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Reade and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-159

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainant

  • Pamela Reade of Auckland

Dated

22nd February 2011

Number

2010-159

Programme

Close Up

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – interview with woman who was launching a brand of cosmetics made from natural ingredients – contained a number of statements about the chemicals contained in standard cosmetics – allegedly unbalanced

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues) – item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance – presented one woman’s views and experiences – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Close Up, broadcast on TV One at 7pm on 12 October 2010, interviewed a woman who was launching a new “eco-glam” cosmetics brand made from natural ingredients, in New Zealand. The presenter introduced the item as follows:

These days we’re bombarded with the organic message and all the costs that go with it. And if you’re prepared to pay, it does sound like the right thing, use more natural products. But do you actually know why you bother? Well [Interviewee’s name] is here to tell you why. [Our reporter] invited [her] in her own home to see how much she might need to rethink her own choices.

[2]   The interviewee discussed why she believed common cosmetic products could negatively affect people’s health, namely because they contain many harmful chemicals. Near the beginning of the item, she stated, “You know I am not a scientist. I am not an expert. I am a mother and this is my journey. This is what I learnt along the way and I’m just sharing information and knowledge with other people.”

[3]   The interviewee visited the reporter’s home to evaluate whether the reporter needed to rethink and replace the products she used. The reporter asked her, “Isn’t saying something’s pure, organic, natural, isn’t that just a great marketing tool?” and the interviewee replied that she disapproved of companies that pretended to be organic. The reporter then asked, “Are you scaremongering?” The interviewee responded, “Look I’m sure that people do get scared as a result of what I’m saying. I’m not doing this to scare someone. I’m doing this to encourage people to make more natural choices.”

[4]   At the conclusion of the item, the reporter said, “Scientifically, confusion still surrounds the link between cancer and personal care products”, and said that she was not convinced yet that she needed to replace all of the products she currently used with natural products. The interviewee was shown commenting, “I always say to people, don’t take my word for it, go and do your own research.”

Complaint

[5]   Pamela Reade made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the interview was unbalanced. She argued that the interviewee made incorrect statements, such as that aluminium had been linked to Alzheimer’s, and statements about parabens, and was simply promoting her own products. Ms Reade considered that TVNZ should have broadcast “an expert’s opinion of the statements being made by someone that had a vested interest”.

Standards

[6]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7]   TVNZ stated that it must first consider whether the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance, which was typically defined by the Authority as something that would have “a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public” (e.g. Powell and CanWest TVWorks1).

[8]   TVNZ was of the view that, while there was public interest in the topic discussed, it was not a controversial issue of public importance. However, TVNZ argued that if it was such an issue, appropriate viewpoints were sought and presented.

[9]   The broadcaster maintained that the item was clearly presented as a personal story and was not designed to be an investigation of the entire industry. It considered that the interviewee’s perspective was made clear to viewers, and noted that at the beginning of the item she explicitly stated, “I am not a scientist. I am not an expert. I am a mother. This is my journey. This is what I learnt along the way and I’m just sharing information and knowledge with other people.”

[10]   TVNZ was of the view that the interviewee’s comments were clearly her personal opinion to which she was entitled under broadcasting standards. It noted that she explicitly advised viewers that, “I always say to people, don’t take my word for it, go and do your own research.”

[11]   The broadcaster concluded that in the context of an item focusing on the personal experiences of one woman, appropriate viewpoints had been sought and presented. It declined to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Reade referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She maintained that the item was unbalanced in breach of Standard 4, because the interviewee’s comments were presented without giving the viewer sufficient information. Ms Reade argued that the issue of the link between Alzheimer’s and aluminium, as well as chemicals in skincare products, had been controversial for a number of years, and that viewers were presented with “misinformation”.

Authority's Determination

[13]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[14]   Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[15]   The Authority has previously found that Standard 4 does not apply to programmes focusing on individual stories (e.g. Egg Producers Federation and TVWorks2). On this occasion, we consider that the focus of the item, which was in the format of an infomercial, was the interviewee and her views on why her brand of cosmetics was preferable to other brands, which she believed contained harmful ingredients. We note that near the beginning of the item, the interviewee made it clear that she was offering her perspective, when she stated, “I am not a scientist. I am not an expert. I am a mother and this is my journey. This is what I learnt along the way and I’m just sharing information and knowledge with other people.” She went on to discuss her personal experiences with how using natural products had positively impacted her health.

[16]   Accordingly, we find that the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance because it was squarely focused on the interviewee’s personal views and the promotion of her products, as opposed to any wider debate about whether common cosmetic products could be harmful. It was therefore not necessary, in the interests of balance, to present the perspective of a scientific expert, as argued by the complainant.

[17]   In any case, we consider that viewers were left to form their own judgement about the interviewee’s position. We note that she said at the conclusion of the item, “I always say to people, don’t take my word for it, go and do your own research.” The reporter also stated that, “Scientifically, confusion still surrounds the link between cancer and personal care products”, and questioned whether the interviewee was “scaremongering”, before reaching the conclusion that she was not yet convinced she should swap her mainstream products for natural products.

[18]   For these reasons, we decline to uphold the complaint that the Close Up item breached Standard 4.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
22 February 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Pamela Reade’s formal complaint – 13 October 2010

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 10 November 2010

3                 Ms Reade’s referral to the Authority – 18 November 2010

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 23 December 2010


1Decision No. 2005-125

2Decision No. 2009-053