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WR and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2018-059 (26 October 2018)

Members

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

Complainant

  • WR

Dated

26th October 2018

Number

2018-059

Programme

The Project

Channel/Station

Three

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about a segment on The Project that discussed whether bystanders should step in if they see parents treating their children in a way they do not agree with. At the beginning of the segment the presenters described an incident in which a father (the complainant) allegedly disciplined his son by denying him afternoon tea. Another parent reported this to Oranga Tamariki, who later found no cause for action and dismissed the complaint. The complainant argued the segment omitted important details about the incident, and was unbalanced and unfair. The Authority acknowledged the significant effect these events have had on the complainant and his family. However, the Authority found the incident, and the reporting of it to Oranga Tamariki, was used to frame the broader discussion about bystander intervention, rather than being the focus of the item. Therefore the item was unlikely to mislead viewers or result in harm at a level that justified restricting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. 

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Balance, Fairness


The broadcast

[1]  A segment on The Project discussed whether bystanders should step in if they see parents treating their children in a way they do not agree with. At the beginning of the segment, the presenters described an incident in which a father (the complainant) allegedly disciplined his son by denying him afternoon tea. Another parent reported this incident to Oranga Tamariki, who later found no cause for action and dismissed the complaint.

[2]  The segment included an interview with child psychologist Emma Woodward, comment from Children’s Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft and various members of the public about whether/when it is appropriate to intervene. Some of their comments included:

  • In response to one host’s question, ‘Do you think this dad did the right thing by going to Oranga Tamariki?’, ‘Yeah, he did. He felt like he had a concern and he reported it to the correct authorities and that’s what they’re in place to do, is make the right judgement call when we pass it over to the professionals.’ (Ms Woodward)
  • ‘Trust your gut instinct. If you feel you’re gonna think about that after the event and wish you’d stepped in, then step in…’ (Ms Woodward)
  • ‘If we’re concerned we must act, that’s what our children deserve.’ (Judge Becroft)

[3]  The segment was broadcast on 8 May 2018 on Three.

The complaint

[4]  The complainant, WR, submitted the broadcast breached the accuracy, balance and fairness standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice for the following reasons:

Accuracy

  • The story was not accurate as it omitted or misrepresented key details and facts about the incident (for example the location of the incident and whether or not the complainant was ‘disciplining his son’). This caused significant harm to the complainant’s family.
  • Despite being presented as an expert and providing her views on the incident, Ms Woodward was not aware of all the relevant facts and was likely to mislead the audience into thinking the person who intervened was right to do so.
  • The Project wrongly portrayed the individual who complained to Oranga Tamariki as ‘a hero’.

Balance

  • The story was not balanced as it was based on a ‘misrepresented incident’.
  • The segment should also have discussed when it is not right to intervene, and what the implications might be if someone intervenes in the wrong situation.
  • MediaWorks should have taken the time to discuss the incident with the complainant in detail so that The Project’s interpretation of the incident was more balanced and accurate.

Fairness

  • The omissions and misrepresentations in the segment resulted in unfairness to the complainant and his family, and significant harm to them. MediaWorks accepted the complainant would be recognisable to viewers who knew him and were aware of the incident. 
  • MediaWorks chose to use what had happened to benefit ‘public discussion’ rather than addressing the issues impacting him and his son.
  • Other than using a Stuff article, MediaWorks sought no information from the complainant to ‘contextualise’ the issue presented in the story.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  Mediaworks submitted the broadcast did not breach the broadcasting standards raised in the complaint for the following reasons:

Accuracy

  • The alleged points of inaccuracy raised in the complaint would not have significantly affected the audience’s understanding of the segment as a whole.
  • The incident had already been reported in other media, and was used as the basis for a broader discussion around when it might be appropriate for bystanders to get involved. The incident itself was not the broadcast’s focus and it was not discussed in detail.
  • It was appropriate for The Project to rely on reporting of the incident that had appeared in other media, and to use that as the basis for a conversation about ‘stepping in’.
  • The complainant noted that the complaint to Oranga Tamariki included false accusations. The segment did not refer to this aspect of the complaint; it simply noted that there had been a complaint to Oranga Tamariki, Oranga Tamariki had investigated, and it found no basis for any action.

Balance

  • The broadcast discussed a controversial issue of public importance. However the incident was not the focus of discussion, but rather an ‘entry-point’ into the wider issue of bystander intervention, so an interview and further context were not required to achieve balance.

Fairness

  • Neither the complainant nor his son was identified, but MediaWorks accepted that they would be recognisable to viewers who knew them and who were aware of the incident.
  • The incident was not discussed at length and it was made clear that Oranga Tamariki had found no cause for action and had dismissed the complaint.

[6]  MediaWorks nevertheless passed on the complainant’s concerns to The Project’s executive producer, and apologised for any frustration caused by earlier contact with the complainant regarding a possible interview, which did not eventuate.

The standards

[7]  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 receiving misinformation and thereby being misled. This standard is only concerned with material inaccuracy. Technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the broadcast as a whole are not material.1

[8]  The balance standard (Standard 8) 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.

[9]  The fairness standard (Standard 11) 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.

Our findings

[10]  When we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we first look at the right to freedom of expression, which is valued highly in New Zealand and enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. We weigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and the value of the programme, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. In this case the alleged harm is the distress and reputational damage caused to the complainant and his family, resulting from what the complainant considers is unfair and misleading coverage of the incident and reporting of it to Oranga Tamariki.

