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Delahunt and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-048

Members

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

Complainant

  • Simon Delahunt of Wellington

Dated

6th May 2004

Number

2004-048

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item describing shooting down in Iraq of US military helicopter by “enemy fire” – allegedly unbalanced and inaccurate

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – balance provided in period of current interest – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – not inaccurate in this context – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] An item which described the shooting down in Iraq of a US military helicopter by “enemy fire” was broadcast on One News on 3 January 2004 at 6.00pm.

Complaint

[2] Simon Delahunt complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that describing Iraqis as the “enemy” was unbalanced and inaccurate. In his view, the use of this:

… subjective, generic term forg[ed] an identification between the New Zealand viewer and the occupier of Iraq.

Standards

[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by the complainant. Standards 4 and 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice provide:

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] TVNZ maintained that the statement (“It’s the fifth military helicopter downed by enemy fire in recent months”) was:

… neither subjective, nor did it contribute to what [the complainant] described as “an identification between the New Zealand viewer and the occupier of Iraq”. The helicopter shot down was a United States military one, and those who shot it down were the “enemy” of the United States military. The use of the word “enemy” makes it clear that what brought the plane down was not a mechanical failure, not an accident, not an instance of “friendly fire”, but an attack by people who from the perspective of the helicopter crew and the military organisation that operated it, were the enemy.

[5] TVNZ did not consider Standard 5 was breached. It also found that Standard 4 was not relevant, as:

This was a straightforward news reporting of an on-going conflict and as far as the committee could determine arguments swirling around this conflict have been reported from a range of perspectives, a range which has provided balance over the period of current interest as is allowed for in Standard 4.

Referral to the Authority

[6] Mr Delahunt referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[7] The complainant submitted that TVNZ’s response ought to be seen in the context of:

… a regular use of the word “enemy” in its news bulletins, always in reference to the enemies of the US forces.

[8] He added:

If the reports were indeed objective then, at the very least, reporters/announcers would have used expressions such as “ their enemy”, rather than “ the enemy”…

… Indeed TVNZ’s news’ habit of leaving the subject out of sentences would have described the five helicopters as simply “shot down in recent months”.

I notice that Iraqis fighting against the US invading forces have never had TVNZ call their enemy “the enemy”. 

Authority's Determination

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

[10] Although the complainant’s stated concern is about the use of a loaded term in news reporting, the item he referred to the Authority is not, in the Authority’s view, an example of such behaviour.

[11] The use of the word “enemy” in the item was neither inaccurate nor misleading, and did not contribute to any lack of balance in reporting about the Iraq conflict. On this occasion the Authority agrees with the broadcaster’s explanation that the reference to “enemy fire” was to fire from the enemy of the US military. It was not reasonably open to the interpretation that Iraq is the enemy of New Zealand. Accordingly, it finds that neither Standard 4 (balance), nor Standard 5 (accuracy) was breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
6 May 2004

Appendix

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

  1. Simon Delahunt’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 8 January 2004
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 9 February 2004
  3. Mr Delahunt’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 3 March 2004
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 16 March 2004