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Dujmovic and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2004-216

Members

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

Complainant

  • Sarah Dujmovic, General Manager of the Phenomena Academy

Dated

31st March 2005

Number

2004-216

Programme

20/20

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

CanWest TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
20/20 – documentary about Phenomena Academy in Fiordland – NZQA accredited institution that teaches how to be healthy and happy – questions raised as to whether students under undue influence from Academy’s founder Aiping Wang – focussed on experience of four former students who were critical of her methods – complaint made by general manager of Academy – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – Academy representatives given adequate opportunity to respond to the allegations – lengthy interviews with Aiping Wang and with complainant – views were clearly communicated – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – two statements inaccurate – other statements not inaccurate – not unnecessarily alarmist – no evidence of lack of editorial independence – upheld on two aspects

Standard 6 (fairness) – participants given adequate and reasonable opportunity to respond to allegations made – views were clearly communicated – not unfair – covert filming not unfair in all the circumstances – approaching subject in street unannounced seeking interview not unfair in all the circumstances – not upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] 20/20, broadcast on TV3 at 7.30pm on 5 September 2004, contained a story about the Phenomena Academy and its founder, Aiping Wang. The programme focussed on the stories of four former students of the Ms Wang (three of them former students of the Academy), who were critical of the Academy’s workings, and the teachings of Ms Wang.

[2] The Phenomena Academy was an NZQA accredited teaching institution, based at Takaro Lodge in Fiordland, which taught people how to be “healthy, happy and peaceful”.

[3] 20/20 examined the concerns of the four former students, including that:

  • the Academy and Ms Wang made fanciful claims about what it could teach, including teaching the ability to fly and see into the future
  • students paid large sums of money to be taught, feeling that if they left the Academy they would come to harm or even die
  • students rejected conventional medical treatment, believing that the “universe energy” could heal any diseases.

[4] The programme focussed in a large part on the deaths of two students, one of whom had suffered from breast cancer, the other from melanoma. Both rejected conventional medical treatment. The programme also traced Ms Wang’s background, noting that her career as a spiritual leader had originated in Slovenia. 20/20 went to Slovenia and spoke to a former student, who alleged that she felt obliged to pay considerable sums of money to continue attending sessions with Ms Wang.

[5] The programme also included numerous extracts of interviews with both Ms Wang, and the general manager of the Academy, Sarah Dujmovic, the complainant.

Complaint

[6] Sarah Dujmovic, the general manager of the Phenomena Academy, complained to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair.

[7] Also sent to the broadcaster at that time were 19 other complaints, all from students or former students of the Phenomena Academy. All the complaints carried an essentially similar theme, and many raised the same issues as Ms Dujmovic. The Authority notes that at least five of the complaints appear to have been lodged from overseas.

[8] Complaining that the programme was unbalanced, Ms Dujmovic wrote that:

  • the broadcast focussed unduly on the negative views of the former students, but did not seek the positive views of other students or former students in relation to the benefits of the training they had received from Ms Wang
  • in relation to the students who had died, other significant points of view should have been included, from students who had cared for them in their last weeks and from others who had known them
  • the programme makers harassed potential participants
  • the programme makers spent only a short time at the Academy itself
  • the programme did not give adequate background information regarding the issue of the use of painkillers by the cancer sufferers
  • the interview with Ms Wang was not presented in a fair way and was conducted aggressively
  • Ms Wang was represented in a way that made her difficult to understand, given her limited ability to express herself fluently in English

[9] Regarding the issue of accuracy, Ms Dujmovic referred to a large number of points that she considered inaccurate. Rather than repeat them here, the particular inaccuracies complained of are specified in the Authority’s Determination section.

[10] As well as listing a large number of alleged factual errors, the complainant also alleged a breach of other guidelines to the accuracy standard. First, she contended that the programme was misleading and unnecessarily alarmist, in breach of Guideline 5b, as it implied that Takaro Lodge was a dangerous place.

[11] Furthermore, the complainant contended, the editorial independence of the programme was compromised, as was evidenced by the reporter’s facial expressions throughout the programme and his aggressive attitude towards Ms Wang, in contrast to the sympathetic approach taken to other participants.

