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Carter and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2015-070 (1 December 2015)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Julie Carter

Dated

1st December 2015

Number

2015-070

Programme

Seven Sharp

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

Summary

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

During her ‘final word’ segment on Seven Sharp presenter Toni Street discussed her support for arming front-line police officers with tasers and mentioned the recent murder of Blessie Gotingco. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that her comments were inaccurate and misleading. Ms Street’s comments were clearly opinion which were exempt from standards of accuracy; she did not connect the use of tasers to Blessie Gotingco’s murder; and she did not make any statements of fact that were inaccurate or would have misled viewers.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


Introduction

[1]  During her ‘final word’ segment on an episode of Seven Sharp, presenter Toni Street discussed her support for the recent move to arm front-line police officers with tasers. She said:

Alright, according to our poll on tasers tonight... drumroll... an overwhelming 88 percent – not quite 90 percent – of you support the police with being armed with them and I of course am right with you, as is Mike. When you consider the debate we’ve had around Corrections the last couple of weeks, first with the fighting in our prisons, then with the horrific circumstances around the Blessie Gotingco murder, we’ve all been asking for more, haven’t we? More safety, more protection. We’ve questioned why the perpetrators seem to have become the focus rather than the actual victims. Today at least this is a step in the right direction. If a member of your family was to find themselves in serious trouble, relying on the police to help them, you’d sure as hell hope they were carrying a taser. When it comes to injuries, tasers actually cause less damage than dogs and pepper spray, and in today’s world where these Class A drugs do crazy things to people, why would we take the risk?

[2]  Julie Carter complained that Ms Street’s comments about tasers were inaccurate and misleading because they suggested tasers were the ‘ultimate panacea’ for violent crime, however they would not have helped in the Blessie Gotingco case as police were not present at her abduction.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy standard as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item was broadcast on TV ONE on 31 July 2015. 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 broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[5] 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

[6]  Ms Carter argued Ms Street’s comments constituted ‘misleading journalism’ as the police were not in attendance at Blessie Gotingco’s abduction. She asserted that tasers have been issued for the safety of police officers in the execution of their duties – not to protect the public. Ms Carter felt that violent assaults on women are ‘opportunist and spontaneous’, so suggesting that arming police with tasers would make women on the streets safer was erroneous.

[7]  TVNZ noted that the complainant had not pointed to any material point of fact that she believed was inaccurate. It argued that Ms Street did not say that police use of tasers would have helped in the Blessie Gotingco case, but that she was simply referencing the public outcry directed at the Department of Corrections when some details of the case became known. TVNZ also maintained that the comments in question were made during a recognised opinion segment and were therefore not subject to the accuracy standard.

[8]  Guideline 5a to Standard 5 states that the accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion. This is because the right to freedom of expression as set out in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 explicitly protects the right to express one’s opinion – even if unpopular or incorrect – so the accuracy standard must be applied in such a way as to impose the minimum restriction on free speech.

[9]  Seven Sharp’s ‘final word’ segment has been recognised, both by the Authority in a previous decision and by participants in focus group testing of that decision, as largely consisting of the presenters offering their opinion on topical issues.2 We agree with TVNZ that viewers would have understood this segment to be Ms Street’s opinion, rather than expecting it to be authoritative or factually correct.

[10]  We do not consider that Ms Street suggested tasers were the ‘ultimate panacea’ for violent crime as the complainant suggests; she simply articulated her view that arming front-line police officers with tasers was a welcome ‘step in the right direction’ to combatting violence in our society. In this context she referred to the Blessie Gotingco murder as one example of recent serious violence and a contributing factor to ‘the debate we’ve had around Corrections’. She did not in any way link the use of tasers to that particular case or suggest that tasers would have prevented Ms Gotingco’s murder. Additionally, the introduction of tasers and the reasons for doing so were extensively covered in the media, so we do not think viewers would have been misled by Ms Street offering her opinion on the issue. We are satisfied she did not make any statements of fact which were inaccurate.

[11]  Accordingly we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

 

Peter Radich

Chair

1 December 2015

 

Appendix

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

1      Julie Carter’s formal complaint – 1 August 2015

2      TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 27 August 2015

3      Ms Carter’s referral to the Authority – 7 September 2015

4      TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 16 October 2015


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

See Dempsey and 3 Others and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2014-047 at [17] and Litmus Testing 2015 (Accuracy), Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2015