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Whiterod and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2004-180

Members

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

Complainant

  • Noel Whiterod of Auckland

Dated

28th January 2005

Number

2004-180

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

CanWest TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item reporting on march to Parliament opposing Civil Union Bill and other government policies, and reaction to the march from various parties – allegedly unbalanced, unfair, inaccurate and contrary to children’s interests

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – reasonable effort made to present significant viewpoints – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – broadcast was impartial and objective – not misleading – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – no persons or organisations treated unfairly – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – child not humiliated or exploited – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] A 3 News item broadcast on TV3 at 6.00pm on 23 August 2004 reported on the march to Parliament by those opposed to the Civil Union Bill, and the reaction to the march. The report contained video of the march and also reported on the address by Pastor Brian Tamaki (of the Destiny Church) to the crowd.

[2] The item included video of the march, which was organised by the Destiny Church, and a smaller pro-Bill counter-rally. The report also contained part of an address by the leader of the Destiny Church, Pastor Brian Tamaki, interviews with marchers from both sides of the debate, including a child associated with the Destiny Church, and reaction from some bystanders, including the MP Georgina Beyer. Political editor, Stephen Parker, also provided comment.

Complaints

[3] Noel Whiterod complained to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the 3 News item had breached broadcasting standards relating to balance, accuracy, fairness and children’s interests.

[4] Mr Whiterod argued that the information given in the item was not only misleading but also “extremely unbalanced”. He said the report suggested that the march was an anti-homosexual march consisting solely of Destiny Church members, and that the entire reason for the march was to oppose the Civil Union Bill. He argued:

The march was in fact organised through the Destiny Church, however it included many supporters from other churches and also members of the general public. It was not an anti-homosexual march, although the views held by the majority of marchers would be opposed to those held by most homosexuals.

[5] Mr Whiterod stated that the purpose of the march was actually to let the government know that the marchers were “opposed to the policies and direction that the government are leading the country into”. The marchers were not only voicing their opposition to the Civil Union Bill, he said, but to a range of other issues including abortion, the drinking age and the legalisation of prostitution.

[6] Mr Whiterod said that the report had placed great significance on the fact that the marchers were dressed in black, and it had suggested that this was somehow “sinister”. He was concerned that TV3 had included a comment made by one bystander that the marchers “could be compared to Nazis and their type of mentality” because they were dressed in black and raised their arms in protest.

[7] TV3 had chosen to present a “negative and alarming view” of the marchers, he said, despite earlier press releases by the leader of the Destiny Party explaining their reasons for the march and the black clothing. The report had not mentioned that the march organisers had chosen black because many New Zealand sports teams don this colour. Mr Whiterod contended that these omissions created a “deliberate false impression”.

[8] Mr Whiterod felt that a lack of balance arose in the report because the Christian view of the marchers had not been presented. He noted:

TV3 also gave considerable time in their report to showing and interviewing the homosexual opposition to the march and broadcasting their extreme view that by protesting against the Civil Union & Relationships Bills the church were expressing hatred for them.

[9] Mr Whiterod also expressed concern that the broadcaster “deliberately sought out a child” to ask why he was marching, and then implied there was something sinister in the fact that his parents had removed him from the cameras. He contended that TV3’s sole reason for doing this had been to support the view that the Destiny Church was exploiting children by including them in the march. However, Mr Whiterod argued that TV3 was in fact exploiting the child for their own purposes.

[10] Calling the report “one of the most shocking examples of lack of journalistic integrity and responsibility I have ever seen”, Mr Whiterod maintained that TV3 had:

…deliberately set out to portray the marchers and the Destiny Church as bigoted fascists who were full of hatred towards homosexuals.

[11] As a result of the “false and extreme impression created by TV3”, Mr Whiterod believed that many viewers had reacted against the Destiny Church. He said the report had resulted in newspaper columns “full of vitriolic and false information against the church and Brian Tamaki”.

[12] Mr Whiterod stated that the broadcaster had a responsibility to “put the true facts to the people of New Zealand”, and it should apologise to the marchers and to the Destiny Church.

Standards

[13] CanWest TVWorks Ltd assessed the complaints under Standards 4, 5, 6 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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.

Guideline 4a

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

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.

Guideline 5b

Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

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.