[12] Finally in relation to the accuracy standard, the complainant contended that the broadcaster had breached its obligation to ensure that its sources were reliable. The complainant pointed out a number of matters about the students interviewed, seeking to show that they were inherently unreliable and that CanWest should not have used them as sources of information for the programme.

[13] In relation to fairness, the complainant’s primary allegation was that the programme presented a one-sided view that was highly critical of the Academy and the work of Ms Wang. The complainant also maintained that the programme consistently implied that the Academy was cult-like, and cited a large number of examples of how this impression was created.

[14] Ms Dujmovic also complained that it was unfair for the reporter, along with a colleague, to have attended an energy class run by Ms Wang at one of her energy clinics in Zagreb, Croatia, while posing as tourists. She also alleged that the undercover filming with a concealed camera at the reception desk was unfair.

[15] Furthermore, the complainant contended, it was unfair for the reporter and the crew to have approached Ms Wang on the street the following morning, seeking an interview. The complainant noted that the Academy will “always give an interview if asked” and is willing to invite journalists to the Academy openly.

[16] The final aspect of the complaint was that the wife of the student who died from melanoma was not involved in the programme, or told that it was going to be screened. The complainant alleged that this contravened Guideline 5e of the accuracy standard.

Standards

[17] The following standards are relevant to the assessment of this complaint:

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.

Guidelines

5b  Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

5c  Broadcasters must ensure that the editorial independence and integrity of news and current affairs is maintained.

5d  Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, should be clearly distinguishable.

5e  Broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to ensure at all times that the information sources for news, current affairs and documentaries are reliable.

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.

Guidelines

6a  Care should be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure that the extracts used are a true reflection, and not a distortion, of the original event or the overall views expressed..

6c  Programme makers should not obtain information or gather pictures through misrepresentation or deception, except as required in the public interest when the material cannot be obtained by other means.

6e  Broadcasters should take particular care when dealing with distressing situations, and with grief and bereavement. Discretion and sensitivity are expected.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[18] CanWest responded to all 20 complaints with a single decision, in light of the fact that all the complaints raised similar issues.

[19] Dealing with the issue of balance, CanWest accepted that the programme dealt with a controversial issue of public importance. CanWest defined the issue as being whether the work of the Phenomena Academy was genuine, and whether students were under any degree of undue influence from the founder of the Academy, Ms Wang.

[20] CanWest noted that the programme makers took steps to obtain comment and input from all those holding a significant view on the issue. It noted that a request for an interview was made, but that it became involved in a lengthy legal process with the Academy’s lawyer trying to establish the conditions under which the Academy would agree to an interview.

[21] CanWest noted that the balance standard did not require a mathematical equality of time for each party with competing views. In the present case, it stated, Ms Wang and Ms Dujmovic were given adequate opportunity to express their points of view, and their perspective on the issues raised was made clear. For this reason, it concluded, the requirements of the balance standard were met.

[22] Nor did CanWest accept that the programme was inaccurate. It identified a number of inaccuracies from the 20 letters of complaint, and provided a brief explanation as to why it considered these matters did not amount to a breach of the standard.

[23] Without detailing CanWest’s response at this point (as the majority of its response concerned matters not actually referred to the Authority), the Authority notes that the relevant aspects of its defence to the allegations of inaccuracy will be discussed in the Authority’s Determination section of this decision.

[24] In response to the allegations that the programme was unfair, CanWest noted that Ms Wang was advised of all the allegations that could have been viewed negatively from her point of view, and she was given an adequate opportunity to present her point of view. CanWest noted that the ground rules for the interview that took place were carefully negotiated with the Academy’s lawyers, and that a question outline had been provided.

[25] Accordingly, CanWest concluded that the programme allowed those participating “to speak for themselves” and ensured that what they said was understood. For these reasons, it wrote, the programme was fair.

Referral to the Authority

[26] The complainant was dissatisfied with CanWest’s response and referred the matter to the Authority.

