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Simpson and Channel 9, Dunedin - 2004-143

Members

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

Complainant

  • Leslie Simpson of Invercargill

Dated

4th November 2004

Number

2004-143

Programme

Is Milk Safe?

Channel/Station

Channel 9 Dunedin

Broadcaster

Channel 9 Dunedin


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Is Milk Safe? – documentary based on ABC programme “White Mischief” – examined possible differences in health benefits of A1 and A2 milk – allegedly unbalanced as complainant argued that it suggested A2 only was safe

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – significant points of view advanced about both A1 and A2 milk – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] A documentary Is Milk Safe? was broadcast on Dunedin’s Channel 9 at 8.30pm on 14 June 2004. Using an ABC 4 Corners item “White Mischief”, it examined some of the differences between A1 and A2 milk.

Complaint

[2] Leslie Simpson complained to Channel 9 that the programme did not address the question of the safety of milk. Rather, it dealt with the differences between A1 and A2 milk. Furthermore, he wrote, the programme was unbalanced as it claimed that A1 milk played a causal role in a number of serious medical problems and, in an “alarmist” fashion, suggested that A2 milk was the only “safe” milk.

[3] Dr Simpson stated that any health advantages of A2 milk over A1 milk had yet to be demonstrated, and the item was “tantamount to scaremongering”.

Standards

[4] The broadcaster failed to nominate a standard against which the complaint had been assessed. In view of the matters raised in the complaint, the Authority has assessed the complaint under Standard 4 of the Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. It reads

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] Explaining that the item had been put together by a Christchurch broadcaster, Channel 9 said that the statement Is Milk Safe? was an attention gathering headline to which the answer could be “yes or no depending on circumstance”. Its role, it wrote, was to put the information into the public domain.

[6] Channel 9 contended that the programme covered many aspects of the complex arguments relating to A1 and A2 milk, and had not touted either side. The programme, it added, advised that science had not reached a conclusion on the A1 and A2 debate, and viewers had been left to draw their own conclusions.

Referral to the Authority

[7] Dissatisfied with Channel 9’s decision, Dr Simpson referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[8] The programme, he wrote, did not have a balanced approach to the issue. Rather, it involved “strong support” for A2 milk.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9] Channel 9 wrote:

We maintain that the documentary shows both balance and impartiality to a reasonable level, and to the level that is practical in this case, with the significant points of view both pro and anti being presented.

[10] It also acknowledged the programme’s focus was A2 milk, but had reported that the assertions in favour of A2 milk had not been proven.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[11] Noting that the broadcaster now acknowledged that A2 milk was the item’s focus, Dr Simpson maintained that the item had advanced a “slanted view” and lacked balance.

Authority's Determination

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

[13] The Authority notes that the advertisement for the programme in the Otago Daily Times, headed “Is Milk Safe?” was an aspect of Dr Simpson’s initial complaint. He contended that the print advertisement was inaccurate as the broadcast examined the differences between A1 and A2 milk, rather than dealing with the rhetorical question in the advertisement. The Authority also notes that the broadcaster advised Dr Simpson that the Advertising Standards Authority was the organisation which deals with complaints about print advertisements, and it provided him with the appropriate address. The advertisement in the Otago Daily Times is not a matter for this Authority.

[14] Standard 4 (balance) requires that when a programme deals with a controversial issue of public importance, broadcasters must present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[15] The issue dealt with in the programme complained about was the research into the different types of milk, A1 and A2, and the efforts to establish commercial distribution of A2 milk in New Zealand and Australia. In view of the possible health benefits of A2 over A1 milk, and the extent of the reorganisation of the dairy industry which would need to take place to ensure the widespread availability of A2 milk, the Authority is in no doubt that the matter addressed was a controversial issue of public importance.

[16] Mr Simpson complained that the item was unbalanced in that it suggested that A1 milk played a causal role in a number of serious medical problems and that A2 was the only “safe” milk.

[17] The Authority does not agree with the complainant’s interpretation. It notes the range of speakers, marketers and researchers, from both sides of the debate who took part, and is of the view that the item made clear that it was reporting on research which was still in progress. It reported on the trials, some of which had been concluded, but it was made plain, despite the implications drawn by some of the participants in the programme, that results were not definitive.

[18] In view of the range of significant but opposing views canvassed in the programme, the Authority concludes that the requirements in Standard 4 (balance) were complied with.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 November 2004

Appendix

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

  1. Leslie’s Simpson’s Complaints to Channel – 15 & 21 June 2004
  2. Channel 9’s Response to Dr Simpson – 13 July 2004
  3. Dr Simpson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 28 July 2004
  4. Channel 9’s Response to the Authority – 26 August 2004
  5. Dr Simpson’s Final Comment – 9 September 2004