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Trowbridge and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2001-058

Members

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

Complainant

  • Dr Beverley Trowbridge of Auckland

Dated

14th June 2001

Number

2001-058

Programme

Fair Go

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Fair Go – rare breeds of sheep put in care as owner had cancer – organiser of care took two flocks herself – owner sought to recover sheep – care organiser believed she owned sheep – no contract – inaccurate – unclear – unbalanced – editing which distorted

Findings
Standard G4 – inadequate opportunity to respond – uphold

Standards G1, G3, G6, G7, G19 – subsumed

Order
Broadcast of statement

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

David Tuart, an owner of some rare sheep species, required treatment for cancer. Dr Beverley Trowbridge, a fellow breeder of rare sheep species, arranged for his flocks to be distributed among other farmers. After Mr Tuart had been treated, Dr Trowbridge refused to return some of the sheep as she believed that she had been given ownership of them.

The above matter was covered in an item on Fair Go on 27 September 2000 which reported the original owner’s efforts to recover all the sheep. Fair Go is a consumer advocacy programme broadcast weekly at 7.30pm on TV One.

Through her solicitors, Dr Trowbridge complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was inaccurate on a number of points, unbalanced, and unfair, and that she had not been given an opportunity to respond to the claims made by the original owner.

TVNZ acknowledged that a fax sent to the complainant seeking her comment had not in fact been sent. However, it denied that the item breached the standards. It maintained that the item reported an account involving differing opinions, rather than apportion blame, and the problems which can arise when there is no written contract. It declined to uphold any aspect of the complaint.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, the complainant's solicitors referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The complainant asked the Authority to obtain all the relevant material held by TVNZ before determining the complaint.

For the reasons given below, the Authority upholds the aspect of the complaint that the broadcast breached standard G4.

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 the complaint without a formal hearing.

Fair Go is a consumer advocacy programme and an item broadcast on 27 September 2000 dealt with a dispute between Mr David Tuart and the complainant, both of whom were actively involved in preserving rare sheep species. The item recorded that while Mr Tuart was ill, the complainant had helped him put his sheep in the care of other farmers. After treatment, he recovered all his sheep except for two flocks held by the complainant. The item explained that the complainant believed that the sheep had been given to her permanently. The item reported that she had declined to talk to Fair Go as the matter was about to go before the Disputes Tribunal.

Through her solicitor, Dr Trowbridge complained that the item was broadcast in breach of a specific undertaking to her that she would be contacted before any item was broadcast on Fair Go. Further, she said, statements were made which Fair Go knew from her correspondence with Mr Tuart were untrue. In addition, she observed that after the broadcast she had been told that the immediate former secretary of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society (Mr Kuehn) had advised against the broadcast because of the pending legal action, and because the complainant had not presented her side of the events to balance Mr Tuart’s version.

The complainant maintained that the broadcast had breached standards G1, G3, G4, G5, G6, G7 and G19 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

The complaint was made in considerable detail. Among the points made, the complainant stated that the Fair Go reporter had undertaken to contact her after she had checked out the details of the claim in the Disputes Tribunal. However, the complainant added, she had not heard from the reporter again.

The complainant’s solicitors continued:

If "Fair Go" had contacted Dr Trowbridge and indicated a determination to proceed with an item, the basic facts of the matter could have been ascertained. Further, these could have been confirmed by other persons including the former secretary of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society, Mr Lorne Kuehn (as to some matters), and Dr Trowbridge’s partner Mr David Crabb (who was present when the agreement with Mr Tuart was made). The correspondence files would have provided further detail.

The letter then outlined 18 "basic facts of the matter" and complained that the item was inaccurate because of the following breaches by Fair Go:

(a) undertaking to contact Dr Trowbridge and not doing so;

(b) failing to contact Dr Trowbridge and put to her the allegations made by Mr Tuart in the interview material held by "Fair Go";

(c) failing to review and verify the correspondence file which was seen by TVNZ;

(d) failing to act properly in relation to the communication from the former secretary of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society.