[27] In her referral, the complainant rejected CanWest’s position that Ms Wang’s denials of the allegations constituted sufficient balance. She stated that the only way that CanWest could properly have tested the allegations made about the Academy would have been to question a range of students from the Academy. Ms Dujmovic stated that although she was aware of nine former students of the Academy living in New Zealand at that time, these people were not approached by the programme makers.

[28] Ms Dujmovic contended that due to the “serious and emotional” nature of the allegations made in the programme, not enough was done to allow the Academy’s point of view to be represented. She noted her concern that despite having interviewed three students about the effect of the Academy’s teachings, this material was not included in the final programme.

[29] Ms Dujmovic also observed that many of the points raised in her original letter of complaint were not addressed by CanWest in its response.

[30] In relation to the alleged inaccuracies, the complainant again noted that many of the inaccuracies pointed out in her initial complaint were not addressed by CanWest in its response. Again, relevant substantive comments made by the complainant in relation to the accuracy issues are dealt with in the Authority’s Determination section.

[31] Finally, in relation to fairness, the complainant made no further substantive comments, but observed that CanWest had effectively dismissed this aspect of the complaint with little reasoning.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[32] CanWest made no further submission to the Authority.

Authority's Determination

Procedural issue

[33] In referring her complaint, Ms Dujmovic also sought to refer to the Authority the complaints made by the other students and former students, 19 in total. The Authority is unable to accept referral of these complaints. Each complaint was made by an individual, and on receipt of CanWest’s response, had they wished to refer their complaints to the Authority within the statutory timeframe, they could have done so. They chose not to, however, and in the absence of any action on their part, Ms Dujmovic – who has not indicated that she is acting as their authorised representative – has no authority to make the referral on their behalf.

[34] Accordingly, the Authority has considered only the complaint made by Ms Dujmovic on behalf of the Phenomena Academy.

Fairness

[35] Ms Dujmovic, the general manager of the Phenomena Academy, complained that the programme was unfair. She supported this allegation with a large number of particulars.

[36] The nub of Ms Dujmovic’s complaint was a concern that the programme had unfairly portrayed the Academy as cult-like and a place unsafe for students. She considered that the programme was one-sided, and suggested that students of the Academy – and indeed other people – were at risk while at Takaro Lodge. The complainant maintained that the programme should have included positive comments about the Academy and its work from the many satisfied current and former students.

[37] When looked at overall, the Authority does not consider that the programme was unfair. The Authority considers that the programme critically examined a number of elements of the Academy and Ms Wang’s teaching. This examination was supported largely by interviews with four disaffected former students of Ms Wang, as well as by research into Ms Wang’s background prior to her moving to New Zealand.

[38] The programme broadly focussed on four primary issues:

  • Whether the teaching of the Academy was dangerous in encouraging students to reject conventional medicine in favour of natural healing techniques, even in life-threatening situations;
  • Whether Ms Wang exerted some degree of undue influence over her students, and “brainwashed” them;
  • Whether the fees charged by the Academy were in some cases excessive, and Ms Wang was exploiting vulnerable and gullible people for financial gain.
  • Whether the Academy was a “con” and ought not be accredited as an educational institute.

[39] All the particulars cited by the complainant as examples of unfairness relate to these four primary issues.

[40] While the Authority agrees that the programme did pose questions about the Academy and the work and background of its founder, this did not, of itself, make the programme unfair. It is an important function of current affairs programmes to critically examine issues of public interest. The fact that the subject may not always enjoy the critical scrutiny is not a relevant factor in determining whether broadcasting standards have been breached.

[41] Instead, in considering whether a programme is unfair by virtue of criticisms it makes of a person or organisation, a key consideration is whether the parties involved were given sufficient and reasonable opportunity to respond to criticisms made of them during the programme.

[42] In the present case, the Authority considers that representatives of the Academy – both Ms Wang and Ms Dujmovic – were given sufficient and reasonable opportunity to address the criticisms made in the programme. Ms Wang was interviewed at length by the reporter, and considerable tracts of the programme were dedicated to showing her answers to questions put to her. In addition, Ms Dujmovic was also interviewed, and had the opportunity to address directly the concerns raised by all but one of the former students featured in the programme.

