Target – preparation and presentation of programme unfair - florists tested – test conducted unfairly – assessor not independent or impartial – response unfairly edited
Standard G4 – test and setting up process not unfair – other standards not relevant – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
An episode of Target broadcast on TV3 on 28 November 1999 beginning at 7.00pm featured six florists who were graded on their ability to complete an order.
Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd that the broadcast had portrayed their business unfairly. They alleged that a number of broadcasting standards had been breached both by the broadcast and the preparation of the programme.
TV3 responded that the test had been devised on the advice of an independent technical consultant and that the florists had been selected randomly. It declined to uphold the complaint.
The Authority declines to uphold any aspect of the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence and attachments which are listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
A Target programme broadcast by TV3 on 28 November 1999 at 7.00pm compared the service provided by six florists who were each asked to deliver a $50.00 arrangement of "nice and bold" flowers before 10.00am on a specific Monday morning. Each of the florists was graded on the delivery time, the quality of the flowers, and their presentation. The marks given ranged from 0 to 8 out of 10. The complainants were marked 0/10 for their flowers because they had been delivered a week early. Other florists were criticised for the arrangement, quality of flowers used, price and failure to deliver at the specified time.
Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall complained, first to the programme’s producers and then to TV3, that the programme had treated them and their business unfairly. In particular, they
TV3 began by explaining that this episode of Target had set up a trial to test the service provided by florists. An actress was sent to six Wellington florists and placed identical orders requesting that a bouquet be delivered before 10.00am on Monday 11 October 1999. The flowers were to cost $50.00. The intention of the exercise, TV3 noted, was to compare the punctuality, quality, value and price of the flowers.
TV3 reported that the test had been set up with the assistance of an independent technical consultant who was a professional tutor and examiner. It explained that he had no knowledge of who had been selected for the test until after the programme had gone to air. Before the programme was broadcast, it advised, each company had been informed that they were included in the test, and given an opportunity to comment on Target’s findings or observations. Their responses were included in the programme.
TV3 assessed the complaint under standards G1, G3, G4, G7 and G10 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards 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.
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.
G10 To ensure there is no collusion in contests between broadcasters and contestants which results in the favouring of any contestant over others.
TV3 dealt first with the promo for the programme which had been included at the end of the previous week’s Target programme on 21 November. It advised that it found nothing in the segment which could be considered to have dealt unjustly or unfairly with any person taking part or referred to.
It then dealt with the complaints about the 28 November programme.
Standard G1 – truthful and accurate
To the complaint that the florists had not been randomly selected, TV3 responded that it was satisfied that they had been. It emphasised that the consultant had not been aware of the identity of any of the florists at the time of the assessment, with the exception of the one which had its name on the wrapping paper. It responded that it was purely coincidental that each of the florists bought their flowers from the same source.
Standard G3 – right of individuals to express opinions
Dealing with the complaint that Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall’s statement had been edited, TV3 responded that the opening and closing sentences of their letter had not been germane to the points raised by Target. It said it considered it irrelevant to note their point that the test had been set up by an actress, as that would have been obvious to the audience. TV3 then took issue with the complainants’ claim that they had deliberately sent the flowers a week early in order to avoid scrutiny, asking why they had not simply given a refund and declined to participate in the trial. It had omitted reading the final sentence of their letter, TV3 continued, because it was a statement of opinion about the programme generally.
Standard G4 – dealing justly and fairly
To the complaint that the coverage of the different florists had not been the same, TV3 noted that a great majority of the footage shot had not been screened. It responded that there had been no need to include footage of the inside of the shop of the florist which scored the highest grade because it was not materially different from the others. Further, in that case there had been no requirement to establish details about the transaction since the order was filled correctly.
In response to the complainants’ question about why the black paper wrapping one bunch of flowers was criticised as being "too funereal" but yet another bunch which was wrapped in black paper received the highest grade, TV3 responded that its technical consultant was qualified to make the judgments which were reported.
TV3 explained that it did not mention the delivery time of the complainants’ flowers since they were delivered on the wrong day and therefore the time was irrelevant. It noted that the cost of the delivery had been mentioned, although that too was irrelevant in the circumstances.
TV3 then explained that the reason why the complainants’ flowers were not graded was that they did not arrive on the correct day. It added that it would have made the test meaningless had it advised them that they had delivered the flowers on the wrong day and given them an opportunity to re-send them.
Responding to the complainants’ question as to why theirs was the only florist featured which had not received correspondence from the consultant after the broadcast, TV3 explained that the consultant had written to the others to explain the methodology used in grading the flowers. As the complainants’ flowers had been sent a week early, they were not graded and therefore the consultant had not written to them. It added "having failed to meet this most basic criteria the flowers were effectively deemed not to have arrived at all and graded 0 out of 10."
TV3 advised that it was totally satisfied with the impartiality and fairness of the methodology used in grading the flowers.
TV3 next dealt with the complaint that it was incorrect to state that Monday was the complainants’ busiest day and that there were a lot of contract orders to get out on that day. It advised that its statement was a general one and not attributed specifically to the complainants. The words were spoken while footage of their shop was shown but that did not mean they related to it in particular. TV3 said that it understood that for a majority of florists, Monday morning was the most difficult time of the week to deliver orders. It repeated that it had not been relevant to mention the time the complainants’ flowers were delivered since they arrived a week early.
Standard G7 – deceptive programme practice
TV3 denied that any deceptive practice was involved when the voiceover obliterated the sound recorded at the time the shop was visited by Target. It maintained that the edited version of the field tape broadcast was an accurate representation of what occurred in the shop.
Standard G10 – ensure there is no collusion between broadcasters and contestants
TV3 first pointed out that the Target tests were not contests and the participants were not contestants within the meaning of standard G10. It acknowledged that the florist which received the highest grade had been a student of the consultant and that the flowers had been wrapped in paper with the name of the business on so he was aware of their origin. However, it added, the consultant was a friend of more than one of the florists tested by Target.
In response to the further complaint which noted that the florists which received the three highest grades all had connections with the technical consultant, TV3 reiterated that the tests had been blind and that the consultant did not know who was being tested – with the one exception explained above.
TV3 repeated that the complainants’ flowers had not been graded because they had not arrived on the day they were ordered for.
TV3 maintained that the programme had been truthful and had dealt fairly with the complainants’ business. It emphasised that they were given an opportunity to respond and the relevant segment of that response had been broadcast. It added that the test had not been a contest as contemplated in the broadcasting standards, and denied that there had been collusion between its independent consultant and one of the companies depicted.
In the referral, Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall reiterated the grounds for their complaint. They emphasised the following:
- all the other florists were given the opportunity to view the footage prior to the broadcast;
- they were not satisfied that the six florists had been chosen at random;
- it was impossible for the judge to be impartial when one bunch of flowers was wrapped in paper carrying the florist’s name and the florist had been a student of the judge;
- they did not accept that it was coincidental that each of the six florists purchased their flowers from the same market;
- they were suspicious of the actress when she placed the order and decided to send the bouquet one week early in order to ensure they were eliminated from the test. They said they gave Target an opportunity to complain about the early delivery but it did not do so;
- their statement to TV3 had not been broadcast in full, and the most important sentences had been omitted;
- the interior of one florist shop owned by the student of the technical consultant was not shown;
- they took issue with TV3’s claim that the delivery a week early had been a mistake. They asked what evidence TV3 had to make that claim;
- they asked why they had been disqualified for delivering the flowers a week early and noted that other florists had made mistakes but had not been disqualified.
With respect to the complaint under standard G10, the complainants contended that the test had been set up as if it were a competition and further, that they believed there was collusion between the technical consultant and the florist which received the highest grade.
The complainants argued that the technical consultant should have excused himself from judging his own former students. In their view, the test had been unfair. They also objected to the fact that unlike the other participants they had not received a letter of explanation from the consultant.
The complainants argued that if the date of the delivery was the most basic criteria, then they had easily fulfilled the most difficult parts of the test. They reiterated their objection to the voiceover comments which had been broadcast while the transaction in their shop was shown.
Under standard G7, the complainants maintained that Target had manipulated the video footage because it had not broadcast the conversation with the actress.
With reference to the preparation of the programme, the complainants contended that they had been intimidated by the producer of the programme who had told them Target would be very critical of them. They objected to being portrayed as incompetent, that their response had been edited and that they were not allowed to broadcast their own opinion. They emphasised how much the broadcast of the programme had affected their private and business lives and suggested that Target should review its methodology so that this did not happen to any more small business people.
TV3 dealt first with the promo for the programme which, it reiterated, had not dealt with the complainants’ business unfairly or unjustly.
Next it dealt with the programme itself, which it considered under standards G1, G3, G4 and G7. Standard G10, TV3 argued, did not apply as the trial was not a contest.
With respect to the complaint that the florists had not been selected randomly, TV3 advised that the only criterion had been that all six were to come from the central city or immediate surrounding suburbs. This was done so that the trial was fair and the cost and service could be compared.
TV3 reported that the independent advisor was adamant that he did not know the identity of the florists which were tested, except for one which was identified by the wrapping paper. It acknowledged that the complainants were correct in noting that there had been no reference made to the delivery cost of their flowers. In the context however, it argued that cost of the delivery was irrelevant, since their business was excluded from the trial because the flowers were not delivered on the specified day.
