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Right to Life New Zealand and TVWorks Ltd - 2013-062

Members

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

Complainant

  • Right to Life New Zealand of Christchurch

Dated

19th November 2013

Number

2013-062

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

A 3 News item reported on newly released statistics showing a decline in the number of abortions performed in New Zealand. It included one possible reason why, put forward by the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the item was unbalanced because it did not also include the ‘pro-life’ perspective on why the rates were declining. While abortion is a controversial issue of public importance, the fact abortion rates have declined is not, and there has not been any significant debate about the reasons for the decrease. The broadcaster was not required to canvass perspectives for and against abortion given the item was a straightforward report on new statistics.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues


Introduction

[1]  An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 on 19 June 2013, reported on newly released statistics showing a decline in the number of abortions performed in New Zealand.

[2]  Right to Life New Zealand made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was unbalanced because it only included comment from a pro-abortion organisation, the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ), and did not canvass the ‘pro-life’ perspective.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the controversial issues standard, as set out in 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 requiring the presentation of alternative viewpoints?

[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 standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.1

[6]  The complainant argued that ALRANZ’s view that abortion rates had declined because of contraception was ‘pure conjecture’, saying, ‘We believe that the main reason the number of abortions is declining is that there is a growing recognition that abortion is violence against women and that it wounds them. There is also increased awareness that each abortion destroys a unique and unrepeatable miracle of God’s creation.’

[7]  TVWorks accepted that the wider issue of abortion was controversial to advocacy groups on either side of the debate, but said this was a straightforward news report on newly released statistics; it was not about law reform, or the moral debate around abortion. Further, it considered that most viewers would be aware of the general ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ arguments, so it was not necessary to address these in a story about declining abortion rates. It said production and time constraints meant it was not practical to canvass wider issues raised by the statistics, though it had passed the complainant’s concerns on to its newsroom for future guidance.

[8]  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

[9]  While we accept that abortion is a controversial issue of public importance, the focus of this brief news item was reporting new statistics showing a decrease in the number of abortions performed in New Zealand. The 30-second report consisted solely of the newsreader stating:

The number of abortions performed in New Zealand is at its lowest since 1995. There were nearly 15,000 abortions last year, that’s 1,100 fewer than in 2011. [ALRANZ] says the decrease is likely due to new forms of contraception and better access to birth control. It says more women seem to be using long-term reversible methods like implants and intrauterine devices. The contraceptive implant Jadelle has been free since 2010 [our emphasis].

[10]  The fact that there are fewer abortions being performed is not a controversial issue. Nor has there been any significant debate on why the rates are declining. The reference to ALRANZ’s viewpoint was presented as one possible reason for the decline, framed using inconclusive language such as ‘likely’ and ‘seems’, indicating there may be other reasons.

[11]  This was a straightforward report of new statistics, so the broadcaster was not required to canvass every position in the moral debate between those for and against abortion. In any case, viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware of the main views on either side of that debate, including the ‘pro-life’ perspective.

[12]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint.

                                                                                    

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
19 November 2013


Appendix

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

1                  Right to Life New Zealand’s formal complaint  – 2 July 2013

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 20 August 2013

3                 Right to Life New Zealand’s referral to the Authority – 5 September 2013

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 3 October 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).