[43] Between them, Ms Wang and Ms Dujmovic were able to put forward clearly the Academy’s response to the issues raised. The points they made included the following:

  • An explanation of the teachings and philosophy of the Phenomena Academy;
  • A response by Ms Wang to a question put by the reporter as to whether the Academy was a cult, emphasising that her aim was simply to impart her knowledge to others about how to live a happy, healthy, quality life;
  • A response to the allegation that Ms Wang brainwashed people, in which she emphasised that she taught people just to empty their minds;
  • Refutation of the allegations that Ms Wang had predicted a world-wide catastrophe for the new Millennium;
  • An explanation that people paid the fees of their own free will, and that students obtained value for their money due to the benefits they received from the Academy’s training – benefits that could not be obtained elsewhere;
  • Responses to concerns raised about the two students who had died, emphasising the discussions that had taken place with the students about receiving conventional medical treatment, and that the decision to refuse treatment in each case had been made solely by the individual concerned;
  • An explanation by Ms Wang about her involvement in the case of the three students from Slovenia who had nearly died after refusing conventional medical therapies. Ms Wang again emphasised that the decision was made by the individuals involved, rather than at her instruction;
  • An explanation that the Academy is a non-profit organisation, and that all proceeds from it are invested for the students’ benefit. Ms Wang also explained that she did not receive large sums of money for what she was doing, and that the Lodge was owned largely by the bank.

[44] A considerable portion of the programme was dedicated to providing both Ms Wang’s and Ms Dujmovic’s responses to the criticisms of the former students, and their explanations of the work and philosophy of the Academy. The end result, in the view of the Authority, was that far from being unfair, the programme gave the Academy a very reasonable opportunity to be heard, and its responses to the criticisms were clearly presented. The programme was not one-sided, as the complainant contends.

[45] Furthermore, while the issue of whether the Academy was a cult was raised during the programme, the Authority does not agree that this was an insinuation that ran right through the programme as the complainant has contended. The issue of whether students were subject to undue influence was certainly a theme of the programme. This was not achieved, however, through indirect insinuation as the complainant suggests, and as noted above, both Ms Wang and the complainant were given opportunities to directly refute the allegations.

[46] The Authority notes that CanWest went to considerable lengths to ensure that the Academy was given an opportunity to have its viewpoint adequately represented. From the documentation the complainant provided in support of its complaint, it was apparent that CanWest’s request for an interview was met with considerable resistance from the complainant. In the end, CanWest was able to conduct the interview under strict ground rules only after weeks of negotiations with the Academy’s lawyers.

Fairness – covert filming

[47] Another aspect of the complaint was that the television team acted unfairly in posing as tourists and carrying a hidden camera when they approached the reception desk of one of Ms Wang’s energy clinics in Zagreb, Croatia.

[48] The Authority does not uphold this aspect of the complaint. The brief, covertly filmed footage simply showed a brief discussion with a receptionist. It showed no material that placed the Academy or Ms Wang in a negative, embarrassing or compromising light. For this reason the Authority does not consider that CanWest acted unfairly in this respect.

[49] The complainant also complained about CanWest’s actions in approaching Ms Wang on the street as she was arriving to take a class at one of her clinics. Prior to approaching Ms Wang, the reporter had made considerable efforts to obtain an interview. Given Ms Wang’s overseas commitments, it had not been possible to do so. In these circumstances, the Authority does not consider that it was unfair to approach her without prior warning. The Authority also notes that while Ms Wang alleges that the reporter was aggressive and firing questions at her, this did not appear to be the case. The programme simply showed the reporter introducing himself to Ms Wang on the street, saying that he would like to ask her some questions, followed by her response that she would agree to be interviewed when she had free time. In the view of the Authority, in light of Ms Wang’s reaction in agreeing to a later interview, there was nothing unfair about this approach.

Fairness – grief and bereavement

[50] A further aspect of the complaint was that CanWest unfairly showed pictures of a former student’s tumour, despite his wife not knowing that these pictures were going to be screened. The complainant alleged that this would have caused considerable distress. In support of this aspect of the complaint, the complainant referred to Guideline 6e, which states that broadcasters should take additional care when dealing with situations involving grief and bereavement.