In response to the complainants’ question as to why they had not been told prior to the programme that they had been graded 0/10, TV3 responded that the only comment required from the complainants was why they had made the delivery on the wrong date whereas the other florists whose grades related to the quality of their flowers were given an opportunity to comment on those.
The Authority considers the matters raised under the nominated standards are more appropriately dealt with under standard G4 which it considers below.
a) Preparation of the programme
The complainants contended that they were dealt with unfairly in the preparation of the programme. They maintained: that the florists were not selected randomly; that their statement to Target was unfairly edited; that they were treated differently from other participants in the trial because they were not graded; and that the technical consultant had written to the other participants after the trial to explain his grading system, but had not written to them. In addition they alleged that the technical consultant had links with at least three of the participants in the trial.
The Authority is satisfied that within the criteria established by TV3 (that the florists should all be from within the central city or immediate suburbs in order to compare fairly the delivery costs), the participants had been selected in a random way, and that there was no ulterior motive in the selection of any of the participants for the trial. As for the complainants’ flowers not being graded, the Authority finds that the complainants – for whatever reason – had delivered the flowers on the wrong day. In the Authority’s view, that was a sufficient reason to eliminate them from the trial. However, it notes, the quality of the flowers was favourably referred to by the host and the technical advisor. As the complainants’ flowers had not been graded, the Authority concludes it was not necessary for the technical advisor to write to them explaining his grading system. The Authority makes no finding on whether the judge had links with at least three of the participants, but considers that even if it were true, viewers had the opportunity to see for themselves the different arrangements and to make their own assessments of their relative merits.
The Authority concludes that the complainants were not treated unfairly in the preparation of the programme and declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
b) The broadcast
The complainants argued that their business had been unfairly portrayed in the broadcast. They objected to being graded 0 out of 10 on the basis that their flowers had been delivered early. They maintained that they had intentionally delivered the flowers early so as "to avoid unnecessary scrutiny" by their competitors.
The Authority accepts that the time of delivery was an important criterion and that as they had not been delivered at the time – and date – specified, the complainants’ flowers could not be part of the assessment. It notes that another florist which failed to deliver the flowers at the time and on the date specified also received a grade of 0 out of 10. The Authority declines to uphold this aspect.
In the complainants’ view, it had been unfair to disqualify them from the test just because they had delivered the flowers early. They reiterated that they had done so for a reason.
The Authority does not consider it to have been unfair to disqualify the complainants from the test when they had failed to meet the requirement of delivery on a particular day. It declines to uphold this aspect.
The complainants contended that the test itself had been unfair, citing the assessor’s alleged connections with some of the florists and the identity of one florist being revealed on the wrapping paper.
The Authority repeats the point made above that even if it were proven that the assessor favoured one participant over the others, viewers were still given the opportunity to see for themselves the varying quality of the arrangements, and to judge for themselves which were superior. It declines to uphold this aspect.
Next, the complainants contended that they had been unfairly treated when their statement to Target had been edited.
The Authority has seen the full text of the letter to Target and does not consider the omission of the first and last sentences materially altered its meaning. It declines to uphold this aspect.
In the extensive correspondence received, a number of other issues and standards were referred to which the Authority does not consider have a bearing on its determination of this complaint. It emphasises that it has read and taken those matters into account where appropriate in its consideration of whether, in the preparation and presentation of the programme, the complainants had been dealt with unfairly.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
30 March 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Target’s letter to Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall – 28 October 1999
2. Laura Newcombe and Doug Hall’s letter to Target – 1 November 1999
3. Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall’s letter to Target – 3 November 1999
4. Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall’s letter to Target – 9 November 1999 and attachments
5. Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall’s letter to TV3 – 10 November 1999
6. Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall’s letter to Target – 23 November 1999
7. TV3’s letter to Ms Newcombe – 25 November 1999
8. Target’s letter to Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall – 25 November 1999
9. Target’s letter to Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall – 28 November 1999
10. Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall’s Formal Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd –
2 December 1999
11. Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall’s letter to Target – 13 December 1999
12. Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall’s letter to Target – 15 December 1999 and attachment
13. Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall’s letter to Target – 17 December 1999
14. Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall’s letter to Target – 17 January 2000
15. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 20 January 2000
16. Target’s Solicitors to Ms Newcombe – 21 January 2000
17. Ms Newcombe to Target’s Solicitors – 25 January 2000
18. Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority –
2 February 2000
19. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 7 March 2000
20. Ms Newcombe and Mr Hall’s Final Comment – 10 March 2000