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Right to Life New Zealand and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2018-033 (23 July 2018)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Right to Life New Zealand

Dated

23rd July 2018

Number

2018-033

Programme

The Project

Channel/Station

Three

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

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

An item on The Project discussed the End of Life Choice Bill (the Bill) before the Select Committee of Parliament. The item featured interviews with advocates for and against the legalisation of euthanasia in Aotearoa. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the item was unbalanced or that the use of certain terms such as ‘euthanasia’ was inaccurate. The Authority recognised the legalisation of euthanasia is an important and ongoing issue of public importance in New Zealand. The Authority found that overall the item was sufficiently balanced and was unlikely to mislead or misinform viewers, so any restriction on the broadcaster’s freedom of expression would be unjustified.

Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy

The broadcast

[1]  An item on The Project discussed the End of Life Choice Bill (the Bill) before the Select Committee of Parliament. The item featured an interview with euthanasia advocate and terminal cancer patient Bobbie Carroll, who emphasised her desire for personal choice regarding the issue of legalised euthanasia in New Zealand. The segment also included earlier comments from Matthew Jensen of the Care Alliance who opposed the Bill, a statistic highlighting the medical profession’s split on the issue, and some debate over the Bill amongst the hosts.

[2] The item was broadcast on 20 February 2018 on Three. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[3]  Right to Life New Zealand complained that the item was unbalanced and inaccurate. Its main concerns under the balance standard are:

  • The item was unbalanced in favour of the Bill.
  • The item did not present reasons why the passing of the Bill would be a threat to the most vulnerable people in the community, notably the elderly, the sick and the disabled.
  • The item should also have included information on palliative care in New Zealand.
  • The item also left out valuable opposing points of view from relevant parties such as the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, the NZ Medical Association and the Disability Rights Commissioner, who are all opposed to the Bill in its current form.
  • The item misinformed the public by referring to a statistic which found doctors and nurses are ‘split on the issue’ of euthanasia. The study results referred to in the broadcast are not indicative of the medical profession’s attitudes as a whole and the broadcast should have acknowledged the statistics were taken from an online survey in 2017 with only a small sample size (967 medical professionals).

[4]  Under the accuracy standard, Right to Life complained that using the terms ‘medically assisted death’, ‘euthanasia’ and ‘assisted dying’ in the broadcast was inaccurate and misleading. It considered these terms are being used, both in the Bill and in the broadcast, to ‘disguise the stark nature of these killing acts’ as ‘euphemistic terms that will give the impression that a doctor killing a patient or assisting in a suicide is providing a medical treatment’.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  MediaWorks submitted that the item was balanced as it included:

  • comment from Matthew Jansen of the Care Alliance (identified as being comments from June 2017)
  • statistics from the medical profession highlighting how divided the profession is over the issue
  • acknowledgement that the Bill was before the Select Committee
  • encouragement to the public to get involved in the democratic process.

[6]  Mediaworks did not consider it was inaccurate or misleading to use the terms ‘assisted dying’ and ‘euthanasia’ as both terms are used in the Bill.

Our analysis

[7]  The issue of euthanasia in New Zealand is both current and contentious. As the Bill is before the Select Committee, where the public can make submissions, it is important they are informed about the nature of the Bill and the ongoing conversation that surrounds the possible legalisation of euthanasia in Aotearoa. Our media have a responsibility to positively contribute to that conversation by encouraging the free flow of ideas and varying opinions. On the other hand the media are also responsible for ensuring the public are not significantly misled or misinformed by providing unbalanced or inaccurate content.

Balance

[8]  The balance standard (Standard 8) requires broadcasters to make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant alternative points of view in broadcasts which discuss controversial issues of public importance. Euthanasia and the legislative process of the Bill clearly amount to such an issue, and therefore trigger the requirements of the standard.

[9]  We are satisfied that the item was sufficiently balanced and it was unlikely to misinform the audience about this significant issue.

[10]  While the item did not include the opinions of the individuals and entities which Right to Life thought should be included, it did clearly acknowledge the debate around the issue and several differing opinions on the legalisation of euthanasia were presented, including through the guests (Ms Carroll and Mr Jansen), and the hosts themselves, who expressed a mixture of enthusiasm and scepticism regarding the Bill. For example:

  • ‘The biggest fear people have is elder abuse, there is elder abuse happening now, elder abuse will continue. But I believe this legislation with its two independent doctors, the psychiatrist, you have to be within a year, all the safety gaps in it and maybe a couple added, we’ll never get rid of elder abuse, but I believe it will significantly reduce it.’ (Bobbie Carroll)
  • ‘It’s an emotionally charged topic and understandably people are passionate on both sides of the fence.’ (host, Kanoa Lloyd)
  • ‘What we need to do is hold people in love, and help them walk that journey, a very difficult journey, with care and love.’ (Matthew Jansen, Care Alliance)

[11]  The balance standard does not require that every possible view on such a complex issue be contained within one item. The comments above however clearly demonstrate that a range of views were presented in this item and the broadcaster has met the requirements of the standard. We also note as an aside that the media coverage of the Bill and the wider euthanasia debate is ongoing and wide-ranging.

[12]  We do not consider using the statistic from a survey about the opinions of the medical profession would have misinformed the public. There is no suggestion that the results of the study were inaccurately reported and we do not think it was necessary to provide further context around the study’s scope or sample size. The statistic was used in the item to highlight the split in the medical profession over this contentious issue.

Accuracy

[13]  We do not consider the use of the terms ‘medically assisted death’, ‘euthanasia’ and ‘assisted dying’ was inaccurate or misleading. These are common terms that are used both locally and internationally, in the public and in legislation. We do not consider their use in this item would have misled viewers with respect to the issue under debate.

Conclusion

[14]  This item covered varying perspectives on a controversial and current issue. The broadcast had a high level of public interest as it contributed to the ongoing public debate. We do not consider any actual or potential harm arose from the item which warrants our intervention or limiting the right to freedom of expression.

[15]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
23 July 2018

 

Appendix
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Right to Life’s formal complaint – 8 March 2018
2 MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 21 March 2018
3 Right to Life’s referral to the Authority – 3 April 2018
4 MediaWorks’ response to the referral – 17 April 2018
5 Right to Life’s final comments – 26 April 2018
6 MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 30 April 2018