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Bateson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-049

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Liston Bateson
Number
2010-049
Programme
Close Up
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – item about homeopathy sceptics – included comment from sceptics, a homeopathy client, a practitioner and New Zealand Council of Homeopaths – allegedly in breach of controversial issues standard

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – item discussed a controversial issue of public importance – three interviewees offered views in favour of homeopathy – broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on Close Up, broadcast on TV One at 7pm on Wednesday 10 February 2010, featured an experiment conducted by the New Zealand Sceptics Society in which they tried to overdose on homeopathic remedies. They reached the conclusion that the remedies were essentially water containing extremely diluted substances. The reporter spoke to a woman, Connie, who believed that homeopathic remedies had cured her dairy intolerance, and who was using them to help her give birth. The reporter also spoke to the woman’s homeopath, Jon Hay.

[2]  Following the item, the Close Up presenter conducted a studio interview with Vicki Hyde from the Sceptics Society and Mary Glasyier from the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths who debated the merits of homeopathy. Ms Glasyier repeatedly said that she knew homeopathic remedies worked, even if science could not yet explain how they worked. At the end of the interview, she said, “you can call it an active ingredient if you like, but there is something happening in that water that is there and is active and is effective. We know that.”

Complaint

[3]   Liston Bateson made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached the controversial issues standard. He argued that the item had not presented significant points of view or the relevant facts. First, he considered that the programme should have stated that the protest by Vicki Hyde was part of an international attempt to discredit homeopathy and to introduce regulations prohibiting the sale of homeopathic remedies, vitamins and medicinal herbs without a prescription.

[4]   Mr Bateson maintained that “no significant opposing point of view was provided in support of Homeopathy which is regularly and successfully used by millions of people world-wide”.

Standards

[5]   Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to the determination of this complaint. It provides:

Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   TVNZ acknowledged that the issue of whether homeopathic remedies work might be considered a controversial issue of public importance. It noted that balance could be achieved within a programme or across programmes within the period of current interest, and also that there was no “stopwatch” method for determining if balance had been achieved.

[7]  The broadcaster argued that a range of perspectives was presented in the item. First, it said, the item included the Sceptics Society who claimed that homeopathic remedies were “basically expensive water” and did not work. The item also featured “the happy patient” who believed she had been cured by homeopathic remedies, as well as her homeopath, and also the perspective of the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths.

[8]   With regard to the complainant’s argument that the item should have included certain information about Vicki Hyde, TVNZ considered that such information was not required in the item as it had no bearing on the efficacy of the experiment.

[9]   In response to the complaint that no viewpoint was presented in support of homeopathy, the broadcaster maintained that three different perspectives supporting homeopathy were included in the discussion: the patient, her practitioner, and the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths. TVNZ considered that significant time was allowed in the item for these people to express their points of view.

[10]   Accordingly, TVNZ concluded that the item was balanced and it declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[11]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Bateson referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He reiterated the arguments made in his original complaint, and maintained that the programme should have included information about other “overseas agendas” attempting to discredit homeopathy.

Authority's Determination

[12]   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.

[13]   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.

[14]   In our view, the item discussed the issue of whether homeopathic remedies are effective. We consider that this amounted to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance for the purposes of Standard 4.

[15]   Mr Bateson maintained that “no significant opposing point of view was provided in support of Homeopathy”. We note that the item included perspectives in favour of homeopathy from three different individuals: Connie, who believed homeopathic remedies had helped her, Mr Hay her practitioner, and Mary Glasyier from the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths. The item included the following comments in favour of homeopathy, among others:

  • “She says homeopathic remedies cured her dairy intolerance. Now Connie is counting on them again to help her give birth.” (reporter)

  • “Honestly, within a couple of weeks I saw a turnaround.” (Connie, patient)

  • “Jon Hay is Connie’s practitioner. He may not be able to explain how they work, but work they do, he says. And the people he likes treating best are the sceptics. He was once one himself.” (reporter)

  • “I think it’s something you should approach with an open mind. You know, just because science can’t explain something today doesn’t mean it’s not going to explain it tomorrow.” (Jon Hay, practitioner)

  • “I know that they do work. Let me say something, I know that they do work. But how they work is actually, as has already been said, a mystery. But I know they work, and just because they are harmless it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing in the remedy that is going to help people or an animal.” (Mary Glasyier)

  • “Can I deal with, first of all, this idea that people are harming themselves by taking homeopathic remedies when they should be doing another form of treatment. Fortunately in New Zealand people are pretty sensible and registered homeopaths also have training in medical science and of course no one would suggest that anyone should rely on any one system of medicine if it is not working...” (Mary Glasyier)

  • “...we know that, you can call it an active ingredient if you like, but there is something happening in that water that is there and is active and is effective.” (Mary Glasyier)

[16]   In these circumstances, we find that the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to obtain the views of appropriate individuals and to present significant perspectives on the issue under discussion.

[17]    Mr Bateson also argued that the item should have stated that Vicki Hyde from the Sceptics Society was part of a larger international campaign to discredit homeopathy. In our view, it was not necessary in the interests of balance to state this explicitly, as it was clear from the item and from the views expressed by her that Ms Hyde strongly believed that homeopathic remedies did not work.

[18]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
6 July 2010

Appendix

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

1.          Liston Bateson’s formal complaint – 18 February 2010

2.          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 19 March 2010

3.          Mr Bateson’s referral to the Authority – 8 April 2010

4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 20 May 2010