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Robin Laing of The New Zealand Film and Television School and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-204

Members

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

Complainant

  • Robin Laing, of The NZ Film And Television School of Wellington

Dated

4th May 2005

Number

2004-204

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News Insight: "Learning the Hard Way" – documentary about privately-run tertiary courses – segment about the film industry included references to The Film School – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – complaint more appropriately assessed under fairness – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – fact alleged to be inaccurate was expression of opinion to which standard does not apply – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – item about students getting “duped” by substandard courses – only institution identified was The Film School – implied The Film School was one of these substandard courses – no evidence to suggest that it was substandard – unfair – upheld

Order
Section 13(1)(a) – broadcast of a statement

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] One News Insight: "Learning the Hard Way" was broadcast on TV One at 8.30pm on 15 September 2004. The documentary examined concerns that privately-run tertiary courses in New Zealand were leading to the proliferation of graduates, and strong dissatisfaction among some students whose expectations had not been met, and who had not found employment. The programme looked at four occupation areas – film making, scuba diving, computer animation, and policing.

[2] The presenter introduced the item by saying that it included interviews with a range of students who “all say they were duped by courses that over-promised and under-delivered”.

[3] The sections of the item about scuba diving, computer animation and policing all focussed on institutions which were alleged to have exaggerated the outcome of their courses. Disgruntled students spoke about the use of unqualified teachers, substandard resources and students leaving without the skills they had expected to gain.

[4] The segment concerning film making included interviews with three students who had attended courses to prepare them for work in this field. Comments were also provided by the director of the New Zealand Film and Television School (Tommy Honey), the Tertiary Education Minister (Hon Steve Maharey), the head of makeup at Weta Workshop (Dominie Till) and the Chairman of the NZ Screen Council (John Barnett).

Complaint

[5] Robin Laing complained on behalf of New Zealand Film and Television School (The Film School) that the item had breached broadcasting standards relating to balance, accuracy and fairness. She was concerned that The Film School had been included in the programme simply because other film schools had declined to participate, and was therefore grouped with other institutions that “had already attracted a negative media profile for non or inadequate delivery”.

[6] Ms Laing also alleged that the subject of the documentary had been misrepresented in order to secure the participation of the director of the School. While other institutions had been named in the programme, she said, The Film School was not. Rather, it had been included by:

…repeated visual identification (exterior sign, prospectus cover, tutor notice-board, interior shots), by several interview clips with its Director Tommy Honey and by interviews with two graduates of the School in which a false allegation and a number of negative and incorrect inferences were made. Even the most cursory attempt at research by the production company prior to the filming of the documentary would have excluded The Film School from the thesis it was attempting to present.

[7] The complainant identified four areas of concern within the broadcast that she alleged had constituted breaches of broadcasting standards.

1. The School was included in the main thesis of the documentary by association, impression and implication in a manner that would leave the viewing public in no doubt that the story was actually about the School.

[8] The complainant maintained that there had been no opportunity provided to the School to “disprove or even discuss” claims of:

  • use of unqualified teachers
  • flashy brochures alluding to the success awaiting course graduates
  • exaggerated advertisements
  • over-promising and under-delivering
  • “duping” students into paying for a course that fails to deliver
  • the allegation that “it’s just a bit of a get rich quick scheme”
  • the profits to be made from private training.

[9] Ms Laing was concerned that there had been no attempt to disconnect Dominie Till’s comments about the failure of makeup courses from the School, as no other schools were identified in that section. She argued that “not one of the allegations of unsatisfactory behaviour apply to The Film School” although it was the only school represented on screen.

[10] Ms Laing maintained that the two graduates of The Film School who were interviewed had both had work since graduating, although only one of them acknowledged this. Neither had been asked, she said, about their preparation for “the sporadic employment which is the reality for film industry practitioners at all levels”. The complainant contended that standards of balance, accuracy and fairness had been breached in this respect.

2. The participation of the director of the School was gained by misrepresentation on the part of the production company as to the subject of the documentary, and furthermore he was presented as speaking for all “film” schools.

[11] Ms Laing stated that The Film School “had no reason to shy away from a documentary described in advance as being about how it marketed itself”, and for that reason the director was “open and honest in his interview”. If he had known the true subject of the programme, she contended, he could have “easily refuted and corrected the allegations and exposed the invalidity of using The Film School as an example in the ‘duping’ thesis”.

[12] This, she alleged, constituted a breach of standards relating to balance, accuracy and fairness.

