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McDonald and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2012-100

Members

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

Complainant

  • Donald McDonald of Wellington

Dated

24th October 2012

Number

2012-100

Channel/Station

TV One and TVNZ 7

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaints under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
TVNZ News and Close Up – four items allegedly in breach of broadcasting standards

Findings
Authority declines to determine complaints on the basis they are frivolous and trivial in accordance with section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  Section 11 of the Broadcasting Act 1989 authorises this Authority to decline to determine a complaint which has been referred to it if it considers:

(a)  that the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, or trivial; or

(b)  that, in all the circumstances of the complaint, it should not be determined by the Authority.

[2]  We see no reason to depart from the ordinary meaning of the words frivolous, vexatious or trivial. We consider that frivolous means not serious or sensible, or even silly. A frivolous complaint is one which we consider to be unworthy of being treated in the same way in which we would treat a complaint which is not frivolous. A vexatious complaint is one which has been instituted without sufficient justifying grounds. In some cases a person putting forward a vexatious complaint may do so with the intention of causing annoyance but we do not think that in every case such an intention is necessary in order for a complaint to be vexatious. A trivial complaint is one which is of little or no importance and is at such a level not to justify it being treated as a serious complaint. Obviously, there is some overlap in the meanings of these expressions. Additionally, in terms of section 11, there may be other good reasons for this Authority to decline to determine a complaint.

[3]  We consider that the policy behind section 11 is that the time and resources of this Authority, which are, in the end, sustained by the people of New Zealand, should not be wasted in having to deal with matters which objectively have no importance.

[4]  We have before us four complaints made by Donald McDonald against Television New Zealand Ltd. These complaints relate to separate broadcasts.

[5]  The nature of the complaints causes us to consider whether or not we should exercise our powers pursuant to section 11. The terms of section 11 are such that in order for us to determine whether a complaint is one which we may decline to determine, we are required to meet as an Authority and in fact consider the relevant complaints. The members of the Authority have viewed recordings of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaints

[6]  We have decided to deal with these four complaints together for convenience and to reduce cost.

Complaint One

[7]  On TVNZ News on 28 May 2012 a pre-recorded item from the BBC was broadcast. This item covered a protest about genetically modified wheat in the United Kingdom. As part of the item the BBC reporter was shown in a field of wheat walking towards the cameraman, who was walking backwards while filming him. In another scene the reporter was shown walking backwards while questioning a protestor.

[8]  Mr McDonald’s complaint is that the footage depicted “dangerous behaviour” which people were likely to imitate and that there could be a “fatal stumble”.

Complaint Two

[9]  On 12 June 2012 a news item broadcast on TVNZ7 discussed massive wildfires in the United States. The presenter referred to more than 400 fire fighters battling a blaze which was said to cover “an area of around 15,000 rugby fields”.

[10]  Mr McDonald’s complaint is that the accuracy standard was breached and the broadcast was misleading and deceptive, because a football field is not a proper measure of area.

Complaint Three

[11]  On 25 June 2012 a news item on TVNZ7 discussed a new electric car available in the United States. The ABC news reporter interviewed a representative of the manufacturer of the car who said in a somewhat flippant way that the car could reach a speed of 130 miles per hour. He made a comment about “letting loose” when the family is not in the car.

[12]  Mr McDonald’s complaint was that this “glamoureyes [sic] speed 130mph” in breach of the law and order standard.

Complaint Four

[13]  A Close Up item broadcast on TV One on 25 June 2012 covered animal rights activists protesting outside a Mainland poultry farm. A reporter discussed the change in the cage size for hens, and placing a hen on a piece of paper stated, “Colony cages allow this much space per hen. That’s 4cm more than conventional cages.”

[14]  Mr McDonald complained that this breached the accuracy standard because the measurements of the cage were “muddled” and not adequately explained.

Our view of these complaints

[15]  Broadcasters in New Zealand as well as this Authority have had many complaints from Mr McDonald. Most of these complaints display a fixation, or almost an obsession, with technical accuracy. We mean no unkindness to the complainant when we describe him as an accuracy pedant.

[16]  The complaints system under the Broadcasting Act is an open door system. All formal complaints must be considered by the broadcaster to whom the complaint is directed. All complaints which are then referred by a complainant to this Authority need to be considered by this Authority but with the qualification that if they are considered to come within section 11 they need not be determined.

[17]  We are conscious that there is an economic cost in dealing with complaints and we do not wish to see resources wasted on complaints that have no foundation whatsoever. Broadcasters are required to receive and consider all formal complaints. We usually expect broadcasters to deal with complaints they receive in a considered and appropriately comprehensive way. We do not expect a comprehensive analysis of a complaint when, on its face, it is frivolous or trivial.

[18]  We consider that the four complaints that we have before us come within section 11 and that we can properly decline to determine them. We give a brief explanation in relation to each complaint:

  • the notion that the depiction on television of a person walking backwards is contrary to broadcasting standards is absurd on its face and we do not believe that we need to say more than this;
  • the use of measures other than official or scientific measures occurs constantly in daily life. The descriptions are for easy, illustrative purposes rather than scientific purposes. They are not intended to have scientific accuracy – “he had a bruise the size of an egg” tells most of us what the bruise was like but this description is open to the pedantic complaint that the avian, reptilian or aquatic creature whose reproductive product is being referred to is not identified, leading to uncertainty about size;
  • complaint three is about a flippant, light-hearted comment, the broadcast of which could never amount to a breach of broadcasting standards; and
  • complaint four asserts that an accurate message about measurements was not conveyed when, plainly, what was conveyed was readily understandable and sufficiently accurate.

[19]  We are not going to go into any more detail than this. Were we to do so, we would in effect end up going through the same process as we would go through if we were to determine the complaints.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to determine the complaints under section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
24 October 2012