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Smith and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2012-130

Members

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

Complainant

  • Valerie Smith of Dannevirke

Dated

27th February 2013

Number

2012-130

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Keep Calm and Carry On – reality series about host’s experience of new motherhood contained brief mention of ‘The Unfortunate Experiment’ – allegedly in breach of controversial issues, accuracy and fairness standards

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues) – programme focused on Jaquie Brown and her experience of new motherhood – reference to ‘The Unfortunate Experiment’ was brief and peripheral to the focus of the programme – programme did not contain a “discussion” of that issue so was not required to present alternative viewpoints – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – statements summarised the findings of the Cartwright Inquiry into ‘The Unfortunate Experiment’ and were not material to the focus of the programme – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – complainant did not specify who she considered had been treated unfairly – no person or organisation taking part or referred to in the programme treated unfairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  Keep Calm and Carry On was a reality TV series which followed comedian and television presenter, Jaquie Brown, on her personal journey and experience of new motherhood. During a discussion with Margaret Wilson, a New Zealand academic and former politician, reference was made to what has become known as ‘The Unfortunate Experiment’ at New Zealand’s National Women's Hospital (NWH) from 1966 onwards. The programme was broadcast on TV One on 5 September 2012.

[2]  Valerie Smith made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the “so-called Unfortunate Experiment” and the findings of the Cartwright Inquiry on that experiment were subject to much controversy, but the programme made no attempt to address the other side of that controversy. She argued that references to the alleged experiment were inaccurate, unbalanced and unfair.

[3]  The issue is whether the episode breached standards relating to balance (Standard 4), accuracy (Standard 5) and fairness (Standard 6) 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.

Did the item discuss a controversial issue of public importance which required balance?

[5]  The balance standard (Standard 4) states that 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. The balance standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.1

[6]  Mrs Smith argued that the item failed to present alternative viewpoints on ‘The Unfortunate Experiment’, specifically, that there was no experiment at the NWH and that the Cartwright Inquiry into the treatment of cervical cancer in women was based on a misunderstanding. The complainant referred to, and provided copies of, many documents in support of her complaint.

[7]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue “of public importance”, it must be “controversial”, and it must be “discussed”.2

[8]  A “factual programme” has been defined by the Authority as one which presents itself, and is reasonably understood by the audience, to be an authoritative source of information.3 In our view, Keep Calm and Carry On was clearly based in personal experience and opinion, rather than fact or science, and that is how it would have interpreted and understood by viewers. It was presented in the nature of a journal or video diary, and was intended to be light-hearted and entertaining, rather than purporting to impart authoritative information or advice.

[9]  In any case, we are satisfied that the programme did not contain a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter of the programme was Jaquie Brown and her experience of new motherhood. In this episode, Jaquie shared personal moments, spoke to other new mothers, and explored how we have parented in the past. The comments subject to complaint, concerning ‘The Unfortunate Experiment’, were made in the context of a brief discussion about the advancement of women’s rights over time, and in particular, in terms of how women’s voices became more prominent in society. For example, the following comments were made:

  • “I think we’ve been through a set of experiences where women’s voices have been asserted, and perhaps the most obvious one is what came to be called ‘The Unfortunate Experiment’, where women demanded to be heard when it came to the way in which they were treated as part of their medical condition.” (Wilson)
  • “For some 20 years women with abnormal cervical smears were deliberately not treated, with 26 dying as a result... It marks one of the biggest leaps forward for women’s rights in New Zealand.” (Jaquie)

[10]  Ms Wilson also acknowledged that “there is a lot of controversy surrounding that particular issue”, indicating the existence of other viewpoints. This was adequate given the nature of the programme and its focus.

[11]  For these reasons, we decline to 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.4

[13]  Mrs Smith argued that the item contained inaccurate statements about the “so-called Unfortunate Experiment”, for example that 26 women died as a result of the experiment. TVNZ said that the statements were based on the Cartwright Inquiry findings, and were an accurate summary of those findings.

[14]  The accuracy standard applies only to “material” points of fact. For the reasons expressed above in our consideration of the balance standard, we find that the statements subject to complaint were not material to the programme as a whole, which focused on parenting and Jacquie’s own experiences, as opposed to ‘The Unfortunate Experiment’ and the findings of the Cartwright Inquiry. We are satisfied that in the context of an entertaining, opinion-based programme, presented as Jacquie’s personal journey, viewers would not have been misled in any significant respect.

[15]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint the broadcast breached the accuracy standard.

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

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

[17]  Mrs Smith did not specify who she considered had been treated unfairly in the broadcast.

[18]  We are satisfied that all people and organisations taking part or referred to in the programme were treated fairly. We therefore decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

 

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

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           Valerie Smith’s formal complaint – 26 September 2012

2          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 30 October 2012

3          Mrs Smith’s referral to the Authority – 26 November 2012

4          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 21 January 2013


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks, Decision No. 2008-014

2
For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues  Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues  Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009).

3ACC and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2006-126

4Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036