BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Broatch and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2007-007

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • David Broatch
Number
2007-007
Programme
Close Up
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – included estimates of Iraqi civilian and military deaths since 2003 invasion – figures said to be difficult to verify – conservatively put at 49,642 but said most estimates suggested well over 100,000 – allegedly inaccurate

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – wide ranging estimate was not inaccurate – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

1]  The estimated number of Iraqi deaths since the US-led invasion on 20 March 2003 was given in an item on Close Up, broadcast on TV One on 7 December 2006 beginning at 7.00pm.  After giving the number of American and other coalition soldiers killed, the item reported:
When it comes to tallying the number of Iraqi deaths, figures are difficult to verify.  Conservatively, 49,642 have died but most estimates suggest well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians and military have been killed since the war began.

Complaint

[2]  David Broatch complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was inaccurate.  He said that the item included “an upper figure of 100,000” while an estimate published in The Lancet gave the figure as 655,000.  He described the figure given in the item as “propaganda”.

Standard

[3]  TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.  It reads:

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4]  TVNZ wondered whether the complainant had overlooked the item’s use of the phrase “well over”.   As accurate figures were not available, TVNZ said it had taken a cautious approach.  It noted the estimate given in The Lancet, but observed that that publication was “virtually alone” in considering the total to be that large.  In addition, it said, The Lancet’s estimate was “well over 100,000” as the item had reported.

[5]  Moreover, TVNZ said, the item’s graphic made it clear that the figures provided came from the US Department of Defence and from CNN.  Viewers were thus able to consider the reliability of these sources when assessing the accuracy of the estimate given.

[6]  On the basis that the item was neither incorrect nor untruthful, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[7]  Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Broatch referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[8]  Mr Broatch acknowledged that the item included an estimate of “well-over 100,000” Iraqi deaths, but insisted that it was inaccurate in view of The Lancet’s scientific estimate of 655,000 deaths with an upper limit of 900,000.  The use of the 100,000 estimate, he wrote, was deceptive in addition to being inaccurate.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9]  TVNZ emphasised the difficulty of verifying casualty figures for Iraqis.  It attached a press release questioning the estimates quoted in The Lancet, and wrote:

The conclusions reached in this document confirm our view that TVNZ and other news media outlets should treat casualty figures from all sources with caution until a historical perspective on the Iraqi conflict can produce a reliable figure.

Authority's Determination

[10]  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.

[11]  Having read the correspondence, the Authority accepts that the number of Iraqi deaths since the invasion in March 2003 has not been confirmed.  The estimates range from below 50,000 to approaching 1,000,000.  It also notes that The Lancet’s estimate of 655,000 in October 2006, based on methods used in other countries, has been widely challenged.

[12]  The item stated that:

Most estimates suggest well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians and military have been killed since the war began.

[13]  In the absence of a reliable estimate, the Authority finds that this statement reasonably represented the current situation.  It considers that the item was not inaccurate and did not breach Standard 5.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
23 March 2007

Appendix

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

1     David Broatch’s formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 7 December 2006

2    TVNZ’s response to Mr Broatch – 4 January 2007

3    Mr Broatch’s referral to the Authority (plus attachments) – 18 January 2007

4    TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 25 January 2007