Cummings and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-164
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Michael Cummings
ProgrammeClose Up: “Worst Town”
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – satirical item reported on marketing strategy to enhance Palmerston North’s image as a visitor destination – included file footage of clock tower and other buildings – footage taken prior to $24 million redevelopment – allegedly in breach of accuracy standard
Standard 5 (accuracy) – file footage was extremely brief – not a material point of fact – would not have misled viewers – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 A satirical item on Close Up, broadcast on TV One at 7pm on Friday 1 October 2010, entitled “Worst Town”, reported on an initiative by Palmerston North City Council to improve the city’s image by marketing its top seven destinations. The presenter introduced the item as follows:
You remember comedian [name] branded it ‘suicide capital of New Zealand’. To most of the rest of us of course, Palmerston North is what, I don’t know, flat, boring, windy. Now Destination Manawatu is close to spending 300,000 dollars to spruce up the city’s image and has come up with a list of the city’s top seven attractions.
 A Close Up reporter investigated the list, before stating, “Come on Destination Manawatu, there must be better things to do in Palmy than those on your list and I’m going to find them”. The reporter then carried out her own assessment of the city’s best attractions, and questioned the need for the $300,000 “PR campaign”. Towards the end of the item, footage of a clock tower, a shopping complex and various buildings was shown.
 Michael Cummings made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item was inaccurate and unfair. The complainant considered that the overall tone of the piece was “negative”, but accepted the broadcaster had a “right” to take whatever editorial stance it chose.
 However, the complainant stated that the broadcast included footage of Palmerston North “landmarks”, such as the city’s clock tower, Plaza shopping complex and council buildings, which he argued was recorded “before a $24 million CBD redevelopment was completed in 2005”. The complainant considered that the file footage was used for the purpose of reinforcing the reporter’s view that the city was “unattractive and boring”. He noted that the broadcast included some “contemporary” footage, and argued that it was therefore “difficult to escape the conclusion that [the] old footage was used to support its negative portrayal of [the city] and deliberately mislead its viewers”. Mr Cummings concluded that the item was inaccurate, and argued that it was unfair to Palmerston North residents.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:
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.
Standard 6 Fairness
Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant
 TVNZ said that the item was intended to be “light-hearted and amusing”. It had been advised by the Close Up reporter that the footage subject to complaint did not dominate the broadcast as it constituted only 27 seconds in the context of a 4 minute and 45 second item. It provided the following comment from the reporter:
We did use file footage – as anyone who has tried to shoot a TV story in one day could tell you, you are limited time-wise in the shots you can get... The file footage (highlighted in your complaint) are mostly high wides – shots taken from a high rise building – which obviously we did not have time to get. It is common practice to supplement shots taken on the day with file footage from our library, and there was absolutely no intention to mislead viewers...
 With regard to the complainant’s assertion that the footage was used to reinforce the reporter’s view of the city as “boring and unattractive”, the reporter stated:
We did not use the file footage to support a negative portrayal of the city, as I did not feel negative about the city. It was a light-hearted piece... It should also be noticed that I do not think Palmerston North is unattractive and boring, as Mr Cummings has stated. I actually had a good time there.
 TVNZ argued that the file footage was not a material point of fact in the context of an item which focused primarily on the city council’s marketing initiative. It did not consider that the file footage was referred to or discussed in any detail in the item, or that it would have misled viewers. Accordingly, TVNZ declined to uphold the Standard 5 complaint.
 Turning to fairness, TVNZ said that Palmerston North was not an “organisation” for the purposes of the standard, and its residents were not referred to in any “material way”. Further, it said, the item contained “both positive and negative comments” about the city and “many locals responded positively about the city in which they lived”. TVNZ did not consider that its brief use of the file footage was unfair in the context of an item that focused primarily on the council’s marketing strategy, and it therefore declined to uphold a breach of Standard 6.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Cummings referred his accuracy complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 The complainant noted that the Authority had previously found that unlabeled file footage rendered a news item inaccurate because it was not obvious to viewers that the footage was out of date.1 In the complainant’s view, it was “not at all obvious” that the file footage used in the Close Up item was from TVNZ’s archives.
 Mr Cummings reiterated that the broadcaster was “clearly in a position” to film contemporary footage of Palmerston North, and said that the least it could have done was label the images “file footage”. He said that while 27 seconds of file footage was a relatively small proportion of the broadcast, it accounted for “all the footage from which viewers could form a general impression of how visually appealing central Palmerston North is”. Given the item was about the city’s appeal as a visitor destination, the complainant maintained that use of the file footage was a misleading and inaccurate representation of the city. He disagreed with TVNZ that it was not a “material point of fact”. The complainant provided the Authority with photos of the clock tower during and after the “makeover”.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority
 The broadcaster reiterated that time constraints prevented filming new material. It maintained that the 27-second montage was not a material point of fact.
 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.
 Our task on this occasion is to determine whether TVNZ’s use of archival footage was inaccurate or misleading in breach of Standard 5.
 From the outset, we emphasise that it is important for broadcasters to identify file footage if there is any chance of creating the impression for viewers that it applies directly to the story at hand.2 On this occasion, however, we do not consider that TVNZ’s use of the footage was misleading. We note that the footage was extremely brief, lasting for only approximately 27 seconds in the context of a 4 minute 45 second item. Further, no attention was drawn to the landmarks shown in the footage and their appearance in the footage was not commented on. We consider that the footage was too brief for viewers to draw any conclusions about Palmerston North’s image, or its appeal as a visitor destination.
 Accordingly, we find that the use of the footage did not result in the item being inaccurate or misleading and we 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
29 March 2011
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Michael Cummings’ formal complaint – 4 October 2010
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 1 November 2010
3 Mr Cummings’ referral to the Authority – 29 November 2010
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 9 February 2011
1Hans Van Duyn and TVNZ, Decision No. 2001-130
2See, for example, Fraser and TVNZ, Decision No. 2004-203.