[51] The Authority does not uphold this aspect of the complaint. The Authority notes that the guideline relied on by the complainant in this instance was intended to prevent the exploitation of grieving or bereaved people by filming them in distressing situations. It is not intended to address a situation in which a person might be distressed by viewing certain footage.

[52] Accordingly, for the above reasons, the Authority does not uphold the fairness aspect of the complaint.

Balance

[53] The essence of the complainant’s allegation in this respect was that the programme gave minimal coverage to people supportive of the work of the Phenomena Academy and Ms Wang. In the complainant’s view, in order to give it balance, the programme should have included interviews with students and former students who were supportive of the Academy.

[54] While the complainant provided a number of particulars in support of the allegation that the programme was unbalanced, the Authority deals with the issue of balance as a single issue. This is because the complainant’s concerns in this regard all fell under the general concern that the programme focussed unduly on the views of those who were critical of the Academy, and allowed insufficient opportunity for the presentation of other more positive perspectives.

[55] The first issue for the Authority to determine in considering an allegation that a programme lacks balance is whether the programme dealt with a controversial issue of public importance; it is only in relation to the discussion of such issues that balance is required.

[56] In the present case, the Authority considers that the programme did discuss such a controversial issue. The primary issue under investigation by the programme was whether the Academy, a NZQA accredited body, was exerting an undue influence on the students, potentially to their financial, emotional and physical detriment. The Authority considers that this issue was clearly one of public interest given that the Academy was accredited as an education provider.

[57] In essence, the complainant’s concern appears to be that the programme neglected to canvass the views of those who could – and would – say positive things about the Academy and about Ms Wang. Instead, the complainant maintained, the programmed focussed on the disaffected former students.

[58] The complainant maintained that the programme should have included interviews with:

  • satisfied students, current and former
  • the “energy team” that cared for the woman who died as a result of breast cancer
  • the wife of the man who died as a result of melanoma
  • students who had known the students who had died during their last months.

[59] Balance in a news and current affairs programme is not achieved solely through the presentation in equal measure of participants who are either for or against the issue under discussion. Instead, the key element of the standard is that significant perspectives are covered. The Authority also notes that broadcasting standards do not preclude a current affairs programme approaching an issue from a particular perspective or posing challenging questions for an organisation that has come under the spotlight.

[60] The Authority considers that in the present case both Ms Wang and Ms Dujmovic were given considerable scope to address the questions being posed of the Academy and its methods. Invariably when an issue was raised, the programme would include either Ms Wang’s or Ms Dujmovic’s response; in the Authority’s view the programme raised no issues that went unanswered.

[61] Because of the opportunities given to Ms Wang and Ms Dujmovic, the Academy’s point of view was well canvassed. The Authority again refers to the list of key points made on behalf of the Academy, noted in paragraph 43 above. This list indicates the breadth of opportunity given to the Academy’s representatives to respond to the issues being raised. Their responses made clear their perspectives on the key issues under discussion and for this reason the balance standard was not breached.

[62] The complainant also raised a number of other issues that she considered contributed to the lack of balance in the programme. These included:

  • the short time that the programme makers spent at Takaro Lodge
  • an allegation that potential participants were harassed and manipulated into taking part in the programme
  • a concern that the interview with Ms Wang was aggressive compared to the interviews with other subjects
  • a concern that Ms Wang was prejudiced because of her poor English

[63] On the first matter, the Authority notes that even if the programme makers did spend only a limited period of time at Takaro, ultimately this did not prevent them from airing the Academy’s perspective on the issues under discussion. Similarly, while the Authority agrees that the interview with Ms Wang did appear more searching that the interviews with the other subjects, this does not of itself create an imbalance. The purpose of the interview was to put to Ms Wang the allegations that had been made, and to allow her to respond. While the interview was challenging, Ms Wang made good use of the opportunity and was able to clearly communicate her points of view. Far from creating an imbalance, the Authority considers, the interview was one of the key measures by which balance was achieved.

[64] Nor does the Authority accept that balance was affected by the fact that Ms Wang was not fluent in English. While her English was in places ungrammatical, Ms Wang’s meaning was invariably clear; she gave relevant and effective responses to the questions posed. Any difficulty viewers might have had with her accent was avoided through the use of subtitles. In this way, her perspective was clearly communicated.

[65] For the above reasons, the Authority considers that none of these matters made the programme unbalanced. As discussed, the key element of the standard is that significant perspectives are aired, and in the present case the Authority considers that this was achieved.

Accuracy

[66] The complainant supported her complaint that the programme was inaccurate with a large number of particulars. The Authority considers that two of the particulars cited by the complainant were inaccurate, and in breach of Standard 5 of the Code.

“In China she used to be an insurance clerk”

[67] In her complaint, the complainant noted that Ms Wang in fact used to be the Director of the People’s Insurance Company for the Jiangxi province. In its response to the complaint, CanWest did not dispute that this was the case, and accordingly the Authority accepts the complainant’s assertion in this regard.

[68] The Authority considers that there is a material difference between an insurance clerk, and the director of an insurance company for a province with a population of around 40 million people. Accordingly, the Authority accepts that this statement was misleading and inaccurate.

“Four followers left the lodge in the small hours of the morning…”

[69] The complainant alleged that this statement, along with the accompanying visuals of people leaving in darkness holding torches, was inaccurate and misleading. The complainant stated that in fact these people left during the day, and were even driven to Invercargill airport in the Lodge minivan after saying goodbye to other students and staff.

[70] The Authority agrees that the statement was inaccurate and misleading. The Authority considers that the statement, coupled with the visuals of people leaving in darkness by torchlight, created a misleading impression of a secretive or clandestine departure. Based on the uncontested information provided by the complainant, this was not the case. For this reason, the Authority upholds this aspect of the complaint as a breach of Standard 5 (accuracy).

[71] The Authority does not uphold any of the other statements complained about, for the following reasons.

“The Phenomena Academy is accredited by the New Zealand Government as a place to learn healing”

[72] The complainant maintained that this was inaccurate, as the Academy only teaches people how to be healthy, and is not a place to “learn healing”.

[73] The Authority does not consider that this statement was inaccurate, seen within the context of the entire programme, Ms Wang made it clear that the aim of the Academy was to teach people how to be healthy; this point was made on a number of occasions. Accordingly, while the initial statement may not have been strictly accurate, the programme also put forward the true position, and thus corrected any earlier inaccuracy.

Ms Wang told students there was going to be a worldwide disaster

[74] The Authority is faced with conflicting positions on this issue. On the one hand, CanWest was given this information by one of the students interviewed for the programme. On the other, Ms Wang and Ms Dujmovic both deny that it was said.

[75] The Authority is left with no means of determining which version of events is more likely to be correct and accordingly declines to determine this aspect.

One of the students interviewed was told by an acupuncturist that she had cancer

[76] The complainant informed the Authority that in fact this student was told by two acupuncturists that she had cancer.

[77] The Authority declines to determine this aspect of the complaint. In the context of the whole programme, the point is a trivial one and does not require further consideration.

Another student paid $1.5 million over the time that she was at the Phenomena Academy

[78] The complainant alleged that the student alleged to have paid around $1.5 million in fact paid considerably less than this.

[79] The Authority does not uphold this aspect of the complaint. It notes that the programme in fact stated that the student’s daughter, who was also a student at the Academy, “believes over six years all-in-all their family paid around $1.5 million”. As the programme made no statement about the money that the student paid individually, the Authority does not consider that the programme was inaccurate.

The description of the treatment received by the student with breast cancer was misleading as it only described the treatment in the last few weeks of her life, rather than throughout her time at the Academy

[80] The complainant alleged that the editing of the programme made it appear that the treatment for the student with breast cancer was the treatment she had been receiving throughout her stay at the Academy, when in fact it was only the treatment she was receiving in her last few weeks.

[81] The Authority does not agree. In the Authority’s view the programme quite clearly focussed on the last period of the student’s life, from when her cancer was obviously terminal. It was apparent, when seen in the context of the whole section about this student, that this was what Ms Dujmovic was talking about in the extract complained of.

