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McDermott and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2017-056 (4 September 2017)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Jean McDermott

Dated

4th September 2017

Number

2017-056

Channel/Station

Prime TV

Broadcaster

SKY Network Television Ltd

Summary

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

Peter Popoff Ministries is a religious programme hosted by controversial televangelist, Peter Popoff. This programme featured Popoff and his wife preaching and allegedly healing audience members, as well as testimonies from various attendees about miracles and financial rewards received from God after they bought Popoff’s ‘Miracle Spring Water’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the programme was ‘fraudulent’, as it took advantage of viewers who may be misled by the programme into losing money. The Authority acknowledged the complainant’s genuine and well intentioned concerns. However, it found that the accuracy standard did not apply to religious programming, such as Peter Popoff’s Ministries, and programme selection and scheduling decisions fell to the responsible broadcaster to determine.

Not Upheld: Accuracy 


Introduction

[1]  Peter Popoff Ministries is a religious programme hosted by controversial televangelist, Peter Popoff. This programme featured Popoff and his wife preaching and allegedly healing audience members, as well as testimonies from various attendees about miracles and financial rewards received from God after they bought Popoff’s ‘Miracle Spring Water’.

[2]  Peter Popoff is a televangelist and faith-healer, whose fraudulent practices were exposed in the mid-1980s. He was subsequently declared bankrupt, but has since returned to television with programmes and infomercials for his ‘Miracle Spring Water’.

[3]  Jean McDermott complained that the broadcast of Peter Popoff Ministries was fraudulent, as Popoff asked those who received the water to then send donations, causing gullible people to pay him money.

[4]  The issue raised in Mrs McDermott’s complaint is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The item was broadcast at 7am on 14 May 2017 on Prime TV. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Preliminary issues

[6]  Mrs McDermott filed her original complaint under the accuracy standard only. In her referral to the Authority, she stated that it was difficult for her to categorise her complaint under broadcasting standards, and suggested that Standard 5 – Law and Order, may have been more appropriate. She submitted that the programme actively encouraged crime (fraud) and Popoff was a proven fraudster who misled the public into losing money.

[7]  SKY questioned whether Mrs McDermott was entitled to raise a new standard at the referral stage, and whether the Authority required SKY’s comments on the law and order standard.

[8]  The Authority’s jurisdiction is limited to standards raised either explicitly or implicitly in the original complaint. Complainants are unable to add new standards or issues at the referral stage. We have therefore limited our consideration of Mrs McDermott’s complaint to the accuracy standard only.

Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?

[9]  The accuracy standard (Standard 9) 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 being significantly misinformed.

The broadcaster’s submissions

[10]  SKY submitted that:

  • The accuracy standard applied only to news, current affairs and factual programming.
  • Factual programmes excluded those that were wholly opinion-based, for example those that discuss or explore religious, cultural or political beliefs.1
  • Programmes which are wholly opinion-based are not held to the requirements imposed by the accuracy standard, as ‘a reasonable viewer would understand what is presented in those programmes is not an even-handed examination of the issue or subject-matter’.
  • In a society which values freedom of expression, including religious expression, the Authority considers such programmes fall outside the ambit of ‘factual programmes’, for the purpose of the standard.2

Our analysis

[11]  The accuracy standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programming. Peter Popoff’s Ministries is not a news or current affairs programme and, in our view, the programme is not a ‘factual programme’ either. Factual programmes are non-fiction programmes which contain information that audiences might reasonably expect to be authoritative or truthful, such as documentaries.

[12]  In our view, factual programmes can be distinguished from programmes which are wholly based on opinions or ideas,3 which include ‘programmes that promote the expression of an ideology based on religious, cultural or political beliefs’.4 This is because a reasonable viewer would understand that what is presented in such a programme is not an even-handed examination of the issues or subject matter.

[13]  The complainant’s primary concern appears to be the selection of this programme by the broadcaster, given the controversy surrounding Popoff and the risk that programmes such as Peter Popoff’s Ministries take advantage of vulnerable audiences. We understand and acknowledge the genuine concern of the complainant in relation to this broadcast, and note that programmes such as Popoff’s have been subject to broadcasting standards complaints in overseas jurisdictions.6 While we value freedom of expression in our society, including religious expression, in our view there is a serious risk that this programme could be harmful for some viewers.

[14]  Generally, however, programme selection and scheduling falls to the discretion of the broadcaster, and as such, this complaint does not sit under New Zealand’s broadcasting standards.

[15]  Accordingly we are unable to uphold the accuracy complaint. We do hope however that this decision will alert some viewers to the issues and risks relating to this programme.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
4 September 2017  

 

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1      Jean McDermott’s formal complaint – 18 May 2017
2      SKY’s response to the complaint – 30 June 2017
3      Mrs McDermott’s referral to the Authority – 5 July 2017 (received 10 July 2017)
4      SKY’s confirmation of no further comment – 17 July 2017

 


 

1 Bank and others and TVNZ, Decision No. 2003-141-158

2 Raj and Triangle Television Ltd, Decision No. 2011-125

3 Commentary to Standard 9 – Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18

4Bank and others and TVNZ, above, at [47]

5 Raj and Triangle Television Ltd, above, at [8]

6 In 2008, the UK communications regulator, Ofcom, found episodes of Peter Popoff Ministries in breach of broadcasting standards, finding that the programme exploited the susceptibilities of the audience (see Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, 15 September 2008, page 16).