[11]  We recognise events such as these and related coverage can have a significant effect on the people involved, especially children. We are sympathetic to the complainant’s position and the impact the reporting of the incident has evidently had on him and his family. However we also recognise that this broadcast carried value and public interest in discussing and encouraging public discourse about a relevant societal issue.

[12]  For reasons that we outline below, we have found that in this instance, when balanced against the public interest in the programme and the context of the programme as a whole, the level of actual or potential harm caused by this broadcast does not reach the threshold to justify limiting MediaWorks’ right to freedom of expression.

Accuracy

[13]  We note first that our role is not to determine the accurate series of events in relation to the incident in question. Rather our role is to determine whether MediaWorks made reasonable efforts to ensure all material statements of fact in the item were accurate, and that it did not mislead listeners.

[14]  The incident involving the complainant, and the related complaint to Oranga Tamariki, were briefly discussed at the beginning of the item, in similar terms as they had been in other media sources.2 In our view the purpose of referring to the incident was to use it as a springboard to a wider conversation about if and when people should intervene where children may be in danger. We do not think the incident involving the complainant was the focus of the item as a whole. Nor do we think viewers would have seen it as being the focus.

[15]  The facts surrounding the incident and reporting of it to Oranga Tamariki are understandably significant to the family and those involved. In the context of this particular item, we do not consider the omission of details, such as whether or not the complainant was ‘disciplining his child’ or the exact location of the incident, would have misled viewers or significantly affected their understanding of the broadcast as a whole or the wider discussion about bystander intervention. We do note, though, that the programme made it clear to viewers that Oranga Tamariki investigated and found no basis for any action regarding the incident, before moving on to discuss the wider issue of bystander intervention.

[16]  In regards to the complainant’s submissions about Ms Woodward’s interview, we think viewers would have understood that Ms Woodward was offering her professional opinion on bystander intervention generally. As Ms Woodward’s comments were statements of opinion and analysis rather than statements of fact, the accuracy standard does not apply. In any event, she did not express any judgement on the specifics of the incident involving the complainant, beyond saying the other parent was right to report the incident to the correct authorities on the basis he had a concern (see paragraph [2]).

[17]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.

Balance

[18]  We first considered whether the item discussed a controversial issue of public importance which triggered the requirements of the balance standard. The concept of bystander intervention (when to intervene in situations where children may be in danger) may be considered such an issue. However the incident raised by the complainant was used as an example and a framing device in this wider discussion. In our view the incident alone does not meet the definition of a controversial issue of public importance, which is defined as an issue which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate, and which would have a significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public.3 This means that additional details about the incident and reporting of it to Oranga Tamariki, that the complainant wished to be included, were not required to achieve balance in the broadcast.

[19]  The segment as a whole relating to the wider issue of bystander intervention was adequately balanced. It contained several significant points of view, including from experts, the hosts and various members of the public, which enabled viewers to arrive at their own informed opinions:

  • ‘We don’t want to turn New Zealand into a nation of snoopers and busy bodies but let’s be clear, our rates of child abuse and neglect are very high internationally and if we’ve got legitimate, genuine concerns, we must act on them.’ (Judge Becroft)
  • ‘We’ve been talking about this for 30-odd years now – what the right time to intervene is, what we should do – and I still don’t think we’ve got it right. There’s some good advice in what Emma [Woodward] had to say but I think we’ve still got a lot of work to do.’ (guest host, Peter Dunne)
  • ‘I wouldn’t step in. I’d be very reluctant to step in…’ (host, Jeremy Corbett)

[20]  For these reasons we do not uphold the complaint under the balance standard.

Fairness

[21]  We have reviewed the submissions of both parties and we are satisfied that the broadcaster did not breach the fairness standard. The fairness standard may apply to people referred to in a programme and we accept that the complainant and his child were ‘referred to’ in the broadcast for the purposes of the standard. However, neither the complainant nor his son was explicitly identified, and the reference to the incident involving them was relatively brief in the context of the broader discussion of bystander intervention generally. For the same reasons, we do not think an interview or comment from the complainant was required in the interests of fairness. Although the broadcast did not mention specific details that the complainant thought should be included, the broadcast clearly stated Oranga Tamariki found no cause for action and dismissed the complaint involving the complainant, which minimised the potential harm to him.

[22]  As discussed above, we are sympathetic to the complainant’s situation and the impact of these events on him and his family, but in the overall context we do not consider the potential harm arising from the broadcast outweighed freedom of expression on this occasion.

Name suppression

[23]  While we have not upheld the complaint in this instance, due to the nature and circumstances of the complaint, we have suppressed WR’s name in our decision.


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

 


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
26 October 2018


Appendix

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

1     WR’s formal complaint – 21 May 2018
2     MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 18 June 2018
3     WR’s referral to the Authority – 17 July 2018
4     MediaWorks’ response to the referral – 9 August 2018
5     WR’s final comments – 21 August 2018


1 Guideline 9b

2  For example, Auckland parent attempts to take school to court over camp helper (Stuff, 8 May 2018) and Heated argument leads to boy's refusal to go to school camp and court action (NZ Herald, 8 May 2018)

3 Commentary: Balance, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18