It’s Your Money – item on two men looking for love – criticism of The Company Company Ltd, which provides organised singles events – unfair, unbalanced, inaccurate
Standard G1 – programme not inaccurate – no uphold
Standard G4 – Company able to respond on the programme to criticisms made – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
The episode of It’s Your Money which screened on TV2 at 8pm on 12 February 2001 was sub-titled "Looking for Love". The programme looked at the experiences of two men, each of whom had spent time and money trying to find a female partner. The programme examined the various options open to the men, such as dating agencies, internet dating, and event organisers, and explored whether clients of these organisations were getting value for money. The Company Company Ltd was one of the organisations featured on the programme.
Jenny Wilson, a Director of The Company Company Ltd, complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the programme was unfair, unbalanced, and inaccurate in its portrayal of the company. She requested TVNZ to broadcast an apology.
TVNZ responded that the item was not inaccurate or unfair to the company. It believed that the interview on screen with Ms Wilson, and the statement that The Company Company "delivered what they advertised", provided the necessary balance to the item.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Wilson on behalf of the Company Company Ltd 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 viewed a videotape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
"Looking for Love" was the theme of the episode of It’s Your Money broadcast on TV2 at 8pm on 12 February 2001. In the programme, two men were featured, each of whom had spent thousands of dollars trying to find a female partner. The programme canvassed the options used by the men, which included dating agencies, internet dating, and event organisers, and asked whether these organisations provided value for money. Representatives from dating agencies and event organisers were interviewed. The Company Company Ltd was one of the organisations used by one of the men, and the programme interviewed Jenny Wilson, one of its directors.
On behalf of The Company Company Ltd, Ms Wilson complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, about a number of issues.
She said, prior to the interview with her, the production company had not made her aware of the name of the programme she was being interviewed for, or the possible line of questioning, thus leaving her unprepared for the interview.
Only at the interview, Ms Wilson told TVNZ, had she been advised of the nature of the programme, and of the fact that one of the men being interviewed was on her company’s books. She was not, she said, advised of his name.
Ms Wilson said while the man had complained about a number of aspects of a barn dance organised by her company, she had only been interviewed in relation to the cost of the barn dance.
Ms Wilson argued the company had been unable to introduce doubts about the man’s credibility in order to balance his comments. Not only was the man incorrect about the cost of the event, she said, but also about other events. She said she believed his comments had not been broadcast in the end because they presumably put his credibility into question.
The complainant argued it was unfair to criticise The Company Company on the basis of one event. Failing to mention other events also made the programme unbalanced, she said. In addition, the company had not been given the opportunity to explain its role – that it was not a dating agency, but an organisation for single people to meet others.
Ms Wilson also argued it was unfair to compare the costs of membership of Table For Six and The Company Company on a two yearly basis. The Company Company did not have a two year membership, she said.
Ms Wilson concluded:
The damage to The Company Company and our reputation that this sort of disgraceful programme has done is immeasurable.
I am disgusted that TVNZ can condone production practices that at its best chose to ignore simple research and fair opportunity to those accused to establish the truth, or at its worst chose to ignore or select what makes a better story without regard to the truth.
She requested that TVNZ broadcast an apology to her company.
TVNZ considered the complaint under standards G1 and G4 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. In the preparation and presentation of programmes, these standards require broadcasters:
G1 To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.
G4 To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in any programme.
TVNZ advised Ms Wilson that the second director of her company, Kevin Caskey, had been advised of the nature of the programme and had sent information to the producers about the company. Mr Caskey, TVNZ said, had been asked whether he or Ms Wilson would be prepared to appear on an episode of It’s Your Money, which would be dealing with "the cost of love". Mr Caskey had been informed that the programme wanted to ask questions about what clients of The Company Company received for their money, TVNZ said. According to TVNZ, more explicit detail about the programme had been provided to Ms Wilson when she was interviewed. It was not its normal practice to give people a list of questions before an interview, the broadcaster said.
With regard to the name of the man critical of The Company Company, TVNZ advised that it would have been unfair and an invasion of his privacy to provide his name.
TVNZ disagreed that Ms Wilson had not been given an opportunity to respond to the man’s complaints about aspects of The Company Company other than the cost of the barn dance. TVNZ provided Ms Wilson with part of the transcript of her interview, which it considered proved the point.
In relation to the man’s credibility and the question of balance, TVNZ responded that, at the complainant’s request, it had reinterviewed the man about the price he had paid for the barn dance. Other than that, the original interview had been broadcast, it said. TVNZ considered balance had been achieved in the item by allowing Ms Wilson to respond to the man’s criticisms. It advised:
Not only did the programme show you spelling out what had been offered in the case of the barn dance, it also had the reporter stating that your company said that it delivered what it advertised.
TVNZ did not accept that the programme either stated or implied that The Company Company was a dating agency. In its view, the programme made it clear that Table for Six and The Company Company were both dinner organisers. As Table for Six had stated that the service it offered was not a dating agency, it was unnecessary for the same statement to come from The Company Company, TVNZ said.
With regard to membership costs, TVNZ said there had been no inaccuracy. The programme had correctly stated how much it cost to be a member of each of the two organisations for two years, it said. Whether that comprised a single two year membership or two annual memberships, the prices would be the same, it said.
TVNZ also noted that the word "rip off" had been used only in the introduction, and had not been linked in any way to The Company Company.
TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of either standard G4 or G1.
In her referral to the Authority, Ms Wilson said her husband, the company’s second director, had been advised that the programme was about "finding your true love". Only when interviewed did she become aware that the item was about "value for money". She said she had expected to have been able to talk about the philosophy and objectives of the company, which she emphasised were about meeting people, rather than matchmaking.
Ms Wilson said she believed that if there had been an intention to interview her in a fair and balanced manner she would have been given the full extent of the client’s complaints. The only way to do this would have been to provide his name, she said.
What was really fair and balanced here, to refuse to divulge the identity of [the man] using the privacy excuse while at the same time placing me and The Company Company in a position where I was unable to fully respond?
Ms Wilson believed that, had she been given the opportunity, she would have been able to respond to all the man’s statements about the barn dance.
Ms Wilson asked why the production company had knowingly filmed a person making derogatory comments, when it was fully aware the person was making untrue claims.
She maintained it was unfair to criticise the company on the basis of one event. She reiterated that Table for Six had been given an opportunity to comment on its role whereas her company was grouped in with Table for Six, and its distinctive merits had not been broadcast. The Company Company was an event management organisation which organised events for single people, and was not a dating agency, nor was it the same as Table for Six, she emphasised.
In relation to membership costs, Ms Wilson considered that comparing the costs of The Company Company and Table for Six was misleading because of the different services offered.
In concluding, Ms Wilson stated:
What concerns me apart from what I have outlined is the fact that Touchdown Productions, despite being fully aware that [the man] was not being truthful simply chose to screen him anyway.
For Touchdown Productions to not let the truth get in the way of a "good" story is appalling.
In its final comment, TVNZ stated:
The item made it clear that Table for Six and The Company Company were not identical – Table For Six was shown offering dinner parties for groups of six, while The Company Company served its dinner to what presumably was a much larger group at a rural barn dance.
However we submit that it was truthful and accurate of the programme to combine the two companies into one category which stood in contrast to the dating agencies, and the internet services otherwise described in the item.
We submit that both Table for Six and The Company Company promote themselves as organising events for single people. The current advertising for Table for Six claims "10 years of providing dining and events for single people" – a service and philosophy we aver to be different only in organisational detail from that offered by The Company Company.
The Authority has some sympathy for the concerns raised by Ms Wilson on behalf of The Company Company Ltd. However in its view, Ms Wilson may have had too high an expectation of what a programme such as the one broadcast was designed to achieve. The programme was not a vehicle to advertise the agencies mentioned. Nor could it be expected to provide coverage in any depth of the services offered by those agencies. The Authority’s concern is to be satisfied that broadcasting standards were not breached in the item.
In relation to standard G1, the Authority is unable to find anything in the programme relating to The Company Company Ltd which was not truthful or accurate on the facts, given the information provided to the Authority. While the client of the company was incorrect about the cost of the barn dance, Ms Wilson on the programme corrected this error. She also corrected other information which may have led to a misunderstanding in the viewer’s mind about the services offered at the barn dance. With regard to the cost of two year membership, the Authority cannot find any inaccuracy. In the Authority’s view, the assertion in the programme that two years on the books of both companies would cost between $150 and $180 was a fair portrayal of the overall cost.
Turning to consider standard G4, the Authority notes that the broadcaster is entitled to screen a person’s recollection of an event, as long as an opportunity is given to respond to such a recollection. Ms Wilson was seen on the programme putting the facts from her perspective. The Authority notes that even if Ms Wilson had been given more facts about the programme prior to the interview, it was obviously not the intention of the producers to allow time for The Company Company Ltd to outline fully the services it offered. It notes that this opportunity was not given to the other agencies either. It considers that the services offered by the Company were not misrepresented on the programme. It declines to uphold a breach of standard G4.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
7 June 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: