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Cleaver and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2015-079 (28 January 2016)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Paul Cleaver

Dated

28th January 2016

Number

2015-079

Programme

Story

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

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

In an item on Story, an actor approached four different real estate agencies (Ray White, LJ Hooker, Barfoot & Thompson and Harcourts) and asked agents to sell him properties for investment prior to auction and at a lower price, which it was alleged would be in breach of the industry code. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that one of the Story presenters had a conflict of interest because of her family connections to Barfoot & Thompson, which resulted in a breach of standards. The Authority is not in a position to determine whether such a conflict existed, but in any case, the alleged conflict did not manifest as a breach of the broadcasting standards nominated.

Not Upheld: Fairness, Accuracy, Controversial Issues


Introduction

[1]  An item on Story investigated an alleged issue within the Auckland property market: ‘Some real estate agents are helping investors and traders... get the houses first [before auction]’. An actor approached four different real estate agencies (Ray White, LJ Hooker, Barfoot & Thompson and Harcourts) and asked agents to sell him properties for investment prior to auction and at a lower price, which the presenter alleged would be in breach of the industry code. It reported that agents at two of the agencies approached (Ray White and LJ Hooker) were willing to sell properties prior to auction.

[2]  Paul Cleaver alleged that one of the presenters on Story (Heather du Plessis-Allan) ‘has family who are currently working in the Real Estate industry, namely Barfoot [&] Thompson’. He said this was a conflict of interest, noting the item focused on three real estate agencies but not Barfoot & Thompson.

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

[4]  The item was broadcast on TV3 on 10 August 2015. 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 breach broadcasting standards?

[5]  Mr Cleaver argued that Ms du Plessis-Allan ‘should not have had any involvement or even any prior knowledge’ of the Story investigation, and that Barfoot & Thompson may have been ‘warned’ about the investigation beforehand. He said that the failure to disclose Ms du Plessis-Allan’s family involvement with Barfoot & Thompson made the item unbalanced.

[6]  MediaWorks denied there was a conflict of interest, and argued that Barfoot & Thompson was approached to be featured in the item, and that the item showed and mentioned this, but that ‘the item did not investigate the Barfoot & Thompson agent further because he declined the actor’s request to facilitate an off-market purchase’. It also said that Ms du Plessis-Allan ‘has always been upfront about her family connections to real estate but this story was produced by a producer... with no such connections and done in a totally even-handed way’.

[7]  As one of Ms du Plessis-Allan’s close family members is apparently an agent for Barfoot & Thompson, we acknowledge that there could have been a perceived conflict of interest in relation to her involvement in the Story investigation. However, we are satisfied that this did not manifest itself in a breach of any broadcasting standards, for the reasons which follow.

Fairness

[8]  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.

[9]  The fairness standard applies only to individuals or organisations taking part or referred to in a broadcast. Mr Cleaver did not specify who he considered to have been treated unfairly, but seemed to argue that it was unfair for Barfoot & Thompson to escape scrutiny.

[10]  Regardless, we do not think either of the agencies whose agents allegedly agreed to act improperly were treated unfairly. Both agencies were given an opportunity to comment and those responses were adequately presented in the item.

[11]  Accordingly we do not uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Accuracy

[12]  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.

[13]  Mr Cleaver did not specify what in the item he alleged to be inaccurate, but we presume he considered it to be misleading for Ms du Plessis-Allan to fail to mention her connections to Barfoot & Thompson. We have not been pointed to any evidence that Ms du Plessis-Allan’s connections, or the omission of any reference to them, resulted in the item being inaccurate or misleading. The item’s focus on the two agencies which reportedly were ‘caught’ engaging in improper real estate practices was a matter of editorial discretion and also in the public interest. Viewers would not have been materially misled by the omission of information about Ms du Plessis-Allan’s connections in this context.

[14]  Accordingly we do not uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

Controversial Issues

[15]  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

[16]  The item was framed in the context of the present difficulties in the Auckland property market and we accept that a discussion about whether real estate agents are acting improperly or illegally could amount to a controversial issue of public importance. However, we do not think that Ms du Plessis-Allan’s alleged conflict of interest in reporting this item was a ‘significant point of view’ in relation to the focus of the item or required in order to achieve balance.

[17]  We therefore do not uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
28 January 2016

 

Appendix

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

1      Paul Cleaver’s formal complaint – 11 August 2015
2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 3 September 2015
3      Mr Cleaver’s referral to the Authority – 18 September 2015
4      MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 16 October 2015

 

 


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