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Right to Life NZ and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2015-003

Members

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

Complainant

  • Right to Live New Zealand Incorporated

Dated

1st April 2015

Number

2015-003

Programme

Campbell Live

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

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

An item on Campbell Live featured the story of a terminally ill man who is an advocate for voluntary euthanasia. The introduction to the item referred to a proposed private member's bill that would legalise voluntary euthanasia in New Zealand. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the item lacked balance because it failed to present other significant views on euthanasia. Although voluntary euthanasia is a controversial issue of public importance, the item did not 'discuss' this issue. The item was clearly focused on the interviewee's personal story and experiences, so it did not trigger the requirement for presenting alternative views.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues


Introduction

[1]  An item on Campbell Live featured the story of a terminally ill man who is an advocate for voluntary euthanasia. The presenter introduced the item by outlining the man's story, and briefly referred to a proposed private member's bill that would legalise voluntary euthanasia in New Zealand.

[2]  Right to Life New Zealand complained that the item lacked balance and was presented as a case for supporting euthanasia.

[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 item was broadcast on TV3 on 3 December 2014.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 which required 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 the item was unbalanced because it did not contain any input from the medical profession, which is 'totally opposed to being expected to kill their patients', or the hospice movement, and omitted information about alternative, legal avenues available to the interviewee. It considered the item used emotive language that promoted euthanasia, for example 'right to die' and 'right to choose'.

[7]  MediaWorks argued that the item made it clear that the interviewee's story was just his point of view. The item acknowledged that there was a debate surrounding voluntary euthanasia, which was sufficient in the context of the item to alert viewers to other perspectives, the broadcaster said.

[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]  The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a 'significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public'.3 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.4

[10]  We accept that voluntary euthanasia is a controversial issue of public importance.5 However, we do not consider that this Campbell Live item amounted to a 'discussion' of that issue. The item was introduced by the presenter as follows:

[Name] came to Christchurch to play clarinet for the city's symphony orchestra but he no longer plays. He's tired, suffers memory loss and headaches.[Name's] brain tumour is terminal but he doesn't want the tumour to take his life, [he] wants to get in first. The 'right to die' or voluntary euthanasia is not legal in New Zealand but could be if a private member's bill garners enough support. Tonight we invite you to watch [name and name]'s story and let us know your thoughts – we'd love to hear from you. The bill would be a conscience vote for MPs; you can help steer them, too.

[11]  While the introduction did make reference to the private member's bill and invited viewers to 'let us know your thoughts' and even to 'steer' MPs, the item itself was squarely focused on one man's personal story and experiences. The Authority has previously determined that programmes which focused on individual stories – even though they may be connected to a wider issue – did not discuss controversial issues of public importance.6 The programme did not discuss the bill any further and it was not mentioned at all by the interviewee. In this context viewers would not have expected an in-depth or even-handed analysis of all arguments for and against legalising voluntary euthanasia.

[12]  In any case, euthanasia is recognised as a long-running moral issue that has an ongoing period of current interest.7 It is accepted that the broad perspectives in the debate are known to the public and that different viewpoints from both sides of the debate will be offered from time to time. Viewers therefore could be reasonably expected to be aware of the significant views in the debate.

[13]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4.

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

 Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 Peter Radich

Chair
1 April 2015

 

Appendix

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

1     Right to Life's formal complaint – 8 December 2014
2     MediaWorks' response to the complaint – 15 January 2015
3     Right to Life's referral to the Authority – 27 January 2015
4     MediaWorks' response to the Authority – 5 February 2015

 

 


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)

3Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-125

4See, for example, Dewe and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-076

5Eg, McQueen and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2012-068

6For example, one woman's experience with adopting battery hens (Egg Producers Federation of New Zealand Inc and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2009-053), one man's experience with the public health system (Young and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2009-001) and one couple's experience in being banned from Samoa (Lubinska and Rowland and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-046)

7Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010)