms from some sectors, the University of Otago’s final report recommended against commercial release of New Zealand’s major food exports (meat and dairy) and proposed an extension of the moratorium.
  • The report recommended a moratorium on genetically modified feed for those exports, yet the Minister was allowed to contradict that statement and the misrepresentation went unchallenged by the presenter.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[29] In its response to the Authority, TVNZ confirmed that its complaints committee had viewed a recording of the item, including the pre-recorded coverage and the studio debate.

[30] According to TVNZ, the University of Otago’s report was a “lengthy and wordy” document with “very much of the ‘on the one hand this … but on the other hand that’ about it.” TVNZ held to the view that

the claim Mr Carapiet extracted without qualification became misleading when considered in the context of the whole document – and that is what [the presenter] and the Minister quite properly challenged him on.

[31] TVNZ stated that Mr Carapiet appeared to be surprised that he was challenged in the studio debate, and that it was an important role of journalism to challenge and test those who articulated strong viewpoints on public issues. It stated:

Mr Carapiet is [a] well-known advocate of the anti-GE lobby, and it was quite proper that he should be challenged over the interpretation he was putting on the Otago report.

[32] It remained TVNZ’s view that the item was not inaccurate, and was carefully balanced to reflect the views of both those opposed to and those in favour of the lifting of the moratorium. Mr Carapiet had not been treated unfairly and any viewer of the programme would have been left with a clear understanding of his viewpoint, TVNZ concluded.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[33] In his final comment, Mr Carapiet stated that TVNZ had not addressed the issue that the presenter introduced the report by saying “they didn’t care about GM”. This was “patently not true” and “fundamentally misleading”, he stated.

[34] Mr Carapiet did not accept TVNZ’s characterisation of him as “a well-known advocate of the anti GE lobby”. He stated:

… I made it clear to [the presenter] that the organisation I represent is called “GE Free New Zealand in Food and Environment”, and to his credit he mentioned it when introducing me. I actually agree with the Otago study – and other research – that New Zealand can benefit from ethical contained applications of the technology we already do. It is the environmental release of living GE organisms that is my concern – and also the concern reflected in the Otago report’s recommendations to delay certain key food-related categories from possible release.

[35] Mr Carapiet disputed being “surprised to be challenged in the studio debate”, stating that his concern was only that the presenter should “deliberately introduce and initiate discussion of the report with such an erroneous comment”. The recommendation he raised from the report was a “genuine quote”, not “opinion”, and had been commented on in other media. Mr Carapiet enclosed a New Zealand Press Association article in support.

[36] Mr Carapiet repeated the facts as he saw them as set out in earlier correspondence. He maintained that viewers were left with the impression that he was

deliberately misleading or basically lying. Yet this was a genuine and highly relevant recommendation from the report.

[37] He again requested that TVNZ air an appropriate corrective statement.

Authority’s Determination

[38] There are two aspects to this complaint which the Authority is required to determine: first, the allegation that the presenter was inaccurate when he said “nobody [interviewed for the report] cared about genetically modified organisms”, and secondly, the allegation that the presenter was inaccurate and unfair when he said Mr Carapiet had given an “entirely incorrect misrepresentation” of the report.

[39] In his referral to the Authority, Mr Carapiet complained that the presenter and the Minister appeared to have discussed the report prior to the interview, that he was not advised it would be discussed, and that he was therefore disadvantaged. As this is a new matter which was not raised with TVNZ in the original complaint, the Authority declines to determine it. As the Authority has made clear on a number of occasions, its function is to investigate and review the broadcaster’s decision, and it cannot adjudicate on matters which were not explicitly or implicitly part of the original complaint.

Standard 5 – Accuracy

[40] Standard 5 requires news, current affairs and other factual programmes to be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and impartial and objective at all times. The Authority considers that the presenter’s opening statement “nobody cared about genetically modified organisms” was at odds with the findings of the report. The Authority notes that the report’s principal findings included the following1: 

  • The prospect of genetic modification being used in farm animals that produce meat or milk for food received an almost universal highly negative reaction. Even when respondents had no particular objection themselves, they reported likely highly negative reactions from their customers – both trade customers and end consumers.
  • The prospect of genetic modification of pasture plants on which animals are raised for production of meat or milk also received a highly negative reaction – even when the potential reduction of reliance on drenching for parasitic worms was proffered as a trade-off benefit.

[41] The Authority therefore upholds this aspect of the complaint as a breach of Standard 5.

[42] The second aspect of the accuracy complaint relates to the presenter’s interjection that Mr Carapiet had given an “entirely incorrect misrepresentation” of the report. Because of the imprecise nature of the debate surrounding the presenter’s interjection, the Authority considers that this aspect of the complaint raises issues of fairness, not accuracy, and it deals with this point next.