Guideline 6f

Broadcasters should recognise the rights of individuals, and particularly children and young people, not to be exploited, humiliated or unnecessarily identified.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times, broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Guideline 9i

Broadcasters should recognise the rights of children and young people not to be exploited, humiliated or unnecessarily identified. (See United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – Appendix 3)

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainants

[14] In its response to Mr Whiterod, CanWest TVWorks Ltd stated it was mindful that the item was reporting an event that had occurred on the same day. No attempt had been made, it said, to consider “in depth” the motivation for each protest group or individual involved.

[15] The broadcaster advised Mr Whiterod that it found no breach of Standard 4 (balance). It maintained that:

Given the limitations inherent in a news item the Committee accepts that this report was a clear and successful endeavour to provide the viewer with a range of significant viewpoints of those participating in the marches.

[16] For the same reasons, it said, the reporting had been “accurate, impartial and objective”. A matter-of-fact commentary had been provided along with a range of viewpoints, the broadcaster said, and the political editor had reported on the major organiser of the event – Destiny Church. Accordingly, the broadcaster found there had been no breach of Standard 5 (accuracy).

[17] CanWest TVWorks Ltd also found that the broadcast was fair to participants, including allowing the child to “express in his own words his motivation for being involved in the protest”. The report had enabled those most directly involved to speak for themselves, it said, and this was “just and fair”.

[18] Stating that it was “not possible to allow every one of those who marched to speak”, the broadcaster contended that the “sampling” of those interviewed was adequate to meet the requirements that the report be fair and accurate. It had:

…scrutinised the report to assess whether the report displayed any sign of bias or lack of sympathy with those on either “side” of the debate – for or against the legislation. We have found that the item was a careful and considered treatment of the events reported on. We find no breach of Standard 6.

[19] Furthermore, the broadcaster considered that upholding Mr Whiterod’s complaint would “unreasonably and unjustifiably restrict the public’s right to receive information and opinions of any kind in any form”.

Referral to the Authority

[20] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Whiterod referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He felt that his complaint had not been answered adequately and that the broadcaster was accusing him of “trying to restrict the right of ‘free speech’”.

[21] Mr Whiterod said his concern was that “news reports should not be presented and edited in such a way as to give a false and misleading, negative impression to the public or to vilify particular groups in society”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[22] CanWest TVWorks Ltd made three points in its response to Mr Whiterod’s referral:

  • Its Standards Committee considers the Bill of Rights when it assesses every formal complaint. It did not intend to imply that “Mr Whiterod was himself trying to restrict the right of free speech”.
  • The process of the Standards Committee is to examine decisions to ensure that it has applied the broadcasting standards in a manner consistent with a “least possible restriction” to freedom of expression.
  • In this case the Standards Committee had considered the Bill of Rights Act and determined that the programme allowed for an “appropriate exercise of freedom of expression”.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[23] In his final comment, Mr Whiterod said that TV3 had allowed themselves to “express their opinions and prejudices within the context of a news report”. While he supported the right to free speech, he said, news reports are supposed to be “impartial, objective and factual”.

[24] Mr Whiterod stated that in a subsequent current affairs programme TV3 had “attacked the [Destiny] church accusing it of being a dangerous cult”, thereby showing its stance with relation to the church. He categorised this piece of journalism as the broadcaster displaying “self-indulgence in their particular prejudices”.

[25] Furthermore, Mr Whiterod expressed his disappointment that the broadcaster had not expanded on its answers to his original complaint, and felt that a number of his questions had been left unanswered. He was particularly concerned with the “great significance” placed on the marchers wearing black shirts and “the suggestion that this related to Nazism”. In addition, Mr Whiterod asked why the broadcaster had sought comments from a child, and whether TV3 normally interviews children about important issues.

[26] Mr Whiterod argued that, despite footage of the march and Brian Tamaki’s speech being shown, comment and analysis of the march was mainly restricted to those opposed to the march. He said that viewers were left with:

…an overall impression that a bunch of Christians, peacefully marching for their beliefs, were akin to a National Front rally and a threat to society when the best of society as we know it was originally based on Christian principles.

