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AFFCO Holdings Ltd and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2015-050

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose

Complainant

  • AFFCO Holdings Ltd

Dated

10th November 2015

Number

2015-050

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

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

Two items on 3 News reported on two cases of Talley's Group paying compensation to employees for work accidents at its freezing works. The items featured interviews with both workers and referred to their Employment Relations Authority (ERA) cases. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the items were inaccurate and unfair to AFFCO Holdings Ltd, the subsidiary of Talley's Group which owns the freezing works. The broadcaster was entitled to report key parts of the ERA judgments, and AFFCO was given a fair opportunity to comment.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Fairness

 


Introduction

[1]  Two items on 3 News reported on Talley's Group paying compensation to employees for work accidents at its freezing works. The items featured interviews with both workers (whom we refer to as 'A' and 'C' for the purposes of this decision) and referred to their Employment Relations Authority (ERA) cases.

[2]  AFFCO Holdings Ltd is a subsidiary of Talley's Group, and owns South Pacific Meats Ltd (SPM), which owns the freezing works featured in the items. It complained that the items 'did not accurately report all material points of fact to the point where the broadcasts were misleading' and were unfair to AFFCO and Talley's Group.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcasts breached the accuracy and fairness standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The items were broadcast on 15 and 16 June 2015 on TV3. The members of the Authority have viewed recordings of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The items

15 June item – A

[5]  The first item discussed how Talley's was 'forced to pay thousands of dollars' compensation to a worker injured on the job. At the same time it was lobbying for health and safety reforms in the workplace to be softened'. The reporter went on to say that A was:

...failed by his bosses at the Malvern Freezing Works. He was exposed to toxic chemicals while cleaning a meat chiller. He said he felt poisoned after 15 minutes – stinging eyes, trouble breathing... It got worse.

[6]  The item discussed A's ERA case and highlighted parts of the judgment, in which 'Talley's-owned South Pacific Meats was ordered to pay [A] $6,000 for hurt, humiliation and loss of dignity because it failed to provide a safe workplace'. The reporter also said:

Talley's refused an interview but in a statement says the Authority didn't uphold all of [A's] complaints, that he was blameworthy too and the company may yet appeal.

16 June item – C

[7]  The second item was about C, another Talley's worker who received compensation:

[C's] arm will never be the same again – sliced open while working on the slaughterboard at the Malvern Freezing Works... His bosses failed to rush him for urgent medical treatment – forced to get himself to hospital.

[8]  The reporter again highlighted excerpts from C's ERA judgment in which C's boss reportedly said 'he was too busy to deal with the matter'. C was interviewed and said, 'I have always believed it was a personal issue, the reason I wasn't given transport'. The reporter said that the ERA 'ordered South Pacific Meats to pay [C] $12,000 in lost wages and compensation and a $3,000 fine to the Crown.'

[9]  The reporter then pointed out that A and C were just 'two out of 1,284 Talley's workers injured on the job last year', and that 'in fact over the last three years ACC has paid out $8 million to nearly 5,000 injured Talley's workers'.

[10]  Talley's comment on the story was reported as follows:

Talley's again refused to be interviewed but Sir Talley's son... emailed dismissing our story as 'union propaganda'.

Were the broadcasts inaccurate or misleading?

[11]  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.1

[12]  AFFCO argued that several aspects of the reports were inaccurate. AFFCO's arguments and the broadcaster's response under each are outlined below, followed by our findings.

Representation of A's case – 15 June item

[13]  AFFCO argued that the 15 June item gave a 'misleading summary' of A's case, as it said the ERA found that 'SPM acted reasonably and did not breach any contractual or statutory duty'.

[14]  MediaWorks argued that it did not misrepresent A's case against SPM, and pointed out that the ERA found that A was 'disadvantage[d] in his employment', that SPM did not act as a 'fair and reasonable employer' in all respects and that SPM was in breach of its 'express contractual obligation... to provide [A] a safe and healthy working environment'.

'[C's] bosses failed to rush him for urgent medical treatment'. (Reporter) – 16 June item

[15]  AFFCO argued that in fact C's supervisor did not understand that he was responsible for arranging C's transport to a doctor, and that the ERA determination supported this: '...[T]here was no evidence to support a refusal rather there was a misguided belief that someone else was arranging transport'.

[16]  MediaWorks argued that the reporter's statement was based on the ERA finding that SPM 'failed to provide medical treatment beyond first aid for C by not arranging/providing transport to the doctors'.

'I've always believed it was a personal issue, the reason I wasn't given transport'. (C) – 16 June item

[17] AFFCO argued that it was clear that it was a misunderstanding rather than a personal issue that led to C not being rushed for treatment. It pointed out that the ERA had found 'no deliberate conduct or intention'.

[18]  MediaWorks argued that this statement was clearly C's opinion, and that AFFCO was given the opportunity to respond by way of an interview and chose not to.

Aspects of the ERA determinations – 15 and 16 June items

[19]  AFFCO argued that the reports were generally misleading and did not cover aspects of the ERA determinations that it considered to be relevant, such as that neither employee was awarded the full amount they sought.

[20]  MediaWorks argued that '[i]t is not feasible in the context of a brief news story to cover all aspects of lengthy legal documents... and in our view the items accurately and concisely conveyed the reasons for the [ERA] finding against Talley's in both instances'.

Authority's findings on accuracy

[21]  Guideline 5a to the accuracy standard says that it does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion. C's statement about his belief that the failure to rush him for medical treatment was 'personal' falls within this category and thus the accuracy standard does not apply to it. As to the representation of A's case, the statement about C's bosses' failure to transport him for medical treatment and the way the ERA's determinations were reported, we agree with MediaWorks that it was entitled to rely on the ERA's judgments and was not required to cover each judgment in detail.

[22]  The nature of news broadcasting is such that complex situations and facts will often necessarily be reduced to key points to convey the essence of the story to viewers within a brief news item. It is not usually possible, nor reasonable, for every detail to be included. We would be concerned only if an item became misleading by omission in the sense that viewers were given a 'wrong idea or impression of the facts'.2 We have carefully read the ERA judgments, and we are satisfied that overall the items were not inaccurate and would not have materially misled viewers as to the circumstances of each case.

[23]  We therefore decline to uphold the accuracy complaint.

Was any individual or organisation taking part or referred to in the broadcasts treated unfairly?

[24]  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.3

[25]  AFFCO argued that it and Talley's Group were generally treated unfairly, due to MediaWorks' 'selective reporting'.

[26]  MediaWorks maintained that Talley's and AFFCO were treated fairly. It said that it requested interviews with Talley's for both items, which were declined. It pointed out that it did include reference to statements from Talley's in both items as follows:

  •  'Talley's refused an interview but in a statement says the Authority didn't uphold all of [A's] complaints, that he was blameworthy too and the company may yet appeal.' (15 June item)
  •  'Talley's again refused to be interviewed but Sir Talley's son... emailed dismissing our story as "union propaganda".' (16 June item)

[27]  While we agree that the impression created of Talley's (and by implication its subsidiary AFFCO) was negative, having regard to all of the material before us and to our findings in relation to accuracy, we are satisfied that viewers would not have been left with an unfairly negative impression. Talley's was given a reasonable opportunity to specifically counter the allegations in each item, and its limited responses provided to the programme were fairly presented in the broadcasts.

[28]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the fairness complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich

Chair

10 November 2015

 

Appendix

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

1      AFFCO Holdings Ltd's formal complaint – 26 June 2015

2      MediaWorks' response to the complaint – 10 July 2015

3      AFFCO's referral to the Authority – 27 July 2015

4      MediaWorks' response to the Authority – 24 August 2015

 


Bush and Television New Zealand LtdDecision No. 2010-036

Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110 at paragraph [98] per Williams J

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