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Hamer and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-149

Members

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

Complainant

  • Ian Hamer of Tauranga

Dated

28th February 2012

Number

2011-149

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Real Crime: Broken Promises, Broken Brides – investigated the mistreatment of foreign brides in New Zealand – profiled a Malaysian woman who died of a methadone overdose – interviewed her husband who was convicted of her manslaughter – allegedly inaccurate and unfair

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – programme did not create a misleading impression that the complainant intended to murder his wife – reporter outlined the facts of the case and clearly stated the complainant was convicted of manslaughter – complainant’s perspective was included in the programme – programme was accurate and would not have misled viewers – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant was provided with a sufficient opportunity to give his perspective in two interviews – interviews were not unfairly edited – overall complainant was treated fairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  A documentary titled Real Crime: Broken Promises, Broken Brides, broadcast on TV One at 9.30pm on 7 September 2011, investigated the abuse of foreign brides in New Zealand. It profiled a Malaysian woman who died of a methadone overdose nine years earlier, and interviewed her New Zealand husband Ian Hamer, who was convicted of her manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

[2]  Ian Hamer made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme presented a “highly emotive and prejudicial” story which was inaccurate and created misleading impressions with regard to his treatment of his wife and responsibility for her death. In addition, he considered that he was treated unfairly. 

[3]  The issue is whether the programme breached Standards 5 (accuracy) and 6 (fairness) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was the programme inaccurate or misleading?

[5]  Standard 5 (accuracy) states that 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 does not mislead. The complainant considered that two aspects of the programme were inaccurate and misleading, and we deal with each of these below.

Impression the complainant had murderous intent

[6]  Mr Hamer argued that the programme was inaccurate and misleading because it wrongly portrayed him as attempting to murder his wife by forcing her to take a near-fatal dose of a toxic drug. In particular, he contended that the programme failed to acknowledge that he was discharged on charges of murder and attempted murder, and omitted important information such as the basis for the jury’s verdict of manslaughter and the key defence evidence presented at trial. 

[7]  We note that the programme contained a number of statements about the complainant’s culpability, based on information provided by those who knew Mrs Hamer and the police officer involved in the case. The presenter stated:

  •  “These women were saying that her husband, her Kiwi husband, had made her take a really strong dose of a powerful drug, and she was now in a coma.”
  • “...who was this Kiwi man, who’d fed [Mrs Hamer] a near-fatal dose of a highly toxic drug, and why?”
  • “...according to the police... [Mrs Hamer] had been very badly treated by the man who was now homeless, weeping at the tent flap and professing undying love for his woman.”
  • “What [Mrs Hamer] didn’t realise was that [Mr Hamer] was a drug addict, and she ended up lying comatose on her bed in Tauranga after Hamer, in a drugged up, jealous rage, fed her an overdose of methadone.”

[8]  The police officer involved in the case further outlined the circumstances surrounding Mrs Hamer’s ingestion of methadone, saying:

  • “[Mrs Hamer] did awake from her unconscious state and provided us with a statement advising us exactly what had happened... and essentially that was that Ian, in a domestic related incident, had held her down and had forced her to drink the methadone that was consumed.”
  • “We determined that a period of 22 hours had elapsed between the time the methadone had been consumed and by the time the ambulance were notified... [Mr Hamer] had viewed lots of [web pages] in relation to methadone overdose... and what action you should take when somebody has overdosed... and he’s lacked any call for help even though he was aware of that information.”

[9]  At the end of the first segment, the presenter stated, “And then they tried him, convicted him of manslaughter and sentenced him to jail for 10 years”.

[10]  In our view, any impressions created about the complainant’s responsibility for his wife’s death stemmed from the facts of the incident itself, as opposed to any false or misleading statements about his level of intent. Contrary to the complainant’s argument that viewers were led to believe he had murderous intent, the programme accurately informed viewers that he was convicted of manslaughter, thus specifying his culpability – including his level of intent – as determined by the court.

[11]  We consider that, given the focus of the programme – the mistreatment of foreign brides in New Zealand – it was unnecessary to include a more detailed analysis of the evidence or the basis for the jury’s verdict. The programme profiled Mr Hamer’s story as one tragic, and ultimately fatal, example of the existence of such abuse, and did not purport to be an in-depth analysis of his conviction.

[12]  Further, we consider that the complainant was provided with sufficient opportunities to deny or refute the allegations in two interviews in the programme, and that his perspective was included in this regard. The first interview, which was filmed nine years earlier when the incident took place, included the following exchange:

Presenter:    Do you think you had any responsibility for her death?

Hamer:         In the sense of being on methadone. She couldn’t have taken the methadone
                   if I wasn’t on it, but then she could have taken something else.