When the brother of the student with melanoma arrived at the Lodge, he sought help from Ms Wang, but she refused to help him

[82] The complainant maintained that this was not the case, and stated that the brother never sought help from Ms Wang.

[83] The Authority declines to determine this aspect of the complaint. Again, it is faced with a direct conflict in the account of events given, but has no basis on which to prefer one account over the other.

The number of sessions attended by the Slovenian student

[84] The complainant contended that the Slovenian student referred to attended “very few” sessions.

[85] The Authority notes that the programme made no direct claim about the number of sessions attended by this student, only that she had been a student of Ms Wang’s. The complainant did not refute this fact, and accordingly the Authority finds that the programme was not inaccurate in this respect.

The use of the name “McCrum” rather than “Dujmovic”

[86] The complainant contended that in referring to her as “Sarah McCrum” the programme was inaccurate as her surname was now “Dujmovic”. In response, CanWest contended that she used both names on correspondence in lodging the complaints, and thus that it was not inaccurate to use that name in the programme.

[87] The Authority does not uphold this aspect of the complaint. While it accepts that the complainant prefers to now use the name “Dujmovic”, it is apparent from correspondence received by CanWest after the programme that the complainant was at that stage still using the name “McCrum”. Although the complainant explains that this was because this was the name given her in the programme and she accordingly wished to avoid confusion, it nevertheless demonstrates that she was still prepared to use the name.

Accuracy – misleading and unnecessarily alarming

[88] The complainant also contended that the programme breached Guideline 5b, in that it created the misleading and unnecessarily alarming impression that to enter the gates of Takaro Lodge was to risk losing your life.

[89] The Authority does not uphold this aspect of the complaint. While it accepts that the programme did question the students’ attitudes to conventional medical treatment, and the results of this in the case of two particular students, it does not consider that the programme made any general allegation that the Lodge was an inherently unsafe place.

Accuracy – editorial independence

[90] The complainant alleged that the facial expressions of the reporter made it clear that he had his own agenda for the programme, and thus that editorial independence was compromised, in contravention of Guideline 5c.

[91] The Authority does not agree with this assessment, and notes that it perceived nothing inappropriate in the attitude or expression of the reporter displayed throughout the programme.

[92] Furthermore, the complainant provided no evidence in support of her allegation that the programme was made to fit a pre-conceived agenda. Accordingly, the Authority does not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Accuracy – reliability of sources

[93] The complainant considered that the sources used by the programme (the students) were unreliable, and thus that CanWest breached Guideline 5e.

[94] The Authority does not agree. While the complainant may disagree with the views put forward by the students upon whom the programme focussed, this does not invalidate the students’ genuinely held beliefs about the Academy and its work.

[95] While all the initial complainants went to some length to undermine the credibility of the students featured in the programme – in one case through the repetition of a damaging private fact about one individual – this does not alter the fact that each student expressed genuinely held views, and that CanWest was entitled to broadcast those views. The complainant has tried to portray the students as being changeable and unreliable, some with severe personal problems, with the implication that their views about the Academy were of no value – and in fact that it was a breach of broadcasting standards to even portray them. There is no merit in this argument and accordingly this aspect of the complaint is not upheld.

[96] 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 has taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching its determination to uphold part of the complaint and not to impose an order. 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 two aspects of the complaint that the broadcast by CanWest TVWorks Ltd of an item on 20/20 on 5 September 2004 breached Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. It does not uphold any other aspects of the complaint.

[97] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It does not intend to impose an order on this occasion. Two aspects of the extensive complaint were upheld as being inaccurate. In the context of an hour-long programme, and where the inaccuracies identified were minor, and incidental to the main issues under discussion, the Authority considers that the breach of the Code was at the lowest end of the scale and that no further action is warranted.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
31 March 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Sarah Dujmovic’s complaint to CanWest TVWorks Ltd – 28 September 2004
  2. CanWest’s response to the complaint – 16 November 2004
  3. Ms Dujmovic’s referral to the Authority, including supporting documentation – 5 December 2004
  4. CanWest’s response to the referral – 4 February 2005