3. The production company misrepresented to the broadcaster and the viewing public the role and status of The Film School and thereby demeaned and damaged it in the eyes of the public.

[13] The complainant advised TVNZ that The Film School had been established by members of the film industry in Wellington because existing courses did not involve working practitioners in the delivery of the course, and:

…there was a need for those considering a career in the film industry to be adequately prepared for the New Zealand industry (and a part of this adequate preparation is the emphasis on the fact that it is very difficult a) to get a foot in the door and b) to earn a living as a self-employed practitioner – in fact it is precisely during their copious downtime that experienced practitioners are able to give their tutoring time to the School).

[14] Ms Laing contended that many graduates of The Film School were working in the production industry with varying degrees of success. In the “emotive” talk about “kids” and “school leavers” being duped, she said, the School’s preferred admission policy of “applicants with previous training, tertiary education or at least some life experience (i.e. not school leavers)” was completely overlooked. Rather, the complainant maintained, the majority of all intakes comprised mature students.

[15] Ms Laing alleged that the above matters amounted to breaches of accuracy and fairness.

4. The broadcaster allowed a grossly derogatory quote by a graduate of the School to the effect that “it’s just a bit of a get rich quick scheme” without checking the accuracy of the statement or providing the School with an opportunity to respond.

[16] Far from being a “get rich quick scheme”, the complainant said, The Film School was run by a non-profit industry trust with fees that equate only to the cost of delivery. Ms Laing stated that the course fee was “no higher than the highest charged by other tertiary providers in the field” while being the only course that allowed students to work on film-stock. The number of offshore enquiries and foreign students indicated that the School “is offering the best value around”, she said.

[17] Ms Laing also noted that until 2003, tutors worked as unpaid volunteers “wanting to give something back”. This was also the motive of the eleven industry trustees, she said, who worked many unpaid hours. The complainant maintained that the derogatory statement breached standards of balance, accuracy and fairness.

[18] Turning to more general matters, Ms Laing stated that it was impossible to ignore the “damaging effect” the broadcast would have on the School. She added:

Already enquirers are referring to us as “the school in that programme” and “the school that’s in trouble”. Various of our tutors have expressed surprise that one of the disaffected subjects represented in the documentary was a graduate of the School. In fact she is not, but this distinction, along with many others, was not made. Our stake-holders are confused and dismayed.

[19] The complainant maintained that the organisations responsible for the funding and accreditation of the School were owed an explanation. She alleged that the programme had caused “unwarranted damage to the reputation of The Film School which we would like to see redressed”.

Standards

[20] Television New Zealand Ltd assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5 and 6 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.

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.

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[21] In its response to the complainant, TVNZ contended that the subject of the documentary was a matter “of genuine public interest and concern”. While investigating the complaint its attention had been drawn to advertisements in local papers which advertised a “huge variety of tertiary courses – which place pressure on both young students and older people to pay up and train”.

[22] The broadcast did not, in TVNZ’s view, criticise The Film School. It contended that the complainant’s concern arose because she recognised two of the students as being graduates; however viewers unaware of where the students were taught would not conclude that they came through The Film School. In addition, the broadcaster maintained that the students’ comments were “delivered as genuinely held expressions of opinion as is specifically allowed for in guideline 6d of the Code”.

[23] TVNZ also argued that while the complainant had alleged a lack of accuracy in the item, she appeared to produce “no evidence of fact or detail being reported incorrectly”.

[24] The broadcaster proceeded to examine each of the four points outlined in Ms Laing’s letter of complaint.

1. Viewers were led to the conclusion that the programme was about The Film School because it was the only school referred to.

[25] TVNZ did not agree with this claim, arguing that it seemed clear that the opening section “looked at the oversupply of graduates, and their dissatisfaction in the film training area and industry generally”. The broadcaster argued that the programme did not look at the quality of tuition, unqualified teachers or student “duping”, as alleged by the complainant.

[26] TVNZ pointed to responses from the students which “clearly refer to the film training area as a whole, and not specifically to The Film School”:

  • “It was really hard to get a job. There are so many people just looking to get their foot in the door. Just everyone is trying to do the same thing. There’s not really much work around”.
  • “I’ve had sporadic work in the film industry. Certainly nothing that constitutes a liveable income”.

[27] The broadcaster contended that Tommy Honey’s comments actually presented The Film School in a positive and constructive light.

