3 News – armed gunmen in Fiji – new uprising or old army exercise? – developing news or old footage? – inaccurate and misleading – caused tourists to cancel trips to Fiji
Standard G1 – inaccurate description of event as "latest incident" – uphold
Standards G2, G6, G11, G14, G15, G16, G21 – overall, items not unbalanced or misleading or causing unnecessary panic alarm or distress – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Footage of Fijian men firing automatic rifles inside an Indian school complex in Labasa on the Fiji island of Vanua Levu, was the subject of two separate news items broadcast on 3 News at 6pm. The first news item, broadcast on 29 November 2000, referred to the footage as "the latest incident" in a terror campaign against Indian villagers. The second item, broadcast on 12 December 2000, re-aired the footage and, in light of new information supplied to TV3 relevant to the pictures, asked the question, "army exercise or an exercise in intimidation?"
Fiji High Commissioner Isimeli Bainimara complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the items about the footage were inaccurate and misleading and had resulted in tourists unnecessarily cancelling trips to Fiji. He said the incident broadcast was not recent and was an army training exercise and not an exercise in intimidation.
TV3 responded that the footage had been aired as soon as it had been obtained, and the cameraman, at the time, believed on good grounds that it showed the Fijians intimidating local Indians. TV3 did not consider there had been any breach of broadcasting standards.
Dissatisfied with TV3’s response, Mr Bainimara referred the complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority upholds the first complaint as a breach of standard G1. It declines to uphold any other aspect of the first complaint and it declines to uphold the second complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed tapes of the items complained about, and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines these complaints without a formal hearing.
TV3 obtained footage of an incident which had occurred on 1 November 2000 in Labasa, on the island of Vanua Levu, in which Fijian men were seen shooting rifles into the air at an Indian school complex. The footage was shown on two separate 3 News items. The first item, broadcast on 29 November 2000, opened with the presenter’s announcement that Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff had "slammed Fiji’s Interim Government for allowing a terror campaign against Indian villagers to continue." The footage shown was described as "the latest incident" where armed Fijians had intimidated a group of school children. The presenter advised that the authorities had arrested no-one, nor had they seized a single weapon.
Fiji’s High Commissioner, Isimeli Bainimara, complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the report left viewers with the clear impression that the event had just occurred. He said he had been advised by the Fiji Acting Police Commissioner that no incidents had been reported to police in Labasa over the previous four weeks. Before receiving a detailed reply from TV3, Mr Bainimara wrote to TV3 again, advising that he now understood that the footage was of an actual military training exercise to select Fiji’s next peace keeping contingent to East Timor. He advised that the cameraman involved had been questioned in Fiji about the filing of a false report.
Following receipt of Mr Bainimara’s letter, 3 News broadcast an item on 12 December 2000 which stated that Fiji Police planned to charge the cameraman over the filming of the pictures of the armed men. The item reported that the cameraman, together with TV3, had been accused by Fiji authorities of fabricating the news. TV3 showed the footage of the men, and the presenter asked the question, "army exercise or an exercise in intimidation?" The item included comments from a Fiji Indian lawyer and the TV3 Director of News, Mark Jennings, who both cast doubt on the event being an army recruitment exercise. The presenter advised that Mr Bainimara had been asked to appear to explain his position but had declined.
TV3 assessed the complaint about the first item broadcast on 29 November 2000 under standards G14 and G15. In respect of news, current affairs and documentaries, those standards provide that:
G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.
G15 The standards of integrity and reliability of information sources in news, current affairs and documentaries should be monitored regularly.
TV3 explained that the footage had been shot by a regular TV3 cameraman in Fiji who had been alerted to the incident by relatives in the area and, following talks to locals, believed that the people involved were armed rebels. TV3 advised that, as soon as possible after it was received, the footage had been incorporated into the item and broadcast. TV3 had also discussed the matter with Jeff Hampton, the reporter who had put the item together. His view, as someone who had worked in Fiji, was that the description of the footage in the item was accurate. TV3 noted that the second item broadcast on 12 December 2000 had included the Fiji military’s explanation that the exercise was one of recruitment to gather troops for East Timor. TV3 said it was left to viewers to decide which version to accept. Accordingly, TV3 did not accept a breach of standard G14.
In respect of standard G15, TV3 stated:
As we have said, [the reporter] has considerable experience of the Fijian situation. He knows Mr Sharma [the cameraman] personally, and has accepted his work as the work of an experienced and reliable reporter of events for several years. He has no reason to doubt [the cameraman’s] veracity and he respects the quality of his reporting.
In a further letter to TV3, Mr Bainimara made the following comments about TV3’s response to his first complaint:
It is very strange that someone regarded as an experienced reporter and cameraman did not attempt to verify the facts relating to the "incident", relying instead on relatives.
How your [reporter] from Christchurch, despite his experience in Fiji, can judge the accuracy of the footage from the comfort of his news desk amazes me.
Prior to receipt of TV3’s response to his first complaint, Mr Bainimara sent a second letter of complaint to TV3 in relation to both items. He stated:
It is clear to me that Mr Jennings [TV3’s Director of News] is unwilling to accept that a mistake has been made and that he has been misled into broadcasting footage supplied for mischievous purposes.