Authority's Determination

[27] 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

[28] Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice requires that balance be provided when “controversial issues of public importance” are discussed. In this case, the item reported on the march to Parliament by those opposed to the Civil Union Bill and the reaction to that march. The Authority finds that this was a “controversial issue of public importance” to which the standard applies.

[29] Considering the variety of people interviewed and the scenes shown in the item, the Authority finds that the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view within the programme. While the complainant was concerned that comment on the march was “mainly restricted to those opposed to the march”, the Authority considers that an effort was made to present the views of both sides.

[30] The item began by showing scenes from the march to Parliament, covering participants from both the Destiny Church and the pro-Bill counter-rally. Pastor Tamaki addressed the crowd and excerpts from his speech were shown. The reporter conducted a brief interview with a child from the Destiny Church and then sought comments from a parent and from Pastor Tamaki as to why the children were present. Following bystanders’ comments on what they perceived to be the “fascist” elements of the march, the reporter gave Pastor Tamaki an opportunity to respond to these accusations.

[31] The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that it was not required to consider “in depth” the motivation for each protest group or individual involved in the march. While the Authority accepts that other Christian groups were present, it considers that TV3 was justified in focussing on the Destiny Church, given its prominence as the organiser and main participant in the march. Given that comments were sought and visuals were shown from each side of the debate, the Authority finds that the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant viewpoints from those present at the march.

[32] Accordingly the Authority considers that the item was balanced and declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Accuracy

[33] Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice states that news programmes must be “impartial and objective at all times”. The complainant has alleged that the broadcast was not impartial and that, contrary to Guideline 5b, it was also misleading.

[34] The Authority does not agree that the broadcaster misled viewers. While the item acknowledged the intensity with which the Destiny Church advanced its views, there was no evidence before the Authority to suggest that either the video of the march or content of the interviews were distorted to create a false impression of any kind.

[35] As outlined in the assessment of Standard 4, the Authority finds that the report sought a range of views from parties involved in the debate and also provided commentary on the major event organiser, the Destiny Church. It does not consider that the reporting or commentary displayed any particular bias.

[36] Accordingly the Authority does not uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 5.

Children’s Interests

[37] The identical provisions of both Guideline 9i to Standard 9 and Guideline 6f to Standard 6 require broadcasters to “recognise the rights of children and young people not to be exploited, humiliated or unnecessarily identified. The complainant has alleged breaches of both guidelines, and the Authority deals with them jointly.

[38] By interviewing a child associated with the Destiny Church protest, the complainant argued that the broadcaster had exploited the child for its own purposes. Mr Whiterod argued that children are not generally interviewed by the news media in relation to such complex issues as “the connection between homosexuality, spirituality and the law”.

[39] The Authority notes that the Destiny Church had put a number of children at the forefront of the march. The reporter introduced the interview by saying that the church had been criticised for placing children in this position. The Authority finds that the brief interview was appropriate and relevant in the context of the news item, and that it was not humiliating to or exploitative of the un-named child who was interviewed. The Authority accordingly does not consider that the item was contrary to the interests of that child.

Fairness

[40] Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice requires that broadcasters deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. The complainant has argued that the Destiny Church members were not dealt with fairly in this news report.

[41] The Authority notes the complainant’s concern that the report did not explain why the march organisers had chosen to wear the black T-shirts. He has contended that, by omitting to explain the reasons behind the choice, the broadcaster created a “deliberate false impression” of the church members which was unfair to them.

[42] The Authority finds that the video included in the item captured the visual impact that the black shirts and raised fists had on the bystanders. The genuine reactions of bystanders were juxtaposed with coverage of Pastor Tamaki so that different perspectives on the march were presented. The Authority does not consider that the report created a “false and extreme impression” of the Destiny Church.

[43] The Authority finds that this broadcast was sufficiently balanced, impartial and consistent with children’s interests. It finds no additional grounds upon which the broadcast could be deemed to have been unfair. Accordingly it does not uphold the complaint with respect to Standard 6.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
28 January 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Noel Whiterod’s formal complaint – not dated
  2. CanWest TVWorks Ltd’s decision on the formal complaint – 4 October 2004
  3. Mr Whiterod’s referral to the Authority – 12 October 2004
  4. CanWest TVWorks Ltd’s response to the Authority – 12 November 2004
  5. Mr Whiterod’s final comment – 20 November 2004