BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Animal Rights Legal Advocacy Network Inc and TVWorks Ltd - 2007-134

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Animal Rights Legal Advocacy Network Inc
Number
2007-134
Programme
60 Minutes
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
60 Minutes – item looked at a New Zealand based animal research testing facility – included interviews with people who were pro-animal use and people who were anti-animal use – included discussions on the type of animals being used, whether animal testing was necessary, alternatives and research facilities – allegedly unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair 

Findings
Standard 4 (balance) – to the extent that the item touched on a controversial issue of public importance it provided an adequate overview of significant viewpoints – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – no misleading or inaccurate statements – not upheld  

Standard 6 (fairness) – participants were treated fairly – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on 60 Minutes, broadcast on TV3 at 7.30pm on 27 August 2007, looked at the use of animals in drug testing. The item included interviews with Allen Goldenthal, a veterinarian and owner of an animal testing facility in New Zealand, Jonathan Balcombe, a biologist and anti-animal testing campaigner, Jimmy Suttie from AgResearch and the Green Party MP Sue Kedgley. 

[2]   The item focused on Mr Goldenthal’s New Zealand testing facility, the research that was being carried out there and his reasons for doing it. To provide context and background, the item touched on a number of issues surrounding animal testing including whether it was necessary, possible alternatives, what types of animals were being used, which organisations were testing on animals in New Zealand, the arguments for and against animal testing and the secrecy surrounding research facilities that use animals for testing.   

Complaint

[3]   The Animal Rights Legal Advocacy Network Inc (ARLAN), made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair.

[4]   ARLAN argued that animal experimentation was a controversial issue of public importance and that the balance standard in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice was breached because reasonable efforts were not made, and reasonable opportunities were not provided, to present significant points of view.

[5]   The complainant considered that one of the central issues examined in the item was whether animal experiments were necessary. It contended that the way in which the issue was covered and framed in the item was unbalanced. ARLAN stated “the programme contained numerous repeated statements from Mr Goldenthal speaking of the need for and importance of animal tests to save human lives, however there was only one very brief sentence from a scientist [Mr Balcombe] voicing the opposing view – that the tests are ineffective”. It also noted that the main discussion about the effectiveness of animal testing was towards the end of the item and that Mr Balcombe’s comments were isolated by being placed at the start of the programme.

[6]   ARLAN said that the reporter had dealt with the issue in an unbalanced way by presuming Mr Goldenthal’s position was correct. It pointed to the following exchanges as examples:

Goldenthal:    Saving human life is to me the highest goal we can try and achieve.

Reporter:       Which is bad news for the animal we like to call our best friend...so they
                     sacrifice their lives for us.   

Goldenthal:    They are the sort of unsung heroes of the story. They’re the ones as you say
                     that did get sacrificed in order to have that drug and save, whether it be
                     animal life or human life afterwards.

Reporter:       There is no doubt the contribution of these unsung heroes to our well-being
                     has been immense.

[7]   The complainant considered that comments such as these effectively closed the argument and undermined the counter arguments that had been put forward.

[8]   In ARLAN’s opinion, when discussing with Mr Goldenthal drugs such as Thalidomide (which had been tested safely on animals, but ended up being extremely harmful to humans), the reporter did not use the usual “robust investigative style”. It maintained that the item allowed Mr Goldenthal to suggest that the human harm had occurred because of an inappropriate animal model. It said that the reporter should have put the issue to Mr Balcombe to get his point of view.

[9]   The complainant argued that the item lacked impartiality and that the audience was misled into believing that there was no significant debate about the effectiveness of animal research.

[10]   ARLAN considered that another major issue dealt with in the programme was the “question of alternatives to animals” in drug testing. It maintained that this question was only put to Jimmy Suttie, who was attached to a company (AgResearch) that used 50,000 animals a year for research, and that alternative views on the issue should have been presented. It also noted that Mr Balcombe had been interviewed on the subject and believed that this material should have been included in the item.

[11]   The complainant argued that the reporter had taken a clear position favouring one side of the debate, quoting the following statement made by the reporter:

...significant change is still a long way off and for the foreseeable future animals like these beagles will put their lives on the line for the rest of us...There seems no way round the paradox that improving the quality of our lives demands the destruction of others.