Presenter:    Okay, straight out question for you – is it reasonable to charge you with either
                   murder or attempted murder?

Hamer:         No... It’s not.

[13]  During the second interview, which was filmed following Mr Hamer’s release from prison, the presenter asked, “To your way of thinking, are you guilty of anything?” and “Did you give her methadone?” The complainant answered “No” to both questions.

[14]  For these reasons, we do not consider that the programme was inaccurate or that it would have misled viewers in this respect. We decline to uphold this part of the Standard 5 complaint.

Impression the complainant abused his wife

[15]  Mr Hamer asserted that his story was placed in the context of general commentary on the mistreatment of foreign brides in New Zealand, and in this sense, deliberately associated him with allegations of mistreatment and suggested he abused his wife.  

[16]  TVNZ provided comment from the programme producer who stated, “The fact Mr Hamer was ultimately charged with manslaughter and convicted of the same appears to be strong evidence to us that the jury believed Ian was guilty of a very serious crime, involving gross neglect at the very least, and brutal mistreatment at worst”.

[17]  Given the facts of the case, and Mr Hamer’s conviction for his wife’s manslaughter, we do not consider that the programme was inaccurate or misleading in the manner alleged.

[18]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

Was the complainant treated unfairly?

[19]  Standard 6 (fairness) requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

[20]  The complainant argued that the programme was unfair in a number of respects.

Allegations by his former wife

[21]  Mr Hamer argued that the programme contained serious and highly prejudicial allegations by his former wife (who now lived in Australia), based solely on her side of the story, and that he was not provided with an opportunity to explain his position.

[22]  We note that the programme stated that the complainant’s ex-wife, who did not want to be interviewed, claimed he injected her with drugs while she slept, refused to let her shower or go to the toilet without the door open, used his children’s names to obtain drugs, and threatened to perform genital mutilation on her with a knife.

[23]  We note that, immediately following the allegations, he was shown stating:

We had been together for 11 years. In that time, I think she had a very good life. I think she was very happy with me. It’s just we do focus on the bad points, and I’m not going to tell you hers. But as I said to you initially, there are two sides to the story, and I’m not going to tell you just showing up now, what they are, because I don’t feel you’re in a position to receive it.

[24]  In this respect, we consider that Mr Hamer was provided with an adequate opportunity to comment on the allegations, but chose not to do so.

[25]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold this aspect of the fairness complaint.

Reference to the application for the Prerogative of Mercy

[26]  Mr Hamer contended that, since being convicted of manslaughter, he had obtained new expert medical evidence showing that his wife’s death was the result of mistreatment at the hospital as opposed to an overdose, and asserted that he was not given an opportunity to point this out in the programme.

[27]  We note that during the programme the presenter stated:

... [Mr Hamer] says he’ll be trying to prove [his innocence] by taking a plea for mercy to the Governor General very soon. It’s a plea based on a neurological report which purports to show the nature of the treatment [Mrs Hamer] received while in hospital in New Zealand may have contributed to her death.

[28]  In our view, the fact the complainant’s application for the Prerogative of Mercy was canvassed by the reporter, as opposed to the complainant himself, did not result in him being treated unfairly. Nor do we consider that it was unfair to refer to the application at the end of the programme, as contended by the complainant. We decline to uphold the complaint that the programme was unfair in this respect.

Interview footage

[29]  Mr Hamer argued that the interview footage was unfairly obtained and edited. In addition, he considered that the presenter was biased and chose to ignore the truth for the purpose of creating a dramatic story.

[30]  The complainant argued that both interviews were the result of door-stepping, and that he was unprepared and had no experience in dealing with the media. In response, TVNZ contended that the complainant agreed to be interviewed nine years earlier, and again once he was out of jail.

[31]  Mr Hamer did not specify the manner in which he considered the footage was unfairly edited, but stated, “It is hard for me to remember everything that was discussed in both of the interviews, but I am concerned that the material that was presented on the show was not a fair selection of everything that was said in the interviews”.

[32]  In our view, it is evident from the interview footage that Mr Hamer voluntarily participated in the programme, and that the approach taken by the interviewer was professional and polite. The central issues and allegations were put to the complainant and his responses in this regard were broadcast (see paragraph [12] and [13] above).

[33]  Overall, we consider that Mr Hamer was treated fairly and we decline to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 6.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
28 February 2012

Appendix

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

1                  Ian Hamer’s formal complaints – 29 September 2011 and 3 October 2011  

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 4 November 2011

3                 Mr Hamer’s referral to the Authority – 15 November 2011

4                 TVNZ’s response to the referral – 30 November 2011