The complaint then listed 14 aspects in which it claimed that the item was factually inaccurate and in breach of standard G1, most of which were said to be evidence of Mr Tuart’s agreement to transfer ownership of the particular sheep to Dr Trowbridge. Point 13 referred to the failure of TVNZ’s reporter to contact Dr Trowbridge after she had checked with the Disputes Tribunal, and that was also described as a breach of standard G3.

This point was also one of the five listed as contravening standard G4. Standard G5 was transgressed, the complainant alleged, when Fair Go took no notice of the status of a "without prejudice" letter to Mr Tuart from the complainant – a point raised under standard G1 as well.

Ten points were raised as alleged breaches of standard G6, and a further two under standard G7. Finally, four points in the item were alleged to amount to a breach of standard G19.

As a result of the item, the complaint recorded, the complainant’s personal and business reputation had suffered, as had some of her personal relationships. She sought a full correction and an apology, both on air and as an item in the Rare Breeds Conservation Society newsletter. She also sought compensation and actual legal costs.

TVNZ assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by the broadcaster. The first six require broadcasters:

G1  To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

G3  To acknowledge the right of individuals to express their own opinions.

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

G5  To respect the principles of law which sustain our society.

G6  To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.

G7  To avoid the use of any deceptive programme practice in the presentation of programmes which takes advantage of the confidence viewers have in the integrity of broadcasting.

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.

After summarising the item, TVNZ wrote in its letter to the complainant’s solicitors:

The item pointed out that there are "two sides to every story" but that your client had declined to talk to Fair Go on the basis that the matter was to go before the Disputes Tribunal. The reporter in the studio explained what was known of Dr Trowbridge’s position.

You have complained on a number of grounds, the principal ones being:

1. That the item was broadcast in breach of a specific undertaking to your client that she would be contacted before Fair Go  proceeded with the programme.

2. That the item was put to air at a time when the matter was being submitted to a Disputes Tribunal hearing.

3. That your client was treated unfairly through not having her point of view reflected in the programme.

TVNZ described the principal matter at issue as whether the complainant was denied the opportunity to present her side of the story. It responded by recording the efforts the reporter had made to contact the complainant and attached a fax the reporter had sent to Dr Trowbridge, after the telephone call on 5th September. It wrote:

In the view of the [Complaints Committee], the fax makes it quite clear that Fair Go was going to proceed with the story and that it had reached a decision that having the matter in the hands of the Disputes Tribunal did not preclude "our airing of the programme".

The fax also sets out in considerable detail the points made by Mr Tuart to which Fair Go was seeking responses. It also specifically invites your client to contribute "by pre-recorded interview, live interview or by written statement". The deadlines set out in the final sentence further point to the decision of Fair Go to proceed with the broadcast.

TVNZ expressed the view that rulings from the Broadcasting Standards Authority meant that an item need not be abandoned should one party to a dispute fail to take part. Rather, it was necessary "to ensure that maximum opportunities are given to all parties to participate". That had occurred, wrote TVNZ. TVNZ summarised the points:

The Complaints Committee felt it was a pity that Dr Trowbridge did not take part in the item, but believed that Fair Go acted properly by giving her every opportunity to do so - and when no response was forthcoming by making it clear that the facts delivered were in the main from Mr Tuart’s viewpoint. The specific reference to there being "two sides to every story" and the effort by the reporter to encapsulate what she knew of Dr Trowbridge’s viewpoint further indicate the programme’s attempt to be as fair as possible under the circumstances.

Turning to the five alleged breaches which the complaint listed, TVNZ stressed in its response that the allegations and criticisms had been put to the complainant and the studio comment by the reporter disclosed that she knew what was contained in the correspondence between the complainant and Mr Tuart.

TVNZ then dealt with the specific allegations made in the complaint under the nominated standards. In declining to uphold the complaint, it wrote:

In summary, the Committee felt that your client was treated fairly throughout. She is of course entitled to decline to comment, but we submit that she cannot then turn around and accuse the broadcaster of failing to take her views into account. On this occasion a very detailed set of comments from Mr Tuart were faxed to Dr Trowbridge in a document which made it clear the broadcast was going ahead.

The Committee was sorry Dr Trowbridge did not take part in the programme. Obviously her presence would have greatly enhanced the item and would have materially assisted viewers to decide for themselves who was right and who was wrong in this case.

In a response to TVNZ, the complainant’s solicitor said that Fair Go's claim that a fax had been sent to Dr Trowbridge was incorrect. Moreover, there was no evidence on the copy of the fax attached to TVNZ’s letter that the fax had been sent. The letter also observed that if the fax had been sent to the fax number shown, it would not have been received by the complainant because the number was not her number. The letter continued:

The number which appears on the document is not a fax number. It is in fact the number of a friend of Dr Trowbridge’s. That person has confirmed that she did not receive any communication from TVNZ. In fact she is a witness in our client’s tribunal claim and would have not only particularly noted any communication but would probably have told Fair Go how far removed their ideas were from the truth of the matter.

In these circumstances:

(a) Our client has the added complaint that no attempt was made to communicate with her, either as to the receipt of the fax, or to discuss with her the serious and false allegations raised in it;

(b) Her complaint has been dealt with in a procedurally deficient and thus invalid way;

(c) TVNZ has demonstrated, in the way that it has dealt with this complaint, an evident bias towards seeking to exculpate itself in any way that it can, without either enquiring into or properly considering the matter as required by the statute.

The letter also suggested that a resolution could be achieved if TVNZ made the appropriate response.

A copy of the letter was sent to the Broadcasting Standards Authority and TVNZ was advised that if the matter was not resolved, it would be referred to the Authority.

TVNZ responded to the complainant’s solicitor and began:

The Complaints Committee, and the programme’s producer, accept your assurance that your client did not receive the fax message I enclosed with the Committee’s original decision. It appears that the fax was directed to the wrong number and probably did not go through. The Committee rejects the implication in your letter that the fax was a fabrication created some time later. The Committee is satisfied that there was a genuine intent to send the fax to Dr Trowbridge but that the fax number provided by a contact was incorrect.
The Committee regarded it as a matter of regret that the fax did not reach Dr Trowbridge and apologises to your client both for her not receiving the further communication promised by the reporter, and for the assumptions concerning the fax made in the Committee’s original decision.

Nevertheless, TVNZ confirmed, the complainant made it clear to Fair Go's reporter that she did not want to participate and on two occasions during a phone call had stated "I’m not prepared to discuss this case with you at the moment". Further, a member of the Rare Breeds Society, Mr Kuehn, had telephoned Fair Go and it was the reporter’s impression that he was putting Dr Trowbridge’s view forward. TVNZ also referred to the studio discussion when it was acknowledged that there were "two sides to every story" and that Dr Trowbridge was adamant that she had been given the sheep. TVNZ concluded:

In the final analysis it seemed to the Committee that while it was unfortunate that Dr Trowbridge apparently did not receive the fax, the fact is that when approached your client made it quite clear she did not want to talk about the case. It is equally clear from the transcript above that the programme made every effort to reflect what it knew of your client’s point of view.

TVNZ disagreed with the aspect of the recent complaint that no attempt had been made to contact the complainant. Further, it had believed the person from the Society who had contacted TVNZ had done so on the complainant’s behalf in response to the fax. TVNZ did not accept that the matter could not be discussed on Fair Go, and reiterated that it was of the opinion that the complainant’s views had been reflected in the studio discussion.

When the complainant’s solicitor referred the matter to the Authority, seven grounds were advanced as reasons for dissatisfaction with TVNZ’s response.

1)  As it was established that the fax had not been sent to a fax number, and accordingly would not have gone through a fax machine on dispatch, it was considered that TVNZ had not made a genuine effort to contact the complainant.

2)  On the previous day, TVNZ’s reporter had left messages on the complainant’s landline and mobile phone when she wanted to make contact.

3)  The conversation between the reporter and the complainant that day had finished on the basis that the reporter would ring the complainant back.

4)  On subsequent inquiry, the complainant had been told by the Disputes Tribunal in Henderson that Fair Go had not been in contact to verify whether the claim had been filed.

5)  It seemed that Fair Go had not filmed the item by the time when it claimed to have attempted to contact Dr Trowbridge on 5 September.

6)  Fair Go, the letter maintained, was not justified in assuming that Mr Kuehn spoke on the complainant’s behalf.

7)  Finally, the letter stated, TVNZ had not responded satisfactorily to the points outlining the imbalance in the item made in the original letter of complaint. The brief studio discussion misrepresented the complainant’s position, it confirmed, as:–

The truth of the matter was that Fair Go had denied Dr Trowbridge her right to reply by not getting back to her as had been promised.

The solicitor’s letter also asked the Authority to take the following action:

We believe that TVNZ has a number of documents that relate to our client’s complaint. We ask that you require TVNZ to produce such documents, being all documents relating to its dealings with Dr Trowbridge, all documents used in the creation of the item, all documents to which TVNZ referred in considering its response to the complaint, and all telephone and facsimile records relevant to the purported facsimile message to Dr Trowbridge. We also ask the Broadcasting Standards Authority to require TVNZ to produce full field tapes of all interviews.

As the final comment, the solicitor’s letter sought costs from TVNZ, as they were substantial.

In its response to the Authority, TVNZ wrote:

It will be apparent from the correspondence that during the preparation of this item there was a breakdown in communication with Dr Trowbridge due to her not receiving a fax which was sent to her in good faith by Fair Go, but was directed to an incorrect number. TVNZ acknowledges that an error was made by the Fair Go reporter and that the fax did not reach Dr Trowbridge as had been intended.

However, fax or no fax, it remains our view that Dr Trowbridge was not treated unfairly - which seems to be the key issue in this complaint.

TVNZ maintained that the complainant had refused to comment when contacted earlier, and that it was unaware of the facts which were disputed by the complainant. The item made clear, TVNZ stressed, that it was a story in which opinions differed and that it was one which did not apportion blame. Rather, TVNZ added, it highlighted how the absence of a written contract can cause problems.

In responding to the seven points in the letter of referral, TVNZ said:

1)  The Fair Go reporter had not realised that the fax had not gone through to the correct number. There was no malice involved.

3)  The reporter believed that the fax fulfilled her obligation to contact the complainant.

4)  Fair Go had spoken to the Henderson Court.

5)  Although unclear of the point being made by the complainant, TVNZ said it assumed the complainant did not intend to comment given her lack of response to the fax.

6)  Mr Kuehn had not spoken to the Fair Go reporter until he had spoken with the complainant. Thus, TVNZ wrote, Fair Go  was led to believe he was responding having spoken to her.

7)  TVNZ wrote:  

Fair Go reported what it firmly believed to be the case  that is that Dr Trowbridge was not prepared to comment because the matter was before the Disputes Tribunal. However it should not be overlooked that the programme was careful to tell viewers that Dr Trowbridge denied the version of events as described by Mr Tuart.