[12]   ARLAN also maintained that Mr Balcombe had been treated unfairly because unlike Mr Goldenthal, a number of his arguments and responses were not used in the final programme. 

[13]   The complainant stated that another major issue examined in the programme was the potential risk of harm and abuse to animals in the laboratory setting. ARLAN said the item then looked at New Zealand’s regulatory framework for ensuring that animal abuse did not occur, but that this examination had been misleading and inaccurate. It said the reporter had stated:

The Animal Welfare Act stipulates their experiments must be approved and monitored by Animal Ethics Committees. They comprise professional and lay people and include representatives of animal welfare groups such as the SPCA.

[14]   ARLAN argued that this statement was misleading because it implied that Animal Ethics Committees (AECs) had an even mix of “specialists versus the general public”. However these monitoring bodies are made up predominantly of researchers and persons employed by animal testing facilities, it said. ARLAN also considered that it was misleading to use the word “professionals” as this would “actively conjure up an association of objectivity” when in fact the relevant people were scientists who were engaged in animal research.

[15]   The complainant also believed that it was inaccurate for the item to state that the AECs included “representatives from animal welfare groups such as the SPCA”. It argued that the statement implied that AECs contain more than one animal representative, when in fact the law only required that they have one. As such, the item had overstated the role of animal welfare agencies, it said. The complainant maintained that this failure painted a biased, unbalanced and inaccurate picture of New Zealand’s regulatory framework.

[16]   ARLAN considered that the reporter’s statement that the “National Ethics Committee maintains an overview” of AECs was misleading. It stated that the committee did not have access to the details of individual research projects or the decisions made by individual AECs. It maintained that AECs only had to provide the committee with “broad and consolidated statistical data on their animal use” and that role could not be described as an “overview”.

[17]   The complainant argued that the programme gave “an inaccurate representation of the New Zealand regulatory framework in comparison to the UK environment”. It pointed out that the item had included footage of beagles being abused by staff in a UK laboratory and that the reporter had stated that this had been able to occur because of inadequate monitoring. ARLAN noted that after the footage had been shown the reporter had stated that “there is no evidence of similar situations happening in New Zealand”. The complainant contended that the item would have misled viewers into believing that New Zealand’s monitoring systems were safer than that of the UK’s, when in fact “the UK’s [regulatory] framework is far more robust”. 

[18]   ARLAN believed that the programme was misleading and inaccurate in its portrayal of the purpose and justification of animal research in New Zealand. The complainant maintained that throughout the item the reporter and Mr Goldenthal said that research was only undertaken when absolutely necessary – in particular to save animal or human life. It considered that this was an inaccurate portrayal of the true position.   

[19]   The complainant argued that the presenter’s statement that, in New Zealand, “Most of the work involves testing products and procedures for medical, veterinary and agricultural research” was inaccurate and misleading. It stated that the 2005 statistics, contained in the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee’s 2006 Annual Report, revealed that only 4.8% of research was for medical purposes, 17.7% was for veterinary research and that agricultural research did not exist as a category. Reports show that most research in New Zealand is for commercial use or basic biological research, it said. The complainant believed that the public were more accepting of medical and veterinary research and that the inaccurate statement would have given viewers a more “pro-animal use perspective”.

[20]   ARLAN also considered that the item did not question Mr Goldenthal’s “provocative” statements that he only undertook research that would “improve human life” and that he had saved “hundreds of thousands of children”. It argued that the reporter had presumed the assertions made by Mr Goldenthal were correct even though he offered “no evidence to substantiate his claims”. ARLAN was concerned that the “true purpose of Mr Goldenthal’s research was not adequately investigated on the show”.  

[21]   The complainant also considered that the following statement made by Mr Goldenthal was inaccurate:

An animal under stress and in pain or suffering is of very little value in a test, simply because the parameters of the test are changed and altered through stress levels. In order to assess the drug we need an animal that is happy, healthy and free of pain.

[22]   ARLAN argued that this statement was presented as fact, when it was actually Mr Goldenthal’s own opinion, and that it was allowed to stand unquestioned by the reporter. Every year in New Zealand, tens of thousands of animals were reported as suffering “severe” or “very severe” pain, which threw doubt on Mr Goldenthal’s statement.

