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Thomas and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2013-047

Dated

1st October 2013

Number

2013-047

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Q + A and Marae Investigates – items discussed domestic violence – allegedly in breach of standards relating to controversial issues, accuracy, fairness, discrimination and denigration, responsible programming, and children’s interests

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues) – items discussed controversial issue of public importance – items clearly framed as focusing on men’s violence against women – did not discuss gender of perpetrators and victims of domestic violence so not required to present alternative viewpoints on that issue – not necessary to expressly acknowledge that men could be the victims of domestic violence – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – no implication that men are the only perpetrators of domestic violence – item did not encourage discrimination against, or the denigration of, men as a section of the community – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  Items broadcast on Q + A and Marae Investigates focused on the issue of domestic violence. The programmes were broadcast on TV One on 12 May 2013.

[2]  Max Thomas made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the broadcasts made no attempt to “challenge orthodox thinking” and “continued to push the radical feminist view of domestic violence” which portrayed males as the “problem gender” and women as the “innocent victim”.

[3]  The focus of our determination is whether the broadcast breached the controversial issues, and discrimination and denigration standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These are the standards we see as being most relevant to the complaint. Mr Thomas also raised other standards which we have briefly addressed at paragraph [17] below.

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

Preliminary matter

[5]  Mr Thomas argued that the mainstream media have continued to disseminate a gender-biased view which fails to acknowledge that women can be the perpetrators, and men the victims, of domestic violence, and he referred to the potential adverse consequences for male victims who were dissuaded from speaking out and seeking help. He argued that TVNZ had “a duty of care not to perpetuate this sexist thinking without critical comment”. The complainant’s concerns in this respect raise issues that are wider than these particular broadcasts, and we emphasise that our jurisdiction is limited to an assessment of whether these programmes were unbalanced or encouraged discrimination and denigration against men; we cannot consider broader issues relating to the alleged need to raise awareness around men as the victims of domestic violence.

Did the broadcaster make reasonable efforts, or provide reasonable opportunities, to present balance on the issue under discussion?

[6]  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

[7]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and 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]  Q + A is a current event and political talk show. Marae Investigates is a bi-lingual current affairs show from a unique Māori perspective. These are current affairs programmes to which the balance standard applied.

[9]  The focus of the items was a discussion of domestic violence committed by men and the possible options for reducing its high prevalence in our society, for example through legal changes, and the provision of male-centred support services. Domestic violence and its prevalence in New Zealand is an issue of concern to members of the New Zealand public, and the options for tackling domestic violence have long been the subject of debate.

[10]  In determining whether the requirements of the balance standard were triggered, we take particular note of the way the items were presented. It was clear from the way the items were introduced and presented that both were explicitly focused on male perpetrators of domestic violence. Q + A looked at the White Ribbon Campaign, a global movement led by men who condemn domestic violence against women, and was introduced by the presenter as follows:

A staggering 80,000 domestic violence cases a year, 200 women and children killed as a result of domestic violence in 12 years. The shameful list goes on. Judge [name] was the Principal Family Court Judge. He is now Chair of the White Ribbon Campaign, focusing on men’s violence against women… This campaign is about men speaking to other men. Is there evidence that men are listening, that there is less family violence? [our emphasis]

[11]  Likewise, the item on Marae Investigates focused on a pilot service offering proactive support to men. The presenter stated, in the introduction:

The Canterbury trail of woe seems endless, and now social workers are warning of whānau upheaval as cases of violence increase. This week our reporter [name] reports on a ground breaking service aimed at helping the male perpetrators of violence. [our emphasis]

[12]  Both items were transparently focused on men’s violence, and did not enter any discussion about the gender of perpetrators and victims of domestic violence. It was therefore not necessary in the interests of balance to explicitly state that women can be perpetrators and men the victims. In any event, we note that the items did acknowledge that men are not the only perpetrators of domestic violence, as follows:

  • “But you are talking to the men, and so often in these cases we are talking about, generally here, women, as the victims of it…” (Q + A presenter)
  • “In the past when police attended a domestic situation, relevant services were notified to assist only the adult female and children involved. The male adult, usually the perpetrator, was left to fend for himself.” (Marae Investigates presenter)

[13]  As the items did not look at the issue raised by the complainant, and were clearly focused on one aspect of domestic violence, namely, men’s violence against women, we are satisfied that viewers would not have been misinformed by the alleged omission of alternative viewpoints. We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

Did the broadcasts encourage discrimination or denigration against men as a section of the community?

[14]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community. The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people.3  “Discrimination” has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group to their detriment.4 

[15]  The items did not comment in any way on men in general, as a group, or demonstrate any malice or invective towards them. We are satisfied that the items did not encourage discrimination against, or the denigration of, men as a section of the community.

[16]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Did the broadcasts breach the other standards raised in the complaint?

[17]  Mr Thomas also raised the accuracy, fairness, responsible programming, and children’s interests standards. In summary, these standards were not breached because:

  • the items were accurate on all material points of fact and were clearly focused on male perpetrators, so viewers would not have been misled (Standard 5)
  • the fairness standard applies only to individuals, not groups, so it does not apply to men in general (Standard 6)
  • Q + A and Marae Investigates were unclassified current affairs programmes targeted at adults, and neither programme contained anything that deceived viewers, or would have caused panic, unwarranted alarm or distress (Standard 8)
  • The complainant argued that children lacked the cognitive ability to see through the biased approach taken by the programmes. However, the content formed part of unclassified news programmes which were not targeted at children, and which were unlikely to be watched by children unsupervised. Children would not have been distressed or alarmed by the content (Standard 9).

[18]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that these standards were breached.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
1 October 2013

Appendix

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

1           Max Thomas’ formal complaint  emails – 15 May 2013

2          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 11 June 2013

3          Mr Thomas’ referral to the Authority (including transcript of  Q + A interview) – 16 June 2013

4          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 17 July 2013


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

2For 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).

3See, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks, Decision No. 2006-030.

4For example, see Decision No. 2008-091