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Vickery and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-034

Members

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

Complainant

  • Russell Vickery of Auckland

Dated

15th May 2003

Number

2003-034

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
One News CCS referred to as Crippled Children’s Society – obsolete  discriminatory – inaccurate – unfair

Findings
Standard 5 – not inaccurate – no uphold

Standard 6 and Guideline 6g – denigration or discrimination not encouraged – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Summary

[1] The return to Wellington of night-club entertainer, Carmen, was dealt with during an item on One News broadcast on TV One between 6.00–7.00pm on 25 October 2002. The reporter pointed to one building bearing the CCS logo which, he said, had been a brothel and was now used by the Crippled Children’s Society.

[2] Russell Vickery, a National Board Representative with NZCCS, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that as the organisation was the New Zealand CCS Incorporated, it was incorrect and unfair to describe it as the Crippled Children’s Society.

[3] In response, TVNZ noted that the organisation had been known as the Crippled Children’s Society for many years and it was neither inaccurate nor unfair for the item to use a widely recognised name to explain the signage.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision Mr Vickery referred the 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 item 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] Carmen, a former night-club entertainer, was made the subject of a musical work performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Her return to Wellington was the subject of an item broadcast on One News and, at one stage, the reporter with her referred to a building which bore the sign CCS and said:

So Carmen, up here on the top floor where the brothel used to be, we’ve got the Crippled Children’s Society.

The Complaint

[7] Russell Vickery is the Regional Representative for Northland and Auckland with the NZCCS. Explaining that the organisation’s official name since 1990 had been the New Zealand CCS Inc., he said the reference in the item was incorrect. The use of discriminatory language, he added, portrayed disabled people as less than full members of society. He noted that the organisation relied on community support, and did so in a way which did not use titles or language that were "a long time past their use by date".

The Standards

[8] In view of the matters raised, TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 5 and Standard 6 and Guideline 6g of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They provide:

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.

Guideline

6g  Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] TVNZ said that the CCS sign was prominent in the item and argued that it was normal procedure for a television reporter to provide a translation of a set of unexplained initials. It also stated that the name "Crippled Children’s Society", was one which had been used with pride for many years, and would have been a name known to viewers. It added:

We understand that your organisation perhaps sees the title "Crippled Children’s Society" as somehow denigratory but suggest that for the wider community that title is still recognised with admiration and respect. Most of us accept that to insultingly call someone a "cripple" is anachronistic and likely to cause offence, but "to be crippled" meaning that someone has difficulty in moving or walking properly carries no such negative connotations.

[10] Names that were part of the language, TVNZ maintained, could not be changed at the stroke of a pen.

[11] In regard to Standard 5, TVNZ did not accept that the item, which used a widely recognised name of an organisation, could be considered to be inaccurate. As its use did not encourage discrimination or denigration, TVNZ said that Standard 6 had not been contravened. It declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[12] Mr Vickery considered that TVNZ had "glossed over" the complaint. The item, he said, had used a name that was "now quite irrelevant", and had not acknowledged the organisation in a truthful and accurate manner. The letters of the organisation, he wrote, "do not stand for anything".

[13] Mr Vickery referred to a number of other organisations which had changed their name and pointed out that the name changes were now accepted and used. However, he contended, TVNZ did not appreciate that the word "crippled" was "offensive, denigratory and discriminatory".

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14] TVNZ did not accept the complainant’s argument that the letters CCS did not stand for anything. They were, it wrote, the initials of the Crippled Children’s Society. It noted that the CCS, in a recent newsletter to Auckland lawyers, reminded them that the CCS was formerly the Crippled Children’s Society. It stated:

In the item, the reference is an informal one, delivered in conversation with former nightclub star Carmen. It is chatty and colloquial – and it serves the purpose of explaining the meaning of the letters CCS which appear on a sign at the location where they are talking. In the same way that CCS has explained itself to lawyers as "formerly the Crippled Children’s Society", the reporter was talking to Carmen in terms of the organisation as she, and many viewers, would have known it.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[15] Mr Vickery explained that over the years disabled children had objected to being called crippled and that, for 13 years, the NZCCS had been at pains to inform the public of its name change. It had used the initials to remind donors of the organisation’s background. He wrote:

Our organisation doesn’t stand for "Crippled Children Society" it stands for an organisation that provides services to disabled children, adolescents, adults and families to create a better future … .

[16] The item , Mr Vickery said, had not met the accuracy requirement.

The Authority’s Determination

[17] The Authority accepts that the reporter, on seeing a CCS sign, translated it as the Crippled Children’s Society. The Authority is aware that the society has changed its legal name to use just the initials. However, the initials do not stand for nothing as the complainant contended, but rather for the organisation’s previous name. As TVNZ pointed out, the organisation in its latest newsletter to lawyers in Auckland reminded them that CCS was "formerly the Crippled Children’s Society".

[18] As the reporter was correct in translating the letters and used the name by which the Society used to be known, the Authority does not accept that the item was untruthful or inaccurate in a manner as to constitute a breach of Standard 5.

[19] In not finding a breach of the accuracy standard on this occasion, the Authority is able to distinguish between the current facts and those as found by the Authority in Decision No: 2002-169. In that decision there was found to be an unarguable inaccuracy by reference to whether students were "charged" interest or "required to pay" interest. The distinction, although recognised as being "relatively minor", was regarded as real and, consequently, in breach of Standard 5. In this case the Authority regards any transgression as being strictly of a literal nature, and certainly not of sufficient seriousness as to constitute a breach of the accuracy standard. Despite the failure to ensure strict compliance with nomenclature, in spirit and essential substance, the item was not in breach of Standard 5.

[20] The Authority understands that a reason for the organisation to change its name was to avoid the use of discriminatory language. However, it agrees with TVNZ that, despite the organisation’s concern that the full name is "somehow denigratory", the title is still recognised with "admiration and respect" in the wider community. In fact, the Authority considers that respect was apparent in Carmen’s sympathetic reference to the organisation.

[21] The Authority considers that the use of the name by the reporter did not breach Standard 6 because its use did not encourage discrimination or denigration. As it has previously stated, a high level of discrimination or denigration is necessary before the Authority rules that a comment breaches the threshold.

[22] 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 reasons above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
15 May 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Russell Vickery’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd (through the Advertising Standards Complaints Board) – 5 November 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to Mr Vickery – 6 December 2002
  3. Mr Vickery’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 10 December 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 18 December 2002
  5. Mr Vickery’s Final Comment – 19 January 2003