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Ken Turner Motors Ltd and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 2003-016

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa
  • J H McGregor

Complainant

  • Ken Turner Motors Ltd of Auckland

Dated

27th February 2003

Number

2003-016

Programme

Target

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TV3 Network Services Ltd


Complaint
Target test of mechanics attending breakdown and repairing a car’s cooling system – use of hidden camera – complainant most expensive repairer – insufficient explanation of reason for costs given – unbalanced – inaccurate – unfair

Findings
Standards 4, 5, and 6 – consumer advocacy programme – complaint essentially that complainant not dealt with fairly – subsumed under Standard 6 – as with all other participants one of two manufactured faults not found – services otherwise good – adequate explanation given of invoice – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The hidden camera segment on Target on 22 September 2002 featured mechanics called to a simulated breakdown situation. The car in question had two manufactured faults. The four companies selected were rated according to their performance at the breakdown, the work on the repair, and their charges. The complainant’s charges were the most expensive. The item was broadcast at 7.00pm on TV3.

[2] Ken Turner Motors Ltd complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item suggested the time spent working on the car was excessive. However, by not referring to the invoice which explained the extensive work undertaken, it argued that the item was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair.

[3] In response, TV3 said the item reflected Target’s expert mechanic’s view that the time spent was excessive, and declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TV3’s decision, the complainant referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Target is a consumer programme broadcast weekly by TV3. One segment of each programme involves a number of tradespeople undertaking an identical task. They are not advised that they are part of a test, aspects of which are filmed and recorded with hidden equipment. During the broadcast, each tradeperson’s results are compared. Before broadcast, the participants are invited to comment in writing on the results for inclusion in the broadcast.

[7] On the item broadcast on TV3 on 22 September 2002, four motor mechanics were asked to repair the same car which had a simulated breakdown at the roadside because of over-heating. The car’s cooling system had two manufactured faults. Ken Turner Motors Ltd was one of the firms asked to repair the car.

The Complaint

[8] Ken Turner of Ken Turner Motors Ltd complained to TV3 that the item breached the standards relating to balance, fairness and accuracy.

[9] In discussing his company’s invoice, Mr Turner wrote, the presenters reported that the total account was for $268, which included 4½ hours labour, and emphasised that the amount was the most expensive of the four garages. The presenters’ comments, Mr Turner wrote, suggested that the company had over-charged for the work carried out. One presenter also commented that Target’s expert mechanic had thought an explanation for the amount was probably in order. That comment was made with minimal reference to the invoice which the presenter was holding and which, Mr Turner said, explained why the work had taken that amount of time. He considered that the programme was unbalanced when dealing with this matter.

[10] Mr Turner also complained that the presenters’ exchange, which did not include any explanation, reinforced the perception that the charges for the work were unreasonable, and breached the requirements for accuracy and fairness. By way of compensation, he sought the broadcast of an explanation during the broadcast of a forthcoming edition of Target.

[11] Attached to the complaint was a copy of the invoice and the correspondence between his company and the makers of Target which took place before the broadcast.

The Standards

[12] TV3 assessed the complaint against the standards nominated by the complainant. The Standards, and relevant Guidelines, read:

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
4c  Factual programmes, and programmes shown which approach a topic from a particular or personal perspective (for example, authorial documentaries and those shown on access television), may not be required to observe to the letter the requirements of standard 4.

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.

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

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.

6b  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.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[13] TV3 said that the "hidden camera" segment involved four companies attending a simulated breakdown. It continued:

The 4 companies selected for the trial were rated according to their attendance and performance at the breakdown; their work on the repair (whether they found and fixed the faults) and their charges.

[14] The complaint, it said, alleged that the complainant’s point of view had not been presented adequately.

[15] Starting with Standard 4, TV3 noted that a programme required balance when a controversial issue was discussed. On the basis that Target, the programme complained about, had not dealt with a controversial issue, TV3 considered that the standard did not apply.

[16] As for the aspect of the complaint which argued that the item was inaccurate by not acknowledging that the invoice explained the amount of time necessary to examine the car, TV3 pointed out that Target highlighted comments from its independent expert, rather than discuss the contents of an invoice. It then recorded the presenter’s comments:

Janet:  Still 4½ hours seems a pretty long time just to fit a radiator cap

Ian:      Yes, even our mechanic thought an explanation was probably in order

An employee of Ken Turner Motors is seen explaining the work to Target’s actor.

Janet:  He tells our actor they spent most of that time trying to find a leak and although
           it was just a radiator cap they had to keep looking because there could be
           other problems.

Ian:      Well, that’s true, they’ve done the right thing in looking for the fault because as
           we know our car does have another fault, the fan.

