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Watkin and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-165

Members

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

Complainant

  • Neville Watkin of Lower Hutt

Dated

4th November 2004

Number

2004-165

Programme

Holmes

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Holmes – item on New Zealand’s poor record of child abuse – recited list of recent cases of abuse and murder – presenter referred to “father” as perpetrator – allegedly inaccurate and unbalanced

Findings
Principle 4 (balance) – balance aspect of complaint more appropriately dealt with under Principle 5 (accuracy) – statements of fact rather than particular perspective or opinion – not upheld

Principle 5 (accuracy) – item later clarified that perpetrators often male figure other than natural father – overall item not inaccurate – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] An episode of Holmes, broadcast on TV One on 30 June 2004, concerned New Zealand’s record of child murder and abuse. Presenter Paul Holmes started the item by reciting a list of recent cases of murder and abuse, each one accompanied by its own on-screen graphic, giving the name of the victim and their relationship to the offender. In many cases the offender was labelled as the “father” of the victim.

[2] The presenter went on to conduct a joint interview with children’s campaigner Lesley Max, and the manager of Māori health service He Waka Tapu, Daryl Gregory.

Complaint

[3] Neville Watkin complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the broadcast was unbalanced and inaccurate, as some of the perpetrators referred to as “fathers” were in fact step-fathers or de facto partners. Mr Watkin noted:

It is a proved fact that children’s biological fathers are statistically their best protectors, and children are much more likely to be harmed when their biological fathers are removed from their day-to-day lives and their mothers assume a solo parenting role or begin living with a new partner.

Standards

[4] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4 (balance) and 5 (accuracy) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which state:

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

[5] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It stated that it had a list provided by the police of child homicides which indicated that in a high proportion of child murder cases, the offender was the father, step-father or de-facto father, and that it was not misleading for the presenter to bracket these categories into the single category “father”.

[6] TVNZ observed:

It was felt by the [Complaints] Committee that you had perhaps overlooked the main thrust of the item which was that an appalling number of children were being beaten and killed. Who carried out the violence was only incidental to the more important point that the violent incidents were happening.

The committee did not accept that a breach of standard 4 had occurred. It believed this was not an issue in which crimes by men were being balanced against crimes by women. The issue was harm to young children.

[7] Nor did TVNZ accept that Standard 5 (accuracy) had been breached:

The summary of recent assaults on children reflected accurately the more detailed, if somewhat dated, breakdown of child homicides which the committee had before it.

Referral to the Authority

[8] Mr Watkin was unhappy with this response and referred his complaint to the Authority. He did not, however, provide any additional submissions other than to note he was also concerned about Mr Holmes’ recent “public attack against ‘heterosexual men’”

Broadcaster's Response to the Authority

[9] TVNZ offered no substantive response to the complainant’s referral, but did provide the Authority with a copy of police statistics relating to child abuse.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[10] In response, Mr Watkin noted that the period covered by the presenter in the item was different from the period covered in the police statistics. He noted that in any event, the statistics showed that natural fathers were responsible for only around one in four child murders over that period, while Holmes suggested that fathers were grossly over-represented in the statistics.

Authority's Determination

[11] 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.

Balance

[12] The Authority does not consider that Standard 4 (balance) is applicable to this complaint. Those aspects of the broadcast complained of concerned statements of fact about the identity of perpetrators of violence against children. They were not statements that presented a particular perspective or opinion on this controversial issue, and in this sense did not need to be balanced by the presentation of opposing perspectives or views.

[13] For these reasons, the Authority is of the view that the complainant’s concerns are more appropriately addressed under Standard 5 (accuracy).

Accuracy

[14] The Authority does not uphold the complaint alleging that the broadcast was inaccurate. It observes that the item complained of consisted primarily of a discussion about the incidence of violence suffered by New Zealand children at the hands of their parents or other adults who are known to them.

[15] The Authority accepts that the item commenced with a list of cases of abuse over the previous six months, and that in the majority of cases the on-screen graphic and the presenter’s voice-over identified the perpetrator as the father.

[16] The Authority accepts that in some of these cases – although it does not have sufficient information to identify which ones – the perpetrator identified as the “father” was not in fact the biological father, and was instead either the stepfather or de facto partner of the mother.

[17] Significantly, however, the Authority notes, the item subsequently made it clear that this list of abuse cases in fact reflected a significant problem with violence committed by men who were not the biological fathers of the children concerned. At one point the presenter stated:

But when you look at the perpetrators, very rarely … is it strangers. Its stepfather, stepfather, de facto, mother, mother, father, father, father, father, de facto, grandfather, uncle, older brother …

[18] Interviewee Daryl Gregory responded to this by acknowledging that in many cases the abuse was the result of violence by the mother’s new boyfriend or de facto partner:

Now we have to stop allowing no-hoper men into our homes to get in bed with the young women who have children. Like you say, these are not committed couples, most of the time they are de facto, casual relationships. We’re letting men into these homes who are killing these children …

[19] This point was taken up further by the presenter at the end of the show, when he again stressed the danger presented to children by men invited into the family home.

[20] For this reason, the Authority considers that the item clarified and expanded upon the earlier information that “fathers” were the perpetrator in the majority of cases. The item made it clear than in many cases the problem arose from men in the home other than biological fathers and in fact the Authority is of the view that as the item progressed, this emerged as one of the key messages.

[21] For this reason the Authority is of the view that the content of the item was not inaccurate.

 

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. Neville Watkin’s formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 1 July 2004
  2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 11 August 2004
  3. Mr Watkin’s referral to the Authority – 8 September 2004
  4. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 21 September 2004
  5. Mr Watkin’s final comment – 7 October 2004