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McDonald and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2012-065

Members

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

Complainant

  • Donald McDonald of Wellington

Dated

25th September 2012

Number

2012-065

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 – item profiled the complainant, Donald McDonald – introduction referred to some of his previous complaints including “that a One News isobar on the weather map was a subliminal advertisement for the movie Shrek”, and that he “complained to the Wellington City Council that its fireworks displays contained phallic symbols” – allegedly in breach of accuracy and fairness standards

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – item did not suggest that all or most of his complaints were unfounded but that Mr McDonald complained “too often about too little” – provided context to complaints and complainant put forward his own perspective – complainant treated fairly – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – subsumed into consideration of fairness

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  An item on Close Up, broadcast on TV One on 17 April 2012, profiled the complainant, Donald McDonald. It was introduced as follows:

Don is probably this country’s most prolific complainer. He alone makes up nearly five percent of all TV One’s complaints. He once complained that a One News isobar on the weather map was a subliminal advertisement for the movie Shrek… He complained to the Wellington City Council that its fireworks displays contained phallic symbols. Recently Don became the first person to be fined by the Broadcasting Standards Authority for complaining too often about too little. It cost him fifty dollars, he appealed, and this week had his day in the High Court. So what makes Don tick?

[2]  Donald McDonald made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item gave a “wrong overall impression” of his complaints.

[3]  The issue is whether the item 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 complainant treated unfairly?

[5]  Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

[6]  One of the purposes of the fairness standard is to protect individuals and organisations from broadcasts which provide an unfairly negative representation of their character or conduct. Programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts have the right to expect that broadcasters will deal with them justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.1

[7]  Mr McDonald argued that the item implied that his complaints were “wacky”, when “virtually all my accuracy complaints were correct”, and therefore gave a “wrong overall impression” of his complaints.

[8]  TVNZ contended that the item was “good-hearted” and that the reporter displayed “genuine affection” for Mr McDonald and his complaints. The term “wacky” was not used in the item, it said, and the reference to “Shrek isobars” and “phallic fireworks” in the introduction accurately reflected the nature of Mr McDonald’s complaints. In addition, the broadcaster noted the presenter’s statement at the end of the item, “For the record the complaint Don was fined [for] was one about a One News story, and he was right.”

[9]  The Close Up item was a sympathetic, human interest piece that attempted to provide insight into Mr McDonald and his complaints. It briefly canvassed some of Mr McDonald’s more unusual complaints, before interviewing the complainant about his lifestyle and background. The premise of the item was that Mr McDonald was a “prolific” complainer who complained “too often about too little” – not that his complaints were factually incorrect. This was reflected in the introductory statement, and in the presenter’s comment which acknowledged that Mr McDonald complained about a One News item and he was “right” (see paragraph [8]).

[10]  Having interviewed Mr McDonald, the reporter attempted to provide context by noting that he had an underlying medical condition that was a possible explanation for the frequency and nature of his complaints. The reporter stated, “Don isn’t mad or nuts – far from it, he’s actually one of New Zealand’s brightest people. He’s been in Mensa 25 years, it’s just the chemicals in his brain make him think numbers, note-taking and mistake-spotting are the most important things to do today…” Mr McDonald was given the opportunity to explain his position and thinking in his own words, for example commenting, “One doctor said, very rare, you cannot think in abstracts, and I probably agree with that.”

[11]  We consider that the item fairly and accurately reflected the nature of Mr McDonald’s complaints, and therefore that viewers would not have been left with an unfairly negative impression of him. Overall we are satisfied that the complainant was treated fairly, and that upholding the complaint would be an unjustifiable limit on the right to freedom of expression.

[12]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Was the item inaccurate or misleading?

[13]  Mr McDonald considered that the item gave a “wrong overall impression” of his complaints. In our view, we have addressed his concerns adequately and appropriately in our consideration of fairness above (see paragraphs [9] and [11]). We therefore subsume our consideration of accuracy into our Standard 6 determination.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
25 September 2012