Standard 6 – Fairness

[43] The Authority notes that the presenter’s inaccurate opening statement triggered the debate about what the report actually said. In the Authority’s view, the constraints of a brief studio debate, compounded by the presenter’s inaccurate opening statement, compromised any meaningful discussion of the report, which would have required a level of precision not possible in the circumstances. It appears to the Authority that Mr Carapiet, the Minister and the presenter were talking at cross-purposes, and that the assertions of each were open to interpretation. As a result, the debate was confusing and imprecise.

[44] Mr Carapiet made two statements about the report, and fo llowing the second statement the presenter accused him of giving an “entirely incorrect misrepresentation” of the report. Mr Carapiet’s two statements were:

  • And do you know what they actually recommended? That the Government hold off on commercial release for all our major food exports.
  • The report said all the food people they talked to did not want anything to do with GM, including the feed that goes into animals.

[45] As did TVNZ, the Authority accepts that Mr Carapiet paraphrased the report’s recommendation correctly. The recommendation (one of eight) reads:2

New Zealand should defer commercial release of GMOs in farm animals for meat or milk production, and for pasture and animal feed, until such time as this technology becomes widely accepted in European markets.

[46] In relation to Mr Carapiet’s second statement, the Authority accepts that Mr Carapiet’s comment was restricted to genetic modification of New Zealand’s major food exports. The Authority accepts that, without that degree of precision, the comment was open to interpretation. The Authority also notes that both of Mr Carapiet’s statements assumed viewer knowledge of meat and dairy products as New Zealand’s major food exports. It accepts that with both statements some matters of detail were not conveyed.

[47] Nonetheless, the Authority considers that the manner and tone of the presenter’s interjection – especially in light of his own inaccurate opening statement, his purported knowledge of the report, his knowledge that Mr Carapiet represented GE Free New Zealand in Food and Environment, and his ability to seek immediate clarification from Mr Carapiet – was an unfair overreaction.

[48] While Mr Carapiet participated actively in the debate and, as TVNZ noted, was given the “last word”, the Authority considers that the vehemence and generality of the presenter’s interjection were out of proportion to the apparent moderate nature of Mr Carapiet’s remarks, and amounted to an accusation that Mr Carapiet was deliberately misrepresenting the report. In the Authority’s view, the impression that Mr Carapiet was deliberately misrepresenting the report was bolstered by the presenter’s credibility with viewers and the fact that the Minister also implied Mr Carapiet was not telling the truth about the report.

[49] Accordingly, the Authority finds that the content, manner and tone of the presenter’s interjection breached the requirement for fairness in Standard 6.

General

[50] Mr Carapiet sent his formal complaint to TVNZ on 24 October 2003. TVNZ’s response to the complaint is dated 8 December 2003. The Authority acknowledges that Mr Carapiet first sent the complaint to the producer of the Holmes show, and sent it to TVNZ’s complaints committee on 4 November 2003. Nonetheless, TVNZ has breached the requirement in the Broadcasting Act 1989 to respond to formal complaints within 20 working days after receiving the complaint. The Authority reminds TVNZ of its obligations under the Act.

[51] 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 reasons above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd on Holmes on 23 October 2003 breached Standard 5 and Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

[53] TVNZ submitted that an order was inappropriate. The broadcaster noted that the Authority had accepted that Mr Carapiet’s second comment was open to interpretation, and that it assumed viewer knowledge of meat and dairy products as New Zealand’s major food exports. TVNZ also noted the Authority’s view that Mr Carapiet had participated actively in the debate. TVNZ stressed that the broadcast was a live interview.

[54] Mr Carapiet requested that TVNZ be required to broadcast a statement summarizing the Authority’s decision and the reasons why the complaint was upheld. Mr Carapiet provided suggested wording for a lengthy statement.

[55] The Authority has carefully considered the submissions, the circumstances of the broadcast, and the nature and extent of the breach. It considers that to order the broadcast of a statement on this occasion in sufficient detail to adequately explain the Authority’s decision would be disproportionate to the nature and extent of the breach. The Authority therefore concludes that on this occasion an order is not appropriate.

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. Jon Carapiet’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 24 October 2003

2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 8 December 2003

3. Mr Carapiet’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 13 December 2003

4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 29 January 2004

5. Mr Carapiet’s Final Comment – 10 February 2004

6. Mr Carapiet’s Submission on Order – 28 March 2004

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


1John Knight, David Holdsworth and Damien Mather, Trust and Country Image: Perceptions of European Food Distributors Regarding Factors That Could Enhance or Damage New Zealand’s Image – Including GMOs, University of Otago, September 2003, page 77.

2op cit, page 78.