TVNZ listed ten points which were not in dispute. They were:

a)  David Tuart is committed to collecting and saving rare breeds  FACT

b)  He was diagnosed with cancer and approached Dr Trowbridge (a fellow member of the Rare Breeds Society) to help secure care for his sheep  FACT.

c)  Dr Trowbridge helped organise his sheep onto several properties and took two flocks herself FACT

d)  There was no written contract  FACT

e)  Some months after surgery, Mr Tuart asked for his sheep back. Other caretakers gave their flocks back but Dr Trowbridge did not  FACT

f)  Mr Tuart asked about one ram and was told it had been put down  FACT

g)  Mr Jim Boyd was asked to negotiate on Mr Tuart’s behalf  FACT

h)  Mr Boyd was asked to a meeting with Dr Trowbridge  FACT

i)  At this meeting Mr Boyd claims Dr Trowbridge gave an undertaking to give half the flock back in return for an acknowledgment from Mr Tuart that he did give her ownership, an offer Mr Tuart refused  FACT

j)  Mr Tuart still does not have his sheep  FACT

Dr Trowbridge’s final comment was forwarded by her solicitors. She made ten points:

1)  Dr Trowbridge insisted that the transcript of her telephone conversation with the Fair Go reporter showed that she did not want to discuss the matter at that time. Rather, the reporter stated that she intended to check that a case had been filed in the Court and would then advise what Fair Go's ongoing involvement would consist of. Fair Go, Dr Trowbridge stressed, failed to comply with this arrangement and, she added, that was unacceptable.

2)  TVNZ would have been aware, Dr Trowbridge wrote, that its fax to her had not gone through to the right number.

3)  The result, according to Dr Trowbridge, was that Fair Go would have been aware that it had failed to fulfil its obligation.

4)  If Fair Go had contacted the Court, Dr Trowbridge requested a transcript of that conversation.

5)  Dr Trowbridge did not accept TVNZ’s assertion that Mr Kuehn’s call was made on her behalf.

6)  In this situation, Dr Trowbridge asked did not the code of journalistic practice require that parties be given a fair chance to comment?

7)  Dr Trowbridge considered TVNZ’s response to her complaint to be selective, simplistic and wrong in some respects.

8)  The "facts" listed by TVNZ were the "facts" provided by Mr Tuart, and were not the result of thorough investigative journalism.

9)  The item, Dr Trowbridge maintained "was clearly unbalanced in both content and emphasis".

10)  As a result of what she described as a biased item, Dr Trowbridge said that people believed that she had taken advantage of Mr Tuart.

In conclusion, Dr Trowbridge said that she was appalled at the lack of professionalism shown by TVNZ, and the way that she, as an innocent and ordinary person, had been treated.

She recorded that at the Disputes Hearing in February this year, she and Mr Tuart had reached an amicable settlement. In finishing, she wrote:

I have sustained significant and on-going injury to my professional reputation and in respect of my business, and Fair Go wholly failed to take any action to rectify this. I have incurred substantial costs in relation to this complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, much of them through the process failures and obstructive attitude of TVNZ.

I therefore ask the Broadcasting Standards Authority to order that TVNZ reimburse my full costs in taking the complaint.

TVNZ responded to four of the above points. Using the same paragraph numbering, it wrote:

1.  The case was before the Disputes Tribunal, not the District Court.

2.  TVNZ maintained that the Fair Go reporter did not know that the fax had not gone through and asked:

…how would the programme gain through not trying to get Dr Trowbridge’s side of things? It goes totally against Fair Go’s well known method of operation – demonstrated in hundreds of items over the years – which is to seek resolution of disputes.

4.  TVNZ maintained that the Disputes Tribunal had been contacted.

6–10.  Noting the complainant’s view of events, TVNZ insisted that there was another version to take into account.

In their response, the complainant’s solicitors pointed out that the proceedings at the Disputes Tribunal had been filed on 4 September and not for several months as TVNZ claimed. The letter continued:

Dr Trowbridge stresses that Fair Go did not give any opportunity for the dispute to be settled by fair and reasonable means in the Disputes Tribunal. Instead, Dr Trowbridge believes Fair Go chose to intervene in the judicial process before it had even started, and to prejudice the outcome by publicly broadcasting what she considers to be an unrepresentative and unbalanced version of the events.

