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Burrows and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-102

Members

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

Complainant

  • Wayne Burrows of Palmerston North

Dated

5th February 2015

Number

2014-102

Programme

Q+A

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

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

An item on Q+A considered new initiatives proposed by the National Party to tackle domestic violence. The Authority declined to uphold the complaint that the item 'focused exclusively on women as victims and men as perpetrators of domestic violence', which showed a lack of balance and denigrated men. References to 'men' and 'women' did not amount to a 'discussion of gender' requiring the presentation of alternative views, as alleged by the complainant.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  An item on Q+A considered new initiatives proposed by the National Party to tackle domestic violence. The item contained an interview with the Minister of Justice and a panel discussion with a political scientist, a lawyer and a communications consultant.

[2]  Wayne Burrows complained that the item 'focused almost exclusively on women as victims and men as perpetrators of domestic violence'. He argued this was unbalanced and biased, and denigrated men.

[3]  The issue is whether the complaint breached the controversial issues and discrimination and denigration standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item aired on TV ONE on 13 July 2014. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast 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 or 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]  Mr Burrows argued that, in contrast to the programmes at issue in the Authority's previous decisions on his complaints,2 Q+A discussed the issue of domestic violence in a 'gendered manner', so the broadcaster was required to provide balance on that issue. He acknowledged that the item's introduction referred to both women and men being killed, but said that 'killing is the tip of the iceberg... [as at] lower levels [of domestic violence] there are statistics that show that women and men commit and are victims of domestic violence with roughly equal frequency.' Mr Burrows listed 24 times when gender was mentioned in the item, and said that in 22 of these references women were said to be the victim, or the perpetrator was said to be male. He said that because the gender of victims and perpetrators was explicitly mentioned and discussed numerous times, the broadcaster was obligated under the balance standard to 'show both women and men as perpetrators and victims'.

[7]  TVNZ considered that the discussion was framed around political responses to the issue of domestic violence, and that significant viewpoints on this issue were presented.

[8]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to 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'.3

[9]  The subject matter discussed in the item was the 'Preventing Family Violence Package' proposed by the National Party to deal with high rates of domestic violence in New Zealand. While we accept that the interviewee, the interviewer and the panellists did make references to women being victims and men being perpetrators of domestic violence, the gender breakdown of victims and perpetrators of domestic violence was not the item's focus. Applying Standard 4, it does not follow that simply because the terms 'men' and 'women' were used, this amounted to a 'discussion' of gender, triggering the requirement to present alternative views. Rather, the requirements of the standard mean that it was the discussion of the National Party's proposal which needed to be balanced – being the clear focus of the item – and not the references to 'men' and 'women', which were peripheral to that focus.

[10]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 4.

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

[11]  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.4 'Discrimination' has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group to their detriment.5

[12]  It is well-established that in light of the requirements of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard.6

[13]  Mr Burrows argued that the item's 'biased' and 'one-sided' approach denigrated, and discriminated against, men. He said it characterised men in 'the aggressive anti-social role' and that as a result of such characterisation, innocent men are thought to be abusers.

[14]  While we understand the complainant is concerned about the way media portray and discuss the issue of domestic violence, references to 'men' in the context of such discussions are not in our view intended to reflect or comment on all men as a section of the community. The references to male perpetrators in this item did not carry any malice or invective towards men in general such that the item could be said to have blackened the reputation of all men, or encouraged the different treatment of all men, to their detriment. This was a legitimate discussion among the panellists about the National Party's proposed package for dealing with domestic violence, which carried high public interest.

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

General Comments

[16]  We appreciate that the issue of domestic violence is one of grave concern to Mr Burrows as he has now made a number of complaints, in particular in relation to the portrayal of men in connection with this issue.

[17]  We have had regard to the domestic violence statistics provided to us by both parties, and have also looked at other sources of information. TVNZ provided us with statistics from the Ministry of Social Development, sourced largely from New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, Families Commission, New Zealand Police, Ministry of Justice and Statistics New Zealand, which indicate that:7

  • 'Family violence homicides are more often committed by men. Death reviews show men commit 86% of partner homicides, 60% of child homicides, 73% of other family homicides.'
  • '84% of those arrested for family violence are men; 16% are women.'

[18]  We further reviewed and compared data summary reports on the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse website, which include the following statistics:

  • 77 percent of female homicides in 2013 were committed by a family member.8
  • Consistently from 2005 to 2013, between 89 and 91 percent of protection order applicants were female; 7 to 9 percent of applicants were male.9
  • In the same years, 87 to 90 percent of respondents named in protection order applications were male; between 9 and 11 percent of respondents were female.10

[19]  The findings of The Glenn Inquiry released in November 2014 support these statistics and conclude that 'men are significantly more likely to inflict violence against women'. The report says:11

As unpalatable as it is to many, information from the Police, Family Violence Death Review Committee and other research shows that violence between intimate partners is a gendered problem. That is, men are significantly more likely to inflict violence against women. In 2013, nine out of ten applications for protection orders were made by women, with men (nine out of ten) being the key respondents to these applications.

[20]  We recognise (as do these reports) that statistics in relation to violence or abuse are dependent on cases being reported, and as such are not definitive. Nevertheless, we do not think broadcasters can be penalised for relying on the statistics that are available to them when the issue of domestic violence comes up for discussion. Based on the statistics we have seen, we do not think it is unreasonable for a discussion of domestic violence to include references to men as perpetrators and women as victims.

[21]  For these reasons, similar complaints from Mr Burrows in future, which object to men being portrayed as perpetrators of domestic violence, are unlikely to be upheld.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
5 February 2015

 

Appendix

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

1      Wayne Burrows' formal complaint – 13 July 2014
2      TVNZ's response to the complaint – 8 August 2014
3      Mr Burrows' referral to the Authority – 14 August 2014
4      TVNZ's response to the Authority (including attachment) – 3 September 2014
5      Further comments from Mr Burrows – 4 December 2014
6      Further comments from TVNZ – 16 December 2014

 

 


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

2 Burrows and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2014-023 and Burrows and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2012-135

3 For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010)

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

5 See, for example, Teoh and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-091

6 E.g. McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network, Decision No. 2002-152

7 Recent Statistics, http://www.areyouok.org.nz/family-violence/statistics/ (July 2014)

8 Data Summary: Family Violence Deaths (New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, June 2014)

9 Data Summary: Violence Against Women (New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, June 2014)

10 Data Summary: Violence Against Women (New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, June 2014)

11 The Glenn Inquiry, The People's Blueprint: Transforming the way we deal with child abuse and domestic violence in New Zealand (November 2014) at page 54