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Both and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2015-100 (14 April 2016)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Andrew Both

Dated

14th April 2016

Number

2015-100

Programme

3 News

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

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

A 3 News item reported on allegations of widespread doping amongst Russian athletes and included a reference to the disqualification of a Belarussian shot-putter at the London Olympics. The Authority did not uphold a complaint alleging the item was misleading, unbalanced and denigrated Russians by failing to differentiate between Belarus and Russia. The reporter accurately described the Belarussian athlete and the Russian Olympic team, and in the context of the item viewers would not have been misled into thinking Belarus and Russia were the same country. The item portrayed a range of significant viewpoints on the allegations of doping amongst Russian Olympic athletes and did not contain any material which discriminated against, or denigrated, Russians.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Controversial Issues, Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  A 3 News item reported on allegations of widespread doping amongst Russian athletes. The reporter introduced the item by recalling the disqualification of a Belarussian shot-putter at the London Olympics:

When Valerie Adams’ Belarussian rival was stripped of gold at the London Olympics, anti-doping authorities had no idea that it was just the tip of a massive doping drama. In Geneva, authors of an inquiry into allegations against the Russian team (who came away with 82 medals) now say the 2012 Olympics were sabotaged.

[2]  Andrew Both complained that the report was misleading, as it failed to differentiate between Belarus and Russia.

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

[4]  The item was broadcast on TV3 on 10 November 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]  Mr Both considered that the reporter’s introduction to the item was misleading because it suggested that Belarus is the same as Russia. He felt that the failure to differentiate between the two separate countries constituted ‘very sloppy amateur reporting’ by the broadcaster.

[7]  MediaWorks did not identify any inaccuracies or misleading material in the report. It noted the Belarussian athlete was clearly described as Belarussian, and argued the item did not suggest she was Russian or that Belarus and Russia are the same place.

[8]  While the reporter quickly transitioned from her reference to the disqualification of the Belarussian athlete to the allegations of widespread doping amongst Russian Olympic athletes, in the context of the item we are satisfied this was not misleading or otherwise inaccurate. The disqualified athlete was clearly described as Belarussian and it was not implied that she was Russian. The mention of the Belarussian athlete was intended to place the story in a New Zealand context by referring to an incident which would be well-known to New Zealand audiences. This was legitimate and a commonly-used technique in news reporting. The item clearly differentiated between Belarus and Russia and viewers would not have been misled or left with the impression these were the same country.

[9]  For these reasons we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

Was the item sufficiently balanced?

[10]  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.2

[11]  Mr Both did not make any specific arguments under this standard. MediaWorks argued that the item contained a range of significant viewpoints, including from the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Olympic Committee, the New Zealand Olympic Committee, the International Association of Athletics Federations and the Russian Sports Minister. It therefore considered the item was sufficiently balanced.

[12]  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’.3

[13]  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’.4 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.5

[14]  We accept that the allegations of widespread doping amongst Russian Olympic athletes amounted to a controversial issue of public importance which was discussed during this news item. These were serious allegations which were disputed by Russia and which had an uncertain outcome, namely, whether or not Russia would be suspended from athletics and/or the Olympics until the doping issue is resolved. The allegations generated extensive media coverage and had the potential to affect New Zealanders, in particular New Zealand Olympic athletes, but also spectators.

[15]  We are also satisfied that the range of viewpoints presented within the item (see MediaWorks’ arguments at paragraph [11] above) was adequate to provide balance. In particular we note that the item included the following comments in response to the allegations:

  • ‘Russia has denied allegations of widespread doping by its athletes’. (newsreader)
  • ‘...the Russian Sports Minister responded to the report saying, “There is an attempt made to cast a shadow over all Russian sport. It is unacceptable and I can reassure you that Russian sport is today one of the leaders of world sport.” He says the report is an emotional statement and not supported by evidence.’ (reporter)

[16]  Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 4.

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

[17]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

[18]  While Mr Both did not make any specific arguments under this standard, MediaWorks considered his complaint suggested that the report denigrated Russia by including a reference to a Belarussian athlete disqualified for doping at the London Olympics. It argued that as this athlete was clearly described as Belarussian, this could not be said to have denigrated Russia.

[19]  Guideline 7a to the discrimination and denigration standard states that it is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is factual. This was a straightforward news report, which we have found above was not misleading or otherwise inaccurate. We also agree with the broadcaster that the reference to the disqualification of a Belarussian athlete for doping, who was clearly described as Belarussian, could not be said to have encouraged the denigration of, or discrimination against, Russian people or Russian athletes.

[20]  Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 7.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich

Chair

14 April 2016

 

 

Appendix

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

1      Andrew Both’s formal complaint – 12 November 2015

2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 10 December 2015

3      Mr Both’s referral to the Authority – 19 December 2015

4      MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 5 February 2016

 


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

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

For 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)

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

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