The Authority’s Findings

The Authority deals first with the request from Dr Trowbridge’s solicitors that it require TVNZ to produce all documents and field tapes in relation to the complaint.

The Authority notes that the request for documents and field tapes is not accompanied by the reasons for which the material is required, and it is in general terms rather than focusing on specific material.

The Authority does not consider it necessary to accede to this request. The correspondence from TVNZ is comprehensive and includes a copy of the facsimile which TVNZ acknowledges was not sent to Dr Trowbridge. It also includes a transcript of the telephone call between Dr Trowbridge and Fair Go’s reporter which TVNZ referred to in the correspondence.

Turning to the complaint, Dr Trowbridge’s solicitors record on a number of occasions that the item was unfair and that Dr Trowbridge was not given the opportunity to respond to the allegations made by Mr Tuart.

In its response to the complainant’s solicitors, TVNZ stressed that Dr Trowbridge, in its opinion, had been given a sufficient opportunity to respond. In its letter of 18 October, TVNZ’s response included the following:

The [Complaints] Committee believed the programme had not failed to contact Dr Trowbridge. The attached fax makes it clear that the decision had been to proceed with the programme. …

With respect to Dr Trowbridge, it was the Committee’s view that in fairness she cannot now cry "foul" and point to alleged mistakes when she was not prepared to avail herself of the opportunity to put forward the facts as she saw them. The programme made a point of emphasising that there were two sides to this story – and that it did not have access to what you now offer as a chronicle of errors. The Committee noted that the nine points listed in the 5th September fax covered most of the areas of dispute. …

The Committee believed your client has been treated fairly. The matters at issue were clearly spelt out in the 5th September fax, and the invitation to participate in the programme was unequivocal and precise as to the times of the production deadlines.

TVNZ’s response highlighted the importance of the 5th September fax.

Part of the fax dated 5 September from TVNZ recorded:

Dear Beverley

Further to my telephone messages of 4 September, and my telephone conversation today: We appreciate that you have put this matter in the hands of the Disputes Tribunal but this does not preclude our airing of our programme, and we would very much like to have your input on this matter. The following is an outline of the discussions we have had with David Tuart, and we would like to offer you an opportunity to respond. …

We would very much appreciate your response either by pre-recorded interview, live interview, or by written statement. The first two options require a response by 5pm this Friday, and any written statement needs to reach us by midday Monday next.

Yours faithfully,

Following further correspondence, in its letter of 20 November to the complainant’s solicitors, TVNZ acknowledged that Dr Trowbridge had not received the fax of 5 September. Nevertheless, TVNZ contended:

Having accepted that Dr Trowbridge did not receive the fax, the Committee believed its task was to ascertain whether, before the fax was sent, your client had already made it sufficiently clear to Fair Go’s reporter that she did not wish to discuss the matter for Fair Go to reach the conclusion that Dr Trowbridge did not wish to participate in the programme.

The Committee studied the transcript of a telephone conversation between the reporter and your client. A copy of the transcript is attached to this letter. It is noted that on two occasions in the telephone call Dr Trowbridge states "I’m not prepared to discuss this case with you at the moment".

The intended fax was a second attempt to persuade your client to contribute. While it is regrettable she did not receive the fax, it seemed to the Committee very clear from this conversation that there was little prospect of your client changing her mind. Clearly she believed (erroneously in the view of the programme’s producer and the Committee) that the court action (Disputes Tribunal) precluded comment.

The Authority has examined the transcript of the telephone call referred to. It agrees that on two occasions Dr Trowbridge stated that she was not prepared to discuss the matter at that time. It also notes that the reporter concluded the conversation by advising that she (the reporter) would telephone Dr Trowbridge again when she had checked out the status of the Disputes Tribunal hearing, saying:

... OK. Well I’ll probably just need to have a look into that and I’ll give you a ring back in terms of what we’re likely to sort of ... what our involvement will be now.