[28] Noting the complainant’s concern that “no attempt was made to disconnect The Film School from Dominie Till’s complaints about the failure of makeup courses generally”, TVNZ found that no disassociation was necessary. It contended that Ms Till’s remarks were a general observation about students approaching her workplace for jobs, and that there was no implication that the courses she referred to were provided by The Film School.

2. Participation of the Director of The Film School was obtained by ‘misrepresentation’ as to the subject of the documentary.

[29] TVNZ sought a statement from the director of the programme who, it said, gave his assurance that there was no misrepresentation as alleged by the complainant. The director said:

There was no attempt whatsoever to misrepresent the topic of the documentary with Mr Honey. I was open and honest with him about the content and thesis of the programme from my first contact.

…I told him that we were looking at several different industries or types of training courses, and that our focus for film and television courses was essentially the huge numbers of courses available to students, and how this meant huge competition for a relatively small number of jobs.

I told Tommy that we were focusing on how particularly since The Lord of the Rings and The Last Samurai hit the headlines there seemed to be a sense that screen courses were cashing in on this perceived “boom” industry and marketing themselves with allusions of awaiting glamorous careers for graduates. This is what the interview covered and what ultimately the subject of that segment became.

3. The programme misrepresented the role and status of The Film School, thereby demeaning and damaging it in the eyes of the public.

[30] The broadcaster did not agree that the role and status of The Film School had been misrepresented. It contended that the central thesis of the programme was that:

…there were an abundance of courses, with graduates chasing a very limited number of jobs. The [standards] committee noted that you have not challenged this basic premise. The programme was not about quality of tutors or quality of courses. It was about oversupply.

[31] TVNZ contended that the programme did not assert that the oversupply was the work of The Film School alone. Rather, it said, choosing the director of the School to speak on behalf of the industry had implied something about the status of The Film School.

4. The broadcaster allowed a grossly derogatory quote by a graduate to be broadcast without checking the accuracy of the statement or providing the School with an opportunity to respond.

[32] The broadcaster maintained that the “get rich quick scheme” remark was an expression of genuinely held opinion by a student “who was clearly disillusioned with the course he took”. While the complainant knew the student had attended The Film School, it said, the viewing public was not made privy to that information.

[33] TVNZ argued that the student’s opinion was presented as a general comment about film courses in “an industry which is over supplied with graduates and difficult to get in to”.

[34] Turning to consider Standard 4 (balance), TVNZ did not agree that the programme lacked balance. While there had been criticism of courses, it said, there had also been reaction from Tommy Honey, adding:

The film industry, it has to be remembered, was being used as an example of a segment of the tertiary education sector which, rightly or wrongly, is experiencing criticism in what is already an over-filled job marketplace.

[35] The broadcaster contended that the programme approached the subject from “an objective and impartial viewpoint, identifying the issues and looking at the causes”. The complaints about the film industry were not, in TVNZ’s view, linked specifically to The Film School and the comments seen to be made were general. It concluded that Standard 4 had not been breached.

[36] Similarly, TVNZ found no examples of inaccuracy and believed that the complainant had not identified any in her letter. It found that there had not been any breach of Standard 5 (accuracy).

[37] With reference to Standard 6 (fairness), TVNZ argued that the standard would only apply if the programme had singled out one school as the target for the students’ criticism. The broadcaster maintained that the programme had not done that, stating that the comments were “general in nature and applicable across the whole film training industry.

[38] Accordingly, TVNZ found that there had been no breach of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice and it declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[39] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Laing referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She maintained that The Film School had been included by association in allegations of “duping” and “under delivery” as a result of a programme which breached standards of balance, accuracy and fairness.

[40] Ms Laing alleged that the director of the programme had advised Mr Honey that the documentary was originally going to be about students disaffected by their educational experience, but because he had been unable to find any students with such concerns he had changed the nature of the documentary. She said that the director had advised Mr Honey that the programme was now to be about how tertiary institutions marketed themselves, and it was on that basis that he had agreed to take part.

[41] In the week prior to the broadcast, Ms Laing advised that Mr Honey became aware of publicity for the programme and contacted the director, who told Mr Honey that he “would probably not be happy with what he saw”. Mr Honey was told that the director had found three students who were willing to speak on screen, “although it was simply coincidence that two of them were from The Film School”. The complainant added:

Instead of advising Tommy of this change of focus (back to the original idea) and giving him the opportunity to respond, it seems it was decided to use his comments, made in another context, to appear to be in response to issues raised by students and others in this section. (In this regard it hardly matters whether the students were graduates of The Film School or not – it has been our experience that viewers…thought all interviewees in the first section were involved in The Film School).

