Skip to main content

Brooking and TVWorks Ltd - 2012-121

Members

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

Complainant

  • Roger Brooking of Wellington

Dated

27th February 2013

Number

2012-121

Programme

3 News: Firstline

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News: Firstline – interview with Ruth Money from Sensible Sentencing Trust regarding a proposed amendment to the Parole Act 2002 – Ms Money expressed her view that the amendment “did not go far enough” and that parole hearings should be abolished altogether – allegedly in breach of standards relating to controversial issues, accuracy and fairness

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues) – item discussed a controversial issue of public importance – while presenter alluded to the existence of other points of view, this did not go far enough – broadcaster did not make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present alternative viewpoints – upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – Ms Money’s statements amounted to comment and opinion and were therefore exempt from standards of accuracy under guideline 5a – concerns about misleading impression regarding parole board hearing process adequately addressed under controversial issues standard – item was not inaccurate or misleading – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – parole board members, prisoners, and victims of crime treated fairly – not upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  A segment on 3 News: Firstline included an interview with Ruth Money from the Sensible Sentencing Trust. The interview focused on a proposed amendment to the Parole Act 2002 to increase the maximum time allowed between parole hearings. Ms Money expressed her view, on behalf of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, that although the amendment would reduce the stress experienced by the victims of crime, it “did not go far enough”, and parole hearings should be abolished altogether. The item was broadcast on TV3 on 27 September 2012.

[2]  Roger Brooking, a spokesperson for the Howard League for Penal Reform, made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was unbalanced because it did not include alternative viewpoints on a complex legal issue. In addition, he argued that Ms Money made inaccurate statements that were not distinguishable as opinion, and that the item was unfair to the parole board, prisoners, and victims of crime.

[3]  Having not received a response within the 20 working day statutory timeframe, Mr Brooking referred his complaint to this Authority. In its response to the Authority, TVWorks upheld the complaint under Standard 4 (controversial issues). Because this response was not issued to the complainant within the required timeframe, we have assessed the complaint under the nominated standards, rather than assessing whether or not the action taken by the broadcaster in upholding part of the complaint was sufficient.1

[4]  The issue therefore is whether the broadcast breached standards relating to balance (Standard 4), accuracy (Standard 5) and fairness (Standard 6) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

Did the item broadcaster provide sufficient balance on the issue discussed?

[6]  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 (Standard 4). The balance standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.2

[7]  Mr Brooking argued that the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance, but that only the “right wing” views of the Sensible Sentencing Trust were sought and presented. For example, he said the item did not explore the importance or effectiveness of the parole process and was solely about victims.

[8]  We agree that the item amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance, namely the proposed amendment to the Parole Act 2002. The broadcaster was therefore required to present significant viewpoints on that issue.

[9]  TVWorks accepted that it had not sufficiently presented alternative perspectives to balance those expressed on behalf of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, either within the item, or in other coverage.

[10]  We note that the item did allude to the existence of other viewpoints when the presenter mentioned the potential impact of the amendment on prisoners’ rights, taking a “devil’s advocate” approach to some extent. However, given the nature of the issue, and the impression created by the item, we agree the broadcaster did not go far enough in its efforts to present alternative views. The item suggested that it was compulsory for victims to attend parole hearings, where they came face-to-face with offenders, and therefore experienced significant trauma and distress. Mr Brooking maintained that attendance was optional, and victims did not in fact attend the same hearing as the offender, so they did not come “face-to-face”. TVWorks acknowledged that the “implication that victims have to attend an annual parole board hearing is likely to have been challenged should the interview have included the opinions of an alternative advocate”.

[11]  Overall, we agree with the broadcaster that the presenter’s brief reference to prisoners’ rights was not sufficient to ensure that viewers were able to reach an informed and reasoned opinion on the topic under discussion. Upholding the complaint as a breach of Standard 4 promotes freedom of expression values by encouraging the dissemination of information in the form of differing ideas and perspectives. Accordingly, we uphold the balance complaint.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[12]  The accuracy standard (Standard 5) 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 objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.3

[13]  Mr Brooking’s concerns under this standard were directed primarily at statements made by Ms Money during the course of the interview, in support of the proposed amendment. For example, he referred to her comments that “prison is voluntary”, and that “offending is a choice”. The complainant argued that the story was misleading and one-sided in breach of guideline 5c, which requires impartiality in news.

[14]  TVWorks argued that the comments subject to complaint were not material statements of fact, but clearly amounted to Ms Money’s opinion, as a representative of an advocacy group.

[15]  We agree. Guideline 5a to the accuracy standard provides that statements which are clearly distinguishable as comment or opinion are exempt from the requirements of the standard. We think that viewers would have understood that Ms Money was coming from a certain perspective, as a representative of a special interest group, and that her job was to push a certain agenda that was sympathetic to the victims of crime, over the interests of offenders. Mr Brooking’s concerns regarding the impression created about the parole hearing process would have been remedied by the presentation of alternative views, which we believe we have adequately addressed under the balance standard.

[16]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the accuracy complaint.

Was any person or organisation taking part or referred to in the broadcast treated unfairly?

[17]  The fairness standard (Standard 6) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

[18]  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.4

[19]  Mr Brooking argued that the item was unfair to parole board members and prisoners because their views were not sought or presented in the item. In addition, he argued that the item was unfair to victims of crime because they were portrayed as “gullible individuals who appear to be entirely unaware of their rights and the options available to them to avoid any potential stress involved in hearings”.

[20]  TVWorks did not consider that the item contained any comments that were unfair to prisoners, the parole board or its members.

[21]  We are satisfied that all individuals and organisations referred to in the broadcast were treated fairly. No derogatory comments were made about parole board members, and no member was individually identified. Nor were any derogatory comments made about any particular prisoner or victim. While Ms Money mentioned one victim by name, her comments were sympathetic, and we do not think this would have caused viewers to perceive the victim in a negative light.

[22]  Overall, we are satisfied that the broadcast did not contain anything that would have created an unfairly negative impression of parole board members, prisoners or victims, and we therefore decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by TVWorks Ltd of an item on 3 News: Firstline on 27 September 2012 breached Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[23]  Having upheld the complaint, we may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. We do not intend to do so on this occasion. TVWorks has acknowledged that the requirements of Standard 4 were not met and that alternative viewpoints should have been included to a greater extent. We think that in all the circumstances, publication of this decision is sufficient to remedy the breach and clarify our expectations, and that no order is warranted.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
27 February 2013

Appendix

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

1           Roger Brooking’s formal complaint – 30 September 2012

2          Mr Brooking’s referral to the Authority – 31 October 2012

3          TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 18 January 2013

4          Mr Brooking’s final comment – 27 January 2013


1See sections 8(1C) and 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989


2Commerce Commission and TVWorks, Decision No. 2008-014

3Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036

4Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014