TV One – coverage of Olympic Games opening ceremony advertised as being live – untruthful and inaccurate
Standard G1 – implication perhaps misleading – no incorrect facts broadcast – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
The Olympic Games Opening Ceremony was broadcast on TV One on the evening of 14 September 2000. Advertising breaks were included during the programme.
Bryan Bluck complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the extensive advertising prior to the opening of the Olympic Games implied that the broadcast would be live. In fact, he said, after the first advertising break, it was a delayed telecast. He emphasised that his complaint was not that the programme contained advertising, but that the promotions had implied it would be a direct broadcast rather than a delayed one.
TVNZ responded that, as far as it could ascertain, at no time had it been stated that the Opening Ceremony would be broadcast live throughout. The advance comment, it noted, had stressed that viewers would see the whole ceremony, and would not miss anything. As no advance publicity had implied that the Opening Ceremony would be live from beginning to end, TVNZ concluded that no broadcasting standards had been breached. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Bluck referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
The Opening Ceremony for the Olympic Games was broadcast on TV One on 14 September 2000 beginning at 7.30pm. The broadcast included advertising breaks.
Bryan Bluck complained to TVNZ that it had been misleading to viewers to provide a delayed telecast of the Opening Ceremony when promotional material implied that it was going to be televised live. In his view, TVNZ was close to being fraudulent because the promotions for the coverage had implied that it would be a direct broadcast, and not a delayed one. He said he expected TVNZ to make a formal apology to those who had been misled by its actions.
TVNZ advised that it had assessed the complaint under standard G1 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. That standard requires broadcasters:
G1 To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.
TVNZ observed that in the days prior to the Opening Ceremony, there had been many on-air references to the coverage of the Opening Ceremony, but that as far as it could determine, there was no occasion in which it had been stated that the broadcast would be live throughout.
It noted that viewers had been promised that "some events" would be live, but this had been left deliberately vague so that the broadcaster had some flexibility should something particularly relevant or interesting occur. It had also been stressed, TVNZ continued, that viewers would not miss anything. This was in response to complaints about earlier Games coverage where commercial breaks had interrupted the programme and coverage had been resumed in real time, with the result that viewers had missed whatever had happened while the advertisements were playing.
TVNZ said that the technique of delaying a broadcast was not unusual, particularly in sports events. Its judgment was that viewers would prefer to see everything, albeit slightly delayed, than to miss something important.
TVNZ said that it had been unable to identify any broadcast publicity implying that the Opening Ceremony would be live, and noted that Mr Bluck had not provided any examples. It therefore concluded that there had been no breach of the requirement for accuracy. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Mr Bluck referred the complaint to the Authority as he was dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response. He repeated that, in his view, the promotions for the Opening Ceremony had been dishonest and misleading. While acknowledging that people did not expect the Games coverage to be free of advertising, Mr Bluck said most of the people he had spoken to about this matter had agreed that the promotions had implied that the broadcast of the Opening Ceremony would be live.
Finally, Mr Bluck suggested that TVNZ should issue a public statement apologising for its "deceitful practice."
In its response to the Authority, TVNZ emphasised that it had no evidence that any promos or on-air remarks by any presenters had implied that the ceremony was to be live from beginning to end. The delay had been cumulative, it wrote, and amounted to a total of 47 minutes at the end.
It was TVNZ’s view that the complainant had been expressing a personal preference for seeing such programmes live, even if it meant missing some part during an advertising break. It said that in its experience, viewers generally preferred a broadcast in which they were able to see everything, even if it was delayed for a short time.
TVNZ did not provide a tape to the Authority of the entire Opening Ceremony, noting that there was no dispute that it had been subject to delay from the end of the first commercial break. The argument, it observed, was to do with how the event had been promoted. It said that it had found no evidence – and nor had Mr Bluck – that it had promised that the whole ceremony would be live throughout.
In his final comment, Mr Bluck argued that the "promotion propaganda" for the Opening Ceremony had given the impression that the broadcast was going to be live. He noted that even though the first hour was live, the balance of the evening had been delayed and viewers were not given any indication that the programme was delayed, and not live. He repeated that the basis for his complaint was that the broadcast was "delayed" and was not "live".
At the Authority’s request, TVNZ provided a tape of a promo for the Opening Ceremony. TVNZ noted that the promo made no suggestion that the event was going to be screened live. It advised that when it originally investigated the complaint it had checked possible ad lib comments by news readers, sports and weather presenters but could find none where the programme was referred to as being broadcast live.
TVNZ noted that the first section of the broadcast had been a pre-recorded piece setting the scene for the opening, followed by "live" coverage at the beginning of the ceremony, with a gradual time slippage developing after each commercial break.
At the outset the Authority records that it does not uphold the complaint. It reaches this conclusion on the basis that it accepts that no "facts" were broadcast to which standard G1 applies.
Nevertheless, it fully understands the reasons for Mr Bluck’s complaint. The Authority has no jurisdiction in regard to the programme summaries contained in the Listener, although it understands that these summaries are provided by broadcasters. The listing for 7.30pm on Friday 15 September states:
Geoff Bryan presents live coverage from Olympic Stadium, Olympic Park, Sydney, of the Opening Ceremony - the spectacular launch of the Sydney Olympic Games
The Authority considers that this complaint is essentially about implications and inferences. It accepts that TVNZ has been neither untruthful nor inaccurate. However, from the promo supplied by TVNZ and from its own recollections of viewing the Opening Ceremony, the Authority understands why some viewers felt that the broadcast would be "live" throughout and thus felt deceived when viewing the broadcast where commercial breaks added 47 minutes to the length of the coverage.
While it could be argued that the difference between "live" and "live throughout" is merely a semantic point, the Authority would urge all broadcasters to advise viewers fully what is the precise status of a broadcast which is acknowledged to be "live" at least in part.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
22 February 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: