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Grylls and Dietitians New Zealand and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2014-076

Members

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

Complainants

  • Wendy Grylls of Kapiti
  • Dietitians New Zealand of Wellington

Dated

25th September 2014

Number

2014-076

Programme

3rd Degree

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd


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

An item on 3rd Degree considered a controversial and increasingly popular high fat and low carbohydrate diet. The Authority did not uphold complaints that the item was unbalanced and inaccurate because it was more favourable to the ‘pro-fat’ side of the debate. The broadcaster clearly made efforts to interview experts on both sides of the debate, and viewers were left to make up their own minds or seek further information about the merits of the diet.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Accuracy, Fairness


Introduction

[1]  An item on 3rd Degree considered a controversial and increasingly popular high fat and low carbohydrate diet. A reporter interviewed a number of experts, and also talked to several people who had experienced weight loss and health benefits from the diet. The item aired on TV3 on 23 April 2014.

[2]  Wendy Grylls and Dietitians New Zealand (Dietitians NZ) complained to MediaWorks TV Ltd (MediaWorks), alleging that the item was biased as it gave more air time to the ‘pro fat’ side of the debate, omitted relevant information and was ‘likely to cause considerable harm to New Zealanders with its inaccurate and biased portrayal of established nutrition science’.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the controversial issues, accuracy and fairness standards, 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.

Was the item sufficiently balanced?

[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]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viwpoints 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

[7]  The item explored an increasingly popular high fat diet, which contrasted with long established views on the dangers associated with consuming saturated fats. Given the contrasting views on the benefits, versus the health risks, of consuming fats, we think this topic amounted to a controversial issue, of significance to the New Zealand public and their health.

[8]  Ms Grylls argued that ‘the pro-fat participants were given almost twice as much time as the anti-fat participants’. She said that the programme provided no ‘informed debate about… complex and interrelated issues’ regarding diet and chronic disease. Dietitians NZ argued that by ‘failing to explain the scientists’ credentials satisfactorily’, the audience ‘was given the impression that both sides were equally well qualified to provide an opinion on the science relating to saturated fat and human health’. It argued that as a result, the information provided in the item ‘was completely inadequate to allow [viewers] to judge the strength of the evidence on either side of a highly complex debate, which has significant public health implications’.

[9]  MediaWorks maintained that the item included two pro-fat and two anti-fat experts, both sides were given significant air time and the report clearly addressed the qualifications of the scientists interviewed. It argued that while the item did address the lack of published studies and scientific data supporting the pro-fat experts, ‘the overall salient point of this story was that there are varying views in the scientific community regarding the role of saturated fat in a healthy diet’.

[10]  We are satisfied that the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant views on the issue under discussion. Guideline 4a to the balance standard recognises that no set formula can be advanced for the allocation of time to interested parties, and the time given need not be mathematically balanced. Here, experts on both sides of the debate were given ample opportunity to present their views on the validity of the diet. For the ‘pro-fat’ perspective, the reporter interviewed a professor of public health with a background in sports and physical activity, and went supermarket shopping with a registered dietitian who supported the diet. On the ‘anti-fat’ side of the discussion, the reporter interviewed an Auckland University epidemiologist and an Otago University professor of human nutrition and medicine who were strongly opposed to the diet. All of the interviewees were questioned about their credentials, including their level of expertise and qualifications to give advice on this subject.

[11]  The programme also featured a former dairy farmer, a woman trying to lose weight and a professional cricketer about their experiences with the high fat, low carbohydrate diet. This did not have the effect of the pro-fat side ‘outweighing’ the other. Rather, individuals who had tried the diet represented another significant view on the topic, in addition to the experts, and added a human interest element to the story.

[12]  As a whole, the item made it clear that there were strongly opposing viewpoints on the high fat, low carbohydrate diet and gave viewers sufficient information on the different perspectives to allow them to form their own opinions on its merits. There is also a wealth of information in the public domain from which viewers could seek additional information.

[13]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaints under Standard 4.

Was the item inaccurate or misleading?

[14]  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

[15]  Ms Grylls argued that the programme was misleading, because while there are ‘some studies which suggest that some sub types of saturated fat may not be as harmful as previously thought… no ethical scientist would then make the leap to claim that lots of saturated fat is good for the whole population’. Dietitians NZ considered the item gave ‘the impression that there is sufficient conclusive scientific evidence to support the long term efficacy and safety of such diets’ when actually, ‘this is not borne out in scientific evidence’. Both complainants referred to specific statements made in the item which they considered were inaccurate. These included comments made about cholesterol levels, the nutritional variety of the diet and the effects of eating foods with a higher saturated fat content.

[16]  Guideline 5a states that the accuracy does not apply to statements that are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion. The statements complained about were clearly presented as the opinions of the experts and as such were not subject to standards of accuracy. In any case, the item repeatedly made it clear the topic remains highly controversial and contested amongst scientists and other nutrition and diet experts. Viewers were given adequate information on each side of the debate to make up their own minds about the diet, or to at least seek further information about the diet, and therefore were not misled.

[17]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the accuracy complaints.

Was any individual or organisation taking part in the item treated unfairly?

[18]  The fairness standard (Standard 6) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. 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]  Ms Grylls said that the use of anecdotal stories to present the pro-fat side of the debate was unfair to the anti-fat side, which was presented by ‘telling the audience about scientific studies, which some viewers might find dull and difficult to understand’. Dietitians NZ argued that the interviewer’s ‘somewhat hostile and dismissive attitude to [the anti-fat experts] and her much warmer treatment of those on the other side’ was unfair.

[20]  MediaWorks maintained that the anti-fat experts were robust speakers who ‘were certainly afforded plenty of time and respect’ and also noted that the views of the pro-fat expert were challenged.

[21]  As we have said under balance, each expert was given a fair and reasonable opportunity to put forward their views on the issue. We are satisfied the interviewees on each side of the debate were properly introduced and treated by the reporter in a consistently fair manner. None of the participants was treated unfairly.

[22]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaints under Standard 6.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority




Peter Radich
Chair
25 September 2014


Appendix

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

Wendy Grylls’ Complaint

1            Wendy Grylls’ formal complaint – 12 May 2014

2            MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 10 June 2014

3            Ms Grylls’ referral to the Authority – 23 June 2014

4            MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 26 June 2014

Dietitians NZ’s Complaint

1            Dietitians NZ’s formal complaint – 14 May 2014

2            MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 16 June 2014

3            Dietitians NZ’s referral to the Authority – 24 June 2014

4            MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 24 July 2014

 


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)

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

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