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Kirk and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-167

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Margaret Kirk of Manurewa

Dated

19th December 2003

Number

2003-167

Programme

Sunday

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Sunday – investigation of Dr Richard Gorringe who had been found guilty of professional misconduct and disgraceful conduct through use of alternative medicines – biased – unfair – misleading

Findings
Standard 4 – reasonable opportunities given – not unbalanced – no uphold

Standard 6 – Dr Gorringe dealt with fairly as ample opportunity given to present views – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The use by Dr Richard Gorringe of alternative medicine, alongside conventional medicine, was investigated in an item broadcast on Sunday at 7.30pm on TV One on 2 September 2003. Dr Gorringe had been found guilty by the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal on two charges of professional misconduct and one of disgraceful conduct.

[2] Margaret Kirk complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was biased and unfair, and trivialised the work of Dr Gorringe.

[3] In response, TVNZ said the item was balanced and fair and declined to uphold the complaint. It pointed out that Dr Gorringe had explained his methods and a range of views on his work had been advanced.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Kirk 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 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] The use of alternative medicine by Dr Richard Gorringe of Hamilton alongside conventional medicine was examined in an item broadcast on Sunday on TV One on 28 September 2003. It was reported that Dr Gorringe had been found guilty by the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal on two charges of professional misconduct and one of disgraceful conduct. When responding to the complaint, TVNZ noted that Dr Gorringe had since been struck off the register of medical practitioners and ordered to pay more than $100,000 in costs.

[7] The programme included interviews with Dr Gorringe, two patients who had complained to the Tribunal, and the complainant who had spoken positively of Dr Gorringe’s treatment of her son.

The Complaint

[8] In her complaint to TVNZ, Ms Kirk said that she had understood before she was interviewed that she was one of three people who would speak positively about Dr Gorringe. However, she was the only positive interviewee, and there had been interviews with two complainants. That ratio, she said, was unfair. She described Dr Gorringe as “brilliant”, but argued that the item had been misleading and had trivialised his work.

[9] Contending that people approached Dr Gorringe only when they were “at the end of their tether” after they had been told that they were incurable, she asked why patients were not allowed access to the latest developments. She sought an apology from TVNZ for “dishonesty”.

The Standards

[10] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 4 and 6 of the Free to Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They 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 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.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[11] Noting that the complainant had not explained in detail why the programme was “biased” or “trivialising”, TVNZ maintained that it was both balanced and fair. It wrote:

On the one hand the doctor himself was given an extended opportunity to respond to the criticisms levelled against him - criticisms not dreamed up by Sunday but which were already in the public arena because of the interest taken in Dr Gorringe by the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal. Dr Gorringe was seen to explain his methods and to indicate his philosophy, and he was supported in the item with a description of the case of your son and your comments as his mother. Balancing that were interviews with Mrs Yvonne Short who spoke of the adverse impact Dr Gorringe’s treatment had on her, and Ravaani Ghaemmaghamy. Their points of view were supported in the item by brief references to the findings of the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal and to Professor Mark Cannell’s assessment of literature provided by Dr Gorringe.

[12] TVNZ said that views of two complainants to the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal during the broadcast were balanced by Mrs Kirk and Dr Gorringe.

[13] Turning to the complaint that the item was unfair, TVNZ said that Dr Gorringe was given the opportunity to defend himself, he said that he had helped 12,000 New Zealanders, and he had referred to papers which he said supported his method of treatment.

[14] TVNZ disagreed with the complainant that the item had taken sides. It had reported the Disciplinary Tribunal’s findings that in one case Dr Gorringe’s treatment was “grossly irresponsible and unconscionable” and had provided the public with information about the man and his practices. It declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[15] Referring the complaint to the Authority as the secretary of the Dr Gorringe Supporters’ Group, Ms Kirk described the Medical Tribunal’s hearing as a “mockery” which was run like a “jungle court”. She recalled that she had agreed to be interviewed by Sunday as the reporter had said the item would show the “true picture”. However, the reporting was “grossly inaccurate and manipulated” to support the Tribunal’s findings.

[16] In regard to balance, Ms Kirk said the inclusion of two complainants about Dr Gorringe, as opposed to one who supported him, was not balanced. She reiterated her point that she had been told that there would be three supporters interviewed.

[17] Ms Kirk alleged that the item was inaccurate in its statement that brucellosis was absent from New Zealand.

[18] As for the item’s unfairness, Ms Kirk said “dark sinister” music accompanied footage of Dr Gorringe’s surgery. Further, the item had not dealt fairly with the issue of the scientific papers to which Dr Gorringe had referred. The item, she wrote, could have shown Dr Gorringe’s positive contributions, but had not done so. Further, it had allowed one of the complainants to tell lies and use language which would taint viewers’ responses.

[19] Ms Kirk argued that the opportunity should now be taken to broadcast an item which showed Dr Gorringe’s successes which “would make compelling viewing”.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[20] On the basis that the Authority’s statutory task was to investigate and review a broadcaster’s decision, TVNZ contended that the Authority should confine itself to considering the matters raised by Ms Kirk in the initial complaint. It noted that the referral included considerable new material which had not been considered by TVNZ’s Complaints Committee. It also pointed out that it should make no difference whether Ms Kirk was complaining on her own behalf or on behalf of the Dr Gorringe Supporters’ Group.

[21] TVNZ repeated its contention that the item was balanced and, as Dr Gorringe had been given “every” opportunity to discuss his methods and respond to criticisms, he had been treated fairly.

[22] Ms Kirk’s opinion of the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, TVNZ noted, was irrelevant to a complaint about broadcasting standards. It concluded: 

While Ms Kirk is entitled to her opinions on what she thought should have been in the programme, the complaint should be determined on whether balance and fairness were achieved in the programme that was broadcast.

The Authority’s Determination

[23] Standard 4 applies to programmes in which controversial issues of public importance are discussed. The Authority considers that the item, which examined the issues which arose when Dr Richard Gorringe appeared before the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (MPDT), dealt with such controversial issues.

[24] In programmes which deal with controversial issues, Standard 4 is satisfied if reasonable opportunities are given to present significant points of view. The Authority considers that the broadcast satisfied this requirement for the following reasons.

[25] Dr Gorringe was given very reasonable opportunities to explain his use of alternative medicine. Two former patients who had given evidence before the MPDT about their dissatisfaction with Dr Gorringe’s use of alternative medicine were interviewed. The complainant, the mother of a current patient, was interviewed and she spoke positively about his methods. Each person put their views fully and firmly. The Authority concludes that the item met the requirements of Standard 4.

[26] Under Standard 6, the complainant contended that Dr Gorringe had not been dealt with fairly. In view of the opportunities he was given to explain the alternative medicine he practised, and the reasons for it, the Authority considers that the broadcast complied with the requirements of Standard 6.

[27] The complainant also argued that Dr Gorringe was dealt with unfairly in that “sinister” music was played when he was being interviewed. As the Authority did not find any of the incidental music used to be intrusive, it does not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

[28] The complainant also expressed her concern about aspects of the MPDT’s inquiry, and suggested that the MPDT had not treated Dr Gorringe fairly. As that does not raise a matter of broadcasting standards, it is not an issue which is relevant to the Authority’s determination.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 December 2003

Appendix

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

1. Margaret Kirk’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 1 October 2003
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 22 October 2003
3. Ms Kirk’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority on behalf of the Dr Gorringe Supporter’s Group – 29 October 2003
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 7 November 2003
5. Ms Kirk’s Final Comment – 17 December 2003