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Brooking and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-034

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Roger Brooking
Number
2010-034
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – 24 December item interviewed woman whose husband was killed by a drunk driver – 7 January item spoke to youths appearing in court after being arrested for drink-driving – both items allegedly in breach of controversial issues and accuracy

Findings
Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints) – items were straightforward news reports – no discussion of a controversial issue of public importance – not upheld

Standard 5 (accuracy) – complainant did not identify any inaccuracies – not misleading to omit discussion of the points raised by the complainant – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on One News, broadcast on TV One at 6pm on Thursday 24 December, was introduced by the presenter, who said, “A Tauranga woman has a stark warning for anyone who gets behind the wheel after a few drinks this festive season. It could be a life and death decision.” A reporter interviewed a woman about her personal experience with the consequences of drink-driving. Her husband had been killed in 2007 when a drunk driver with four previous convictions crashed into his motorcycle.

[2]   On Thursday 7 January, One News reported that “The fall-out from a drunken New Year is now being dealt with by the courts. Today the Tauranga District Court was full of young people caught drink-driving after partying at Mount Maunganui. And... for many it wasn’t the first time they’d been caught boozed behind the wheel.” A reporter interviewed a number of the young people outside the court, asking, among other things, “There are lots of people on the roads and you could’ve killed somebody. Does that ever go through your mind?”, “Did anyone tell you to not get in the car?”, “Why didn’t you listen to them?” and “Are you going to stop drinking and driving?”

[3]   The reporter then stated:

Tauranga police declined to appear on camera. In a statement to One News they said they were astounded that despite the constant messages against drinking and driving, people still risk injury to themselves and others rather than take a taxi or rely on a sober driver. It’s a sentiment echoed by lobby groups yet again calling for tougher driving laws on young people.

[4]   A representative from lobby group “Crossroads” commented that “This is the generation that should’ve got the drink-driving message.”

Complaint

[5]   Roger Brooking made formal complaints to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that both items breached standards relating to controversial issues and accuracy.

[6]   Mr Brooking argued that the stories operated on the assumption that the people drinking and driving were entirely at fault and no one else bore any responsibility for society’s drinking problem. He considered that the items should have mentioned that drink-driving was usually an indication of an untreated drinking problem, judicial failure to assist drink-drivers, the ineffectiveness of media education programmes, and the ineffectiveness of punishment as a deterrent.

[7]   Mr Brooking maintained that TVNZ was presenting only one perspective – “the punitive one and that drink-drivers are not getting the message” – which he considered was misleading.

Standards

[8]   Standards 4 and 5 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   TVNZ said that, while it accepted that the wider issues of what caused drink-driving, the sentencing of drink-drivers and education programmes for drink-drivers may be considered controversial, the two items did not address these topics in detail.

[10]   TVNZ considered that the first item was a human interest story about one family’s experience. The second story was a news report on one day in the Tauranga District Court. Neither called for tougher drink-driving penalties, TVNZ said, however, some of the young people charged were given an opportunity in the second item to add their perspective as to why they had driven while drunk.

[11]   TVNZ concluded that what was included in One News was a matter of editorial discretion, and that it could not be expected in a short news story to delve into the four issues mentioned by the complainant. It declined to uphold the Standard 4 complaint.

[12]   Turning to accuracy, the broadcaster argued that “the items were clear in focus and... no material points of fact were excluded that contributed to the items being misleading. Neither item was an in-depth investigation into the causes of drink-driving.” It declined to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[13]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Brooking referred his complaints to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that the items breached Standards 4 and 5. Mr Brooking noted that a One News item on 4 February discussed whether stronger penalties were an effective deterrent and the factors which contributed to drink-driving. He therefore disagreed that TVNZ was unable to delve into issues in a news item.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14]   TVNZ maintained that neither item discussed the issue of sentencing or tougher penalties, and noted that Mr Brooking had accepted that another item in February provided other views on the issues. It therefore considered that balance had been achieved within the period of current interest.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[15]   Mr Brooking maintained that he had not argued that the items were about sentencing or the need for tougher penalties. He reiterated his contention that both items discussed a controversial issue and that TVNZ failed to provide significant views on that issue.

Authority's Determination

[16]   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)

[17]   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.

[18]   In our view, both of the items complained about were straightforward news reports, neither of which discussed a controversial issue of public importance as envisaged by Standard 4.

[19]   The first story presented one woman’s views and experiences with the consequences of drink-driving. The Authority has previously found that Standard 4 does not apply to programmes focusing on individual stories (e.g. Egg Producers Federation and TVWorks1). We consider that it would have been clear to viewers that this item was presenting a personal story, rather than purporting to be a balanced discussion of the issues surrounding drink-driving.

[20]   The second item reported on a day in the Tauranga District Court following charges brought over the New Year period and included comments from some of the people charged. This brief news report sought only to report on the aftermath of the holiday season and it was illustrated with examples of people who had been caught drink-driving. In this context, we find that viewers would not have expected a presentation of alternative perspectives on the causes of drink-driving or whether sentences for drink-driving offences were adequate, as suggested by the complainant.

[21]   Accordingly, we find that neither item discussed a controversial issue of public importance to which Standard 4 applied. We decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[22]   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.

[23]   Mr Brooking did not specify any aspects of the items which he considered were inaccurate. His concern seems to be that the items would have misled viewers by not discussing the four points he raised (see paragraph [6]), and because they implied that drunk drivers were the only people at fault.

[24]   As already stated, we are of the view that the items did not purport to be wide-ranging discussions about the causes of drink-driving. In that context, whether the items should have included a discussion of the points raised by Mr Brooking was a matter of editorial discretion for the broadcaster to determine. We do not consider that the omission of those points in the context of two short news items would have misled viewers.

[25]   We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
1 June 2010

Appendix

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

1.         Roger Brooking’s formal complaint – 10 January 2010

2.         TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 15 February 2010

3.         Mr Brooking’s referral to the Authority – 1 March 2010

4.         TVNZ’s responses to the Authority – 12 and 13 April 2010

5.         Mr Brooking’s final comment – 20 April 2010


1Decision No. 2009-053