BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Bolot and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-149

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Peter Bolot
Number
2010-149
Programme
Close Up
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – reported on New Zealand protestor’s decision to travel to Gaza with his son as part of a humanitarian aid flotilla – commented on recent Israeli commando raid on another aid flotilla – allegedly in breach of standards relating to controversial issues, accuracy, fairness and responsible programming

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – item focused on one man – no discussion of a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – complainant did not identify any material points of fact – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – no person or organisation treated unfairly – not upheld

Standard 8 (responsible programming) – Close Up was an unclassified current affairs programme – item would not have caused panic, alarm or undue distress – 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 Monday 13 September 2010, profiled a South Auckland man who planned to travel to Gaza as part of an aid flotilla. Introducing the item, the presenter said:

We all remember Nicola Enchmarch, the New Zealander caught up in Israeli storming of an aid convoy to Gaza. Now she escaped with her life but it’s a   reminder of the risks people undertake to help others they’ve never met.  Tomorrow another contingent of kiwis heads off to join aid mission to Gaza and a likely stand-off with the Israeli armed forces. Why do they do it? Jill Higgins caught up with Roger Fowler, who’s not only taking the risk himself, his son is going as well.

[2]   A Close Up reporter conducted an interview with Roger Fowler about his motivation for joining the humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza. During the interview, Mr Fowler recounted his personal history as a protestor and outlined his plans for the upcoming venture.

[3]  The item contained footage of the earlier Israeli commando raid on a flotilla vessel and extracts from an interview with aid worker Nicola Enchmarch. Mr Fowler discussed the possibility of Israeli resistance to the upcoming venture. In response to the reporter’s question, “Would you say that this is the most pressing issue that the world faces right now?”, Mr Fowler stated:

It’s one of many, granted, but the main thing that differentiates this issue from everything else is that it’s a man-made issue. The people of Gaza are suffering and suffering every day, 24/7, as a direct result of Israeli Government policy, and that can be changed.

Complaint

[4]   Peter Bolot made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the Close Up item breached Standards 4, 5, 6 and 8.

[5]   Mr Bolot argued that the programme was unbalanced and unfair because it gave a “completely distorted” view of the situation in Gaza and presented only one viewpoint. The item was “biased” and contained many inaccuracies and misleading statements, he argued. Mr Bolot considered that anyone viewing the Close Up item would have been “deceived” and “incorrectly informed” in breach of the responsible programming standard.

[6]   In summary, the complainant argued that it was a “shoddy, biased and thoroughly prejudiced programme, [that was] completely unbalanced ... [and] lacked fairness”.

Standards

[7]   Standards 4, 5, 6 and 8 and guidelines 5a and 5c of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

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.

Standard 5 Accuracy

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/or
  • does not mislead.

Guidelines

5a   The accuracy standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.

5c   News must be impartial.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Standard 8 Responsible Programming

Broadcasters should ensure programmes:

  • are appropriately classified;
  • display programme classification information;
  • adhere to timebands in accordance with Appendix 1;
  • are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress; and
  • do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8]   Looking first at Standard 4, TVNZ said that it first had to consider whether the issue being discussed on the programme was a “controversial issue of public importance”. It noted that the Authority had previously defined an “issue of public importance” as something that would have a “significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public”.1 A “controversial issue” had been defined as “one which had topical currency and excited conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate”,2 it said.

[9]   The broadcaster accepted that international aid reaching Gaza was a controversial issue. However, it was of the view that the item subject to complaint sought to profile one man and demonstrate what motivated him personally to undertake the risks associated with travelling to Gaza. In light of the item’s focus, TVNZ concluded that it did not discuss an issue of “public importance”. Further, it said, Mr Fowler was “obviously best-placed to provide viewers with the reasons for his deciding to undertake what some consider a dangerous challenge”.

[10]   Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

[11]   Turning to Standard 5, TVNZ said that Mr Bolot had not specified any points of fact which he considered were inaccurate. In the broadcaster’s view, the item “predominantly presented the genuinely held opinion of Mr Fowler” and those views were distinguishable from any facts presented (guideline 5c). It declined to uphold a breach of Standard 5.

[12]   TVNZ noted that Standard 6 was designed to ensure that any person taking part or referred to in programmes was treated fairly. It said that Mr Fowler was the only “specific person” that took part and was referred to in the Close Up item and that he was treated fairly. The complainant did not claim that the item was unfair to any particular organisation, it argued. Accordingly, TVNZ declined to uphold the fairness complaint.

[13]   Turning to Standard 8, TVNZ said that the responsible programming standard existed to ensure that programmes were correctly classified and ratings were displayed. It pointed out that Close Up was an unclassified current affairs programme, so it was not required to display a programme classification. In TVNZ’s view, the item was not presented in such a way as to cause panic, alarm or undue stress. It therefore declined to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[14]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster's response, Mr Bolot referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[15]  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 (controversial issues – viewpoints)

[16]   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.

[17]   In our view, the item focused on a career protestor who planned to join a humanitarian aid flotilla with his son to assist the people of Gaza. We note that, given the history and sensitivity of the issue, the broadcaster could have included a brief mention of the Israeli perspective in terms of its foreign policy with regard to the Gaza strip. However, in light of the item’s narrow focus, we find that it did not amount to a discussion of a controversial issue of public importance, and therefore the broadcaster was not required to present alternative viewpoints.

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

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[19]   Standard 5 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.

[20]   Mr Bolot argued that the item was “biased” and contained many inaccuracies and misleading statements. He did not identify any material points of fact which he considered were inaccurate.

[21]   Accordingly, we have no basis on which to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 5.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[22]   The fairness standard requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in programmes.

[23]   The complainant argued that the item was unfair because it gave a “completely distorted” view of the situation in Gaza and only presented one viewpoint.

[24]   In our view, there is no evidence that would lead us to conclude that the broadcaster treated any of the individuals or organisations taking part or referred to in the item unfairly. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

Standard 8 (responsible programming)

[25]   Standard 8 requires that programmes are correctly classified and screened in appropriate time-bands, that programmes are not presented in a way that might cause viewers unnecessary panic, alarm or distress, and that programmes do not deceive or disadvantage viewers.

[26]   Close Up was an unclassified current affairs programme which screened during the PGR time-band and we do not consider that the item was presented in a way that would have caused viewers alarm or distress. We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
22 February 2011

Appendix

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

  1.    Peter Bolot’s formal complaint – 14 September 2010
  2.    TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 13 October 2010
  3.    Mr Bolot’s referral to the Authority – 24 October 2010
  4.    TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 23 December 2010

1Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-125

2The Ministry for Social Development and TVNZ, Decision No. 2006-076