[23]   ARLAN also complained about a separate segment which was shown at the end of the programme after two unrelated items. Mr Goldenthal posited that the ethical question regarding animal experiments could be thought of in this way: “If a dog and a child fell into the water, who would you save?” It argued that this was a misleading and provocative question that was unbalanced, as it was aired at the end of the programme where it could not be questioned or rebutted.

[24]   In conclusion, the complainant stated that animal research was an issue that was seldom reported in the media and “almost never in an in-depth way”. It maintained that the competing arguments were not advanced sufficiently in the programme to enable viewers to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.                      

Standards

[25]   TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[26]   TVWorks agreed with the complainant that the topic of animal testing was a controversial issue of public importance to which the balance standard applied.

[27]   The broadcaster considered that those with significant points of view were given a reasonable opportunity to “have a say” on the issue. It maintained that the balance standard did not require a mathematical equality of time or attention in the programme, “but an overall assessment of whether the viewer would understand the points of view that existed on the issue and, in broad terms, the nature of the points of view”.

[28]   TVWorks considered that viewers would have understood that while some people support the use of animals in laboratory testing, others claim that the practice is cruel and unnecessary. It argued that the item was not unbalanced as both sides of the “perennial debate” were included and that Mr Balcombe’s views were adequately and fairly reflected.

[29]   The broadcaster stated that “the purpose of the programme was to show the New Zealand public the scope of animal testing in this country”. It also noted that the “public response to the programme has demonstrated (a) our audience was largely unaware of the practice in NZ and (b) that they are overwhelmingly against the practice”. TVWorks declined to uphold the complaint that the item was unbalanced.

[30]   In response to the accuracy complaint, TVWorks stated that ARLAN’s primary point was that it was inaccurate to say that AECs contained a representative sample of individuals. It did not “see this, or the other issues” raised by the complainant as being statements of fact in the programme... but the expression of an individual’s subjective assessment”. It maintained that as the statements were expressions of opinion they were not subject to the accuracy standard. “Clearly some individuals would regard these committees as objective, representative and professional – but you do not,” it said.

[31]   The broadcaster believed that viewers would have understood that animal rights activists would disagree with many of the opinions expressed in the programme and held contrary views. It considered that fact was clearly separated from opinion, analysis and comment, and that no breach of the accuracy standard had occurred.

[32]   TVWorks argued that Mr Balcombe was treated fairly and noted that he had not made a complaint about the programme. It stated that it was not always possible to include all interview material in a short current affairs programme and that Mr Balcombe’s views were adequately represented. The broadcaster considered that the inclusion of material from notes, research and interviews was a matter of editorial judgement. Accordingly, it declined to uphold the fairness complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[33]   Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, ARLAN referred its complaint to the Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[34]   The complainant maintained that the item had been unbalanced because the pro-animal testing perspective and arguments were put at significant length and in detail, yet counter arguments were either not put or were put briefly and in general terms.

[35]   With respect to accuracy, the complainant agreed with TVWorks’ point that the reporter’s description of the regulatory framework was a subjective one. However, it maintained that part of its argument was that no alternative perspective on the adequacy of the framework was provided and that the item should have offered an objective description of it.

[36]   ARLAN reiterated that the programme was inaccurate and misleading as it did not inform the public of the “self-regulating nature” of the AECs and the fact that most of the committee members were attached to research facilities. It also contended that ARLAN’s view on the inadequacy of the regulatory framework and the inaccurate description of it in the item was a “legal opinion and not simply one of an animal rights advocate”.

[37]   The complainant maintained that the item treated Mr Balcombe unfairly and that key parts of his arguments were not used or were positioned in the item to remove them from the core debate. It stated that it had been in contact with Mr Balcombe and that he had agreed that the programme was unbalanced, but because he lived overseas he was unable to view the item and make a complaint within the specified timeframe.

Authority’s Request for Further Information

[38]   The Authority asked TVWorks to provide the information source and basis for the presenter’s statement that “Most of the work [in New Zealand] involves testing products and procedures for medical, veterinary and agricultural research”.  