Taking into account the transcript of the telephone call and fax, the Authority finds that the telephone call clearly left Dr Trowbridge with the impression that the reporter would make further contact if the item was to ahead.

If Dr Trowbridge had received the fax, it may have provided sufficient opportunity to respond in the manner that TVNZ maintained she had. However, she did not receive the fax and thus, in the Authority’s opinion, she did not have an adequate opportunity to respond and therefore, the broadcaster cannot claim to have dealt fairly with Dr Trowbridge. Accordingly, the Authority concludes that the item breached the requirement in standard G4 to deal with Dr Trowbridge justly and fairly.

A number of other standards were raised by the complainant. On some issues, it was contended that the item was inaccurate and in breach of standard G1. Having considered the submissions, the Authority concludes that it is not the appropriate body to resolve the technical aspects of the factual dispute. Because of the complexities of the complaint, the Authority in all the circumstances declines to determine the complaint that standard G1 was breached.

Some of the factual disputes overlapped with issues of fairness, which has been addressed under standard G4 above. Similarly, the points raised under standards G3, G5, G6, G7 and G19 essentially relate to fairness and have been subsumed under standard G4.

In conclusion, the Authority considers that the central feature of Dr Trowbridge’s complaint is the allegation that she was not given an adequate opportunity to present her case, or indeed finally to decline to participate, after Fair Go had completed its inquiries.

 

For the reasons given, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of an item on Fair Go on 27 September 2000 breached standard G4 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.

Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make an order under s.13 or s.16 of the Broadcasting Act. It invited submissions from the parties on the question of penalty.

Pointing out that Fair Go, as part of its normal practice, intended to provide viewers with an update of the story involving Dr Trowbridge, TVNZ suggested that an update could incorporate any statement ordered by the Authority. TVNZ also repeated that the unfairness was unintentional, as it had intended to send Dr Trowbridge a fax seeking comment. It added:

It was an unhappy sequence of events and the programme has since taken steps to ensure that checks are made to see that faxes despatched are delivered to the intended recipients.

Dr Trowbridge’s solicitor sought the broadcast of an appropriate statement, the insertion of an equivalent statement in the newsletter of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society, and reimbursement of Dr Trowbridge’s legal costs.

The Authority has considered the submissions made by the parties. Taking into account the reasons for the breach on this occasion, the Authority does not accept TVNZ’s suggestion that the inclusion of a statement in an update would be sufficient. It imposes the following order:

Order

Pursuant to section 13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders Television New Zealand Ltd to broadcast, within one month of the date of this decision, a statement explaining why the complaint was upheld. The statement shall be approved by the Authority and shall be broadcast at a time and date to be approved by the Authority.

The Authority draws the broadcaster’s attention to the requirement in section 13(3)(b) of the Act for the broadcaster to give notice to the Authority and the complainant of the manner in which the order has been complied with.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
14 June 2001

Appendix

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

  1. Dr Beverley Trowbridge's Solicitor's letter of Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd
    – 25 September 2000
  2. TVNZ’s response to Dr Trowbridge's solicitor (plus attachment) – 18 December 2000
  3. Dr Trowbridge's Solicitor's letter to TVNZ – 15 November 2000
  4. Dr Trowbridge's Solicitor's letter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 15 November 2000
  5. TVNZ’s Response to Dr Trowbridge's Solicitor – 20 November 2000
  6. Dr Trowbridge’s referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 18 December 2000
  7. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 16 January 2001
  8. Dr Trowbridge’s Solicitor’s Final Comment – 16 March 2001
  9. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 5 April 2001
  10. Dr Trowbridge’s Solicitor’s Response – 19 April 2001
  11. TVNZ’s Submission on Penalty – 17 May 2001
  12. Dr Trowbridge’s Solicitor’s Submissions on Penalty – 17 and 21 May 2001