[42] Ms Laing said that the production company had confirmed that no students from film schools “that were clearly under-performing and ripping the students off” were prepared to go on television. She contended that this circumstance, and the fact that Mr Honey had been interviewed on another subject, “appears to account for the fact that the first section of the documentary is stylistically different from the others”.

[43] For example, she said, while other institutions featured elsewhere in the programme were named upfront, The Film School was not. In addition, while there had been an attempt to use the same format as the other case studies – “student and industry complaints and tertiary representative response” – Ms Laing alleged that Mr Honey was in fact responding to questions on another subject entirely. The result, the complainant argued, was that The Film School was connected with the failed institutions “by both manipulation and association”.

[44] Ms Laing turned to consider TVNZ’s response to her complaint. She argued that the broadcaster had responded by “broadly redefining the thesis of the documentary and ignoring the later segments and the company the School is forced to keep”, referring to the “bogus police recruitment course and a collapsed animation course refusing to return fees”.

[45] The complainant alleged that TVNZ had interpreted Standard 5 (accuracy) as relating to fact and detail, and not at all to context and inference. She suggested that the programme was not truthful in its association of The Film School with “get rich quick schemes”, unqualified teachers, or students being “duped by courses that over promised and under delivered”.

[46] TVNZ’s conclusion that Mr Honey’s appearance suggested something positive about the School was only possible, Ms Laing said, if it was denied that the programme was about failed institutions. She also argued that the two ex-graduates of The Film School were identifiable – the first because an image of the School’s prospectus immediately preceded his comments, and the second by reference to the fee paid. The complainant contended that many viewers believed that the third student was also a graduate of The Film School, which was not the case.

[47] Ms Laing disputed TVNZ’s contention that the programme did not look at the quality of tuition, unqualified teachers, over promising and student “duping”. In fact, she said, that was the message that The Film School had been dealing with. The complainant advised that a prospective student had declined to turn up for an interview after the broadcast, and that Radio New Zealand had run a programme and interview where a Member of Parliament had questioned “how shonky programmes with poor teaching come to be funded”.

[48] In conclusion, Ms Laing reiterated that the broadcaster should have “been honest in its representation” of the reason for the School’s participation. If The Film School was not intended to be associated with the opening and publicity statements, the complainant argued, this should have been made clear.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[49] In its response to the Authority, TVNZ denied that the purpose of the programme had altered after the interview with Mr Honey. It had always been focussed on the large number of courses available, the oversupply of students and the use of tempting advertisements suggesting good job prospects. The questions asked in Mr Honey’s interview, it argued, revolved around these issues.

[50] The broadcaster observed that it had received no complaints to indicate that Mr Honey was surprised about the questions, or that he felt he was misled about the programme’s focus. It responded to the four points outlined in Ms Laing’s complaint.

Issue 1

[51] TVNZ held to the view that the item was accurate on points of fact and detail. It recognised that the complainant might be suggesting that the documentary was inaccurate because “not one of the allegations of unsatisfactory behaviour applied to The Film School”. However, TVNZ contended, that assertion relied on the belief that all of the issues about training courses addressed in the documentary could be seen to apply to that school, and the broadcaster disputed this.

[52] TVNZ maintained that the focus of the segment on the film industry was the oversupply of graduates, not issues of quality or the level of tuition. In terms of balance, it said, Mr Honey responded to oversupply issues himself. While the segment included comments from John Barnett (Chairman of the NZ Screen Council) that there were too many courses where the teachers are not qualified, these were general remarks.

[53] Referring to the complainant’s allegations that the School had not been dissociated from Dominie Till’s remarks about makeup courses, TVNZ submitted that there was no implication that the “three-month course” mentioned was in any way linked to The Film School.

[54] While the complainant had argued that allegations of unsatisfactory behaviour did not apply to The Film School, TVNZ contended that the only criticism levelled at the School was “that there are too many courses and not enough jobs available”.

[55] Remarks by the students about “get rich quick” schemes and the difficulty of finding work were expressions of opinion, TVNZ said, which were expressly endorsed by Guideline 6d of the Code. In addition, references to “flashy brochures” and “exaggerated advertisements” were made in the introduction to the programme and were general comments about the state of tertiary training in New Zealand.