[39]   TVWorks stated that the information had come from the “2006 National Ethics Committee Annual Report”. It said that paragraph 8.7 of the report gave a breakdown on the percentage of animals used and what they were used for. It noted the following categories and percentages:

Basic biological research: 23.7%

Veterinary research: 18.1%

Medical research: 7.2%

Teaching: 7.1%

Species conservation: 4%

Environmental management: 1.7%

Production of biological agents: 1.3%

[40]   The broadcaster maintained that the above categories fitted within “testing products and procedures for medical, veterinary and agricultural research” and that the percentages added up to over 50%, making the presenter’s statement acceptable. 

Authority's Determination

[41]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 4 (balance)

[42]   Standard 4 requires broadcasters to provide balance when discussing controversial issues of public importance. In the Authority’s view, this item proceeded from Mr Goldenthal’s willingness to show and discuss his New Zealand-based animal testing facility. The item’s introduction included the statement, “Tonight we are going to take you to a private New Zealand research company that’s proud of its role helping save human lives by testing drugs on beagles”. In the Authority’s view, the item was an information piece about Mr Goldenthal’s individual testing facility, rather than a discussion about the wider controversial issue of animal testing.

[43]   The complainant raised several arguments, contained in paragraphs [5] to [11] above, alleging breaches of the balance standard. However, because these arguments did not relate to the subject of the item (Mr Goldenthal, his research and his testing facility), but concerned the wider debate surrounding animal testing, the balance standard does not apply.

[44]   The Authority acknowledges that the issue of animal testing in general is a controversial issue of public importance. To the extent that the item touched on the wider issue, it did so only to provide viewers with some background information to the subject of the item. The Authority considers that viewers would be aware that different viewpoints existed on the issue of using animals in testing. It finds that the item sufficiently acknowledged the positions of those who oppose animal testing in order to provide viewers with the wider picture.   

[45]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 4 (balance).

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[46]   With respect to the statements made about AECs, the Authority finds that the item did not imply that such committees contained an even mix of specialists and lay people. Further, an in-depth explanation of the composition of AECs was not relevant to the programme, or necessary to meet the requirements of the accuracy standard. The Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.    
 
[47]   ARLAN contended that the statement that the National Ethics Committee maintained an overview of AECs was misleading. The Authority disagrees. The item did not purport to analyse the regulation of animal testing, and the presenter’s statement provided an adequate plain language description of the role played by the National Ethics Committee.

[48]   The complainant argued that the item gave an inaccurate representation of New Zealand’s regulatory framework as being more robust than that of the United Kingdom. After undercover footage of beagles being abused in an English facility was shown, the presenter stated, “Remember, this is footage from Britain 10 years ago. We have no evidence that anything like this happens in New Zealand today.” In the Authority’s view, this statement did not imply that New Zealand had a more stringent framework than the United Kingdom, just that there was no evidence of abuse occurring in this country.    
   
[49]   ARLAN alleged that the reporter’s statement “most of the research work involves testing products and procedures for medical, veterinary and agricultural research” was inaccurate. The Authority has reviewed the information contained in the National Ethics Committee’s 2006 Annual Report and it considers that the broadcaster’s summary description of the categories available was reasonable. In addition, the statement was not relevant to an understanding of Mr Goldenthal’s work and his facility, which was the focus of the item. The Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the statement breached Standard 5.

[50]   With respect to Mr Goldenthal’s statement that animals under stress and in pain or suffering were of very little value in a test, the Authority finds that this was clearly distinguishable as his personal opinion. The item did not imply that animal testing did not cause any pain or suffering, as viewers were specifically told the number of animals that experienced pain was recorded each year. In these circumstances, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the statement breached Standard 5 (accuracy).

Standard 6 (fairness)

[51]   The complainant maintained that the broadcaster treated Mr Balcombe unfairly because his arguments about alternatives to animal testing were not used in the final programme. However, the programme was not a debate about the merits or otherwise of animal testing in general. It focused on Mr Goldenthal’s New Zealand facility and its work. In the Authority’s view, Mr Balcombe was given an adequate opportunity to put across his points of view on animal testing to the extent that they were relevant to the programme. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the fairness complaint.   

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
21 April 2008

Appendix

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

1.            ARLAN’s formal complaint – 21 September 2007
2.           TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 30 October 2007
3.           ARLAN’s referral to the Authority – 29 November 2007
4.           TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 7 January 2008
5.           Authority’s request for further information – 4 March 2008
6.           TVWorks’ response to the Authority’s request – 7 March 2008