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James and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-208

Members

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

Complainant

  • R F James of Whangarei

Dated

17th December 2002

Number

2002-208

Programme

Taste New Zealand

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Taste New Zealand – profiles of some food entrepreneurs included one on Ron Hubbard – did not refer to his membership of the Food and Nutritional Advisory Committee and that Committee’s attitude to soy – unbalanced

Findings
Section 4(1)(d) – Standard 4 – item did not deal with controversial issue – standard not relevant – no uphold – advise that future marginal complaints may be considered vexatious and trivial

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Taste New Zealand is an entertainment series about the food industry. The episode broadcast at 8.00pm on TV One on 25 September 2002 presented some profiles about a number of successful food entrepreneurs. Ron Hubbard of Hubbard Foods Ltd was one of the entrepreneurs featured.

[2] Richard James complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was unbalanced. The item, he noted, had not referred to Mr Hubbard’s membership of the Health Ministry’s Food and Nutritional Advisory Committee, and that Committee’s refusal to discuss the dangers of soy with what Mr James described as the "soy lobby".

[3] In response, TVNZ argued that the item did not deal with a controversial issue and, accordingly, the requirement for balance was not applicable. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr James 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 tape 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] Taste New Zealand is described by TVNZ as an entertainment series which presents items about food and culinary achievements from a local perspective. The episode complained about presented profiles of successful food entrepreneurs based in Auckland. Ron Hubbard of Hubbard Foods Ltd was one of the entrepreneurs featured. That episode was broadcast on TV One at 8.00pm on 25 September 2002.

The Complaint

[7] Richard James complained to TVNZ that the sequence featuring Mr Hubbard did not include the fact that he was a member of the Ministry of Health’s Food and Nutritional Advisory Committee (FNAC), and that as a member of that Committee, he had undertaken not to talk to representatives of what Mr James described as the "soy lobby". Mr Hubbard had made that undertaking, Mr James continued, despite the Committee’s mission statement to "consult widely".

[8] Referring to research which, he said, warned of the dangers associated with soy, and noting that Mr Hubbard as a member of the FNAC had agreed with the Committee’s policy not to discuss soy, Mr James wrote:

So, far from being the avuncular, public spirited, socially responsible entrepreneur, Mr Hubbard could quite correctly be shown as an anti-social co-conspirator to harm the public.

[9] Mr James complained that the broadcast breached the requirement in the broadcasting standards for balance.

The Standards

[10] TVNZ assessed the complaint under the provision nominated by Mr James: Section 4(1)(d) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 reads:

4(1) Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes and their presentation, standards which are consistent with –

(d) 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.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[11] On the basis that Taste New Zealand was not dealing with a "controversial issue of public importance", TVNZ maintained that the standard was inapplicable.

[12] Mr Hubbard, it said, was shown to be a successful business person and any involvement he might have had with what Mr James called the "soy lobby", was irrelevant to the "light-hearted" material screened on Taste New Zealand. As the standard was not relevant to the broadcast, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[13] Accompanying the referral to the Authority, Mr James included a letter written to TVNZ in which he maintained that his complaint dealt with a controversial issue.

[14] In that letter he complained that Mr Hubbard, a food expert, was a member of a committee which, despite its mission to consult widely, had adopted a position "to exclude inconvenient views". Such an approach, he contended, led to censorship and fascism.

The Authority’s Determination

[15] A number of people described as "food entrepreneurs" were profiled on an episode of Taste New Zealand. Ron Hubbard of Hubbard Foods was one of those. He was referred to as a "cereal king", the number of products produced by Hubbard Foods was given, and the item also touched on Mr Hubbard’s business philosophy of social responsibility. The item began with Mr Hubbard emerging from a vat of reject cornflakes wearing a snorkel.

[16] TVNZ described the segment as "an interesting but decidedly non-controversial portrait of a well-known business man". TVNZ added that the brief profile did not involve a serious examination of Mr Hubbard’s business philosophy.

[17] Mr James complained that the item was unbalanced as it did not examine Mr Hubbard’s membership of the Ministry of Health’s Food and Nutritional Advisory Committee. He alleged a breach of s.4(1)(d) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[18] Section 4(1)(d) applies to programmes which deal with "controversial issues of public importance". The Authority considers that the segment on Taste New Zealand did not meet this standard and, accordingly, declines to uphold the complaint.

[19] Given the several complaints received from Mr James over the years, the Authority is aware of his deep concern about soy, and his belief that items which refer to soy products do not necessarily canvass critical views about soy. However, the Authority regards any link between these views and the profile of Mr Hubbard as tenuous. It advises that should similar marginal complaints be received, it could well consider such complaints as vexatious and trivial and use its power to decline to determine them.

[20] 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 and applies them in a manner 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
17 December 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Richard James’ Letter to Television New Zealand Ltd (plus attachments) – 29 September 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to Mr James – 17 October 2002
  3. Mr James’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (plus attachments, including a letter to TVNZ) – 20 October 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 30 October 2002
  5. Mr James’ Final Comment – Received 12 November 2002