Issue 2

[56] TVNZ “emphatically denied” the complainant’s claims that Mr Honey was misled about the focus of the item. The broadcaster supplied some of the questions asked by the director which, it observed, did not appear to have concerned Mr Honey at the time of the interview. It argued that, even if Mr Honey’s opinion had been seen to represent other film schools, there was “nothing inherently wrong in that”. That the director chose Mr Honey, it said, implied a level of respect within the industry for The Film School.

Issue 3

[57] The broadcaster disputed Ms Laing’s contention that the documentary “misrepresented…the role and status of The Film School”. It stressed its view that the programme was not about The Film School; rather it was about an industry with an abundance of courses and a limited number of job opportunities for the numerous graduates. It said:

As the documentary at no point criticised the quality of The Film School courses we find it difficult to see how it “demeaned and damaged” the School “in the eyes of the public”.

[58] TVNZ noted that the owner of the production company had written to Ms Laing, suggesting that if she could demonstrate that the School had been negatively affected then he would investigate ways in which he might “be able to help correct that impression with certain clients or funders of the school”. The broadcaster observed that the complainant had “not taken up this offer, or demonstrated the damage she alleges”.

Issue 4

[59] TVNZ reiterated its contention that the student’s remark about a “get rich quick” scheme was a valid expression of opinion that was “directly relevant to the issues under discussion”. The broadcaster also noted that it had spoken to several other former students of The Film School who had complained that the fees were expensive. It added:

If a student feels that he or she has not got value for money, the sense that someone is getting rich at their expense is a very real perception. The criticism was never levelled specifically at The Film School, and in the documentary appeared as a general comment about some courses.

[60] TVNZ argued that The Film School was not invited to defend this point because the documentary “was never a story about The Film School, nor a criticism of it”. Further, it said, a defence of this point could have made it look as though the documentary had singled out The Film School.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[61] In her final comment to the Authority, Ms Laing made several preliminary points before addressing TVNZ’s response to her four main issues of complaint. Firstly, she asserted that the validity of her complaint came down to whether the director of The Film School had been misled as to the subject of the documentary in which he agreed to participate. She added:

He would not have received approval [from the Trustees], and nor would he have wanted to participate, had he or the Trustees known that the subject of the programme was failed or dishonest tertiary institutions.

As a result, the School was unwittingly featured in a documentary about failed courses – “courses that over-promised and under-delivered”.

[62] Ms Laing maintained that Mr Honey had been interviewed about marketing – specifically how The Film School markets itself. Referring to TVNZ’s argument that Mr Honey had not complained about the line of questioning, she contended that he had no reason to complain until “his comments were used out of context to appear to be responses to other participants…when in fact they were not”.

[63] The complainant was also concerned that the footage involving The Film School would be used by TVNZ in the future to illustrate any case being made about problems in the tertiary sector.

[64] Referring to her first point of complaint, Ms Laing argued that TVNZ appeared to be “in some confusion” as to what the programme was about. The presenter’s introduction, which was also used in promos and news releases, made it clear that the students all said they were “duped”; whereas TVNZ had subsequently claimed that the programme was about the large number of courses, the oversupply of students and the use of tempting advertisements. While the issue of oversupply had been canvassed, the complainant argued:

…oversupply is not over-promised, and TVNZ has consistently ignored our primary complaint that the School was featured at all in a programme about duping and failure.

[65] The complainant was also concerned about John Barnett’s statement that “there are far too many of these courses in which the teachers aren’t qualified and the certification they get at the end is of very little use”. She argued that “with no other view to balance Mr Barnett, it is not unnatural for viewers to draw the inference that The Film School has unqualified teachers, when the reverse is true”. In addition, Ms Laing contended that the director of the School had been given no opportunity to respond to Mr Barnett’s comments, although the programme “was constructed in such a way to suggest that this had occurred”.

[66] Ms Laing referred to TVNZ’s contention that the only criticism levelled at The Film School was that “there are too many courses and not enough jobs”. This, she said, was “simply untrue”. The complainant said:

Enough mud is splattered about in the section on film and television training to stick without being specifically aimed at the only film school represented in the programme.

[67] Considering the broadcaster’s argument about Dominie Till’s comments, Ms Laing asserted that the perception was available that her remarks concerned The Film School. Further, she said, there was no implication or statement that they were not linked to the School.

[68] Ms Laing noted that none of the film students had complained about having been “duped” or falsely led to enrol in a course through “flashy brochures”. She argued that this was a point of difference between the film segment and the remaining segments, all of which had clearly identified those issues as a problem in those sectors.

[69] The complainant stood by her assertion that The Film School had been included in a documentary about duping and failure in a manner that had given the public the impression “that it is underperforming, ripping off students and somehow ‘in trouble’”. She referred to the comments of the Dominion Post’s television critic about “shocking anecdotes related by film, animation, diving and police students who had shelled out considerable sums of money for badly resourced and tutored courses which left them out of pocket and job”. This, she said, did not allow for the distinction “that TVNZ naively promotes with regard to The Film School”.

[70] Turning to consider her second main point of complaint, Ms Laing maintained that Mr Honey’s participation in the documentary was “gained by misrepresentation”, and she included a statement from Mr Honey to that effect. On the subject of Mr Honey being represented as speaking for all film schools, the complainant agreed with TVNZ that there is “nothing inherently wrong” with that; as long as he knew that was his role. Ms Laing said:

Mr Honey believed he was speaking about how The Film School markets itself. At no time was he invited to serve as a representative of the sector or as apologist for poorly performing schools. And it was quite simply not necessary that he do so. Where were the other voices, the other film schools?

[71] Referring to part three of her complaint, Ms Laing noted that TVNZ had said that it could not see how the programme had demeaned and damaged the School in the eyes of the public. “Such a lack of awareness of the power of the medium in which they operate” was of real concern to the complainant. She argued that audiences not only “believe what they see on television but believe what they think they see”. Ms Laing stated that the overriding impression left by the programme was that students were being financially exploited by “shonky courses and poor teaching”. Nobody, she said, had picked up the “subtlety promoted by TVNZ that The Film School was somehow placed outside this assertion”.

[72] Ms Laing advised the Authority that the School continued to receive feedback from both members of the film industry and the public, asking how it was coping “with the fallout from the programme and enquiring if we are still ‘in trouble’”.

[73] In relation to point four of her complaint, Ms Laing accepted that the student’s comment about a “get rich quick scheme” was an expression of opinion. However, she argued, it was “a strong opinion with severe implications for the image of the only identified film school”. The complainant asserted that the opinion deserved a response from The Film School in the interests of balance.

[74] In summary, Ms Laing advised that she could see only two possible reasons for “the misrepresentation of The Film School in the programme: duplicity or incompetence”. She asked the Authority to consider the implications of the programme for the School in its determination.

Authority's Determination

[75] 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.

[76] Ms Laing has complained that the programme breached standards of balance, accuracy and fairness; and her complaint centred around four main points.

1. The Film School was included in the main thesis of the documentary by association, impression and implication in a manner that would leave the viewing public in no doubt that the story was actually about the School.

Balance

[77] While the complainant has alleged that standards of balance, accuracy and fairness were breached under this heading, the Authority is of the view, for the following reasons, that Standard 6 (fairness) aptly encompasses her concerns.

[78] While the item did deal with a controversial issue of public importance – the quality of some tertiary education courses – the complainant’s essential concerns were not that The Film School had not been given the opportunity to comment on this wider issue and thus bring balance to the coverage. In its correspondence, the complainant never disagreed that the industry did face these problems. Instead the concern was that the School had been unfairly singled out and identified as a target of the criticism levelled at film schools.

[79] In these circumstances, the Authority considers that this part of the complaint is most appropriately addressed as an issue of fairness, rather than balance.

Fairness

[80] The Authority agrees with the complainant that The Film School was treated unfairly in the broadcast. The focus of the whole programme was criticism of a number of different industry training bodies. The first segment – which was preceded by a strongly-worded introduction about students being “duped” – was about film training schools. This segment made a number of comments that were critical of film training schools generally, including that they were “get rich quick” schemes, that they over-promised and under-delivered, and that staff were unqualified. Critically, The Film School was the only institution identified in this item.

[81] In the Authority’s view The Film School became by implication and juxtaposition, the “face” of the substandard film schools being discussed. TVNZ maintained that the criticisms were not directed at the School, and that it was portrayed in a good light. But, in the view of the Authority, even if the criticisms were not intentionally directed at the School, the School’s identification in a piece that was critical of film schools generally, and the failure to disassociate it from the criticisms, clearly implied that The Film School had these same faults. The Authority considers that this impression was heightened by The Film School’s involvement in a programme that examined the failures of courses in other fields.

[82] The Authority accepts that there is no evidence that the key criticism – that students were being “duped” by substandard courses – applies to The Film School. In fact, TVNZ has stressed on a number of occasions that this criticism of The Film School was not intended and that the choice of Mr Honey as a spokesman implied something about the status of the School. The documentary, TVNZ maintained, “at no point criticised the quality of The Film School”.

[83] The Authority disagrees. It considers that, given the thrust of the documentary in the introduction about students being “duped by courses which over-promised and under-delivered”, the comments about substandard courses and inadequate teaching in the film segment, and the association with poorly performing courses in other industries, The Film School was clearly implicated by association.

[84] The Authority considers that if the criticism had not been intended for The Film School, as has been claimed, then the documentary should have explicitly stated this. The failure to do so left the School exposed to unwarranted criticism and was unfair.

[85] Furthermore, despite this implicit criticism of The Film School, its director was given no opportunity to respond. Mr Honey’s responses were limited to questions about the oversupply of graduates and the cost of The Film School’s course.

[86] For the above reasons, the Authority considers that the item breached Standard 6 (fairness).
2. The participation of the director of the School was gained by misrepresentation on the part of the production company as to the subject of the documentary, and furthermore he was presented as speaking for all “film” schools.

[87] The Authority considers that Standard 6 (fairness) is most apposite to this section of the complaint. Guideline 6b to Standard 6 states:

Contributors and participants in any programme should be dealt with fairly and should, except as required in the public interest, be informed of the reason for their proposed contribution and participation and the role that is expected of them.

[88] The Authority has been presented with conflicting accounts about the participation of The Film School’s director.

[89] The complainant has alleged that Mr Honey agreed to participate in the programme on the basis that it was a documentary about how tertiary institutions market themselves. She advised that The Film School board gave permission for him to do so under this original thesis. The complainant has contended that when the focus of the film industry segment changed and students were interviewed, the programme’s director should have returned to Mr Honey for his comments.

[90] The director of the programme, in denying there had been any misrepresentation, said that he advised Mr Honey that “this was a programme looking at the proliferation of tertiary education courses in New Zealand and in particular, but not exclusively, private training establishments”, and that the focus for film and television courses was “essentially the huge numbers of courses available to students, and how this meant huge competition for a relatively small number of jobs”.

[91] TVNZ also argued that the thesis of the programme was limited to the large number of courses available, the oversupply of students, and the use of tempting advertisements suggesting good prospects of jobs in the industry. The Authority accepts that these were certainly part of the thesis of the programme, but it does not agree with TVNZ that the documentary confined itself to those issues.

[92] The Authority considers that the theme of substandard courses and unqualified teachers was introduced into the film segment through comments made by Dominie Till and John Barnett. It was also the theme of the entire documentary, as stated in the introduction about students being “duped”, and continued through the rest of the programme when, following the film segment, it went on to feature courses of questionable quality and tertiary providers who had already attracted negative publicity.

[93] The comments Mr Honey made in the programme were consistent with the complainant’s allegations that he was asked to comment only on the marketing of film training schools. His responses were confined to questions about the oversupply of graduates, the cost of the course, and the difficulty of finding permanent film industry work. Mr Honey did not address the students’ allegations about the quality of courses or teacher qualification.

[94] Whatever the understanding of the parties, the Authority is of the view that Mr Honey was unaware of the documentary’s wider focus. He was unaware that former students of the School would be featured in the programme; that his interview would be in a segment which included negative comments about poor quality teaching and course delivery; and that The Film School would be featured among “failed” course providers from other industries.

[95] The Authority considers that this was unfair. It denied Mr Honey the opportunity to address the serious concerns voiced in the item, and to distance his organisation from criticisms which, as the broadcaster has stressed, were not intended for The Film School.

[96] On the information before the Authority, it is of the view that Mr Honey agreed to participate in the programme under a thesis different from that which underpinned the programme as broadcast, and should have been given an opportunity to respond to the students’ interviews. The Authority considers that the broadcaster’s conduct in this respect amounted to a breach of Standard 6 (fairness).

3. The production company has misrepresented to the broadcaster and the viewing public the role and status of The Film School and has thereby demeaned and damaged it in the eyes of the public.

[97] The Authority considers that the issues raised by this point have already been dealt with under the first of the complainant’s main points. The Authority agrees that The Film School was implicated in the allegations of “duping” without being given any opportunity to respond. It upholds this as a breach of Standard 6 (fairness).

4. The broadcaster allowed a grossly derogatory quote by a graduate of the School to the effect that “it’s just a bit of a get rich quick scheme” without checking the accuracy of the statement or providing the School with opportunity to respond.

[98] Standard 5 (accuracy) requires that news and current affairs programmes be truthful and accurate on points of fact. Guideline 5d to that standard states that factual reports must be clearly distinguishable from opinion, analysis and comment.