It is obvious that TV3 has not treated the story fairly. The story has left viewers with the impression that terror campaigns against Indians have continued.
Right from the start I felt it was strange there was no report of the incident to police and secondly that the "incident" had never been broadcast on Fiji television or appeared on the internet.
I strongly question the integrity and the ethics of both the cameraman who supplied the footage and Mr Jennings for blindly accepting the story without checking.
Mr Bainimara asked TV3 to broaden the scope of its internal review to include standards G1, G6, G11, and G16 on the basis that the items "caused travel agents to contact the Fiji Visitors Bureau when travellers began to cancel their holidays because of the new uprisings." He also requested TV3 to review the items under standard G21.
Standards G1, G6 and G11 require broadcasters, in the preparation and presentation of programmes:
G1 To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.
G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.
G11 To refrain from broadcasting any programme which, when considered as a whole:
i) Simulates news or events in such a way as to mislead or alarm viewers.
ii) Depicts the actual process of putting a subject into a hypnotic state.
iii) Is designed to induce a hypnotic state in viewers.
iv) Uses or involves the process known as "subliminal perception" or any other technique which attempts to convey information to the viewer by transmitting messages below or near the threshold of normal awareness.
The other standards read:
G16 News, current affairs and documentaries should not be presented in such a way as to cause unnecessary panic, alarm or distress.
G21 Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.
TV3 advised the Authority that it had responded directly to Mr Bainimara on the new complaint he had raised. A copy of that letter was provided to the Authority. In that letter TV3 responded on each of the new standards raised.
In respect of standards G1 and G6, TV3 advised that it considered it had subsumed these standards under its consideration of standard G14, and had no further comment to make.
In respect of standard G11, TV3 did not consider it to be relevant to the complaint.
In respect of standard G16, TV3 responded:
We note your comment that travellers were concerned as a result of the broadcast and made contact with their agents to ask about a new uprising. The TV3 broadcast made it very clear that this incident had taken place in a specific area, Labasa. Given the view we have already taken with regard to the item’s accuracy the [Standards] Committee has reached the view that any concern expressed by travellers was justified and therefore not "unnecessary" in terms of the standard.
In respect of standard G21, TV3 advised that, as it had not found significant errors of fact, it did not consider this standard relevant.
Mr Bainimara responded to the Authority on this letter, stating that the Fiji High Commission disagreed with TV3’s position. He added that, having re-viewed the tape again, "the tone and expression made it absolutely obvious that it [the item] was emotive".
At the outset, the Authority deals with Mr Bainimara’s complaint that the first item screened, showing Fijian men shooting into the air, described by TV3 as "the latest incident", left viewers with the clear impression that the event had just occurred. The complaint was initially considered by TV3 under standard G14. The Authority’s view is that standard G1, as raised by Mr Bainimara in his second complaint, was more appropriate to consider, and was breached in the first item. Standard G1 requires broadcasters, in the preparation and presentation of programmes to be truthful and accurate on points of fact. The Authority notes that the broadcaster accepted that the incident occurred some five weeks prior to the broadcast. The Authority does not accept TV3’s response that, as the footage was aired as soon as it was received, TV3 was relieved of the responsibility to advise viewers when the event occurred. The Authority considers that the use of the term "latest incident" without reference to a date would indicate to a viewer that the event was contemporary, which was clearly inaccurate and a breach of standard G1.
The Authority next turns to the question raised by standard G15, whether TV3 had been careful about the accuracy of the report, and the integrity of its source before the item was screened. The Authority accepts TV3’s comments that it had no reason to doubt the cameraman’s veracity and the quality of his reporting, and in the circumstances, was entitled to rely on the cameraman's advice.
The Authority notes at this point that it is unable, on the information provided to it, to determine whether or not the incident was a terror campaign or an army exercise. The broadcasting standards issue it will address is the requirement in standard G6 to show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a political nature. The Authority considers that TV3 provided balance to its first item by the screening of the second item. The second item included The Fijian High Commission’s perspective. Viewers were left to choose between the two conflicting versions. The Authority declines to uphold the complaint as a breach of standard G6.
The Authority now considers Mr Bainimara’s contention that the inaccurate and misleading reportage of the "new uprisings" caused tourists unnecessarily to cancel their holidays. The Authority considers this to be an issue for consideration under standard G16 which specifically requires broadcasters to avoid presenting news in such a manner as to cause unnecessary panic, alarm or distress. The use of the term "unnecessary" in standard G16, the Authority interprets as referring to the level of panic alarm or distress caused by the broadcast over and above that which would be naturally adduced by the event which featured in the item. In this case, while there might have been some reaction from the public, the Authority considers that on the basis of the information made available to the Authority, the level of panic was not high enough to reach the threshold of "unnecessary". It notes that the incident occurred in Labasa, at a school compound, and that this was made clear in the item.
For the reasons given, the Authority upholds the complaint that the news item on Fiji, broadcast on 3 News at 6pm on 29 November 2000, breached standard G1 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
The Authority declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaints.
Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may impose penalties under section 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act. On this occasion, the Authority considers that the breach is not sufficiently serious to warrant a penalty.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
17 May 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined these complaints: