Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item reported on damage caused by Christchurch earthquake – showed footage of poultry shed – news reader stated “And this is a destroyed battery hen farm, home to 26,000 chickens. Animal rights activists say that up to a third of them were trapped and suffocating” – allegedly in breach of accuracy and fairness standards
Standard 5 (accuracy) – statement a material point of fact – said that chickens were “suffocating” not that they had “suffocated” – not upheld
Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant and farm not identified – item did not reflect badly on complainant – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on 7 September 2010, reported on the large scale damage caused by the Christchurch earthquake. Footage of a poultry shed with structural damage was briefly shown as the news reader stated, “And this is a destroyed battery hen farm, home to 26,000 chickens. Animal rights activists say that up to a third of them were trapped and suffocating”.
 Helen Souness, the owner of the poultry shed shown in the item, made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached Standards 5 (accuracy) and 6 (fairness).
 Ms Souness said that her farm had been severely damaged in the earthquake, which had caused two rows of cages to collapse in a shed which housed 26,000 chickens. Despite the level of damage, she said, they had managed to save 24,000 to 24,500 chickens in the days following the earthquake.
 Ms Souness maintained that the damage had been covertly filmed and provided to TV3. She said that without making any attempt to contact her to verify what had happened or how many chickens had died, the broadcaster proceeded to report that a third of the birds were left to suffocate. The report was inaccurate, she argued, because only approximately 5 per cent of the total chicken population died, not 33 per cent as reported.
 Ms Souness nominated Standards 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in her complaint. These provide:
Standard 5 Accuracy
Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:
- is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or
- does not mislead.
Standard 6 Fairness
Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
 TVWorks contended that the footage subject to complaint formed part of a longer item and that the segment showing the complainant’s property was “very brief”, being only approximately 10 seconds in length. It noted that the footage showed structural damage to the poultry shed, and that the location of the farm was not identified.
 The broadcaster’s Christchurch bureau chief provided the following response to the complaint:
We were supplied this information [that up to a third of the chickens were trapped and suffocating] by [Save Animals from Exploitation (SAFE)]. And unfortunately in the context of everything else that was happening yes, we ran it without checking with the owners. I did intend to do so and can’t explain why I didn’t do so except by reference to the pressures we were all under at the time.
I included in the script that the information in the footage had come from animal rights activists. [The SAFE activist] told me the number of chooks that were in distress was 26,000 birds, and that figure has been confirmed by the complainant. [The SAFE activist] told me he estimated a third of them were trapped and/or suffocating and as the complainant says over several days they rescued 95 per cent of the birds, so it is logical to assume that at the time the footage was gathered a large number of the birds were “trapped and suffocating” which is what we said – we did not say they were “left to suffocate”.
 TVWorks stated that in the circumstances it was satisfied that the information contained in the “very short broadcast” was accurate and that the footage shown was not unfair. The broadcaster maintained that the complainant and the farm were not identifiable in the item. Further, the item did not criticise the complainant, her farming practices, or actions taken to rescue the birds, it said. Rather, the item was “shown simply as yet another example of the disaster that struck Christchurch and the surrounding area and its impact on people’s lives and livelihoods”, it argued. The broadcaster apologised to the complainant for its failure to consult her before using the footage.
 For the reasons given above, TVWorks declined to uphold the complaint.
 Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, Ms Souness referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 With regard to the broadcaster’s contention that the complainant and her farm were not identified in the item, Ms Souness argued that publication in other media “made it very easy for our farm to be identified”.
 Turning to Standard 5, the complainant argued that the short length of the segment should not negate the need for information to be accurate. She said that at the time of broadcast, there were an estimated 4,000 birds left trapped, representing 15 per cent of the 26,000 chickens housed in the shed. These chickens were rescued over the next few days, and at no point were birds left to suffocate, she said.
 The complainant maintained that the item was unfair because although it did not explicitly criticise her farming practices, this was the implication created by stating that the footage had been provided by “animal rights activists”.
 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.
 Standard 5 requires that broadcasters make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to material points of fact, and does not mislead.
 The complainant argued that the broadcast was inaccurate because approximately only 5 per cent of the total chicken population died and not 33 per cent as reported in the news item.
 In our view, the statement, “Animal rights activists say that up to a third of [the chickens] were trapped and suffocating”, was a material point of fact and therefore subject to the accuracy standard. However, we note that the term “suffocating” does not equate with “suffocated”; the item did not report that 33 per cent of the chickens had actually died as alleged by the complainant. Further, the information was clearly sourced from animal rights activists.
 We therefore find that the item was not inaccurate or misleading, and we decline to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.
 The fairness standard requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in programmes.
 We note that the segment showing the complainant’s poultry shed was very brief, being only approximately 10 seconds in length, and that the footage was shot from inside the poultry shed in poor lighting. For these reasons we agree with TVWorks that neither the complainant nor her farm were identifiable in the item, and therefore that she was not “referred to” for the purposes of Standard 6.
 Further, this was a legitimate news story which focused on the large scale damage caused by the Christchurch earthquake, and we do not consider it reflected badly on the complainant, her farming practices or actions taken to rescue the chickens. We consider that viewers would have understood the footage as being representative of the damage caused to Christchurch poultry farms in general. Accordingly, we find that the complainant was treated fairly and we decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
22 February 2011
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Helen Souness’ formal complaint – 25 September 2010
2 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 7 October 2010
3 Ms Souness’ referral to the Authority – 20 October 2010
4 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 14 December 2010