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Lee and Korean Society of Christchurch and TVWorks Ltd - 2013-024

Members

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

Complainants

  • Ho Chang Lee of Christchurch
  • Korean Society of Christchurch

Dated

19th November 2013

Number

2013-024

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


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

An item on 3rd Degree reported on a Korean man X who was ousted from his local church community for his participation in a ‘mockumentary’ about North Korea. The programme included an interview with the editor of a local Korean newspaper (one of the complainants), and attempted to interview a priest from X’s church. The Authority did not uphold complaints that the story was unfair to the interviewees and breached the newspaper editor’s privacy. The programme made genuine attempts to obtain comment from the interviewees, and they were treated fairly. The newspaper editor agreed to an interview so the broadcast did not disclose any private facts about him. The story did not discuss a controversial issue which required the presentation of alternative views; it focused on one man’s personal experiences.

Not Upheld: Fairness, Privacy, Controversial Issues


Introduction

[1]  An item on 3rd Degree, titled ‘I Spy’, reported on a Korean man, X, who was ousted from his local church community for his participation in a ‘mockumentary’ made by a New Zealand filmmaker. The item was introduced by the presenters as follows:

Presenter 1:   North Korea. It’s probably public enemy number one in the world right now,
                     and the fear and paranoia about this regime stretches all the way down here
                     to New Zealand.

Presenter 2:   Yes, the question is, is there a North Korean spy living in Christchurch, or is
                     this a case where the fantasy has really got mixed up with the facts? Here
                     is [reporter’s name] with what really is an extraordinary story.

[2]  The reporter explained that X played the role of a communist agent in an ‘underground movie translated from Korean, harshly critical of life in the West and the so-called propaganda we are exposed to’. He said the film was released on YouTube, and that to gain publicity, the filmmaker ‘concocted a preposterous back story’ to make people believe it was smuggled out of North Korea. The story was told from X’s perspective and focused on the reaction of his local church community, even after it was revealed the film was a hoax. The item was broadcast on 10 April 2013 on TV3.

[3]  Ho Chang Lee, the editor and publisher of the Korea Review, who took part in the item, and the Korean Society of Christchurch, made formal complaints to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was unfair to Mr Lee, the local Korean community, and other interviewees. In addition, they argued that the item was unbalanced because it failed to challenge the social responsibility of the film producer for the confusion and misunderstanding caused by his ‘mockumentary’.

[4]  Mr Lee also made a direct privacy complaint to the Authority, alleging that the broadcast breached his privacy.

[5]  The issues therefore are whether the item breached the privacy, fairness, and controversial issues standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

Was anyone taking part or referred to in the item treated unfairly?

[7]  The fairness standard (Standard 6) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. The objective of this standard is to ensure that programme participants and people referred to in broadcasts are dealt with justly and fairly, so that unwarranted harm is not caused to their reputation and dignity.1

[8]  The complainants argued that the item was unfair to Mr Lee and the local Korean community, as well as other interviewees who were ‘unexpectedly invaded by the [camera] crew’.

[9]  The item included interviews with Mr Lee and the Catholic Bishop of Christchurch. The reporter also spoke to a priest at X’s local church, and to the Vicar General over the telephone. The issue is whether any of these individuals was treated unfairly. The fairness complaint raises the following questions:

  • Was the programme’s approach in door-stepping Mr Lee and the priest unfair?
  • Was the interview with Mr Lee unfairly edited?
  • Did the programme take an unfairly biased approach?
  • Did the programme unfairly omit information about the reasons for X being ousted from his local community and church?
  • Overall, was anyone taking part or referred to in the item treated unfairly?

Was the programme’s approach in door-stepping Mr Lee and the priest unfair?

[10]  In investigating X’s claims, the programme sought interviews with two members of his local community. The first was Mr Lee, the editor and publisher of the Korea Review, a local newspaper and ‘the main source of information for [X]’s community’. X gave his view the newspaper had inflamed the situation and did ‘little to dispel the rumours about him being a spy’.

[11]  The reporter approached Mr Lee, with cameras rolling, at his house which was also the offices of the Korea Review, seeking an interview. After a brief conversation at the front door, Mr Lee invited the reporter into his house for a sit-down interview.

[12]  Mr Lee argued that, despite declining two requests for an interview, the camera crew ‘came marching into my personal house, also my office... with no invitation or appointment’, and he considered the footage made him look like a criminal. TVWorks said the interview with Mr Lee was conducted with his consent and maintained the excerpts broadcast fairly reflected the opinions he expressed during the interview.

[13]  The Authority’s approach is that door-stepping will normally be found to be unfair unless every alternative legitimate way either to obtain the information sought, or to ensure that a person being investigated is given the opportunity to respond, has been exhausted.2 Here, the reporter had made two unsuccessful attempts to obtain comment from Mr Lee, and we are satisfied that the door-stepping was used as a genuine means to obtain information and comment. Mr Lee invited the reporter and camera crew into his house and took part in an hour-long interview, and his cooperation was evident in the footage. He came across well and competently put forward his, and the newspaper’s, positions. We are therefore satisfied that the programme’s approach to obtaining comment from Mr Lee was not unfair to him.

[14]  In seeking to interview the priest, the programme showed the reporter and camera crew, along with X, waiting in the church car park and then the reporter trying to speak with him at the office of the church. The priest was shown arriving and exiting his car, spitting in a bush, and then walking past them. At the office of the church, the priest repeated the words “stop please”, while holding his cell phone up to block the camera.

[15]  We requested further information from the broadcaster on whether previous efforts had been made to contact the priest, before approaching him at the church with cameras rolling. In response, TVWorks advised that:

Earlier that day… the reporter had approached the administration staff at the church in that office asking for an interview with [the priest].

The church official rang [the priest] and passed the phone to the reporter. [The reporter] explained directly to [the priest] that he was a reporter from 3rd Degree and was filming a story about [X]. [The priest] agreed to come down to the church and talk with the reporter.

[The priest] was filmed as he arrived and walked straight past [X]. He first invited the reporter into the office which was through a gate and then his official stopped the camera from accompanying him.

[16]  It is clear from TVWorks’ submissions that the reporter wanted to obtain a comment from the priest. We agree that it was important to include the church’s point of view, which was in the public interest. The reporter has advised that a meeting and an interview had been arranged with the priest. But the decision to film from a public place when the priest arrived, and his subsequent behavior in the car park and at the office, suggest to us he was not entirely sure the interview would take place. The reporter and the crew left when they were asked, and no interview took place. Given that the filming of the priest exiting his car was taken from a public place (the car park) and the crew left when asked, we find the priest was treated fairly. We therefore decline to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Was the interview with Mr Lee unfairly edited?

[17]  Mr Lee argued that the interview footage was unfairly edited because the broadcast did not include his comment that the Korea Review was the first to inform the local community the film was fictional, and other comments he considered should have been included. Guideline 6b to the fairness standard states that broadcasters should exercise care in editing programme material to ensure that the extracts used are not a distortion of the original event or the overall views expressed.

[18]  TVWorks maintained that Mr Lee consented to the interview and the footage broadcast was a fair reflection of his opinions.

[19]  In our view, the footage broadcast fairly reflected Mr Lee’s viewpoint, as expressed in his complaint. Mr Lee was shown saying, ‘You have very wrong conception, you have prejudice… against our newspaper, against our people... your point of view is not neutral’. The reporter asked, ‘Have you played a part in vilifying and ostracising this man?’ Mr Lee responded, ‘Maybe I did… Maybe I didn’t, it depends on the people who read our newspaper’. While it would have been useful to include his comment that the Korea Review was the first to report the film was fictional, this was not necessary in the interests of fairness, especially considering Mr Lee’s comments in the item that he was still not 100 percent sure the film was fictional, and his admission that the newspaper may have played a part in vilifying X. In our view, Mr Lee came across well in the broadcast, and he was given a fair and reasonable opportunity to comment. We therefore decline to uphold this aspect of the fairness complaint.

Did the programme take an unfairly biased approach?

[20]  The complainants argued that the programme was biased in favour of the film producer and X. The Korean Society of Christchurch argued that the programme ignored the producer’s responsibility and ‘glorified’ his film. The item included footage of X’s wife crying to encourage sympathy, whereas only the ‘parts where the interviewees made errors for being flustered, the priest avoiding the camera twice, spitting on the bush, and other negative parts’ were broadcast, it said.

[21]  TVWorks responded that all participants and organisations taking part or referred to in the item were treated fairly and had their perspectives included. It said the footage of the priest spitting in a bush was taken in a public place and the priest engaged in this behaviour at his own will and without provocation.

