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Curran and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-075

Members

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

Complainant

  • Patrick Curran of Levin

Dated

1st July 2004

Number

2004-075

Programme

Spooks

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Spooks – promo broadcast on 3 February 2004 – used excerpt from an item about events in Northern Ireland from One News item broadcast on 15 October 2002 – promo did not refer to events since then – allegedly misleading

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) and Guideline 4a – item broadcast shortly before 6.00pm news was promo for Spooks – used part of news item from One News broadcast on 15 October 2002 – balance not an issue – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] A promo for the forthcoming drama series Spooks was broadcast on TV One shortly before the start of One News at 6.00pm on 3 February 2004. The promo began with an excerpt from an item broadcast on One News on 15 October 2002.

Complaint

[2] Patrick Curran complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that a “news item” broadcast shortly before 6.00pm referred to an incident in 2002 when a spy scandal led to the British Government taking back the reins of power in Northern Ireland. Because the item did not refer to the current situation in Northern Ireland, and because it did not make it plain that it was a rebroadcast, Mr Curran wrote, the broadcast breached the requirement for balance.

Standards

[3] Mr Curran complained that the broadcast breached the balance requirement in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The standard, and relevant guideline, provides:

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.

Guideline

a  Programmes which deal with political matters, current affairs, and questions of a controversial nature, must show balance and impartiality.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] TVNZ initially advised that it was unable to identify the news item about which Mr Curran had complained. It was not, it said, part of the trailer for One News broadcast at about 5.50pm on 3 February.

[5] When Mr Curran later advised TVNZ that the item, first broadcast in October 2002, was broadcast “a minute or so” before 6.00pm on 2 or 3 February 2004, TVNZ told him that it was still unable to identify the material to which he was referring.

Referral to the Authority

[6] Insisting that the One News item broadcast on 15 October 2002 was screened again on 3 February 2004, Mr Curran referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. The events in Northern Ireland to which the item should have referred, he wrote, involved meetings in London between the Irish Prime Minister and Rev Ian Paisley.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[7] TVNZ rejected strongly Mr Curran’s suggestion that it “maliciously rebroadcast in a news context an item broadcast more than a year earlier”. It had now ascertained that the item Mr Curran had complained about was a promo for the drama series Spooks.

[8] The promo, it said:

… used the recorded voice of TV One presenter Judy Bailey reading an item of Irish news. The audio is accompanied by imagery and captions drawing attention to Spooks, a fictional series built around the activities of a counter-terrorism unit attached to M15.

[9] TVNZ argued that the device of using extracts from old news bulletins was a long-established practice in feature films. It continued:

The presence of this audio in a fictional context had nothing at all to do with the content of One News or with Mr Curran’s perception that One News had failed to present significant fresh news from Ireland.

We submit that standard 4 was not breached. The use of generic news audio to place a drama in a particular setting requires no balance, and has certainly nothing to do with editorial decision-making in news bulletins on nearby dates.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[10] Mr Curran reiterated his concern that the item had not dealt with a current news event. He also stated that the news item, when broadcast in October 2002, was unbalanced as it omitted relevant matters. In addition, he said that TVNZ’s handling of his complaint was highly unprofessional. He concluded:

Incidentally, that Spooks drama’s still going strong on One. If my monitoring of its presentation is correct, One has not used that Sinn Fein spy promo since I complained about it. I wonder why?

Authority's Determination

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

[12] Mr Curran complained that the broadcast of an item about events in Northern Ireland on One News on 3 February 2004, which was first broadcast on One News on 15 October 2002, was unbalanced as it did not refer to the correct situation there.

[13] TVNZ pointed out that Mr Curran was referring to a promo for “a new British drama series called Spooks”. The promo began with the regular TV One News presenter reading an item relating to events in Northern Ireland. It then included images from an episode of Spooks and, TVNZ wrote:

The Irish “news story” running behind the opening pictures in the trailer was simply a production device indicating to viewers the environment of spying and clandestine activities in which the fictional counter-terrorism team would work. It was a generic reference to the fact that Ireland had been in the news, and was therefore one logical location to act out fictional material about a counter-terrorism unit.

[14] TVNZ added:

The Authority will be aware that the device of occasionally using extracts from old news bulletins is long-established and is found in a number of feature films, let alone trailers.

[15] Upon receipt of this advice, Mr Curran continued to maintain that the broadcast was unbalanced and he provided the Authority with a range of information about ongoing events in Northern Ireland.

[16] Having viewed the promo and being aware of Mr Curran’s complaints to TVNZ and the Authority over the years about both the adequacy and balance of TVNZ’s coverage of events in Northland Ireland, the Authority understands his concern when he alleged that TVNZ rebroadcast a news item some seventeen months after first doing so.

[17] Nevertheless, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the use of the earlier item in a promo involved a question of balance (Standard 4). The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes. It considers that it became apparent very quickly during the broadcast that the visuals and audio used were not an account of current events but were a promotion for a forthcoming drama series, and therefore balance was not in issue.

[18] The Authority notes nevertheless that the use of such devices must be considered carefully so as not to mislead viewers. The Authority observes it could be seen as misleading to depict news items and presenters in any promo for a non news programme placed so close to a news bulletin.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
1 July 2004

Appendix

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

1     Patrick Curran’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 23 February 2004
2    TVNZ’s Request for Further Information – 25 February 2004
3    Mr Curran’s Response to TVNZ – 1 March 2004
4    TVNZ’s Reply to Mr Curran – 8 March 2004
5    Mr Curran’s Response to TVNZ – 18 March 2004
6    Mr Curran’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 5 April 2004
7    TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 22 April 2004
8    Mr Curran’s Final Comment – 12 May 2004