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Lett and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 2001-016

Members

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

Complainant

  • R Lett of Auckland

Dated

8th March 2001

Number

2001-016

Programme

Target

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TV3 Network Services Ltd


Complaint
Target – wallpaper hangers filmed using hidden cameras – quality of work and price compared – programme only focused on "negatives" – unfair – inaccurate

Findings
Standard G4 – not dealt with unfairly – no uphold

Standard G19 – editing was expected and reasonable – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

TV3’s consumer programme Target, broadcast on 17 September 2000, included an item about wallpaper hangers. Four decorating companies were asked to wallpaper a bathroom. They were then filmed using hidden cameras to see how well they could match the paper’s pattern, hang the paper "plumb" and trim around the woodwork.

One of the decorating companies filmed, Eastern Painters & Decorators, complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme and its trailer breached standards requiring fairness and accuracy. The complainant said the programme did not mention that he had matched the pattern and hung the paper plumb, and that the programme had focused only on the "negatives".

Maintaining that the complainant had been dealt with fairly, TV3 declined to uphold the complaint.

Dissatisfied with TV3’s response, the complainant referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

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

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

TV3’s consumer programme Target, broadcast on 17 September 2000, included an item about wallpaper hangers. Four decorating companies were asked to wallpaper a bathroom. They were then filmed using hidden cameras to see how well they could match the paper’s pattern, hang the paper "plumb" and trim around the woodwork.

The programme described the task and compared the performance of each company, including the price charged. Prior to screening, each company was given a chance to reply to a critique done by the programme’s technical consultant.

One of the decorating companies filmed, Eastern Painters & Decorators, complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme breached standards requiring fairness and accuracy. Mr Lett, on behalf of the company, said he objected to the way in which the programme reported on the job he had done. He said the presenter had mentioned nothing about the pattern being matched and the paper hung plumb, when these points had been made in relation to the other three decorators. In addition, he said in his case only the programme commented on the trimming around the vanity and not on the other areas, so as to focus only on the "negatives."

He also complained that his letter to Target responding to the technical consultant’s findings had been edited in such a way as to portray his company in a bad light. In particular, the programme had omitted his last comment to the effect that all his work was guaranteed and that if any part of a job did not meet with a customer’s approval the company would rectify the problem if notified within seven days.

Mr Lett complained that the programme had reported that his charge was a minimum charge, without mentioning that he had quoted over the telephone without seeing the job, and that the actor working for Target had accepted the quote. He said:

This left the public thinking that I had charged money for a job that was not satisfactory, and that the client had no come back on workmanship. The truth of the matter was that your actor left me a cheque on the kitchen bench which I took, and with not hearing anything further from her I assumed the job was to her satisfaction. About two months later I was contacted by Target saying they had filmed me on hidden cameras.

Further, Mr Lett complained about the programme’s trailer. According to the trailer, Mr Lett said, one company had done a great job and the other should not have turned up at all. The trailer showed footage of wallpaper falling over him. In this way, Mr Lett said, the programme negatively portrayed his company as being the dearest but the worst job, whereas another company was shown as being the cheapest but the best job, according to Target’s expert adviser.

TV3 advised the complainant that it had considered the complaint under standards G4 and G19 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

Standard G4 requires broadcasters:

G4  To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any programme.

The other standard reads:

G19  Care must 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.

In response to the complainant’s contention that the programme did not mention the positive aspects of the job, the broadcaster asserted that the programme had in fact mentioned that the pattern had been matched and the paper hung plumb. The broadcaster explained that, after the hidden camera sequence, a series of bullet points had been shown on screen, which read:

  • Pattern matched
  • Very poor finish
  • Hung straight
  • Job took 1 hr and 15 mins
  • Cost $120

In relation to the complainant’s concern that only the poor trimming around the vanity had been mentioned, TV3 said:

Unfortunately there was, according to the Target consultant, very little that was positive to say about the work carried out.

Regarding Mr Lett’s complaint that no mention had been made either of the minimum charge being a quote over the telephone or of the guarantee of workmanship, the broadcaster replied that "only relevant parts of responses dealing with the criticisms made [were] selected to be read on air." Mr Lett’s responses in relation to the untidy trimming and the air-bubbles had been read out. This was sufficient, according to the broadcaster, to meet the fairness requirement of a right to reply to the criticisms made.

TV3 said that mentioning the guarantee was irrelevant to the requirement for fairness, as all work was covered by a statutory guarantee in the Consumer Guarantees Act. As to the question of cost, the response that it had been a minimum charge had been stated in the programme, it said.

Finally, with regard to the programme’s trailer comparing the decorators and finding Eastern Painters & Decorators to have done the worst job and charged the most, according to the broadcaster that summary was accurate.

Accordingly, TV3 declined to uphold Mr Lett’s complaint.

In his referral, Mr Lett stressed that the two positive aspects of his work – that the paper was hung plumb and the pattern matched well – had not been commented on verbally. Although he agreed they had been referred to in the bullet points, in the case of the three other tradespeople verbal mention had also been made, he said. The programme had alerted viewers to look for those points and "failure to give my work the same verbal commendation only served to denigrate the job that I had done," he said.

With regard to the programme having commented negatively on the bubbles under the paper, he said he had explained to Target that bubbles in the paper after hanging are due to the paper being wet and paste sitting between the wall and the paper, and that they usually disappear within a few days depending on room temperature. He had told Target that as the paper dries out it pulls tight and the bubbles flatten out. He said it was unfair to withhold this information from the presentation, and that it was obvious the footage of the area had been taken very soon after his job had been completed, allowing for practically no drying period.