[22]  While the programme was sympathetic to X’s position and was told from his perspective, this was a legitimate exercise of editorial discretion by the broadcaster. The filmmaker explicitly commented in the story that he was taking full responsibility for the consequences of releasing the film. We acknowledge the complainants’ concerns with showing footage of the priest spitting in a bush, particularly when this behaviour is viewed differently across different cultures. However, the footage was taken from a public place, and we are satisfied that TVWorks made sufficient efforts to include balancing comment. There was enough information in the item to enable viewers to make up their own minds about the reaction of X’s local church community. Therefore the item was not unfair in this respect.

Did the programme unfairly omit information about the reasons for X being ousted from his local community and church?

[23]  Mr Lee said he informed the reporter that X’s participation in the film and the subsequent confusion this created was not the only reason he was ousted from his local church community. He alleged that X had physically assaulted a church member in the past and that people in the community had looked at him negatively since then, and he said he gave the reporter that person’s contact details.

[24]  It was clear from the item, including the comments from Mr Lee, the Vicar General, and the Catholic Bishop of Christchurch, that X was primarily ousted from his local community because of his involvement in the film. The focus of the item was the film and the bizarre circumstances that unfolded, namely, the consequences for X as a result of his participation in the film. The fact Mr Chang may have assaulted a person sometime in the past which allegedly created ill-will towards him by some members of the community was not in our view relevant to this focus, so it was not unfair to exclude this information from the programme.

Overall was anyone taking part or referred to in the item treated unfairly?

[25]  Overall, we are satisfied that the item contained balancing comment, to the extent possible, from Mr Lee, the Vicar General, and the Catholic Bishop of Christchurch. Viewers would not have been left with an unfairly negative impression of the people and organisations taking part or referred to, and were provided with sufficient information on both sides to form their own conclusions. Accordingly, we decline to uphold any part of the Standard 6 complaint.

Did the broadcast breach Mr Lee’s privacy?

[26]  The privacy standard (Standard 3) states that broadcasters should maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual. The standard exists to protect individuals from undesired access to, and disclosure of, information about themselves and their affairs, in order to maintain their dignity, choice, mental wellbeing and reputation, and their ability to develop relationships, opinions and creativity away from the glare of publicity.

[27]  Mr Lee argued that the door-stepping footage and the footage taken inside his house breached his privacy. He conceded to allowing the reporter and camera crew into his house for an interview, but was concerned that the footage broadcast made him look like a criminal.

[28]  TVNZ said the item did not disclose any private facts about Mr Lee because while the exterior of his house was visible in the footage, it was described as the offices of the Korea Review, and the street address was not broadcast. The interview related to the treatment of X, and did not reveal any personal details about Mr Lee, it said.

[29]  As Mr Lee allowed the camera crew and reporter into his house and gave an interview that lasted for almost an hour, we are satisfied that the programme did not disclose any private information in a manner that would be considered highly offensive to an objective reasonable person. As we have said above in our consideration of fairness, Mr Lee came across well and competently answered the reporter’s questions and presented his views.

[30]  We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 3 complaint.

Did the item discuss a controversial issue of public importance requiring the presentation of alternative viewpoints?

[31]  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, where necessary, to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.3

[32]  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’.4

[33]  The complainants’ concerns under this standard were that the item displayed favouritism towards the film producer and X. The angle of the story was a matter of editorial discretion, as discussed under fairness, and the perspective of the local church community was fairly presented. In any event, the item did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance, but focused on one individual’s personal story and experiences, and so it did not require the presentation of other views.

[34]  Accordingly, we 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
19 November 2013

Appendix

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

Ho Chang Lee’s complaint

1                  Ho Chang Lee’s direct privacy complaint to the Authority – 29 April 2013

2                 Mr Lee’s formal complaint to TVWorks – 29 April 2013

3                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 28 May 2013

4                 TVWorks’ response to the privacy complaint – 31 May 2013

5                 Mr Lee’s referral to the Authority (including attachments) – 14 June 2013

6                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority and confirmation of no further comments – 6 August
                   2013

Korean Society of Christchurch’s complaint

1                  Korean Society of Christchurch’s formal complaint – 24 April 2013

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 13 May 2013

3                 Korean Society of Christchurch’s referral to the Authority (including attachment) – 10 June
                   2013

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority and confirmation of no further comments – 6 August
                   2013

5                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority’s request for further information – 21 August 2013


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

2For example, Paper Reclaim and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2010-133 and Katavich and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2010-064.

3Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

4For 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).