[17] TV3 wrote:

It is clear from both the pictures and the voice over that the mechanic did give a detailed explanation of the work that was done.

[18] TV3 also maintained that, in the expert’s opinion, the work detailed in the invoice was not sufficient to account for the time charged. Moreover, TV3 argued that it was well-established that the role of the presenters on Target was to express views which were consistent with the expert’s views. The allegation that Target was trying to mislead the viewers was strongly refuted, and TV3 declined to uphold the complaint that the item was inaccurate.

[19] Turning to the fairness aspect, TV3 reiterated that the expert who supervised the trial held the opinion that the job should not have taken 4½ hours. TV3 pointed out that the programme had praised the complainant’s performance at the breakdown and had included the comment that the complainant had "done the right thing in looking for faults".

[20] TV3 noted that the complainant had been given an opportunity to respond, and its comment about the faulty fan had been read out. TV3 concluded:

The [standards] committee takes the view that the references to Ken Turner Motors were fair and a reasonable opportunity was given to the company for input and comment. The explanation as to why the fan problem was missed was incorporated into the programme, as was the explanation for the time charged.

In all these circumstances the Committee takes the view that the programme was fair and edited in such a way as to give a true reflection of the events recorded in relation to the hidden camera trial.

[21] TV3 also referred to the statutory right to freedom of expression contained in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[22] Mr Turner of Ken Turner Motors stated that TV3’s explanation "misses the point". The explanation, he said, did not address the complaint. Rather, new comment was introduced which was designed to justify the portrayal of the complainant company in the item.

[23] Dealing with the details in TV3’s letter, Mr Turner contended that balance could not be separated from fairness and accuracy, and the matter was controversial to him, his staff and clients.

[24] The accuracy matter, Mr Turner wrote, was central to the complaint that the company was portrayed in an inaccurate way. It was argued that the invoice did feature in the programme in view of the way it was picked up and studied by one of the presenters. Mr Turner expressed the view that Target had used the participants in the "hidden camera" segment to fill three roles – good, bad and expensive. He continued:

As Ken Turner Motors bill was the highest we were the most suitable for the Expensive role, but to sensationalise this Target left out any reference to the 9 lines of account text, which includes "No leaks found around water pump". In fact Janet’s line – and Ian’s line – straight after Ian is seen to read Ken Turner Motors account, clearly suggest there was no text (written explanation). This is totally inaccurate and unfair.

[25] An accurate programme, furthermore, it was noted, would have reported that it was the opinion of Target’s expert mechanic that the work listed in the invoice did not justify the time taken. The complainant added:

Ken Turner Motors did the same work as the other three garages in the trial, but we then decided it prudent to carry out a visual inspection of the water pump, fully expecting it to be faulty. It wasn’t but the time taken to remove all parts to gain access to the water pump for that inspection is the same as the Flat Rate Manual states for replacing the water pump, less maybe 15 minutes to unbolt and rebolt the actual pump.

Add the time taken by the other three garages to the time the Flat Rate Manual states it should take for a water pump replacement and you get 4– 4.9 hours, at the highest end a little over what Ken Turner Motors took. Target and especially their expert mechanic know this, that is why they have never mentioned the water pump in the programme that went to air or any following correspondence.

Every viewer would have understood the relevance of the water pump to the supposed overheating problem, so Target choose to make no reference to an important part of Ken Turner Motors account thus showing us in an unbalanced and unfair light which dramatise their programme. This must be addressed.

[26] As for the fairness aspect of the complaint, Mr Turner returned to the expert’s view that the work listed on the invoice should not have taken 4½ hours. He commented that the mechanic could be wrong. In justification of that remark, he noted that Target in its correspondence had suggested that the complainant had replaced the faulty radiator cap with one of the wrong pressure. However, in a subsequent discussion with a Target staff member, Mr Turner wrote, the staff member had acknowledged that there was some confusion about the correct radiator pressure cap, and had not refuted Mr Turner’s comment that Target had made a mistake.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[27] TV3 maintained that Standard 4 was not applicable, and considered that the issue of fairness under Standard 6 incorporated the relevant aspects of balance.

[28] TV3 denied that the programme had dealt with the invoice in a misleading way, adding that Target took care to ensure that the information and comment complained about in each programme was accurate and fair. In regard to the complaint, it wrote:

The primary assessment of the work done by Ken Turner Motors was that it was expensive and failed to fix the problem. There is no suggestion that they charged for work they did not do – the comment is that the work was not required to fix the problem and the customer was charged for this work and the problem remained.

[29] The programme, TV3 concluded, had been fair in weighing the positive and negative aspects of the work done by the complainant, and in seeking an explanation from Mr Turner which was incorporated into the programme.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[30] Referring to the invoice which was not read in full, the complainant contended that reading only half the invoice was "very misleading" and thus breached the requirement for accuracy.

[31] The complainant disputed the broadcaster’s claim that the car had only two manufactured faults. Coolant had been sprayed over the motor and, it contended, the two pre-set faults could not cause coolant to escape and spray all over the motor. In view of the symptoms presented, the complainant argued that its actions were fair and reasonable.

The Authority’s Determination

[32] Ken Turner Motors was one of four garages featured in the hidden camera segment of Target broadcast on 22 September 2002. The four companies were called to a simulated breakdown situation where the car in question had two manufactured faults. The four companies selected were rated according to their performance at the breakdown, the work on the repair, and their charges. The complainant’s costs were the most expensive and it complained that the item, by not referring in detail to the invoice which explained the extensive work undertaken, was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair.

[33] The complaint alleged a breach of Standards 4, 5, 6 of the Television Code, covering respectively balance, accuracy and fairness. The essence of the complaint is that the programme did not deal with Ken Turner Motors fairly. The complaint is similar to a number of others considered by the Authority in regard to consumer advocacy programmes. In reviewing such complaints, the Authority has found that the issues raised are usually best addressed under fairness – Standard 6. In view of the matters raised in this complaint, the Authority intends to follow that practice. Accordingly, it subsumes all the matters raised into a complaint that Ken Turner Motors was not dealt with justly and fairly by Target, and that the item was unbalanced and inaccurate, under Standard 6.

[34] The Authority notes that comments on Target about the complainant’s performance at the breakdown were positive. As with the other three companies featured, it located one of the two introduced faults, but it was the most expensive of the four companies. The programme contained the following exchange:

Presenter 1:
She [the actor] was charged two hundred and sixty eight dollars.

Presenter 2:
Well that’s quite a bit more than the other garages so far.

Presenter 1:
Yes but the reason for that was she was charged four and a half hours labour.

Presenter 2:
What did they do in that time?

Presenter 1:
They changed the radiator cap, but the fan, that’s not been fixed.

Presenter 2:
Still, four and a half hours seems a pretty long time just to change a radiator cap.

Presenter 1:
Yes even our mechanic thought an explanation was probably in order.

Presenter 2:
He tells our actor they spent most of that time trying to find a leak, and although it was just a radiator cap they had to keep looking because there could be other problems.

Presenter 1:
Well that’s true. They’ve done the right thing in looking for other faults, because as we know our car does have another fault, the fan.

Presenter 2:
It does seem strange though that in four and a half hours the cooling fan was not checked, that would be one of the most obvious causes of overheating I would have thought.

Presenter 1:
Yes I agree. It’s not very good to charge for all that time and not find all the faults.

Presenter 2:
So good customer service at the breakdown from Ken Turner Motors and they found the faulty cap. However, they missed the loose fan wire and charged two hundred and sixty eight dollars, the highest in our trial.

[35] In the final segment of the programme, the presenters’ report the responses from each of the participants shown in the earlier hidden camera segment. The complainant’s letter was dealt with in the following way:

Presenter 2:
Ken Turner Motors was another who replaced the faulty cap, but didn’t manage to repair the radiator fan. In their letter they say they made the mistake of thinking the faulty fan was actually for air conditioning, as with previous models of this car.

Voice Over (reading):
We thought the stationary one was the air conditioning fan, we have learnt and won’t make this mistake again.

[36] In view of the complaint that the item did not advise viewers of the details of the work as recorded in the invoice, which was being flourished by Presenter 1, the Authority has examined a copy of the invoice provided by the complainant. It also notes the complainant’s comment that the time taken for the work listed approximates the time estimated for such work in the "Toyota Flat Rate Manual".

[37] The Authority notes that the item advised that the complainant kept looking "because there could be other faults". That approach is then described as being "the right thing". However, the item said, in what was a critical tone, that despite the extensive work the second fault was not found.

[38] The Authority understands why the complainant is aggrieved and considers greater focus could have been given to the full invoice. However, the Authority does not accept on balance that the broadcast breached the requirement in Standard 6. It considers that the exchange between the presenters accurately reported the conclusion reached by Target. It declines to uphold the complaint.

[39] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
27 February 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Ken Turner Motors Ltd’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd (plus attachments) –
    27 September 2002
  2. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 30 October 2002
  3. Ken Turner Motors Ltd’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 11 November 2002
  4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 16 December 2002
  5. The Complainant’s Final Comment – 10 January 2003