Regarding the cost of the job, Mr Lett accepted that his charge was the dearest of the four companies filmed. However, the fact that the customer had accepted his telephone quote had been edited out of his explanation, along with his guarantee of workmanship. He wrote:

The impression left by the programme as presented indicated that I had charged for the work after the job was completed, ie for one hour and fifteen minutes labour. This was not so. It was a pre-arranged quotation.

As to TV3’s assertion that it was irrelevant to mention guarantees because they are provided by the Consumer Guarantees Act, Mr Lett questioned why the programme had mentioned one of the other tradepeople’s guarantees, but not his. Finally, he wrote:

I feel that as I was filmed without consent I should have at least had the right to have my reply in my defence read in full, as I have no other means of defending my company name. I have been established for 14 years, and on the view of one consultant my company is presented in a very negative light and particularly so because of selective negative editing.

In its response to the Authority, TV3 addressed the complainant’s concern that his company had been treated differently from the other companies filmed. The broadcaster said that Target trials focused on points of difference between trialists. In Eastern Paint & Decorators’ case the point of difference was "unfortunately the poor quality of the workmanship." According to the broadcaster, the Target consultant had been adamant that some of the "poor workmanship", for example the bubbles, would not go away with time. With regard to the price charged, the broadcaster suggested that if the telephone quote was found to have been too high it should have been adjusted when the job was completed.

Finally, TV3 said:

It was not Target’s editing of the material screened that depicted the company in a poor light but the poor quality of the work and the high price charged.

In his final comment to the Authority, Mr Lett reiterated that it was unfair to judge his work before giving it a reasonable time to dry out. Depending on climate conditions, he said, some papers could take up to two weeks to dry out, which is why he had highlighted this point in his letter to Target. However, that point "was edited out so that the public who in general may not be aware of a drying period were left to accept that this was the final finish."

In relation to the cost of the job, Mr Lett said it was clear that Target had edited out the fact that he had quoted over the telephone because it did not want the public to know that his price was a quote. He said:

Clearly my price was not high as portrayed on Target as this was a quotation by telephone for a job unseen, and the price was accepted by Target’s representative. For Target to state that this job should have been around seventy dollars is beside the point, it was a telephone quote and was accepted, and this fact should have been presented to the public.

Finally, Mr Lett said he felt that Target wanted to make the programme look a "little more sensational" and that it had done so at his expense.

The Authority’s Findings

Target is a consumer advocacy programme which investigates the competencies of various service providers. This complaint concerns a hidden camera trial designed to examine the skills required of interior decorators.

At the outset, the Authority empathises with Mr Lett for finding himself the unwitting subject of a Target trial. The Authority notes it was not until some two months after wallpapering the bathroom, on the basis of a telephone quotation and with no subsequent complaints about his work, that Mr Lett was advised that his work had been filmed by Target’s hidden cameras. He was then given the opportunity to comment on a number of observations made by Target’s consultant, both positive and negative.

The Authority’s task is to determine whether the specific matters raised in the complaint breached broadcasting standards. Mr Lett complained that TV3 breached standards G4 and G19 by unfairly focusing on "the negatives" and by editing his response to Target’s observations in such a way as to portray his company in a bad light.

In the item complained about, viewers were alerted to look out for three particular aspects of the task: whether the pattern matched; whether the wallpaper was hung straight; and whether the work had been finished tidily. Mr Lett’s satisfactory performance in the first two criteria was included in a graphic shown on the screen. However, his work failed to satisfy the "tidy finish" criterion. The item highlighted bubbles in the paper, sheets of wallpaper not meeting smoothly, and untidy trimming including a tear which had been patched up. It also focused on the cost of Mr Lett’s work, which was the most expensive for what it said was the "worst job".

As well as carefully considering the item complained about, the Authority has examined Target’s letter to Mr Lett and his response to Target’s observations. The Authority notes that all but one of the points in Mr Lett’s response were aired to some degree on the programme. The only point the programme did not mention was his guarantee of workmanship. In relation to the cost of the job, the item mentioned that it was a minimum charge. With regard to the bubbles in the paper, the item mentioned Mr Lett’s comment that bubbles usually disappeared within a few days. However, the item did not include his further explanation that "as the paper dries out it pulls tight and the bubbles flatten out."

Given Target’s focus on the cost of his work, the Authority is of the view that he is entitled to feel some degree of dissatisfaction that viewers were not informed of the acceptance of a telephone quote. The Authority also concurs with Mr Lett that, in relation to one of the other wallpaper hangers filmed, the item made mention of a guarantee. However, on an overall appraisal of the item, the Authority does not accept that Mr Lett was dealt with unfairly. It reaches this decision in the context of Target being a consumer advocacy programme which set out to test relative competencies. Given the relatively brief time allotted to each tradesperson, with the item’s focus being on pertinent features of their work, the Authority does not accept that the omissions were sufficient to justify upholding a breach of standard G4.

In relation to standard G19, the Authority accepts that TV3 was entitled to edit the comments from the tradespeople included in Target. Having read Mr Lett’s response to Target and watched the programme, the Authority does not consider that his letter was edited in such a way as to transgress standard G19.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judy McGregor
Member
8 March 2001

Appendix

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

  1. R Lett’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 23 September 2000 (plus attachments)
  2. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 24 October 2000
  3. Mr Lett’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 17 November 2000
  4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 7 December 2000
  5. Mr Lett’s Final Comment – 6 January 2001