[99] In the present case, the Authority agrees that viewers may have thought the student attended The Film School by implication, and that the “get rich quick” observation was about that school. However, it considers that the student’s remark was a genuine expression of opinion, rather than a statement of fact to which Standard 5 (accuracy) would apply. This aspect of the complaint is not upheld.

[100] Regarding the allegation that the School was not given the opportunity to respond, the Authority notes that it has, under heading 1. above, already comprehensively addressed the complainant’s concern that unfair criticisms were made of the School. It considers that this issue has been appropriately dealt with in that discussion.

Bill of Rights

[101] For the avoidance of doubt, the Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching this determination. For the reasons given above, the Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd on 15 September 2004 breached Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. It declines to uphold the other aspects of the complaint.

[102] Having upheld the complaint, the Authority invited submissions from the parties on orders.
Submissions

[103] Noting that the Authority had not found a breach of Standards 1 or 4, TVNZ submitted that publication of the decision would be sufficient penalty for the breach of Standard 6 (fairness). In the broadcaster’s opinion, any statement would throw the spotlight on The Film School again, perhaps highlighting it to a greater extent than was the case in the original broadcast.

[104] However, if the Authority determined that an order was appropriate, TVNZ submitted that it should be in the form of a “notice” placed in a trade publication of the complainant’s choosing. The broadcaster noted that One News Insight does not have a regular place on TVNZ’s schedule, and that each documentary is self-contained. TVNZ contended that it would be unfair to the producer of a future documentary if an unrelated statement was “sellotaped” to the programme.

[105] The complainant sought an order that TVNZ publish a statement including the following points:

  • that the Authority upheld the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 6 (fairness)
  • that TVNZ regrets the unfair association of The Film School with the other educational providers referred to in the programme
  • that TVNZ in no way wished to suggest that The Film School was guilty of “duping” students, or of “under-delivery” or is a poorly performing institution
  • that TVNZ acknowledges that there is a high level of respect for The Film School within the film industry.

[106] The complainant submitted that the statement should be published within a period of two months. Noting that One News Insight is infrequently on air, the complainant asked that the statement be broadcast within a series of a similar nature, or within Close Up. In addition, it asked for the statement to be printed in the Listener.

[107] With respect to costs, the complainant asked for an award of costs in the amount of $3,000 plus GST. Stating that The Film School had experienced a direct financial disadvantage from inclusion within the programme as a result of lost course fees, the complainant also asked for $12,500 plus GST in costs relating to damaged reputation.

[108] Lastly, the complainant requested that the Authority seek a commitment from TVNZ not to use any of the footage shot in relation to The Film School without the prior approval of the School.

[109] The Authority has considered the submissions on orders made by the parties. It notes that it has no jurisdiction under the Broadcasting Act to seek a commitment from TVNZ that it will not use the footage again without the prior approval of The Film School. Similarly, the Authority has no power to award damages to a complainant under the Broadcasting Act. Therefore it declines to award costs relating to damage to reputation.

[110] The Authority does not consider an award of costs to The Film School to be appropriate. The majority of costs awards are designed to reimburse complainants for a portion of legal costs reasonably incurred in pursuing their complaint. In exceptional circumstances, other out-of-pocket expenses directly related to the laying of the complaint may also be claimed. The Film School has not advised the Authority of any legal costs, and no exceptional circumstances exist on this occasion.

[111] However, the Authority considers that the breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion was sufficiently serious to warrant the broadcast of a statement approved by the Authority. Accordingly it imposes the following order:

Order

Pursuant to section 13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders Television New Zealand Ltd to broadcast a statement approved by the Authority. That statement shall:

  • be broadcast within one month of the date of this decision
  • be broadcast within a programme similar to One News Insight, during prime time, on a date to be approved by the Authority
  • summarise the Authority’s decision on the complaint and comprehensively explain the reasons for its finding that the broadcast breached Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Code.

The Authority draws the broadcaster’s attention to the requirement in s.13(3)(b) of the Act for the broadcaster to give notice to the Authority of the manner in which the above order has been complied with.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 May 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Robin Laing’s formal complaint – 1 October 2004
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 1 November 2004
  3. Ms Laing’s referral to the Authority – 25 November 2004
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 6 January 2005
  5. Ms Laing’s final comment – 20 January 2005
  6. The Film School’s submissions on orders – 30 March 2005
  7. TVNZ’s submissions on orders – 31 March 2005